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The Real Pornography of a Brutal War Against Women : Bosnia: The U.S. press has covered Serbian violence, including the use of rape as a tactic of war. But what of the pornography produced?

September 05, 1993|Andrea Dworkin | Andrea Dworkin is the author of "Letters From a War Zone" (Lawrence Hill Books).

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — In Bosnia, women and children are 75% of the more than 2.5 million people driven from their homes--not by the random violence of war but by forced expulsion and mass killings--in the Serbian military effort called "ciscenje prostora," or what Americans have learned to call "ethnic cleansing." Ethnic cleansing, enunciated as policy by Serbian political and military leaders at the highest levels of authority, is genocide. It requires the removal or killing of all non-Serbs from the new republics of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, both formerly part of Yugoslavia.

The Serbian military has killed an estimated 200,000 people in Bosnia alone, perhaps 80% Muslim, in massacres, mass murders and bombings aimed at civilians. Serbian military policy has mandated the systematic gang-rape of Muslim and Croatian women and girls, their imprisonment in schools, factories, motels, arenas and concentration camps for ongoing serial rape, rape followed by murder, sexual torture and sexual slavery.

In addition to the estimated 90 concentration camps set up throughout Bosnia, there are more than 20 rape/death camps. Some hold 15 to 25 women and look like brothels; others hold more than 1,000. More than 7,000 women were held as prisoners in a Serbian-run prison-brothel near Brcko in northern Bosnia, and Muslim women are reportedly held in sexual slavery in the Sarajevo suburb of Grbavica. Young girls just reaching puberty appear to be specially designated targets for gang-rape.

And then the Serbian soldiers started making pornography: Well, why not? Are we Americans going to understand that the war against women--including the genocidal Serbian war of aggression against women in Bosnia and Croatia--is rape, prostitution and pornography? Or do we think that Serbian nationalist thugs are "expressing themselves" in the pornographic landscape of sex and murder with which our still-male government--not to mention the United Nations--is loathe to interfere? Are the films of rapes being made now in the Serbian-run rape/death camps in occupied areas of Bosnia and Croatia--even of rapes staged in order to be filmed--trivial compared with the rape itself, which later will be blamed on the victims and called prostitution?

Most prostitution everywhere in the world begins with rape: a child raped by her father; a teen-ager gang-raped by half the number of men involved in a typical Serbian military gang-rape (six instead of 12 at a time); a female child sold into sexual slavery; any girl or woman driven out of her home by male aggression, then pushed up against a wall or down on a slab of earth and used.

The aggressor spits "whore" and moves on to the next victim while the raped woman, her ties to a place and people destroyed, meets the next aggressor. She will be an exile, a stigmatized, shunned refugee, polluted--in ordinary language, a whore. His invective becomes her life.

Before this war, the pornography market in Yugoslavia was, according to critic Bogdan Tirnanic, "the freest in the world." Whatever the communists suppressed, it wasn't pornography--yet another example of folks who can tell the difference between pornography and literature.

The pornography was war propaganda that trained an army of rapists who waited for permission to advance. An atavistic nationalism provided the trigger and defined the targets--those women, not these women. The sexuality of the men was organized into antagonism, superiority and hatred. The lessons had been learned--not an ideology but a way of being: dehumanization of women; bigotry and aggression harnessed to destroying the body of the enemy; invasion as a male right; women as a lower life form.

In this war, pornography is everywhere: plastered on tanks; incorporated into the gang-rapes in the prostitution-prison brothels. Soldiers have camcorders to do the military version of "Beaver Hunt"--women tortured for the camera, raped for the camera, knifed and beaten for the camera; and of course, for the man behind it, the rapist-soldier turned--in American parlance--into an expresser. Of what? Oh, ideas.

In fact, acts of hatred often do express ideas; it is the American pathology to euphemize aggression by calling it speech. This may be why the U.S. press--with the exception of Ms.--has largely ignored the pervasiveness of the pornography used by the Serbian rapists and now being made by them. There is rape; that's bad. There is pornography; that's fun--adolescent, innocuous, endearing, as one writer in Harper's represented it.

Serbian soldiers using pornography reminded that writer of "a wretched teen-age camping trip;" the pornography they had he described as "ours." He and the soldiers played poker with "nudie cards."

Even during genocide, there is affectionate tolerance for a boys-will-be-boys behavior so close to the American heart.

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