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Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia
University of Minnesota Press
Reviewed by Caitlin Burke.
Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, independent nation-states since 1992, are still encompassed, with Serbia-Montenegro, by "the Former Yugoslavia" in the minds of many, Americans in particular. These nation-states have been locked in war for as long as they have existed, and while European onlookers have engaged in much wagging of fingers and wringing of hands, they have been left more or less alone to conquer or be conquered during that time. Beverly Allen's Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia is very much a call for meaningful intervention in this conflict. It is also a fascinating analysis of one of the war's most horrible and inhumane features: the systematic and repetitive rape of mostly Muslim women by Serbs.
Rape Warfare is divided into six sections, called Themes: Identity, Representation, Facts, Analysis, Remedies and Implications. Allen calls attention first to issues that color the perception of the conflict, from personal identifications to the terminology that is used for the parties to the conflict. She goes on to discuss representation, first generally (What is a narrative? What is testimony?) and then specifically (How do we represent the Serb-Bosnian conflict? How do we represent rape in that context? How do we represent the women involved?) She then offers facts of the war and of the existence of rape/death camps in particular, and she follows this with her analysis and, in essence, recommendations. Her analysis is extended in the Remedies and Implications sections, in which she offers her definition of genocidal rape and her view of the ways in which the facts of the actions in and around this war, both taken and untaken, shape notions of politics and morality.
Allen's training is in Comparative Literature, which she teaches at Stanford, and this highly analytical work is very much aware of representation as a mediator of the interaction between observer and observed. She discusses narrative in both general and specific terms, and she explains her choice not to tell the stories of Muslim women victimized by the Serb war of aggression. Her goal is to avoid telling stories of rapes, which she believes use the natural draw or pleasure of engagement with narrative form to make the reader into a voyeur. She is also careful to express an overt and deliberate choice to avoid exposure of women who have, in many cases, insisted on anonymity, and some of whom have even refused to tell their stories. The refusal to tell stories creates for Allen a special representational responsibility: Although a certain amount of telling is necessary in any crime to bring to perpetrators to justice, victims have a perfect right to refuse to have their experiences represented to or by others.
But it is Allen's analysis of the special use of rape in the war of Serb aggression that is most fascinating. She describes the central aspect of this abuse -- that women of childbearing age are typically raped to make them pregnant, held until abortion is not safe and then released. During their ordeals they are told that they are carrying little "Cheniks" or "Serbs" -- in essence, this is rape simultaneously to increase the number of Serbs and "decrease" the number of Bosnians.
For individuals raised in a highly science-oriented environment, such as the United States, this is an absurd contradiction. Such children as are born from these unions will be raised, if at all, among Bosnians and are, of course, 50% Bosnian by genetic heritage alone. However, in a strongly patriarchal society, combined with the particular trauma and dislocation of ethnically motivated war, the Serb argument is probably all too convincing to those who hear it. Interestingly, even as she articulates the obvious "success" of Serb genocidal rape, acceptance of the central "contradiction" is nearly impossible for Allen to acknowledge; she insists that such a view can only hold force for someone "ignorant of genetics", as if some thinking about biology would be enough to counter the rhetorical and physical force of this approach in the context in which it is being practiced.
"Patriarchy", that most inflammatory of words in the feminist lexicon, fits into many places in Allen's analysis, which is extremely American in both the flavor of its feminism and its strongly scientific orientation. She discusses at length international codes and conventions that relate to war. These conventions remain largely chivalric, encompassing, among other things, notions about the relationships of males and females that typically frame rape as an "abuse of power", as if the phenomenon is natural but the degree is odious. She notes that some shift has already occurred in international conventions, for example, moving away from terminology such as "war crimes" and toward terms such as "crimes against humanity".
Allen wants to extend this emergence from old conventions. She calls for a new conceptualization of rape as practiced by Serbs, a conception that is more universal and less dependent on centuries-old gender roles, a conception that sees genocidal rape, for example, as biological warfare. Involving as it does targets that can be defined in solely gestating a pregnancy), genocidal rape is perhaps the most perfect form of biologic warfare, in which the target population can be specified to perfection, storage of attacking troops is, by definition, impossible.
Allen remarks that "[i]t can never again be said that the Western powers will surely intervene to stop genocide anywhere in the world.... It can never again be thought that the reason for nonintervention in the Shoah was lack of knowledge." This is perhaps the most horrible thing about genocidal rape in the Serb war of aggression, a brutal testament to the need to universalize these questions, to get away from the comfort of insisting that "nothing can be done" to affect events happening to "those people over there". Her final theme -- Implications -- is impassioned but also only quietly radical as she ranges over Western morality, national identity, international institutions and the practice of foreign policy.
Beverly Allen is aware that the Rape Warfare critique is fundamental enough that it will almost certainly not have large-scale effects in the forseeable future, but she describes small-scale efforts as well (offering a list of grassroots humanitarian organizations in need of funding), and so her book will, it is hoped, result in concrete assistance of some sort to a people alternately abandoned and never foreseen by the international community and its laws.
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