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The progressive left must learn there can be no whataboutery when it comes to rape

A US politician’s clumsy words about Hamas highlight a wider problem

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) talks to reporters after attending a classified, closed-door briefing about Hamas' attack on Israel. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The main thing in your head, during rape-when you are the victim: is whether or not you will survive: Live.

It is always brutal, even if it happens after one too many drinks and a lack of consent and finally no choice. Because rape is ultimately about power; about the demonstration of it and about agency.

Rape is a particularly male weapon, which might be an obvious thing to say in most cases, but it needs to be stated. Over and over.

After a date – which is when it happened to me –  you chastise yourself for not seeing the signs, heeding the warnings. You bury it finally, but know in that part of you that is human that you have been changed. You have been altered.

In war, it is a trophy of war. Because war is a particularly male response. War is waged largely by men and rape in war is one of their weapons.  

We have decided, as nations, as human beings, that rape is not tolerable. In war, it is particularly heinous, viciously lethally anonymous.

The humiliation of it, too, is there. I think of women in Sudan raped in front of their brothers and fathers and children as an act of mano-a-mano communication.

What happens to the victims after that? What do they become? Even if they live and also manage to live disease free, what happens to their minds? To their hearts?

I am told that my political allegiance is to the left. I have voted Labour since I was given the privilege of citizenship in this country and will do so at the next general election. I support many of the things that left wingers do, too, and it is a comfortable place on the political spectrum for me to be.

But I do not understand the relative silence on the part of many on the progressive left in relation to the sexual atrocities committed against the women taken by Hamas on October 7 in Israel.

Two weeks ago, on CNN, the chair of the US congressional progressive caucus, Pramila Jayapal of the state of Washington, was asked her feelings about the rapes committed in the kibbutzim and at the music festival.

I saw it live. Saw her live.

Jayapal said that while she condemned the actions of Hamas, “I think we have to be balanced about bringing in the outrages against Palestinians… “we cannot say that one war crime deserves another.!

She did not come right out unequivocally condemning what happened. What has been documented for all of us to see, by the men who were committing the atrocities.

Jaypal has since issued a statement doing just that, in which she also complained that criticism of her stance “deeply hurts the ability to have meaningful conversations about critical issues.”

With this clumsy approach, she must have retraumatised, every woman; every man and child victim of rape and other forms of sexual violence who happened to hear or see her words.

Pramila Jayapal is Tamil. I point this out because we all know the atrocities inflicted on her people. And yet, she seemed, that Sunday morning to have little pity. Little understanding. Why?

What I do not understand is why there is not a universal outcry against what happened; may still be happening because the word is that something like 26 women under 30 are still being held.

What does being a progressive mean if it does not mean progressing humanity itself-taking us away from our barbarism, our “othering”?

I was able to walk away with my life after what happened to me, but many, many women have not: have been killed and worse. I say worse because some of the families of rape victims have suffered immeasurably. Eternally.

My late father who, as a young GI in WWII, not only told me about the atrocities of the Nazi concentration camps, the aftermath visible for him to see as a military policeman; but he was also in Berlin after the Soviets took it.

It was German women who paid for the invasion of Russia. 

It was the women who paid in Vietnam and everywhere throughout history.

But we have decided – haven’t we? – that sexual violence is unacceptable, intolerable, no matter in what cause it happens.

And what does “progressive” actually mean if it does not mean that they who wear that label are not busy progressing human beings toward our common humanity, towards the links that keep us bound to one another?

Rumour is that the truce negotiations broke down because of the taken women. Because of the fact that they may have a story to tell that progressives may not want to hear. May not want to face.

Rape as a tool of war must be condemned and prevented everywhere. When we hear about it; read about it: believe the victim. We have collectively decided that we believe the victim, so we must not stop now.  

Congresswoman Jayapal has had some pushback from her own caucus. Some are appalled by her lack of empathy; her “whataboutery”, her coldness in the face of the fate of kidnapped women.

We worry about AI, but I worry about us human beings. What will happen if we continue to turn away from atrocity because it happened/happens to “the other side”?

Stand up for the October 7 victims of sexual violence. Stand up for the Palestinian women subjected to sexual violence in Israeli jails and prisons. Stand up for all victims of rape and sexual violence, especially in war.


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