The PJ Tatler

Islamic State Rape: ‘Just Another Form of Warfare’?

In light of the ongoing nightmare that is the Islamic State, Foreign Policy, a magazine somewhat reflective of the establishment, has published an article that once again demonstrates why U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is a disaster: because analysts and policymakers, unable or unwilling to grapple with foreign concepts, opt to articulate them through familiar Western paradigms.

Titled “The Islamic State of Sexual Violence” and written by Aki Peritz and Tara Maller—“We both worked as CIA analysts focused on Iraq’s insurgency and counterterrorism during much of the war”—the Foreign Policy(FP) article opens with this telling sentence: “Of the many terrifying stories emerging from Islamic State-occupied Iraq and Syria, the violence directed toward women is perhaps the most difficult to contemplate.”

This is an odd assertion.  Of all the atrocities committed by the Islamic State, is sexual violence against women really “the most difficult to contemplate”?  After all, deplorable as sexual violence against women is, it is also one of the most common features of warfare since the beginnings of recorded history.  It should not be too “difficult to contemplate.”

Instead, one would think that public beheadings and mutilations—with sadistic pictures of the victims posted online—would be more “difficult to contemplate.”  One would think herding off 1500 “infidel” men and coldly shooting them in the head to cries of “Allahu Akbar” would be more “difficult to contemplate.” One would think that forcing religious minorities to convert to Islam or die—with Christians crucified for refusing to embrace Islam—would be more “difficult to contemplate.”

But in the very next paragraph we encounter the reason why FP highlights female sexual abuse while ignoring the truly more “difficult to contemplate” atrocities committed by the Islamic State: to exonerate Islam from the deeds of the Islamic State:

IS claims to be a religious organization, dedicated to re-establishing the caliphate and enforcing codes of modesty and behavior from the time of Muhammad and his followers. But this is rape, not religious conservatism. IS may dress up its sexual violence in religious justifications, saying its victims violated Islamic law, or were infidels, but their leaders are not fools. This is just another form of warfare….

That last sentence is what FP wants readers to leave with—“This is just another form of warfare.”  The authors chose the most generic atrocity committed during war, one that is common to all cultures and civilizations—sexual violence, enslavement, and rape—to condemn the Islamic State with.  The result is that the Islamic State looks like “just another” enemy combatant.

To demonstrate this, the authors proceed to invoke Western standards of “modesty and behavior” to criticize the Islamic State without letting readers know that Islamic notions of “modesty and behavior” differ significantly and are wholly based on Islamic law, not “natural” law or anything else.

Thus while the authors are correct in saying that the Islamic State is “dedicated to re-establishing the caliphate,” the follow up assertion, “and enforcing codes of modesty and behavior from the time of Muhammad and his followers” is immensely loaded and misleading.  So is the statement “But this is rape, not religious conservatism.”… Keep reading