night fall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both
instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged.
And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change
in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the
I was running late, on my way to a Westside book soirée for David Korn and the Scheer Boys (Robert & Christopher) and their timely tomes about Bush’s (various and sundry) Lies, when Kim said there was a guy on the phone asking how I knew American soldiers were raping Iraqi women.
“Huh?” I replied.
“Another crackpot,” I figured. “Give him the e-mail address. Do not give him the office address.” One war-loving bozo threatening to throw acid in our faces was more than enough.
“Okay, but he wants to talk to you.”
“Of course, he does. Give him the number to call the show Saturday night, and we’ll chat about it on the air.”
“Okay…” I heard Kim repeat my words to whoever was on the phone as I slipped on my jacket. Then she stopped me again. “He says he won’t call the show, and he’s going to report that you refuse to answer questions for his article in the Boston Globe.”
Yikes. This was more than just another right-wing lunatic. This was a right-wing lunatic with a readership of over 3 million. I took the phone. “Charlie Radin from the Boston Globe, Jerusalem office,” the friendly but forceful Yankee twang informed me. And to what did I owe the pleasure? His world-weary sigh told me I’d better sit down. Then his weirder-than-my-weirdest-nightmare of a story tumbled out.
According to my new pal Charlie, the biggest Islamist newspaper in Turkey, Yeni Safak, had published a front page article alleging that US troops were raping thousands of Iraqi women, and their primary “source” for this explosive allegation was none other than little old moi.
What? I had never said any such thing. Which Kafka novel had I just wandered into?
I had written several columns critical of the war. In one of the pieces, published in mid-April, 2003, entitled “Rape of Iraq,” I used "rape" as a metaphor for the American invasion.. But I had never said, in writing, on the air or even in conversation, that Americans were literally raping Iraqi women. Using me as a “source” for the allegation that American troops were committing literal rapes against Iraqi women would be farcical if it weren’t so terrible. Talk about LIES. This was a whopper. But then, the Neo-War on Terror seems to be a Battle of Lies Against Counter-Lies, with blood-lusty faith-based frauds on both sides of the battlefield.
Needless to say, I don’t know if American troops are raping Iraqi women. I do know they’ve killed Iraqi women, as well as men and children, because, like everybody else, I’ve seen the pictures and read the reports. I think death is a substantially worse fate than rape. But that’s just my opinion.
Apparently, a lot of people, including some Islamists, think that rape is worse than death. I am told that this has something to do with the way they twist and turn the words of the Koran into misogynist contortions that confound the Western mind. Of course, we Westerners can just turn to our own Christian fundamentalists, some of whom maintain that it’s better to let a woman die in childbirth than allow her to have an abortion, to understand just how religion can be perverted into murderous imperatives based on nothing but sexual taboos and intense patriarchal paranoia.
I asked Charlie if he’d actually read “Rape of Iraq.” He had not. Off went the jacket and down I sat, diligently e-mailing him a link to the piece online, as well as a couple of my other related articles, “Bukkake Bombing Crusade” and “Sex, Lies and WMDs,” to show him that though I have never written about literal rapes in Iraq, I have often used various aspects of sex as metaphors for the war.
For instance, back in the summer of ’02, when Dubya was first squawking like a barnyard fowl about invading Iraq, and Saddam was reacting with his signature mafioso swagger, I wrote “Cockfight in the Baghdad Corral.” Needless to say, I didn’t mean that the two leaders were literally going to strip down and duke it out naked in the desert--though that could have been interesting, and a lot less destructive for the rest of us. I was using “Cockfight” as a metaphor for Bush’s and Saddam’s treacherous macho strutting.
Similarly, I called the actual American invasion of Iraq a “rape,” since that seemed to be an apt metaphor for the way we brutally inserted ourselves into this weakened, sanction-wracked country without anything close to “consent” from said country or the rest of the world. This was the rape of a land and its history, the bombing of homes and infrastructure, the killing and maiming of thousands of citizens, the looting of stores and museums. Though these things may be just as bad or (in my opinion) a lot worse than the literal rape of a woman, they are obviously not the same thing. Only a fool or a miscreant would say otherwise.
Satisfied I’d given Charlie sufficient reading material to enlighten him, I grabbed my jacket and went off to Stanley Sheinbaum’s lovely home to honor The Five Biggest LIES Bush Told Us About Iraq and The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception, all the while fretting about the Islamist lies about me (pourquoi moi?) spreading around the mosques and cafés of Istanbul. With both sides of the Terror Wars competing to tell the biggest, most frightening fibs, where did that leave the peace-hungry liberals among us? Sipping wine and eating cheese, that’s where.
“Here we are in Hollywood, the capital of storytelling,” I addressed the august progressive assemblage which included Robert Greenwald, Tom Hayden and Cindy Asner, “but the Bushies and the Islamists are beating us at our own game. Their stories have captured the American imagination. Don’t we have better storytellers than they have?” Everyone nodded, but no one had an answer, and neither did I.
I raced home full of camembert and cabernet (don’t worry, I wasn’t driving), and called my pal Charlie to see if he’d read “Rape of Iraq.” It being morning in Jerusalem, he was just having his coffee. “It’s obvious that you’re using “rape” as a metaphor,” he assured me. I felt a waterfall of relief wash over me; at least, there was some value to the truth, even in terrorized times.
“But this thing has gone way beyond what you wrote,” he continued (speaking of truth, for the purpose of storytelling, and since I didn’t tape record him, I am paraphrasing Charles Radin’s words here). “Yeni Safak is a very popular publication in Turkey. A lot of people read that piece where you are quoted—or, excuse me, as I see now, misquoted--as the primary source for saying that American soldiers are raping Iraqi women. It’s all over the street.”
So much for the truth.
“The story got so big that the American Embassy in Turkey issued a statement about you.”
Oy. Usually, one to fan the flames of publicity, I felt myself melting in the conflagration.
“You won’t like it,” Charlie assured me. Then, with that reporter’s cocky attitude when he knows he’s got his subject’s undivided attention, he read aloud:
Charlie awaited my reaction like a hunter; confident his prey will enter the trap. I took a deep breath and didn’t bite, not at first. “If the American Embassy wants to write about what they call my ‘pornographic websites and erotic TV program,’ that’s fine,” I said evenly. “The way people describe what I do says more about them than me.” Charlie was obviously disappointed. Where was my outrage? I relished his frustration, then wound up taking the bait: “But why do they call me an ‘unreliable source’ when I wasn’t a source at all?” Here I was, ridiculously and atrociously misquoted by a gang of thuggish tabloid hacks drinking way too much Turkish coffee, then hung out to dry by my own embassy, blithely expanding upon the lie the Islamists had started.
“Why not just say that I never made these "claims?" Why continue their lie?” I asked Charlie. But even as I spoke, I knew my question was naïve. The American Commander-in-Chief hadn't bothered to make sure that Saddam really had WMDs before invading Iraq, so why would some tunnel-visionary American Embassy press apparatchik bother to do his homework (and actually read the so-called “source” material) before spitting out a press release? Moreover, this horny little apparatchik just couldn’t resist holding up my lacy panties like a flag to his famously prudish readers, as if to say: “Look, look, she’s not just a stinking liberal, she’s a filthy pornographer!”
“But that’s not the worst part…” Charlie had that you-better-sit-down tone to his voice again. I was already seated, but my heart sank into the floor as he continued, “Did you hear about the guy who blew himself up in the HSBC bank in Istanbul, killing 12 people?”
"Yes," I said. I remembered reading that the suicide-bomber’s son had said that before his father had gone off to kill himself and 12 other people, he had been upset over news that American soldiers were raping Iraqi women. I hadn’t connected this with my “Rape of Iraq” piece at the time; after all, “Rape of Iraq” wasn’t about literal rapes. Even Charlie could see that! But here he was, connecting the dots of blood to me…
“Oh no…” I murmured, horrified but still vaguely aware that my new confidant was a right-slanting reporter who would quote me as “admitting responsibility” or “regretting” what I wrote, or some such nonsense, if I so much as apologized. Or maybe even if I didn’t. So I just sucked in my sadness and anger, silently mourning the deaths of these innocents immolated in the madness of Ilyas Kuncak (the suicide bomber), linked to me through a web of lies.
“How do you feel about that?” I heard Charlie asking me, poking around for a juicy emotional quote. I felt like throwing up, and I mumbled something about being “appalled,” as I pictured everyday men and women filling out their deposit slips, then suddenly exploding into bits of flesh and bone and sorrow, permanent withdrawals, each leaving behind his or her own rippling circles of grief.
“So I gotta write this piece,” Charlie was saying, almost apologetically. “It’s a big story, and you’re in the middle of it, even though you had nothing to do with it.”
“When is it coming out?” I asked meekly, wondering whether I was on trial or had become a cockroach.
“That I can’t tell you,” he was back to his ratatat reporter self. “I file it in a day or two, then I’m off to Thailand for a little R&R.”
“Can you e-mail me a heads-up before it appears?”
“No, no e-mail, no computers, nothing. When I get away from the insanity, I get away.”
So Charlie was going to write whatever Charlie was going to write, that being his right. And then he would make his getaway. But since the American Embassy, my embassy, still had its nasty little lie-based press release up on their website, I felt I had to set the record straight. It was now mid-morning in Turkey, so I figured I’d give the culprits a buzz. I think they were slightly shocked and awed to hear from the so-called “source” of the rape rumors herself. When I finally got Chief Embassy Press Officer Joseph (Joe) Pennington on the phone, he gave me his full attention, making sure I had his cell phone number, brushing off my waking him in the middle of the night, and promising to print a letter from me on the front page of the Embassy website correcting their egregious error. Joe even suggested I sue Yeni Safak for libel. When I said I didn’t know any Turkish attorneys, he replied that he could find one for me. I declined, but was impressed that he wasn't treating me like the “unreliable…pornographer” his press release had said I was. Maybe that was because by the time, he returned my call, he’d made it a point to actually read the article.
I was steaming, but tried to keep my letter to the embassy brief, apolitical and polite (here it is in English and in Turkish). As promised, Joe printed it on the front page of the American Embassy website. Within a few days, it migrated to an archive page, where it continued to provide some level of personal vindication, at least in my head.
Though, naturally, I couldn’t sleep. I have no idea what Kuncak’s victims looked like, but they haunted me, as did the faces of the children blown to bits by Shock and Awe, as did the body parts of the young American soldiers being killed in Iraq as “occupiers" almost daily.
Then the Globe piece appeared: Rumors of rape fan anti-i-American flames: Paper's claim against troops widely believed… Lurid, yes. But no, Charlie didn’t technically misquote me. However, being a skilled sensationalist reporter writing for a paper that tilts jauntily rightward, he managed to make me sound vaguely responsible for Kuncak’s mass murder/suicide. It’s all in the tone, of course.
As predicted, Charlie didn’t let me know when the piece was published. I found out through an avalanche of e-mail from Boston Globe readers who not only wanted to blame (and hang) me for Kuncak’s killings, but for various other Islamist atrocities, not to mention all ill will born by Muslims toward Americans, as well as all combat-related deaths in Iraq since Bush announced the “end to major combat operations.” As the piece came out just after the holidays, the e-mails calling me “traitor” and “bitch” started invading my box while I was in the South of France (where all the best traitors and bitches go en vacances). Ah, nothing like a few letters from home to make you proud to be an American… I’ve excerpted some here:
Rape of Iraq
W A R N I N G
Sent: Sunday, January 04, 2004 8:21 AM
Sent: Sunday, January 04, 2004 8:07 AM
Sent: Sunday, January 04, 2004 12:08 PM
Sent: Sunday, January 04, 2004 12:25 PM
Sent: Sunday, January 04, 2004 12:33 PM
Sent: Sunday, January 04, 2004 2:02 PM
Sent: Sunday, January 04, 2004 7:08 PM
Sent: Sunday, January 04, 2004 10:39 PM
Sent: Monday, January 05, 2004 12:39 PM
Sent: Monday, January 05, 2004 8:21 PM
Sent: Monday, January 05, 2004 3:45 PM
Sent: Monday, January 05, 2004 3:43 PM
Sent: Tuesday, January 06, 2004 6:04 AM
Sent: Tuesday, January 06, 2004 11:16 AM
Sent: Tuesday, January 06, 2004 7:09 PM
Sent: Tuesday, January 06, 2004 7:26 PM
Sent: Tuesday, January 06, 2004 2:20 PM
And so on. A couple days into the onslaught, I received the most prominent right-wing crackpot response to date: James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal online dubbed me “Saddam’s Sex Therapist.” At least he didn’t call me Saddam’s Hair Stylist. Things could always be worse.
Still, all in all, I was laid pretty low. Not only was I feeling wrenching grief for the people who died in the bank explosion--or as much wrenching grief as a “stupid… shallow… evil… treasonous… typical liberal” like me can feel. Not only was I wondering if I was indeed the “worthless piece of trash” that all these arbiters of taste, goodness, patriotism and punctuation claimed I was. I was constantly looking over my shoulder for one of my e-mail pen pals to goosestep out of cyberspace, throw a noose around my neck and hang me. Then, I’d imagine, he or she would toss my wretched corpse into one of Bush’s famous Free Speech Zones, where I could exercise my First Amendment rights to my dead heart’s content.
Flying into New York on Orange Alert, I worried that the friendly customs folks would look up my passport on their computers, see “Saddam’s Sex Therapist” or “filthy cunny hole” and send me back to Cannes. I know, it’s neurotic, but less controversial journalists have been turned away from America’s welcoming arms in recent months.
I even found myself wondering if my “choice of words” in “Rape of Iraq” was indeed ill-conceived. After all, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell had blamed gays, feminists and the ACLU for 9/11, so why should I be blameless? I contemplated self-censorship, wondering if maybe I should have been less graphic, like, called it the “Nonconsensual Ravishment of Iraq.”
Then I snapped out of it. Why was I letting these willfully thickheaded neo-fascists get to me? They were as bad as the Islamist fanatics who misquoted me. The facile lies, the crazed religiosity, the proud ignorance, and the violent, you’re-either-with-us-or-against-us, frothing-at-the mouth, anti-sex hatred was the same, just with different names, different languages, different shades of brown.
In the Biblical sense, it's a Battle of Brothers, Ishmael and Isaac, sons of Abraham, brothers of shame. Ishmael’s own father Abraham cast him out of his house into the wilderness. Isaac felt that same father’s knife against his throat, ready to kill him as a “sacrifice” to God. Through myth and procreation, Ishmael and Isaac, the two traumatized sons of Abraham, spawned tribes that spawned nations “under God,” nations at war. Now I had become a pawn in the divine fratricide.
Of course, I’m not the only one. I am but one of many billions through the ages, shunted hither and yon by religious terror warriors. Bush II’s loathsome little war was launched on a pack of lies boiling in a pot of cooked data. Lies about WMD, lies about Saddam’s relations with Osama, lies about how much the “Iraqi People” wanted America to invade—uh, liberate--their country. Millions of Americans (not to mention the majority of the rest of the world) opposed this war passionately, vociferously, and with metaphors. Many of these protestors and dissenters have had their patriotism questioned, their reputations slandered, their spouses exposed, their records subpoenaed, their lives endangered, their names put on lists for nothing but their stance against Bush’s War.
I am, as far as I know, the only one with the WSJ-endowed title of “Saddam’s Sex Therapist.” Wow. Wonder what that entails...Do your kegel exercises, Saddam! Don't neglect your sexual health just because you've been captured! We'll talk about your fantasies of Britney Spears being your prison guard in our next session...
Interestingly, around the time that Taranto was merrily scourging me and the “anti-American left” as the reason “why they hate us,” one of his Journal colleagues, Peggy Noonan, was busy misquoting the Pope, saying he’d given the papal thumbs up to Mel Gibson’s gory new film The Passion of the Christ, uttering the Holy Endorsement, “It is as it was.” Pope John Paul II's longtime personal secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, immediately asserted that the pontiff had never said any such thing nor does His Holiness ever make Signs of the Thumb to endorse any movie. Of course, the damage (or promotion) had already been done, and Gibson’s film got the boost it coveted. Jesus. I never thought I’d identify with the Pope. But here we were, both being dangerously misconstrued by WSJ columnists within a few short news days of each other.
So, excuse me for using sexual metaphors yet again, but I feel as if my words were abducted, forced to wear a burqa, brutalized, misused and abused by a gang of crazed Islamists, after which I was cast out by my own Embassy and then stoned by my own countrymen and women, kind of like the way some men will punish their own wives and daughters when they have been raped.
But I stand by my words, and I would write them again, knowing what I now know. Why? First, if I had not written "Rape of Iraq," could that possibly have saved the lives of those innocents burned up in Kuncak's bombing? No. The liars would have found ways to spin their lies without me. Where there’s a will, there’s a lie. And obviously, Yeni Safak had the will. Recently, I had someone translate the Yeni Safak piece from Turkish to English for me, and its statements about me and my writings are full of Turkish camel crap mixed with a few too many whiffs of the hookah.. Clearly, Yeni Safak was bent upon claiming that Americans were raping "thousands" of Iraqi women and, if they hadn't "found" me, they would have misused somebody else as a “source,” and Kuncak would have believed it (if that was indeed his motive), and committed his dirty deed.
Second, almost a year later, I must say that "Rape of Iraq" holds up rather well. I wrote it in a burst of emotion while the first American “victory” tanks rolled into Baghdad, as the bombing continued and the looting began. I called the invasion a rape and not a murder because in invading Iraq, we didn’t kill it. We didn’t destroy this great and ancient country, home of so much of our civilization's ancestry in Sumer, Babylonia and Ur. I called it a rape because rape is an act of violent penetration, humiliation and subjugation that doesn’t (necessarily) destroy the victim, but attempts to use her or him to satisfy the rapist’s desires.
Rapists often make excuses for their actions, i.e., She wanted it…I thought she wanted it… She was dressed like a slut. So the architects of the American invasion of Iraq have made their excuses: There were WMD…We thought there were WMD… Saddam was a dangerous man and we needed to take him out for humanitarian reasons. Just as rape gives sex a bad name, the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq has given humanitarian military intervention a bad name.
The figurative similarities between rape and the Bushies’ brutal, balls-out invasion of Iraq are even more painfully obvious now than they were before. The deplorable conditions of post-war Iraq say it all: this was a forced entry. Most of us don’t search our TV sets for “Smiling Iraqis” anymore. We now know what we’ve done, even if some of us don’t care to admit it. Even my most self-righteous hate mailers can’t say that the metaphor was wrong.
And metaphor was all I meant it to be. I wasn’t referring to individual American troops raping Iraqi women or anybody else.
Then, oddly, or maybe not so oddly, shortly after the Globe’s report on “Rumors of Rape” and Taranto's tizzy, the Denver Post published an article about confirmed reports of American troops actually raping--not Iraqis--but other American troops. What a sad, disturbing irony. What a dirty little war.
By the way, just to set another record straight, allegorically sticking it between the fat oil-drenched cheeks of the lying, war-gaming, Constitution-trashing drunken sailors in the Bush House does NOT make me a Saddam Lover. It makes me a sodomy lover.
And if you don’t think that’s a metaphor, have I got a war to sell you…
February 22, 2004,
Dr. Susan Block
Send all hate mail, love letters, commentary, questions and confessions to her at email@example.com.
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