Justice for Rasmea Odeh

(Editors’ Note: To learn more about Rasmea Odeh’s case, listen to an engaging interview with Nadine Naber on KPFA)

by Nadine Naber
(originally published at Middle East Research and Information Project)

This past wintrasmeaodeher, I was privileged to participate in several events in Chicago organized by Rasmea Yousef Odeh, associate director of the Arab American Action Network and leader of that group’s Arab Women’s Committee. The events brought together anywhere from 60-100 disenfranchised women, all recent immigrants, from nearly every Arabic-speaking country. The attendees were there to learn English, share meals and stories, and discuss personal struggles, in everything from marriage and parenting to navigating the US educational and medical industries and the US immigration system. The women also talked about fending off racism. Together, they developed solutions for their own lives.

One event I attended was a celebration of International Women’s Day, at which immigrant women performed a play that Rasmea Odeh had written. The play focused on several generations of women in an extended Arab immigrant family who grappled with gender-related struggles both in the family and in American society with recourse to their loving but often tense connections with one another. The audience was engrossed, laughing and commenting throughout the performance, perhaps because they rarely see their own life struggles thus affirmed in America. Rarely, in fact, do they see humane, nuanced representations of Arab women’s lives at all.

After the play, attendees listened to music and celebrated their own accomplishments. Several women were from countries like Yemen and Iraq and had come to the United States without knowing a word of English. They could now read and write. Odeh asked each of her students to bring something they had written in English to be read out loud. The first woman stood up and read: “I love my teacher.”

As the event went on, women spoke over and over about the affection and gratitude they felt toward Rasmea Odeh for touching and transforming their lives and making such a beautiful space possible. I then understood why scores of women were attending each class, workshop or event — even though they were under no obligation to do so and even though many had to walk by themselves through a polar vortex snowstorm (in Chicago, no less) to get there.

I could not help but recall the scenes at the Arab Women’s Committee events some months later, in May, at a historic Chicago conference in commemoration of the 1964 Freedom Summer, when civil rights icon Angela Davis insisted that every social justice activist in the US embrace solidarity with Palestine and the movement demanding that the US government drop its charges against Rasmea Odeh.

Charges? What charges? Why would the US government want to prosecute this 67-year old Palestinian-American community activist and teacher?

On October 22, 2013, also in Chicago, Department of Homeland Security agents arrested Odeh. She was subsequently indicted on one charge of unlawful procurement of naturalization, and released the same day on a $15,000 bond. The US government accuses Odeh of failing to answer a question truthfully on her naturalization application ten years ago in 2004. She is scheduled to stand trial in a Detroit federal court starting on September 8, 2014. If convicted, she could face up to ten years in prison and fines up to $250,000. She may also be deported and have her US citizenship revoked after the potential prison sentence is served. From national call in-days to student protests, petitions and mobilizations to pack the courtroom, a campaign to support Odeh has gained massive support.

US officials say they are after Odeh for immigration fraud. The Department of Justice alleges that Odeh failed to disclose on her naturalization application that she had served time in Israeli jail — even though her sentence was based on a confession she made in the midst of 45 days of sexual and physical torture while in detention. In addition, Odeh’s 1969 conviction in Israel was determined by a court system that systematically abuses Palestinians’ due process rights and convicts Palestinians at a rate of 99.74 percent. The Israeli military justice system that is applied to occupied Palestinians, in fact, has itself been found to be in immense violation of international law — from the lack of protections against torture and rape while in custody to the simple fact that virtually no Palestinian walks away free from an Israeli trial. The Israeli state also unlawfully imprisoned and tortured Odeh’s family and destroyed her family home soon after her arrest.

Odeh’s release from Israeli jail was followed by exile to Jordan and immigration to the US. Living in Michigan and Chicago since 1994, she has worked at the Arab American Action Network since the mid-2000s and led the Arab Women’s Committee, one of the most successful empowerment programs for Arab immigrant women living in poverty. For this service, Odeh received the Mosaic Award for Outstanding Community Service from the Chicago Cultural Alliance. Thanks to her leadership, the Arab Women’s Committee now has a base of nearly 600 Arab immigrant women and does much more than the typical social service program. Women may obtain language training and other services, but they also come to find emotional support, genuine human interaction, artistic and writing activities, political discussion and debate, and a level of solidarity otherwise absent from their lives.

The question remains: Why is Rasmea Odeh being prosecuted, and why now, for an alleged infraction that is a full decade old? Analysts connect her arrest with many previous US government campaigns against Palestinian-American activists and their supporters. Under the Nixon administration, there was Operation Boulder. The case of the Los Angeles Eight outlasted three (and almost four) presidents before it was finally set aside. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, there has been increased spying, profiling and infiltration of Arab and Muslim communities and there have been prosecutions for sending charitable aid to Palestinians, as in the case of theHoly Land Five.

In all of these cases, as in Odeh’s, what the US government considers suspect is connected to what Palestinian-Americans and their supporters are permitted to say about Israel — and to Israel’s own systems of militarism, surveillance, repression and incarceration. There may also be a connection between Odeh’s indictment and the 2010 FBI raids targeting 23 anti-war and Palestine solidarity activists in the Midwest. And Palestine Solidarity Legal Support responded to more than 100 more incidents in 2013 alone. These incidents involve not only extra government scrutiny but also all sorts of intimidation and bullying. The Odeh indictment may also be related to the US government’s Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program, which delays and denies naturalization applications of members of Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian communities, solely on the basis of religion, ethnicity and/or national origin.

But again, why Rasmea Odeh, and why now? Why now, when so many Arab immigrant women in Chicago are celebrating their personal successes in America partly due to Odeh’s remarkable leadership? Why now, when the Palestinian struggle, typified by the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, is growing faster than ever before in Chicago and across the US?

We may never really know why, but this much is clear: The federal government is using immigration infractions as a political tool to target Rasmea Odeh with criminal charges. The circumstances of her case are especially aggravating: 1) Israel tortures and sexually assaults Palestinians like Odeh as a means of facilitating the colonization of Palestinian land; 2) the US is complicit going back decades in Israeli war crimes and violations of international law; and 3) the US is now excavating the naturalization papers of a 67-year old survivor of sexual torture in order to brand her as a criminal.

These circumstances are why the streets of Detroit will be filled and the courtroom packed on September 8. From now until then, the collective voice of those whose lives Rasmea has touched, and the growing number of others who support her, will continue to demand: Drop the charges now!

For more information on this case and how to support Rasmea Odeh, see here and here.

No One Is Free While Others Are Oppressed ~ August 6, 2011 SlutWalk Philadelphia Speech

Originally posted at AfroLez®femcentric, reposted with permission.

No One Is Free While Others Are Oppressed ~ August 6, 2011 SlutWalk Philadelphia Speech
by Aishah Shahidah Simmons

http://notherapedocumentary.org/no-one-is-free-while-others-are-oppressed-slutwalk-philadelphia-speech

Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference – those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older – know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths.”

—- Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider —-

Aishah speaks at SlutWalk Rally in Philadelphia

Black. Lesbian. Feminist. Mother. Warrior. Poet. Audre Lorde’s written words taught me that my silence will not protect me, and that silence is not golden.  I am a Black feminist lesbian who is a survivor of incest and rape.  When I was ten, my paternal (step)grandfather molested me over a period of two years; and when I was 12 the eldest son of a family friend fondled me. My rape happened when I was a soon to be 20 year old sophomore in college.  I was on a study abroad program and broke all of the university-enforced rules to go out, very late at night, with the man who would become my rapist. In spite of my having second thoughts about going out with this new acquaintance, I was both afraid to articulate them and to turn around because my friends were covering for me.  In the hotel room, for which I paid, I told my rapist “I don’t want to do this. Please stop.”  I didn’t “violently” fight back. I didn’t scream or yell to the top of my lungs” because I was afraid. I didn’t want to make a “scene.” I blamed myself for saying, “Yes”…for breaking the rules…for paying for the hotel room.

The morning following my rape, I went back to where the school housed us and lied to my friends. I didn’t tell them that I was forced to have sex against my will. In an effort to both deny what happened on the night of my rape and to be in control of my body, I had consensual sex with another man that evening.  When it was time to return home to the United States, I was pregnant and didn’t know which of the two men was the biological father. I was fortunate to have a safe and legal abortion at the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center for Women in Philadelphia, PA.

And, before I continue, I want to be explicitly and unequivocally clear that I am NOT a lesbian because I was molested and raped. I am a lesbian because I’m attracted to and love women.  So, please do not walk away making the homophobic and heterosexist comment “Oh, that’s why Aishah is a lesbian. It’s because she was molested and raped.”

WRONG.

If molestation and rape made women and girls lesbians, then most of the girls and women in the world would be lesbians. Just check the global statistics on molestation and rape.

I share what some of you might view as personal, private—and perhaps—seemingly unnecessary because the personal is directly related not only to the political but also the professional in my life.

Now, I admit when Executive Organizer Hannah Altman invited me to be a speaker at SlutWalk Philadelphia, I was very, very apprehensive.  However, after quite a bit of thought and deliberation; and in spite of my many conflicting feelings as a Black feminist lesbian whose contemporary reality and ancestral lineage has been rooted in the legalized name calling/marginalizing/denigration of mind/body/spirit for centuries without too much recourse, I accepted the invitation to be a speaker.

I am here today because I want to see an end to the victim-blaming in my lifetime, and I’m 42-years old. No, victim-blaming is not going to stop because we are all here participating in SlutWalk Philadelphia. If only it were that easy. However, I believe it is important that the faces, voices, and perspectives of women of color (inclusive of all sexualities) and trans people of color are seen and heard. Documented herstory and contemporary reality has shown us that more often than not, it is our bodies that catch the most hell not only by the State but also by people in and out of our communities (however we define them). It is our bodies that have a demonstrated track record of being on the frontlines of the movements to end all forms of oppression.

I believe words are very, very powerful. At the same time, I really struggle with many who are hostile to the “SlutWalks” because they say it gives the wrong message. What is the right message? I think about Take Back the Night, which was founded in the early ’70s, when I was a toddler.  As strange as it may seem today, especially now that Take Back the Night has become an “acceptable” movement throughout this country and globally, I know there was resistance. I’m sure some, if not many people took the position, ‘What do you mean take back the night? You shouldn’t be out at night!’

Personally, I do not embrace the word Slut at all… And, at the same time, I will not say or subscribe to the patriarchal and misogynistic thinking that “we can’t do this or that type of behavior; or wear this or that type of clothing and not expect to get harassed, fondled, and/or raped.

There are some places in the world that would say that presently, I’m not properly covered in what I view as very modest attire (by most US standards). There are many in the United States; and throughout the world who believe I should be raped, assaulted, and/or harassed for the mere fact that I’m an unapologetically OUT Feminist Lesbian.

Where do we draw the lines of who can and can’t be rape, assaulted, harassed, and/or called vicious and vitriolic names? Why are we okay with RAPE being the penalty for ANY type of behavior (including heterosexual women having multiple sexual partners) or for wearing ANY type of attire of clothing (including thongs and bustier? ). This line of thinking is inhumane, egregious, wretched, and should be unacceptable.

Sexual violence is one of the only crimes where the victim behavior’s determines if a crime happened or not. I could be in a drug-infested neighborhood with a lot of money on my person and even bragging about my money and showing it off. If someone steals my money, they are a thief, plain and simple. Yes, one could say “Aishah, what were you doing with all that money in that neighborhood. Are you crazy?” And yet, at the same time, it would be clear that I was robbed.  If I left my macbook pro in Starbucks and someone stole it, we may think I was dumb for leaving it there, but that doesn’t take away the fact that someone stole my macbook pro.

How can we have more empathy for the loss of money or even the loss of a computer than the (hopefully, temporary) loss of one’s body for a few seconds, moments, hours, or even days? Why do we tend to be clear about the impact of the loss of material possessions in ways that we don’t want to be clear about the impact of the loss of the right to ones own body. For too many, rape has become a word, almost devoid of the horrifying experience from which too many of us never ever fully recover.

There is something very disturbing and painful that there is this widespread (as in global) notion that material possessions are worth more than a woman’s body… There is something wrong that too many of us believe that a woman doesn’t have the right to show or flaunt her body, if she desires… That a woman doesn’t have a right to agree to one form of sexual activity and not agree to another form of sexual activity. That she doesn’t have the right to say “yes,” and then have the courage or even the audacity to change her mind and say “no.”  Whose body is it anyway? Contrary to global belief, it’s not the perpetrators body. And yet, too many of us defend the perpetrators RIGHT to violate the body of another.

When will we stop treating boys and men as if they are wild beastly animals or innocent toddlers (not sure which one) who can’t control their words and/or actions? When will we put the blame on the perpetrators? When will we stop saying “Well, women have to take some responsibility?”  Take responsibility for what, men and boys being unable to control themselves resulting in them violating a woman or girl’s body because of what she said, wore, and/or did?

Really.?!

Again, I ask where do we draw the lines of who can and can’t be assaulted, harassed, and/or raped? As long as there is any group of people including but not limited to adolescent and teenage “fast” girls, women, trans people, queer people, and sex workers who are marginalized, then all of us are vulnerable both because it’s all subjective; and the lines of the margins shift all of the time. Who’s acceptable today may not be acceptable tomorrow.

We must stop subscribing to this notion that rape is the justifiable penalty for ANY type of behavior or attire of clothing that we may not like or even disapprove of.

We must centralize the margins of the margins of the margins of society so that ALL of us are free from assault, harassment, rape, and other forms of sexual violence. No One Is Free While Others Are Oppressed. NO ONE IS FREE WHILE OTHERS ARE OPPRESSED.

Aishah Shahidah Simmons

Aishah Shahidah Simmons is the producer/writer/director of NO! The Rape Documentary, the internationally acclaimed, award-winning feature length film, which examines the international atrocity of rape and other forms of sexual violence through the first person testimonies, scholarship, activism, and cultural work of African-Americans. You can follow her on twitter, connect with her on Facebook, and/or read her AfroLez®femcentric blog.

Strauss-Kahn, Domestic Immigrants and Money, Power, Respect

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, was recently accused of sexual assault by a black immigrant woman who worked as a maid in a New York hotel.  Since then, the media, Strauss-Kahn’s defense team, and others have attempted to violently attack the character and credibility of his accuser.  This attack has led to calls for dismissal of the case against Strauss-Kahn.

There is a movement to fight back.  Strauss-Kahn’s accuser is suing the New York Post for libel.  Activists are mobilizing and speaking out in the face of escalated attacks against her.  There is also a change.org petition “demanding the New York Post retract and apologize for victim-blaming coverage.”

Below, Tamura A. Lomax, writer and editor at The Feminist Wire, offers a lucid political analysis of the events to date.  This post was originally published at The Feminist Wire and is re-posted here with permission.  - Editors

Strauss-Kahn, Domestic Immigrants and Money, Power, Respect
by Tamura A. Lomax, The Feminist Wire

See I believe in money, power and respect.  First you get the money.  Then you get the motherf–kin’ power.  And after you get the f–kin’ power.  You get the f–kin’ ni–az to respect you. It’s the key to life.  ~Lil’ Kim

In 1998 when Lil’ Kim penned these lyrics in the Hip Hop anthem, “Money, Power, Respect,” she was likely drawing upon her early years as a struggling teen on the streets of Brooklyn with limited resources and no real place to call home.  In my naivety, I assumed that Lil’ Kim was talking about something she in fact had, not what she and countless others like her would spend a lifetime longing for.  Today, these lyrics continue to ring true for women and men alike.  For black diasporic women and girls, they are particularly profound.  However, for immigrant domestic workers, Lil’ Kim’s lyrics are prophetic.  Money, power and respect is exactly what former IMF Managing Director (and front-runner for the 2012 French presidential election) Dominique Strauss-Kahn, 62, has, and what the unnamed 32-year-old Guinean housekeeper, who accused Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault in a Manhattan hotel in May, needs to be taken seriously and to win her case against him.

According to the woman’s initial testimony, she entered Strauss-Kahn’s suite at approximately 1 p.m. believing it was unoccupied.  As the housekeeper cleaned the foyer, Strauss-Kahn “came out of the bathroom, fully naked, and attempted to sexually assault her.”  As she fought him, he “locked the door to the suite,” “grabbed her and pulled her into the bedroom and onto the bed.” After which, “he…dragged her down the hallway to the bathroom, where he sexually assaulted her a second time.”  After fleeing, the woman reported the incident to hotel personnel who called 911.  Upon boarding Air France Flight 23, Strauss-Kahn was apprehended and taken into custody, throwing the French political world, U.S. media and life of the 32-year-old Guinean housekeeper into utter mayhem.

Just last week The New York Times reported that Strauss-Kahn prosecution was “near collapse.”  “Major holes” were found in the credibility of the Guinean housekeeper, although forensic tests found unambiguous evidence of a sexual encounter between the two, and despite evidence of force (i.e. torn clothing, bruising, etc.).  According to the prosecution, the accuser has repeatedly lied since her initial allegation on May 14.

Among the discoveries, one of the officials said, are issues involving the asylum application of the 32-year-old housekeeper, who is Guinean, and possible links to people involved in criminal activities, including drug dealing and money laundering.

Ultimately, the accuser falls short of the Victorian ideal.  Like the rest of us, she is neither perfect nor without blemish (nor can she pay to appear as such).  Thus, the circumstances surrounding the encounter on May 14, notwithstanding forensic and physical evidence, and personal testimony (of the victim and others alike), must be called into question.  Moreover, Strauss-Kahn, who has already fallen from political grace and been replaced (perhaps conveniently), must now be exonerated (maybe, just in time to announce his candidacy for the French presidency).  According to The New York Times he was released July 2.  The case is now moving toward dismissal.

Some will undoubtedly see the most recent turn of events as just.  However, others, myself included, are eerily reminded of Lil’ Kim’s verse in “Money, Power, Respect.”  While there are admittedly several unanswered questions surrounding this case, few things are clear: violent sex happened in Strauss-Kahn’s Manhattan hotel suite on May 14, respect for black female life is largely improbable without money and power, especially for immigrant domestic workers and others, and those with money and power can pretty much do what they damn well please.  This is not a projection.  It is a reality.

The 32-year-old housekeeper isn’t the first to complain about Strauss-Kahn.  The married father of four has a history of allegations against him, strangely earning him the nickname “the great seducer.”  However, contrary to belief there is nothing seductive about rape.  And, just because one has never been tried doesn’t mean they are innocent.  Also, while we are at it, just because the accuser waited to tell her story, didn’t have a perfect life, was less than forthcoming about her experience, or, as in this case, was perhaps even downright untruthful about some of the details, does not mean violence, to which Strauss-Kahn should be held accountable, did not occur.

History reveals a ritualistic raping (and the threat of rape) of black diasporic women in general and black female domestic workers in particular by white men who use  social capital and economic prowess to not only silence their prey, but to reconfigure them altogether.  While we should not rush to judgment, we also cannot afford to ignore the growing archive.  The defense made it clear that they would make the credibility of the woman a focus of their case.  Of course this is a common rape strategy across the board. Rape trials are rarely solely about sexual violence, and often (over) emphasize the victims personal life.  Sadly, the burden of “proof” lies there–in one’s ability to avoid reasonable doubt–through the unquestionable presentation of a “perfect” life (something most often bought by those with money, power and respect, if not already privileged by race, class and gender).

So, the question is, how does one avoid reasonable doubt when one is already stigmatized due to race, ethnicity and class, and when violence against one is so familiar and normative that suffering is unfathomable?  Further, how does one avoid reasonable doubt when rape is historically a normative mode of sexuality, the black female body is made the originary locus of liability, coercion is confused with consent, class and social structures imagine the black female body to be both will-less and always-willing simultaneously, and white culpability has a history of displacement, particularly as white sexual violence is perpetuated under the rubric of seduction, paternalism and hierarchy (within which violence is a legitimate form of engagement)?  Moreover, how does one avoid reasonable doubt when she is not seen as a person with innate dignity and worth in the first place?

Apparently, the accuser lied about being raped before.  That is, she recanted her story after giving it.  However, anyone who has been on the underside of sexual violence knows that there are many possible reasons for this.  Recanting doesn’t necessarily mean that rape did not happen.  Living under a symbolic rape cloud is burdensome on many levels.  Nevertheless, lying about it can be equally death-dealing.  To this end, one might say that doubt is reasonable.  However, if sexual violence occurred on May 14, and I believe it did, what bearing does the accusers previous lie have on what happened in Strauss-Kahn’s suite that Saturday afternoon?  While it may sway how we read into the case (in the same way that Strauss-Kahn’s history of sexual inappropriateness does), DNA results confirm sexual contact and other evidence corroborate violence.  That is the issue at hand.  Let’s be clear, a woman was assaulted.

The defense will likely posit that contact was consensual, or as The New York Post suggests, that the defendant was a “hooker,” “doing double duty as a prostitute, collecting cash on the side from male guests.” One might reason, if true then presumably violence was warranted.  Not!  Not only is this stereotype as trite as they come, sexual violence is neither earned nor justifiable, not even for those with money and power.

A woman was assaulted.  According to her testimony, violence came unrequested.  And as far as I know, the prosecution has yet to find any “holes” there.  Sure, it is her word against his, not to mention there are enough stereotypes on both ends to make our heads spin!  On one hand we have the rich white Jewish womanizer.  On the other hand we have the poor Guinean Muslim immigrant widow (possibly HIV positive with a potential criminal history).  To be sure, this case is ripe for multiple “bold imaginings.”  And yes, there is also a taped phone call between the accuser and an incarcerated acquaintance that highlights talk about the benefits of such a case.  While the context and particulars of that conversation are unknown, it certainly adds to such fantasying.  However, does such behavior, whatever you may think about it, mean the housekeeper was not violated on May 14?  Is it possible that she was in fact violated and wishes to financially benefit?  She is an immigrant seeking asylum, in search of the “American Dream.”  To this end, the accuser is no different than most other American’s who make capital gains off of misdeeds against them.  This is in fact “the American way.”

A woman was assaulted, but apparently that’s neither here nor there.  She stands on the wrong side of history and power and thus her past outweighs that of the defendant.  Let us also be mindful that French elections are underway.  Perhaps the 32-year-old Guinean housekeeper was always a “non…factor.”  It’s clear that Strauss-Kahn found her to be “rape-able.”  However, one can’t help but to wonder if the woman was exploited by French political powers wanting to put Strauss-Kahn out of office and then subsequently discarded altogether by those hoping to put his name back in the presidential hat.  What cannot be ignored as Patricia Williams at The Nation points out, is that Strauss-Kahn was not only on his way to becoming France’s next president, if successful he would have been the first Jewish president.  In addition,

As head of the IMF, he led that institution in a distinctly progressive manner. He sharply critiqued corrupt American bankers and banking practices and, early on, predicted the collapse of the mortgage market. As a center-left Socialist party member, he was close to negotiating a European Union bailout for Greece. And his elimination from the election empowers the candidacy of Marine LePen, head of the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic National Front party, whose popularity, alarmingly enough, currently polls higher than that of Nicolas Sarkozy.

Nevertheless, with the recent turn of events, I wouldn’t be surprised if we learned later that this case was ultimately deployed by Strauss-Kahn’s supporters as a form of political peroxide.  As the case moves toward dismissal, he is slowly but surely becoming the honorable victim.  Money, power and the right pigmentation can do that for you.  Yet, what most brown and black women know is that a woman was likely assaulted on May 14.  And while her surrounding narrative may raise reasonable doubt, her story about the violence that occurred on that day has not waivered.  Again, it is of course her word against his. Unfortunately, she lacks the money, power and respect for many of us to really hear her (entire) story.  Somehow, I believe there is much more to this narrative than what meets the eye, and there are details that we will never know.  To be sure, this case is about as complicated as they come.  One thing is for sure, it serves as a definitive reminder of who actually “runs the world,” and unfortunately it’s not us girls…

“Man Down” – Rihanna Uncovers the Anguish of Rape Victims and Calls the Community to Accountability

Rihanna recently released a powerful video, “Man Down,” which portrays sexual violence and a lethal response.  Many writers have reflected on the politics of sexual violence against black women in the context of this video including Akiba Solomon at ColorlinesCrunk Feminist Collective, Mark Anthony Neal, and this interview with black lesbian feminist filmmaker, Aishah Shahidah Simmons.

We’re excited to republish the blog post below written by Stephanie M. Crumpton which was posted originally at her blog, Empowering Voices, Cultivating Transformation.  Reposted with permission.  -Editors

“Man Down” – Rihanna Uncovers the Anguish of Rape Victims and Calls the Community to Accountability
Stephanie M. Crumpton

My initial reaction to Rihanna’s “Man Down” video was to ask if there was some kind of connection between it and her personal experiences with violence that we were all made aware of in the 2009 coverage of her assault by a man she was dating (Chris Brown). It seems that since that experience, issues of dominance and relationship violence have become more common in her lyrics and visual representations. Consider her work on Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie,” a song depicting a volatile cycle of passion and pain in a violent relationship between a man and a woman who batter each other but won’t separate.

When I watched “Man Down” and then read some of the posts, especially the negative press, I wondered about whether or not some of her personal experiences AND what she observes in the lives of other women has impacted how seriously she takes her work as an artist.
I may not be far off on this one… Just days after the video was released, Rihanna called in to BET’s 106th and Park show to talk about the video.

The 23 year old artist said, “Rape is, unfortunately, happening all over the world and in our own homes, and we continue to cover it up and pretend it doesn’t happen…”
She explained, “Boys and girls feel compelled to be embarrassed about it and hide it from everyone, including their teachers, their parents and their friends. That only continues to empower the abusers.”

In several cultures, the work of the artist serves as the moral barometer of the community. In this sense, the work isn’t as much about their personal experience as it is about what’s happening on a spiritual level that shows up in our dealings with one another in the wider communal and cultural context.

I must admit that I was indeed shocked when I saw the video (the blood spilling from the back of the man’s head).

That shock was matched by sorrow and sadness over the amount of people (girls, boys, women and men) who are sexually assaulted and who spend days of their lives in anguish because there is no justice really when it comes to the trauma and pain of rape and assault – especially in a culture where people blame the victim when the concern really should be the perpetrators’ use of force.

I thought of the women who are in jail right now because they killed people they were involved with in an act of self defense after years of having been abused. Is there justice in being put in jail because you were defending your life? Do we need to take a serious look at what we mean when we use that word, “justice?”

I also thought of the story in Texas about the eleven year old who was gang raped in a trailer by 18 boys and men. When the news hit, this was the response from a woman in her community, “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.” The “this” she was likely referring to are the criminal charges (and perhaps the guilt?) of their alleged offense.

I shook my head…

What about what the girl will have to live with for the rest of her life – the mental anguish and physical scars of gang rape. How is it that the perpetrators’ needs came to outweigh the suffering of an eleven year old victim? Furthermore, what happens when girls can’t even count on adult women to side with them as they face the aftermath of gender-based violence?

So, all of this prompted me to consider Rihanna’s “Man Down” from the perspective of people who need to know that there are women who use their art to raise awareness about the reality of women’s anguish over rape, but who will also use their art and public platform to call the community to accountability over rape as a communal offense that impacts EVERYONE.

I think that’s just what Rihanna is doing, using her artistry to: 1) Unsettle the conscious and unconscious ways that society has largely accepted violence against women as a norm; 2) Flat footedly reject the idea that responsible, mature women handle their pain and rage quietly and privately. It’s as if society wants the victim to handle their pain in secret, just to protect the community from being embarrassed by what’s happening. Shame on that!

Rihanna isn’t alone. Actress Gabrielle Union took the opportunity to engage rape as a public concern, and the rage she felt when she tried to kill her rapist.

To be clear, I do not suggest that those of us who have been hurt take to the streets to shoot everyone who has hurt us. But, what I do recognize is that her video shows us what can (and does) happen when people weigh their pain against society’s acceptance of violent acts that enforce dominance: They feel the overwhelming weight of the community’s non-commitment to justice, and take matters into hands that pull triggers.

I appreciate Rihanna’s willingness to use her media presence as a medium for consciousness raising. I’m interested in her next step as an artist: I would like to see her participate in the opportunity for dialogue about rape’s rage and change in our communities that her video creates.

Stephanie M. Crumpton

Stephanie M. Crumpton is a public intellectual who writes because she knows that words matter and believes in their ability to empower voices and cultivate transformation.

thinking through “infowar”

brownfemipower of flip flopping joy is back with two guest posts on Wikileaks, state sexual violence, & infowars.  The first installment is below. Originally posted here.


So, in perhaps the most ignored declaration of the year–a war has begun.

And I’ve been trying to think through thoughts on it, but like I said, it’s been largely ignored. Which is a little disturbing to me, seeing as well, pretty much everybody connected to the internet (readers, writers, etc) should have some sort of vested interested in a war being declared on our own turf.

I can’t get my thoughts organized–but I am noticing a lot of patterns. And maybe just putting them out there will help.

* Davy D wrote a bit ago about Homeland Security and ICE shut down a big group of hip/hop websites:

Understand this.. the seizure of websites without due process, corporate interests lobbying and then writing laws that allow them to be the police and t personally enforce, the battle over net neutrality is all about concentrating power in the hands of a few. This is about controlling the flow of information and being a gate keeper in the communications arena. Its the first step in moving a democracy toward a dictatorship. The next step is getting a population to endure fianacial upheavels and hardships.

* The Guardian (who is actually reporting on the cables) is reporting that the US asked Uganda to tell the US when Uganda planned on committing war crimes–but did nothing to stop the war crimes themselves. Oh, and Uganda just so happens to have a finger in the crap going on in the Congo:

During the past two years the Ugandan army has deployed 4,000 troops in Operation Lightning Thunder to chase the LRA out of Uganda into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and now into the Central African Republic where, 800 miles from its original area of operation, the rebel group is thought to have fewer than 300 followers. Several of the LRA’s senior commanders have been killed or captured but Kony is believed to remain alive.

Yeah–the same Congo that has been dealing with astronomical sexual violence. Oh, and Hillary Clinton demanded arrests be made against those committing sexual violence.

* And then there’s the cables about the parties in Afghanistan that had a Texas company pimping out little boys for sexual use by men–and that US diplomats helped to cover up:

But according to the leaked document, Atmar, the Afghani interior minister, was terrified this story would catch a reporter’s ear. He urged the US State Department to shut down a reporter he heard was snooping around, and was horrified that a rumored videotape of the party might surface. He predicted that any story about the party would “endanger lives.” He said that his government had arrested two Afghan police and nine Afghan civilians on charges of “purchasing a service from a child” in connection with the party, but that he was worried about the image of their “foreign mentors,” by which he apparently meant DynCorp. American diplomats told him to chill. They apparently had a better handle on our media than Atmar, because when a report of the party finally did emerge, it was neutered to the point of near-falsehood.

* And in probably the most surprising non-surprising releases, it turns out the Vatican put pressure on the Irish government to basically look the other way on the priest sex abuse in Ireland. Oh, and somehow the US has a finger in that too:

The U.S. ambassador to the Holy See also condemned the leaks and said in a statement that the Vatican and America cooperate in promoting universal values.

The thing I couldn’t stop thinking as I typed all the above info in was how above and beyond Julian Assange–it is the US government that seems to have perfected the role of patriarchal duality that we have all assigned to Assange. The advocate for the dispossessed rolled into a messy soup with dirty slimy scum bag that beats his girlfriend on the side.

It is the US government that is both rapist and activist. It is the US government that we all pretend not see hear the beating on the other side of the wall–because it’s doing such good for the community!

Just as we have to wonder why it makes sense to tell soldiers or policemen that it’s ok to kill when they have a certain uniform on, but not when they’re wearing clothes bought at Target–we have to wonder why it makes sense to condemn men who rape and abuse in private, while willfully and continuously ignoring the private rape and assaults of our government in the name of the “good” it does in public.

And that’s not to say that we let the man off scott free–but rather instead to question: if our goal is to stop rapes before they happen–how do we negotiate the dissonance of the “model” of public advocate/private rapist the US reinforces continuously with the idea of “anti-gender violence citizen”?

Specifically: how will gendered violence ever end when gendered violence remains, at the core, a esteemed value of the US government that we all live under?

Other thoughts:

* what is the connection between Homeland Security’s attack on hip/hop sites and it’s gendered violence against immigrant women?

* not many people are talking about how many rape survivors have used the bureaucracy to report the violence perpetrated against them (think: the blackwater woman who was raped and then held and imprisoned by blackwater, the woman soldier who reported a rape and wound up dead “by suicide” and many others)

* what does it mean that the actions of a sexist misogynistic community that has attacked the feminist community previous is the only community that has had a response to the declaration of war?

* In almost all the above cases, women have been up front advocates in speaking out against the sexual violence being committed against various communities. think: the women in the Congo and Sinead O’Conner. What does it mean that as these women are speaking out and attempting to organize–the US government is directly involved in working against them–again, *even as it claims to be working *with* them*? (and on a side note, I hope every single person in the US hangs their head in shame over what they did to Sinead O’Conner)

* What does this treatment mean for other women who have spoken out against war, sexual violence, genocide, etc over the years? Think: the Dixie Chicks, Angela Davis, Joan Baez, and thousands of unknown women etc.

* What does it mean when citizenship and nationalism is expressly based on silencing and even eliminating the people who SPEAK?

* What does it mean that the US government is so expressly and intimately connected to covering up and perpetrating sexual violence–and 99% of feminist bloggers remain focused on the debate of Julian Assange: hero or rapist?

* What does it mean that bloggers that are NOT corporate backed are being targeted by Homeland Security and ICE in the name of corporate enforcement of copyright violations? What does it mean that corporate backing is an effective way to “decriminalize” your writing in the eyes of the government? What does it mean that corporate backed newspapers are getting a free pass in the wake of wikileaks, whereas wikileaks and Julian Assange are subject to murder threats, harassment by various governments, imprisonment, etc?

* What does it mean that so many feminist bloggers are not talking about this targeting? And does it make a difference that so many feminist bloggers are corporate backed (i.e. paid for their production of thought [full transparency: I have been paid for essays I’ve written] or writing for a corporate owned blog)?

* What does it mean to be a “professional feminist” in light of the current atmosphere?

* What does it mean that Homeland Security and ICE have the ability to shut down blogs/communities with little to no oversight at all–for those of us who blog about immigration? And sexual violence perpetrated by ICE?

* And finally–what does it mean that consistently, the biggest intervention against sexual violence by those of us who have experienced it is to SPEAK!–and consistently, *F*eminists tell us who have experienced that violence that the most powerful force against SPEAKing is a viable tool in our liberation?

This is just some of the shit I”m thinking through–other thoughts include how incredibly terrifying Joe Lieberman has become, how so much of this crap going on right now (right down to the shutting off of funding) has been practiced and perfected and justified as necessary on Arabs and Muslims in the US, what my role is in all this as somebody who has done plenty of my own freelance work, what a queer/LGBT analysis of a lot of this same information looks like, and much more.

But I guess I’ll stop there.
I’d be interested in hearing what your thoughts are…

**Oh, and one last thing–why, exactly, does the nation/state get to define what rape is? Is there no amount of irony and just–mind blowing dissonance that even feminists are arguing in all seriousness that rape in the US is different than rape in Sweden? Really? Does a woman in Sweden feel less raped than a woman in the US when she is raped? Or vise-versa? Would we all agree that the man who is raping and beating his wife gets to define what rape is in the greater community? Why do we then unquestionably accept the nation/state telling us what sexual violence is?

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re: wikileaks

brownfemipower of flip flopping joy is back with two guest posts on Wikileaks, state sexual violence, & infowars.  The second installment is above. Originally posted here.


the fact that there has been no thoughtful *F*eminist analysis of wikileaks that does NOT focus on Julian Assange (i.e. the point/method of wikileaks rather than Assange’s rape charges) says to me that *F*eminists have no vested interest in the concepts that wikileaks is dealing with.

A simple “I support wikileaks” or “I don’t support wikileaks” would be interesting–but what I’m looking for more is a detailed analysis in the *stakes* gendered human beings have in the nation/state’s interactions with transparency or the lack thereof. Why should we *care* about what wikileaks is doing? More importantly and more to the point–why should we care about what the nation/state is doing right now to *deal* with the “threat” of transparency? Including: using corporations as a tool against it’s own citizens (a tactic we all supported when used against “the terrorists” if you will remember), shutting down mail routes, imprisoning and threatening whistle blowers and silencing dissent through loss of employment?

Why should people who care about a gender care about the “info war”? Or about the fact that 4chan has inserted itself into the middle of it all?

The fact that the Feminist Movement can’t seem to form any opinion on any of these things and, in fact, seems as heavily invested in the idea of Assange as a singular charismatic leader rather than the issues springing up in the *wake* of what *wikileaks* has done (or: Assange is what is at stake here rather than the “threat” of transparency) speaks to the terrible singular hyper focus the *F*eminist agenda has on “liberal reform.”

I care that we all understand that Assange can actually be a rapist and an amazing organizer all at the same time. I have long held Ana Mae Aquash’s story to my heart–I know the all too terrible reality of how women are used in a fight between men.

But as Zuky said earlier today, Assange is a side note. He’s almost not even important anymore. What’s important is what actions are being taken–not even so much against Assange–but against wikileaks. Against supporters of wikileaks. Even against those who have no idea who the fuck wikileaks is or what it’s done.

Because indeed–those of us who care about gender liberation must, absolutely MUST, be aware of and understand that the nation/state that *F*eminists have entrusted to mete out “justice” for violated women–is using “justice” to criminalize all of us. It is up to us to understand that this isn’t a simple case of did he do it or didn’t he or “stand in solidarity with rape victims.” This is a case of our own tools being used against us. Not against Julian Assange. Against us. Because all of us who have been there understand on some gut level–how likely is it that these women will actually receive justice? What horrific price will they have to pay (in testifying, getting their names dragged through the mud, etc) to “get justice”? At the same time, how many of our lives will be dramatically affected by the “threat” we all now present to the nation/state? Even those who aren’t like me, a firm disbeliever in the nation/state, will be expected to pay the consequences–and in fact, already are in the form of guilty until proven innocent full body checks at the airport.

“Justice” has never been about justice, it’s *always* been about how *punishment* can service the needs of the nation/state. And right now, punishment is servicing the needs of the nation/state by infringing upon the rights of and silencing the voices of anybody who disagrees with the nation/state. It is solidifying alliances between the nation/state and corporations. And anybody who thinks that will not have repercussions for every single one of us is sitting on a cloud of privilege.

Do we all remember what happened to the woman in Durham who accused the lacrosse team of rape? Do you all know that after all this time, I *still* get emails/comments/links from *F*eminists saying that she “cried rape”?

Just as Ana Mae Aquash is in my heart and will be until the day I die–that woman in Durham will be as well. And the actions that came out of the murder of Ana and violence against the woman in Durham will always be an inspiration to me, and guide me in everything I do. Native feminists and black feminists created a critique of how women were used, destroyed, by forces claiming “justice,” but were in fact, invested in punishment and the reinforcement of classism, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and even nationalism. They learned from the incredibly tragic situations that those of us who care about how gender is shoved down the throats of particularly feminine people and particularly colored people and particularly poor people–That “justice” itself must be a site of contention and analysis. That “justice” must come in different forms. In ending rape to begin with, rather than punishing after the fact. In supporting women in their choices, no matter what those choices are. In creating community accountability. In asking the woman what she wants first and foremost. In understanding the multiple and spider web like ways that power plays out. In sucking the blood out of the nation/state so that it dies up and withers away, rather than supporting and reinforcing it. Rather than *depending* on it.

It doesn’t surprise me one bit that so many *F*eminists can point with confidence at the history of radical men being abusive and violent towards women in their private lives. It surprises me even less that so few of those same *F*eminists are talking now about the work that the same groups of women that were abused and violated by radical men are doing and have done in *response* to the violence. And all I can do is shake my head at the fact that in *F*eminist circles, this is quickly turning into an argument over what the menz are saying–rather than a detailed critical conversation about what *F*eminists can do to both support the women who are claiming assault AND make sure that our “justice” is not and can not be used against us.

If we all know this is a chronic problem, why aren’t we talking about it? When it’s affecting the internet community that we are all part, don’t we have a stake in what this all means? What can the internet community that cares about gender justice do when “justice” is being used against us?

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Transgender Day of Remembrance

Duanna Johnson

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day of reflecting on the epidemic rates of violence against transgender people, especially trans women of color, and mourning our beloved family, friends, and community members who have been taken from us. Colorlines reflects on the statistics:

At least 22 people were killed in 2009 because of their perceived sexual orientation, four out of five of whom were people of color.  Half of the victims were transgender women and most of the other half, according to the Anti-Violence Project, were men who were either dressed in typically feminine clothes at the time of their murder or were generally gender non-conforming. Not one of these murders made national headlines.

For Duanna Johnson, who was beaten by police in Memphis in 2008, and then found murdered after pursuing a lawsuit against the Memphis police department, for Roy Antonio Jones III, who at 16 months old was killed by his mother’s boyfriend who said he was “trying to make him act like a boy instead of a little girl,” for victims and survivors of transphobic violence and oppression, and for the hope and work of safety and liberation for all women of color and all trans people of color, we join everyone working for gender justice on this day of remembrance and continue to organize for an end to state and interpersonal violence.

See the International Transgender Day of Remembrance Page for a list of events worldwide:
http://www.transgenderdor.org/

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