September 17, 2007
Brian De Palma and Rape in Iraq
Famed film director Brian De Palma (Scarface, The Untouchables) has completed and publicly screened a new film, Redacted, detailing allegations of a rape by US soldiers in Iraq. The appearance of this film is sad but not surprising. American soldiers fighting against the genocidal aspirations of various fanatics have borne the brunt of a Western media culture that is most interested in casting the Americans as victims or villains. De Palma was reported recently saying,
"When I read about the Mahmudiyah incident in Iraq 2006 -- five US soldiers raped a local girl, killed her and her family and later tried to disguise it as an insurgent attack - I knew I had a story."
De Palma like so many other political reactionaries, knows he has a story when it paints an American soldier in the most negative light. Perhaps more interesting for Americans is what is not a story to him and to many others in the culture business.
What is not a story is a dictator who operated rape rooms. In those rooms untold numbers of women were raped for the amusement of his sons. The government had on its payroll hired rapists who would perform the acts in front of husbands and children. A Harvard study on practices against women during Saddam's rule reported:
"The Iraqi Government uses rape and sexual assault of women to achieve the following goals: to extract information and forced confessions from detained family members; to intimidate Iraqi oppositionists by sending videotapes showing the rape of female family members; and to blackmail Iraqi men into future cooperation with the regime. Some Iraqi authorities even carry personnel cards identifying their official "activity" as the "violation of women's honor."
Amnesty International and other organizations also reported the following violence against women:
"Under the pretext of fighting prostitution, units of ‘Fedayeen Saddam,' the paramilitary organization led by Uday Hussein, Saddam's eldest son, have beheaded in public more than 200 women throughout the country, dumping their severed heads at their families' doorsteps. Many families have been required to display the victim's head on their outside fences for several days. These barbaric acts were carried out in the total absence of any proper judicial procedures and many of the victims were not engaged in prostitution, but were targeted for political reasons. For example, Najat Mohammad Haydar, an obstetrician in Baghdad, was beheaded after criticizing the corruption within health services."
These routine activities of Saddam's Iraq have not graced the screens of major western cinemas and it is highly unlikely they ever will. The bodies of Saddam's female victims continue to be carefully inscribed with Western public silence. This silence implicitly confirms that death as a text against these women's bodies will be tolerated in instances where it does not offer a statement against American "imperialists." The rape of women under Saddam is not worthy of De Palma's attention because Saddam was a sovereign conveying an intrinsically empathic message for De Palma and far too many political reactionaries: America is evil.
How Brian De Palma can look past the systemic practice of rape in Saddam's Iraq toward the isolated contested allegations against Americans, is a fascinating study in selective perception.
For American citizens, it is a frustrating dilemma, believing in the freedom of speech that makes such slander possible while wishing for something more positive supporting such global heroes. As our nation and our heroes continue to endure this selective slander, it is important to keep our eyes and ears tuned to the real story: the generally incredible heroic character of armed forces who have done more to end human cruelty toward women than Brian De Palma will ever imagine within his limited sense of creativity.
Ben Voth is associate professor of Communication at Miami University.