ABC thought Islamist radical/fundamentalists the “worst of all” because, in her view, nothing could possibly be more monstrous than deploying rape squads to punish with brutal gangrape women who chose to step out of their houses without donning a hijab. She was wrong. And I write further at the risk of comparing monstrosities, which is an inherently unfair and particularly unpleasant exercise.
What could be worse is having rape squads marauding around to gangrape women not because of any choice they made but for simply being born into a family belonging to a certain race or ethnicity, a factor beyond anybody’s control.
Further, one can possibly avoid sexual violence by conforming to the diktats, abjectly immoral as they might be, of the radicals and thus avoid the consequences by making a “safe” choice even though nobody has any right to force one to do so. But how could one possibly elect out of the circumstances or the family of one’s birth? How could one escape the sexual violence due only and only to one’s having a particular communal or ethnic identity by birth? That’s nothing short of being brutalized for merely existing.
And what’s worse than being gangraped is being gangraped by a person infected with HIV, and what’s even worse are rape squads of HIV-positive people formed for the specific purpose of gangraping women belonging to a particular community in order to infect them with HIV to make them suffer and die long-drawn, painful deaths from AIDS. That’s precisely what was done during the Rwandan genocide of 1994 when Hutu extremists let out hundreds of patients suffering from AIDS out of the hospitals, formed them into “rape squads” and let them loose on Tutsi women to infect and cause a “slow, inexorable death”.
Some half a million women and children were raped, sexually mutilated or killed during the gender-specific violence perpetrated by the militants belonging to the Hutu majority against the women and children belonging to the Tutsi ethnic minority group over a period of 100 days, resulting in an estimated 2,000 to 10,000 “war babies” born of forced impregnation on account of brutal rapes of Tutsi women not only by the Interahamwe militia but also by the members of the Hutu civilian population, men and women, the Rwandan military, and the Rwandan Presidential Guard in furtherance of the goal of Hutu political and military leaders to completely destroy Tutsi people.
Extensive propaganda against Tutsi women was conducted by the leaders of the Hutu majority (principally the Interahamwe) through print and electronic media, portraying Tutsi women as untrustworthy, as actively engaged in anti-Hutu activities and as “a sexually seductive ‘fifth column’ in league with the Hutus’ enemies”. The striking success of the propaganda is reflected in the active participation of Hutu women in the exceptionally brutal sexual violence committed against Tutsi women. This was the first time that genocidal mass rape was used as a weapon by one community against another in a civil conflict.
The Hutu mass rapists were not Islamist fundamentalists although I wouldn’t put such monstrosities past any radicals of any kind or stripe, for it’s never about faith or belief, religious or otherwise, but only about whipping up hatred through motivated propaganda to a degree that people are prepared to act violently themselves and/or wholeheartedly condone and even celebrate brutal violence against such “others” as they perceive or are made to perceive as deserving of such brutality.
The Hutu and the Tutsi not only shared a national identity but also cultural and religious beliefs, and yet over a period of around 100 days in 1994, as many as 500,000 to 662,000 people belonging to the Tutsi minority ethnic group were killed in a squall of genocidal violence. Islamist fundamentalists, contrary to what ABC thought, are clearly “not the worst” in terms of treating women with extreme cruelty, but they are “not the worst” not because there are worse radicals around but because no radicalism or fundamentalism is better or worse than any other, for they are all equally reprehensible, and that’s not a moral stand; it’s a fact. That’s because all forms of radicalism have the same poison of baseless, unmitigated hatred at their roots and bear the same fruit of blind violence, which takes unspeakably diabolical shapes in the hands of bloodthirsty fiends let loose on the target population by their unscrupulous masters to serve their own selfish, political, ends.
Genocidal violence is almost always preceded by largely successful propaganda against the target people, demonizing them and poisoning popular sentiments against them, thereby justifying the ensuing onslaught. It has been true of the Nazi propaganda against the Jews, the Hutu propaganda against the Tutsi, the Islamist propaganda against Kashmiri Pandits, branding them the “informants” (mukhbir) of the Indian state, leading to brutal violence against them and resulting in their 1990 exodus, and the on-going Hindutva propaganda against religious minorities in India.
It’s not the Nazis or the Islamists or the Hutu or the Hindutva people per se that lie at the root of mass violence; it’s the hatred cultivated by a carefully crafted and gradually escalated propaganda against the target group of people. It is the overgeneralized and vacuous view of entire communities of people as being monstrous or evil or acting against the interests of the majority that has been the never-failing fuel for genocidal violence.
…to be continued
Originally published as part of my monthly column Street Lawyer in the April 2022 Issue of Lawyers Update (Vol XXVIII, Part 4).