It seems to be a recurring theme when politics and rape allegations mix: women’s bodies become the battlefield where access to justice is secondary, a mere afterthought or a nuisance. Julian Assange, currently locked in an embassy in London, was granted asylum in Ecuador while his alleged victims in Sweden are denied their day in court because “more important matters” take precedent in a political game eerily similar to the situation with Roman Polanski’s extradition request. Both cases, while differing in circumstance and details, share a commonality based on rape culture values. The bodies of raped victims are not treated as valuable as the political circumstances that surround their cases.
One of the most persistent threads throughout the two years of imprisonment of accused Wikileaks leaker Private Bradley Manning has been the rumour that he is in fact, she–a transgender woman. Manning faces thirty charges, one of which “aiding the enemy” potentially carries the death penalty (though life in prison is more likely) for leaking hundreds of thousands of documents via the website Wikileaks including the shocking “Collateral Murder” video. Dismissed by many as a smear or simply irrelevant to the case, this transgender story has nevertheless refused to die.
Last week, journalist Lara Logan was sexually assaulted by a group of protesters in Egypt. Details of the assault emerged over time: She was forcibly isolated from her crew. She was beaten; some of her assailants used flagpoles. Some of her hair was pulled out. Red marks, originally thought to be bite marks, were found near “sensitive” parts of her body; they were deemed the result of “aggressive pinching.” She was saved by a group of women, who threw themselves on top of her, physically shielding her from the crowd. One assumes those women were assaulted as well, although no details about this have emerged, and not many people reporting on the story have paused to note the probable cost for a woman who places herself physically between a sexual assailant and his target; next to the story of (white, South African born, American-based) Logan, the heroic actions of those Egyptian women have become all but invisible. The details are harsh, they are graphic, and they are terrifying.
Time magazine’s annual Person of the Year attracts far more attention than almost anything else the magazine publishes. This year it was Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and subject of a well-reviewed biopic. The not-so-charismatic choice overruled readers’ 382,020 votes for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who currently is relaxing on an estate in England, fighting extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges—that is, if the U.S. government doesn’t manage to snag him first.
Julian Assange is also at the center of a debate among free speech advocates, progressives, and other WikiLeaks supporters. While almost no one thinks that the timing of Assange’s arrest was free from political motives, it seems that many have a hard time separating support for WikiLeaks’ mission from support for Assange, who is accused, just for the record, of rape, sexual molestation, and unlawful coercion by two separate women. It seems too difficult for some to understand that the man behind a site that does significant, important work might also have done horrible things to people in his personal life—and that the government might be taking advantage of that, without having to fabricate charges.
What we didn’t know that we knew about Afghanistan
In his book Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle, philosopher Slajov Zizek laid out an ad-hoc taxonomy for various kinds of knowledge, via a reference to then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumseld. Zizek says:
In March 2003, Rumsfeld engaged in a little bit of amateur philosophizing about the relationship between the known and the unknown: “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” What he forgot to add was the crucial fourth term: the “unknown knowns,” the things we don’t know that we know–which is precisely, the Freudian unconscious, the “knowledge which doesn’t know itself,” as Lacan used to say.
Zizek suggests that we know very well on some level what is going on, and that this latent knowledge is tacitly approved of so long as it remains at the level of the unknown known. One of the key differences between Abu Ghraib and previous torture was that the Bush administration had already admitted to the possibility of torture via its arguments about its political effectiveness in preventing further terrorist attacks. Conservative thought-games about “ticking time bomb” scenarios implicitly allowed and normalized the torture of terror suspects and the concurrent suspension of human rights. Continue reading
During Vietnam, we in the U.S. saw the war. We saw photographs come back that froze scenes of horror in front of our eyes. During current wars, though, we have television cameras and satellites and near-instant information exchange, we see far-off shots of bombs falling. Sometimes we see the aftermath.
But we don’t see the war. It bubbles up like the return of the repressed now and again, like this tape, released by the site WikiLeaks, resurfacing from 2007 into a national consciousness that has mostly put Iraq behind us. Continue reading