Quantcast

Nation Topics - World | The Nation

Topic Page

Articles

News and Features

When several soldiers killed their wives, an old problem was suddenly news.

A recent anniversary passed by without receiving much notice in
the mainstream media.

On the eve of the October 2002 vote to authorize the overthrow the government of Iraq by military force, a plea to members of Congress to reject Bush's pre-emptive war went unheeded.

In the future, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his Social
Democrats will have reason to treat their junior coalition partner, the
Greens, with more respect.

One year later, September 11 has certainly lived up to the early claim
of being a transformative moment, at least for Americans.

We're trying to survey all the many good ideas being tried outside the range of the Beltway pundits. So tell us about any local, state or municipal initiative in your area that you're excited about and think is worth emulating nationally.

 

The tax-supported Marshall Center offers more fun and games than war games.

Women's bodies were central battlegrounds in the worst bout of
Hindu-Muslim bloodletting to grip India in over ten years, in the
western Indian state of Gujarat beginning on February 27. After an
enraged Muslim mob allegedly set a train packed with Hindus on fire
in Godhra, killing fifty-eight, a wave of retaliatory violence was
unleashed on the minority Muslim population in the region, leaving up
to 2,000 dead and 100,000 homeless. Under the indulgent gaze of the
state government, and against a backdrop of ransacked houses and
desecrated temples, at least 250 women and girls were brutally
gang-raped and burned alive.

Shabnam Hashmi, founder of SAHMAT (a coalition of artists and
intellectuals who work to strengthen secularism within Indian
society), believes that although the pogrom was triggered by Godhra,
the attacks were premeditated: "These mobs were trained in rape. Why
else would the same pattern of brutality be repeated everywhere?
Groups of women were stripped naked and then made to run for miles,
before being gang-raped and burned alive. In some cases religious
symbols were carved onto their bodies." In the documentary Evil
Stalks the Land, produced by Hashmi's husband, Gauhar Raza, a young
boy stares, unblinking, into the camera. "About 100 to 150 children
my age were burned in a house," he recalls. "The tea stall in which
we were hiding was set on fire using gas cylinders. My grandmother's
limbs were chopped off and my aunt was brutally raped."

Among all the horrifying testimonies of sexual violence to emerge
from Gujarat, one story has come to symbolize the collective
suffering of the Muslim community. It is told and retold on news
stories, in NGO reports, in eyewitness accounts: "I was running [and]
I saw a pregnant woman's belly being cut open," states a young boy on
Indian television. "The fetus was pulled out and thrown up in the
air. As it came down it was collected on the tip of the sword."
"[Kausar Bano] was nine months'pregnant," recalls Saira Banu at the
Shah Alam camp for refugees. "They cut open her belly, took her fetus
with a sword and threw it into a blazing fire. Then they burned her
as well." "We were to hear this story many times," wrote the
Citizen's Initiative fact-finding team of women, who saw photographic
evidence of the burned body of a mother with a charred fetus lying on
her stomach. Their April 16 report, The Survivors Speak, reflects
upon the significance of this crime: "Kausar's story has come to
embody the numerous experiences of evil that were felt by the
Muslims.Sˇ In all instances where extreme violence is experienced
collectively, meta-narratives are constructed. Each victim is part of
the narrative; their experience subsumed by the collective
experience. Kausar is that collective experience-a meta-narrative of
bestiality; a meta-narrative of helpless victimhood." The image of
Kausar and her unborn child has assumed a dual meaning, for both
Hindu aggressors and Muslim victims: The humiliation of the enemy
through violation of the female body, and the assault on the future
of the Muslim community through the destruction of the next
generation.

Why is gender violence such a consistent feature of the communal
riots that spasmodically grip India? In an impassioned May 11
editorial in The Hindu, India's national daily, Raka Roy, an
associate professor of sociology at the University of California,
Berkeley, offered one explanation. Roy asked: "Where does the
creation of the inferior other in India begin?" It begins, she
argues, with the divisive caste system, which has allowed the
principle of inequality to become embedded in Hindu culture. It
continues in the belief that "women are not only inferior, but also
woman's sexuality has to be patrolled so that it is legitimately
accessible to some men and inaccessible to others." If a woman's body
belongs not to herself but to her community, then the violation of
that body signifies an attack upon the honor (izzat) of the whole
community. Hindu nationalists raped and burned minority women to
destroy not only their bodies but also the integrity and identity of
Muslim society, the inferior Other. Roy also suggests that the
terrible legacy of the partition-with "protected and protectable
women on one side and unprotected and rapable women on the other
side"-still lingers in both the Hindu and Muslim subconscious.

It was the complicity of the state, however, that made it possible
for mass rape to occur in Gujarat. A Human Rights Watch report
concluded that the Sangh Parivar-the family of Hindu nationalist
organizations including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which heads
the Gujarat state government-was directly responsible [see Arundhati
Roy's essay in this issue of The Nation]. According to the report,
police told terrified groups of fleeing Muslims: "We have no orders
to save you."

The thousands of displaced now live in temporary refugee camps, run
almost exclusively by Muslim organizations. Harsh Mander writes: "It
is as though the monumental pain, loss, betrayal and injustice
suffered by the Muslim people is the concern only of other Muslim
people, and the rest of us have no share in the responsibility to
assuage, to heal and rebuild." The Citizen's Initiative report argues
that the state's colossal failure to implement "international Human
Rights norms and instructions and instruments as they relate to
violence per se, especially violence against women," may amount to a
crime under international law. The report recommends that a special
task force, comprising people from outside Gujarat, be set up
immediately to investigate the cases of sexual violence, and that
counseling and rehabilitation programs be established to help the
traumatized survivors. Although the government has proposed "Peace
Committees," it remains unclear what form these would take. All this
provides little consolation for the Muslim women and their families
who must decide where to go when the squalid camps close, which is
scheduled to occur before the Assembly elections following the
resignation of Narendra Modi, the BJP's Chief Minister of Gujarat.
Those who could afford to leave Gujarat have already done so. The
rest will return to their villages, to live as second-class citizens
in the ruins of their homes among the men who raped their sisters,
burned their children and killed their friends.

How would people be discussing the issue of "regime change" in Iraq if the question were not being forced upon them by the Administration?

Why now? Why, one year after September 11, is the Bush Administration
attempting to overthrow decades of precedents and precepts of
international law, along with the best traditions of US foreign policy,
in a relentless push to war? As high-level officials try to sell the
Administration's case to the American people and the President prepares
for an appearance before the UN General Assembly, the White House
continues its attempt to restrict the debate on Iraq to details of
timing and tactics while ignoring the basic question of whether an
invasion of Iraq should be considered at all.

Elsewhere in this issue Stephen Zunes provides a detailed refutation of
the points the Administration has used to argue for war. The arguments
are debatable at best, spurious at worst--like the innuendo that Iraq is
linked to Al Qaeda (in fact, Osama bin Laden regards Saddam Hussein as
an apostate); that "containment has failed" (since the Gulf War, Iraq's
military capabilities have weakened significantly and the regime poses
little or no threat to its neighbors, who oppose invasion); or that
inspection cannot adequately determine whether Iraq is developing
weapons of mass destruction (from 1991 to 1998, inspectors destroyed
much of Iraq's stockpile of chemical and bioweapons). One could go on,
but the point is that all along, this Administration has followed the
Alice in Wonderland logic of the Queen: sentence first, verdict
later.

The White House has sought to justify the right to mount an attack by
the new Bush doctrine of pre-emption--or anticipatory self-defense. But
this country is a member of the United Nations, which was founded to
prevent wars of aggression. And under that body's charter, the United
States can use force only in response to an attack on itself, or if
approved by the Security Council. Otherwise, the Administration has no
right to take this country into war--or even to threaten the use of
force.

The Administration has found this doctrinal deviation a difficult sell
even among its closest allies and thus has begun to search for new ways
to bestow some international legitimacy on its actions. Hence the talks
with Prime Minister Tony Blair, out of which has come a plan for a
Security Council ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to meet British-American
terms unconditionally or face "severe consequences." In short, the
Administration, with British support, may have devised the perfect
pretext for war: a UN demand for the reintroduction of inspectors into
Iraq that Saddam will likely not accept. The Administration is hoping
its plan will provide enough of a UN cover to gain French, Russian and
Chinese support, or at least acquiescence.

Those who question the need or legitimacy of a war against Iraq should
not be fooled. What incentive does the Administration's commitment to
"regime change" give Iraq to readmit inspectors, especially when the
inspectors could, like the last group, use the inspections for US
espionage purposes? Washington should instead announce its support for
inspections insulated from improper influence and pledge to abide by the
UN's findings.

With the executive branch committed to war, those who morally oppose an
invasion of Iraq--because of the suffering it would inflict on US
soldiers and Iraqi civilians, because of its potential to destabilize
the region, because it would distract this country from the brokering of
an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, because a war in Iraq would
detract from the campaign against Al Qaeda and from pressing domestic
needs--have only Congress to turn to. That prospect doesn't offer much
comfort, since the Democratic leadership in the Senate appears ready to
write the Administration a resolution authorizing military action,
albeit with some conditions.

If Congress abdicates its role, it will harm not only the country but
itself. Bush's claim of the right to make pre-emptive war would give him
and future Presidents the authority to determine when a threat exists
and to take action on that threat without subjecting it to debate or to
verification by other branches of government. The principle of
Congressional oversight of the most fundamental decision government can
make--whether to send its sons and daughters into danger--will have been
entirely abandoned. And because Congress is the only arena where the
people's concerns can be aired, the structure of democracy itself will
suffer a grievous blow. Even if UN inspections find that Iraq is trying
to develop an advanced bomb program, there are ways of responding short
of war. A Congressional vote for pre-emptive assault would create a
damaging precedent, abrogate the UN charter, imperil the Constitution
and transform the President into an imperial overlord.

Write, call, act now (see the box on page 5). Americans who oppose the
war and this unconstitutional expansion of power must make their voices
heard.

Blogs

If Rubio really wanted to position himself for 2016, he could seize on the implications of his question for a broader immigration reform bill: Adjustment for All!

January 28, 2015

Voting should have the power to begin the world over again.

January 28, 2015

Europe remains politically and economically divided.

January 28, 2015

The new Saudi king faces a legacy of unrelieved authoritarianism, corruption, and regional, class and sectarian discontents, the result of the tepid and incomplete reforms of his predecessor, the late King Abdullah. Only democratic and human rights reforms can hope to assure the kingdom's future.

January 27, 2015

Who are the surrender monkeys now?

January 23, 2015

Amid management intimidation, police violence and government disinterest, the movement is still pushing for better working conditions and fair compensation. 

January 23, 2015

Five years after the devastating earthquake, has Haiti fallen into de facto dictatorship?

January 22, 2015

Stephen Cohen on continued conflict in Ukraine. 

January 22, 2015

Poverty in France’s Muslim communities should elicit public dismay, and not just because it’s among the factors that may have motivated Charlie Hebdo’s attackers.

January 22, 2015

President Obama’s speech was a mixed bag for progressives on foreign policy.

January 21, 2015