Sunday, May 09, 2004

A question of terminology

There are, we have been reliably informed by Donald Rumsfeld, more and worse images to come of torture in Iraq prisons. According to the Independent, "They are said to include Iraqi guards raping young boys, and American soldiers having sex with a female detainee, 'acting inappropriately' with a corpse and beating an Iraqi detainee close to death."

Well, this is grim enough. But I just want to make one point. I have read maybe half a dozen reports of these alleged photos. I might have even seen some of the photographs referred to (I'm not giving a link, there's enough pornography on the net). And I do not understand why these reports refer to US soldiers "having sex" with a detainee, whereas "young boys" are "raped".

"Having sex" is such a neutral world. It implies that one might "have sex" in the same way one might "have" a chocolate, or, perhaps, eczma. It certainly implies no violence, and implies, rather, that sex is a consensual act. And I wonder: how could it be that a woman in this situation, a "detainee", a prisoner, could be engaged in a consensual act? Are all these news reports suggesting that these women consented to "have sex" with US soldiers, and to be photographed while doing so?

If sex is not consensual, then it is, by definition, rape. If it is "consensual", why not assume that the "young boys" mentioned are "having sex" as well? (Or is it that the humiliation of a man's sexuality is the only humiliation that counts? Or am I reading there the lurking homophobia which underlies all these actions, which turn so much on perception - of the tormented by themselves, by the torturers, by us? - for by this we are all made voyeurs). If the photos referred to are the same ones I saw, and the provenance of the photos I saw were perhaps a little doubtful since they were not taken in a prison, then it's rape. In these photos two different women are raped by three American soldiers in uniform. They are different from the other photographs which have said so much coverage, because you can see the faces of the "detainees". In one a woman's head is being held roughly, clearly in order to force her to oral sex, and she is obviously very distressed. She was not "having sex". She was being raped.

But I guess this is the same Orwellian world in which "liberation" means "invasion", "human resource exploitation" means "torture" and lies are the lingua franca of almost everyone in public life. But it's part of a particular kind of lie that people don't seem to get so upset about. It's the kind of lie that means the Canterbury Bulldogs can claim that the fact that the police did not have enough evidence to pursue allegations of gang rape, although police believe a rape took place, means that they have been "completely exonerated". That woman, that "slag", as she was referred to, was just "having sex" as well. The problem is, our lawmakers say, that the evidence of "having sex" is very often the same as that for rape. Unless the woman has a broken rib or two.

There's an interesting article on the pornography of war in today's Guardian, which unpicks some of the ways in which sexuality exists in the core of violence, because sexuality is at the core of our perception of ourselves. A very effective way of destroying a human being's perception of him or her self is to destroy them sexually.

Well, all this is making me feel sick, so I am swearing off reading for a while (apart from Borges' Labyrinths, which I am reading again). I am going to write.

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