In less than a week, the phenomenon of rape crimes committed against Iraqi women has transformed from being a condemned criminal act, regardless of the culprit or the victim, into a sectarian, political and media debated subject. The young Sabrine al Janabi appeared on Al Jazeera satellite channel and spoke of being raped at the hands of Iraqi policeman – a case that requires serious examination.
Sabrine’s ordeal could have served as a doorway into uncovering a series of ongoing assaults and tragedies that Iraqi women have been subjected to in a recurrent – and often times systematic – manner since the fall of Saddam’s regime in 2003. Unfortunately, the matter was only presented at face value: Sabrine (the Sunni) was raped by Iraqi (Shia) policemen. Ensnared in the trap within this headline, the political and media debate erupted.
If the women of Iraq during Saddam’s regime busied themselves with ensuring their own safety and covering for their sons, husbands and brothers, fearing that they would be sent to the battlefront, or get arrested or executed, then ¬their situation has not improved much after the fall of Saddam’s regime. A cursory review of the human rights and relief organizations’ reports and a quick glance at Western media outlets (Yes, Western not Arab), one can easily become aware of the magnitude of the suffering and violence that Iraqi women have endured, and are still being subjected to.
Since the fall of Baath regime, the rate of assaults on women in Iraq – both physical and sexual – has risen. The fact that the victims do not report these incidents to the official authorities, or even seek medical treatment, has resulted in making investigations into figures complicated. Predictably, a substantial number of fundamentalists from various groups have emerged, Sunnis and Shia alike, placing restrictions on women’s activities and clothing – to the extent that many Iraqi women have been forced to stay home or only leave the house when accompanied. It is regrettable that Sabrine’s, or any other Iraqi woman’s suffering, should be merely treated as points gained against the adversary. Targeting women is not a new thing; conflicting parties in wars or crises have always rushed to inflict harm upon them because, in the narrow sense of its meaning, women epitomize honor and disgrace so that when they are struck, it affects the whole society.
Making matters more complicated is the presence of foreign armed forces, specifically American, who have been proven to be implicated in rape crimes as well.
What is unfolding in Iraq is the recurring scenario of similar events that took place Bosnia, Darfur, Somalia and a number of other of places. Raping women during wars has become a tool that is utilized by one group against their enemies. In Iraq, the Sunnis and the Shia have become two completely separate groups. This reality exposes women to an increased probability of being raped and being used as a means to get back at the other group – in societies wherein women already occupy a suspicious position, which is a reality that lends them continuous susceptibility.
Arab media has not significantly addressed what the Iraqi women have been suffering since 2003 to this day. Handling Sabrine’s case in the manner it was tackled is indicative of our incapacity as Arab media personnel to identify the difference between exposing a tragedy and inciting its perpetuation.