Humans rights in Bosnia and activism

Matthew S. Tomaso (Tomaso@MAIL.UTEXAS.EDU)
Sat, 9 Dec 1995 10:11:36 -0600

Reproduced below are a reply I sent to Ruby Rohrlich regarding her recent
post on Bosnia as well as the text of the post itself, in case you missed it
(the original had no subject header). we are hoping this might stir some


What struck me most about this (partly because it is something I'm thinking
about alot) is the kind of critique Donna Harraway makes of relativist
positions. How are we to view the atrocities commited by men on women in
times like these? What are we to do about them? Harraway, of course,
offers no answers because she isn't particularly concerned with talking
about real world events. To be fair, though, I think her problem with
relativism (the holistic variety) comes from the problem of defining
boundaries aaround "cultures", societies or communities which appear as
fixed in analyses. The implications of the suggestion that we may envision
a 'global comunity of women' (or of men, for that matter - though most
would become quite homophobic at the mention of this notion), or a
gender-scape, within which the empowered (women) could act transculturally
to prevent such atrocities without the inevitable relativist critique (eg.
Star Trek's noninterference directive). I find this way of thinking to be
a useful way to get out of the trap which relativism leaves us in -
preventing us from doing anything outside of our own litterbox. Since I
have strong political agendas and they compose part of my work, these are
attractive ideas. I hope you see the connection I'm drawing on. If not,
let me know and I'll try to unwrap them more clearly.

>>>>>>>>>>>>Ruby's original post<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
>*On the Issues* describes itself a "The Progressive Woman's Quarterly"
>and it is just that. They have given me permission to cite from an
>article in their Winter, l996 issue called "What is Justice for a Rape
>Victim?" It's by Professor Phyllis Chesler, author of the classic *Women
>and Madness*, who has also give me permission to cite from her article.On
>the first page of the article is a picture of a young gilr hanging from a
>tree branch. Phyllis writes: "There she was, on the front page of the
>American newspapers, a 20-year-old Bosnian Moslem girl, hanging from a
>tree, a suicide, dead by her own hand, her death a cry for help. Our
>silence, deafening.We cannot say: 'We didn't know, no one told us." We
>know. We've seen it on TV, read the detailed repots, seen the photos. I
>knew, feminists knew what was going on in Bosnia. True, we had trouble
>sleeping over it, and some of us sent money, gathered evidence, drafted
>law-suits, petitioned the U.N., counseled and consoled the victims,
>quietly helped rap-refugees to leave the country, but, as a movement, we
>failed to mount even one Israeli-style Entebbe raid, even one mass
>'pacifist' action on Bosnian soil. We wrung our hands and waited for the
>patriarchal governments to 'do something'; convene a war crimestribunal
>to The Hague, bomb Sarajevo, lift the arms embargo, fight it out,
>man-to-man......While the war in Bosnia raged on, millions of women,
>worldwide, endured rap. Moslem women in Bosnia were not the only Moslem
>women to be systematicallyraped bysoldieers. In fact, rape has
>consistently been used as a political weapon against Moslem women by
>Moslem ,men for the past l5 years, in Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh,
>India, Iran, and Pakistan. According to attorney Karima Bennoune, from
>l992 on, Algerian fundamentalist men have committed a series of
>"terrorist atrocities" aainst Algerian women. Bennoune describes the
>"kidnapping and repeated raping of young girls as sex slaves for armed
>fundamentalists. The girls are also forced to cook and clean for God's
>warriors. As in Iran, 'unveiled', educated, independent Algerian women
>have been seen as 'military targets' and increasingly shot on sight.
>According toBennoune, 'the men of Algeria are arming,the women ofAlgeria
>areveiling themselves. As one woman said: ;Fear is stronger than our
>will to be free.' ......These Moslem women 'belong to' to the Moslem men
>who are raping them. In Bosnia, however, men (Serbian Christian,mainly,
>but not exclusively) have beenraping the wrong women: women who 'belong'
>to other men.
> "The information coming out of Bosnia defies belief, confirms the
>worst nightmares of Second Wave feminists. The former Yugoslavia has
>been re-balkanized, cursed really, by pazramilitary,
>fascist/nationalists, virulent racists, misogynists. No matter who the
>aggressors were.their victims were mainlycivilians. Male soldiers attacked
>civilians (who were often their neighbors) with a ferocity and hatred
>that was surreal. Male soldiers treated female civilioans the way
>'kinky johns' treat whores, the way psychotic batterers treat their wives.
> "Some people say: 'Both sides did it.' No, 'both sides' did not
>do it. Only men raped women, women did not rape men; only men, not
>women, did the killing.
> "Whaat did Bosnian Serb Christian soldiers do to civilian men
>between the ages of l6and 60? In a ghastly replay of World War II, the
>soldiers ordered the men/Gypsies/Jews out of the house, lined them up,
>shot them in the sstreet,or marched them out of town and shot them down
>into mass graves. Those men 'lucky'l enough to survive endured eatings,
>starvation, and hideous tortures in concentration camps. Serbian
>soldiers sometimes castrated and killed those Seervian men and boys 3who
>refused to systematically rape women.
> "A number of jurists, intellectuals are eager to see rape tried
>as a war crime and as a human rights violation. I am too. Howev er, I
>am more convinced than ever that all trape is a political crime against
>female humanity, not just in Bosnia, but everywhere, not just in times of
>national war, butr also in times of so-called peace; not onlywhen it
>occurs between srangers, but among intimates. At the U.N. FourthWorld
>Conference onWomen in Beijing, somefeminist lawyers wanted to amend the
>Geneva Convention to say that 'any raope', not just mass rape in war, is
>a crime.' Rape is 'gender-cleansing'. The intended effect of rape is
>always the same: to utterlybreak thespiit of the rap victim, to drive her
>out of her body and out of her mind so as to render her incapable of
>resistance. Rape has been systematically used bymen of ev eryclass and
>race to destroy their own women and the women of enemy-men. This
>terrorist tactic, coupled with childhood sexual abuse and shaming,
>works. Mosat women donot resist, escape, or kill their rapists in
>self-defense. When women do, they are often killed by their rapists,
>failed for long periods of time, or executed. . . . . . . . . . . . .'`
> "What have they done to us? What have we done to ourselves?
>Each woman knows that if she sides with another women against a man or
>against men's laws, eventually the king's men on their high horses will
>drag her away; imprison, interrogate, rape, and burn her to death as a witch;
> "A woman is brave when she knows what can be done to her butx
>despite such knowledge resists, helps other women anyway. A woman is
>brave when she resists the "good little girl' within; the voice that
>tells her to mind her own business, tend her own garden, don't do
>anything that will get you in trouble, you'll get caught, you'll be
>sorry, you'll be punished, no one will like you.
> "Women are safe if I am brave. I am only as safe as other women
>are brave. Otherwise, it's open season on all."
> If anyone would like more informatiion from this article, let me
>know and I'll send you the parts I've omitted. Ruby Rohrlich
Matt Tomaso.
Anthropology. University of Texas at Austin.
Phone/Fax 512-453-6256