In today’s Observer there was a leaflet from Amnesty International which used a knife and two hand grenades to form an image of a rather definitive part of the male anatomy, with the headline “Rape: Weapon of War”
Inside were witness accounts of how systematic rape is used to terrorize civillian communities. It makes for very uncomfortable reading.
The rest of the paper too is filled with generally terrible stories of things that are happening all over the world; child soldiers in Sri Lanka, a 17-year old Afghan girl stamped, suffocated and stabbed to death by her father for being infatuated with a British soldier.
Here in the West it’s easy to live our comfortable lives making mildly sexist “do the washing up”-style jokes and forget that in many parts of the world women are treated as little more than property, with little regard for their essential humanity; that our joking in a way trivializes a serious problem, and that even here women can still face descrimination.
It doesn’t just bother me that terrible things happen in the world, it bothers me that people actively keep the world this way; that ultimately there are people who are responsible for the terrible things they do to other people. Do any of those soldiers feel remorse for the rape? I know that the Afghan father feels no remorse for murdering his daughter; he says any Muslim father who honours his religion should do the same.
It would be easy to criticize Islam or any other of the religions; for instance the crimes of the Catholic Church are particularly terrible. The truth is that it seems to be a awful human tendency to believe that there are things more important than our common humanity, be they things as weighty as religion and nationality, or as trivial as the football team you support.
The Roma “ultras” stab opposing fans in the buttocks, Nigerian Muslims burned Nigerian Christians to death over the Danish cartoons. In the First World War the two sides stood only a few tens of meters of mud apart trying to kill each other for four years, wasting hundreds of thousands of lives.
The only moment of any of that which gives me hope is the Christmas truce, where both sides got up out of the Trenches, and played football together; a spontaneous outbreak of peace. It only goes to throw the pointlessness of the rest of that war into horribly sharp relief.
I don’t understand. I wish I did. For now, joining Amnesty seems like it might be a start.