She died. I hung her up like a second skin on the peg by the door. In the half-light she looked like an old bag or an empty poncho. My pallet was on the other side of the room. I didn’t need her every day. I had others who said they cried out my name. When I went out I wore her memory like a fragrant face. But perhaps it was she who walked and I stayed, flayed and looking sideways at the twin echoes of my groans. I disappeared when she/I went into the light and the shepherd died. We are body companions now, naked without each other.
I reacted with typical horror to the NYT article by Rukmini Callimachi, “ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape.”
I could not read it at once, and in-between attempts to finish reading, I wrote: Tomorrow I will think about this with facts and reason and other proper nouns; tomorrow I will not focus on global negative traits, overgeneralize, or fall prey to emotions. Tonight, I am thinking of anti-theism. In between, I will need Christopher Hitchens’ shadowy help. Because I find the idea of subjugating and enslaving another living and sentient creature revolting.
It is tomorrow, and I am picking up on what I think is the fundamental felt response to news such as this: why does someone not intervene?
I am not knowledgeable on foreign policy, nor a soldier (the subject-position of the person who will actually be sent to fight someone or something labeled heinous), nor one of the ‘People of the Book.’ My attitude, position and response are founded on different grounds. This detailing of thoughts and feelings is an attempt to cope with the awareness that no matter what I feel or think, and there are many such as I, my thoughts and feelings are immaterial and useless to those women as an actual deterrent to harm in real-time. Is it wrong to allow this to play out in history ? Is it wrong to battle the red flag? Is it right to grieve and do nothing? What is to be done?
Who will intervene? With what rationale? With what effect at home and abroad? Whose actions will be supported? Which country or individual is safe from retribution if that entity intervenes?
It is important to ask why intervene, why now, why in this. There is a response to the original New York Times article in Slate (http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/08/13/the_new_york_times_details_isis_s_systemic_use_of_rape_it_is_uniquely_horrifying.html ), which says this sort of evil is uniquely horrifying. I do not know how to judge it unique. I think it is unique in several decades, perhaps, for persecution, enslavement and systematic war on people considered inferior enemies has been the hallmark of human history. It crops up every century in some way or another, and is not limited to any religion or sect. It is a feature of the human. I do not want to fear that it is a feature of the human male in this century (too many young males, unemployment, frustration, lacking stable role models or avenues for energy and achievement). It does not matter whether this strategy is unique or typical or widespread; that sort of reasoning will lead us to try to measure a certain minimum of harm before external intervention can be justified, and I do not believe it is possible to fix that measure.
Neither is it possible to decide whether to condemn hard or softly based on similarities in the degree of horror/harm/excess. That brings me to a point that irritates me in this century’s oppositional politics of all stripes. Every group that is accused of exceeding ethical limits begins to point fingers back to one other or prior group and says well, they did it too, we are not the only baddies, or the unique baddies. I cannot understand how such a reactionary ethic can ever lead to a future that is more peaceful. This is certainly not the only instance of unique transgression and unique horror in the world or in human history. It need not be, either for us to condemn and resist it or for us to say we do not know how to deal with it because it is new.
As for the merits of intervention in real-time history, now, in our present, concerning the countries possibly involved in any conflict around this issue: I strongly believe in cascading effects, at the individual level and the global level. Every international, military or political action cannot help but occur in a context of prior politics, prior war-games, ongoing cultural-political strife, and domestic demographic turmoil. Who can afford to intervene in economic and political terms?
The rationale must be made clear: can we unwind the ethical from the political and the just from the reactionary in our reasoning? For look, military might is being used to systematically use one community for the political ends of the other, and all is being rationalized with a moral and ethical code. Whoever begins to intervene in the injustice by attacking the moral and ethical will come back with a bloodied nose or worse. However, admitting to clear political aims as a basis for intervention is recipe for open wars of another sort.
If asked, I will condemn instances of brutality and slavery in ancient, medieval and modern times equally. I am not so much an idealist as to say that no one need die, and all men and women are good, and so on. Once an event occurs, once harm is done, it cannot be undone. One a child is brutalized and if the child knows no goodness in the people surrounding her, is it right to say to her, your thinking is wrong, change your thinking, because you are generalizing? Or is it better to succor her, prevent her from harming others in her defensive anger, and to prevent such from happening to more children in the future? My readers might object to my ethical movement from ‘right’ to ‘better’ in this paragraph; I will argue that ‘right’ and ‘right’ (what is right and what are our rights) have become sword-slivers and allow for little interpretation in our time, and I will argue for the determination of ‘better’ (the more humane, more benevolent, more fair, more peace-keeping) over ‘right.’ And I will argue that ‘better’ better fits the idea of justice (i.e. what is just and proportionate for everyone) than does ‘right.’
I feel the only justice can be a future justice, a justice based on lessons from history about what not to do and what the human is capable of. A justice pushed into the future, beyond the calculations of action and reaction, and therefore perhaps an unforeseeable justice. Those who believe in religious ‘ends of times’ will find this familiar, because most religiously-cloaked political groups in the world use a foretold justice to incarnate what they see as the necessary conditions of that justice in our times. But I think the way is not to push from a future end backwards into our time, or to reincarnate a lost and past glory in the near future, but to push away from our time into whatever future we can make and above all base this process on a fundamental insistence that we do not know, cannot be the ultimate judge, and therefore must make peace with provisional judgements as we know best in the moment. Revelations, absolute recompense, revenge, retribution, these are fallacious closures to ongoing human conflict.
I find I must retain believe in the capacity of some men and women in every community to act in the name of proportionate justice and to restrain injustice when necessary. Perhaps this is my replacement for the god-ideal that others like to believe in, an external solution, for in the end I do nothing except feel and writhe and write.
Declaration: The intertwining of anger and hatred against the dehumanized ‘Other’ made my bile rise. Perhaps my degree of revulsion is suspect because I am an empath and therefore especially intolerant. Violence is not something I can emotionally encompass without shock, numbness and annihilating rage. The only possible following action, for me, seems to be to turn to the living and try to do something on their behalf. And so anger is followed quickly by sorrow. Who grieves for them? For every wound, every child rushed quickly through the pain of adulthood into sickness and sorrow and death? The remaining affect founders in the mud beneath the clear sky of reason.
As long as national and international laws treat the rape of women as less significant than the brutalization and torture of men, I refuse to call either the Delhi or the Rohtak cases rapes. They are cases of mutilation, torture, murder, dismemberment, cruel and pathological premeditated destruction. A woman is first a human being.
Define her any way you want. She is gone. I’m glad she is gone. I hope she went into shock very early, so that some part of the pain I cannot imagine will have been kept from her senses. Oh child, I wish I had had the power to ask for a quick death for you.
Morally, I feel violated. Warring subjective reactions, one almost feral, the other weary of everyday claims to a modern world. Nothing has changed, we still have poverty, disease, brutal and casual death, catastrophes that could have been easily averted, and a miserable existence for those outside the gates of the manor/gates of power.
They speak of arrests and fast-track courts. Nine men safe in cells. Thus speaks the red mist of pain and anger.
And the mist asks: why should we distrust a subjective response, or hand over our moral trials to slow, plodding courts? Justice can be serene only when it has transcended both pain and joy, of all peoples. But in the moments of every event, every time, the public must feel, must respond viscerally, affectively, subjectively, for such response is the surest condemnation of whatever threatens the human (cruelty, violence, inaction). By refusing to feel the pain of others we become less than fully human ourselves.
In the wake of such response it will be easy to hear the blood cry for justice. Inevitably, someone will ask for the death penalty, and most others will cry against it.
Let’s think for a moment — and separate the legal and the moral codes, and then again the archetypal ones.
I cannot comprehend the psychology of this much fear, rage and revenge, all for the chance occurrence of a female body. What sensations are such creatures after? Had they done it before? Who are the men and women who know them, shelter them? Such impotence, that it took many to hunt one, it took many to attack one mentally challenged female stranger, it took sharp and hard objects to invade her, it took violence to make her submit to what they had to say. They calculated–a stranger, a woman with difficulties, a place where her cries and struggles would not be heeded or her body found for days, a plan of ambush, tools for their task, the willing participation of each. They depersonalized her, dehumanized her, obliterated what remained. Nine men for one woman? But these are not men. Nor are they beasts. Animals have a primary motivation — survival. These perpetrators had no purpose other than gratification in the moment.
Cries against feeble manhood and an impotent nation could be taken in the context of increasing brutalization of women by men all over the world. A body perceived as weaker is still an easier and more horrifying target for the rage of man. Why? What causes a man to wish to rape whatever is ‘not like me’? What causes a human male to split off from the part of him that is common to the species? Shall we blame it partially on womanhood and the raising of wayward, entitled, sociopathic sons in societies enamored of ‘traditional ways of living’? Shall we say Delhi and Rohtak reveal the pathology of Indian society, and the psychopathology of several million specimens of the Indian male?
Do you see? I cannot reason this through. I cannot thrust this from my body, take pleasure in my body’s life when my cells twitch with an anguish they cannot remember.
Oh child, I wish I had had the power to ask for a quick death for you.
You, Man, go on, tear up the script. I want to see the edges of that paper tear the light when you do it. Sharp edges. Make splinters when you scour wood. And raw, inflamed, cold skin. Scrape it out.
And you, Woman, cold as fury, you shall be ice shards in the wood fence. The bits that will pierce him when he reaches for the gate. Unable to burn, you will disappear and leave naught but the thought that if this is winter there must have been another season, too.
She noticed the fine triangular fissures of her hands, and thought of floors and pans and doors. Of all the years, and cried a little for the girl she had been long ago in a sunny land, sitting by her desk and bed looking transfixed at the translucence of her blood and skin in the strong light. The wonder of that same hand. The form had taken shape now, the lines of life written, self-made, choices coarsened, and many doors had closed. Youth in its exuberance had taken flight and this remained. The clay after the river had receded, this mortal wrapping, the life and debris of the river, the mud of idols, a corpse or two. The ghats of a few lives. And so recollecting, she sent the remainder down the same river of lines. If it got away it would live. As hopes and floating lamps and idols and bodies did before their journey immersed them whole.
Every thanksgiving they fall, all the passion colors of life. And the rain laves them, turning dust to brine, ice to memory.
Ritual disintegration, disrobing of hope, of life, the color wheel. And all that is black is wet, turning back to Persephone turning to her dark lord.
These are the passion colors of the north, fit winter brides to Wordsworth’s pale gold sun and flaxen spring.
Those my dark hot passions and charred summer. I am out of my sun.
Wild with adoration of her lord she cast off her veils.
Cloth, shame, pain, earth, all forms forsaken
but this body, this space,
this knowledge of a self diffracted,
wild with that adoration she cast off
and kept nothing back to give — flowers to stone, Mallikarjuna–,
wild with adoration she cast off her veils, and you hid behind their fall.
“and seeing, I quell today
the famine in my eyes”
Mahadeviyakka, 12th Century. Trans. A.K. Ramanujan from medieval Kannada to modern English in his _Speaking of Siva_ (1973). #68, p 120.