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Saturday, May 14, 2011

bin Laden's Porn

Sometime late yesterday afternoon I heard the news report that, among the veritable treasure trove of information seized during the raid of Osama bin Laden's home in Pakistan was a "considerable quantity" of pornographic videos in a collection of five computers, 10 hard drives and dozens of thumb drives and CDs "whose age and past ownership is not known".

I was with a friend who seemed genuinely perplexed and confused by the report of the leader whose reign of terror was based, he said, on the foundational principles of his religious beliefs.

I wasn't. Surprised. At all.

Yes, of course, we've all heard that part of the reason for Mr. bin Laden's mastermind of the al-Qaeda attack on 9/11 attack was due to Western decadence in general and America's cultural exploitation of women's bodies in dress, advertising and popular culture.

In 2006, bin Laden wrote an open letter to America, stating:
“Your nation exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools, calling upon customers to purchase them,” he wrote. “You plaster your naked daughters across billboards in order to sell a product without any shame. You have brainwashed your daughters into believing they are liberated by wearing revealing clothes, yet in reality all they have liberated is your sexual desire.”
I wasn't convinced that bin-Laden or any of his al-Qaeda operatives were standing on high moral ground, much less harbored in their heart of hearts any basic-level respect for women.

While I think women and men should be allowed to dress in the style and fashion of their choice and preference, I must say that I'm no fan of the message Madison Avenue sends out to young girls and women about their bodies. Some of it seems exploitative and vulgar, not at all liberating and edifying.

However, insisting that women cover up from head to toe, including their face (and, in some instances, even their eyes) while in public is another cultural form of violence and oppression.

In some ways, we're just different sides of the same misogynist coin.

This week, Congress invited women who had been involved in The Peace Corp to testify not only to their experiences of sexual assault and rape while working for The Peace Corp, but how that organization played down or ignored them - and, in some cases, blamed them.
Fom 2000 to 2009, on average, 22 Peace Corps women each year reported being the victims of rape or attempted rape, the agency says. During that time, more than 1,000 Peace Corps volunteers reported sexual assaults, including 221 rapes or attempted rapes. Because sexual crimes often go unreported, experts say the incidence is likely to be higher, though they and the Peace Corps add that it is difficult to assess whether the volunteers face any greater risk overseas than women in the United States do......

........Karestan Koenen, who was raped in 1991 in Niger, said, “My own experience was that the treatment by the Peace Corps was worse than the rape.”
Women all over the world are still treated as commodities - or vehicles of commodities - including the United States of America.

The organization HumanTrafficking.Org reported in 2007 that:
The United States of America is principally a transit and destination country for trafficking in persons. It is estimated that 14,500 to 17,500 people, primarily women and children, are trafficked to the U.S. annually.
14,500 to 17,500. People. Women and children. Trafficked annually. To the United States.

Want to stop human trafficking?  Here's a thought: How about we start by eliminating the consumer base? Then, we can begin to work on the poverty that propels some of these women - or the parents of these young girls - into the desperate, dangerous business of human trafficking in the first place.

Let's start with our own country. You know, "the land of the free and the home of the brave," where everyone is promised, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Clearly, the Pentagon released the information about bin Laden's porn collection hoping that it "could fuel accusations of hypocrisy against the founder of Al Qaeda, who was 54 and lived with three wives at the time of his death, and will be welcomed by counterterrorism officials because it could tarnish his legacy and erode the appeal of his brand of religious extremism".

The NY Times article was careful to say that government officials "would not say whether there was evidence that Bin Laden or the other men living in the house had acquired or viewed the material".

They also failed to disclose the source of the porn, or whether America's "Queen of Porn," Jenna Jameson was featured in any one of them.

I don't know about you, but I'm betting that bin Laden's porn was "our" porn.

The sexual assault and rape of Karestan Koenen and other young Peace Corp women was compounded by the silence and injustice perpetrated by American government officials.

The young women who told their 'inconvenient truths' might jeopardize the relations we had with the countries we were trying to help. Indeed, it could be the downfall of an organization that was trying to promote world peace.

We wouldn't want to do that, now, would we?

These young women of the Peace Corps were simply higher-level commodities of the United States government, their experiences of rape silenced and untreated and their perpetrators unpunished in the name of 'world peace'.

I'm not buying it. Neither did the women of the Peace Corp. Neither, thankfully, did some of the members of Congress who are now pushing for the Peace Corp to modernize its procedures to make sure that we provide compassionate care to - and justice for - its crime victims.

The director of the Peace Corps, Aaron S. Williams, said in an interview on Monday that he was committed to revamping the agency’s practices to create a more “victim-centered approach.”

Already, Mr. Williams has made some changes, including hiring a “victim’s advocate” who began work on Monday and signing an agreement with a nationally known rape crisis group to re-examine his organization’s training and policies.

So, while the late night talk show hosts titter and tut and make lewd jokes about bin Laden's porn, let us not be so quick to giggle, shall we?

Instead, let's explore the connections between pornography and violence to women, as well as the connections between the obscenity of poverty and the immorality of war.

We may yet learn a few inconvenient truths and unintended lessons about our own indecency from the discovery of bin Laden's porn.

9 comments:

Prior Aelred said...

I am sure that Mr. Bin Laden was only doing research on American decadence (like those Religious Right Christians campaigners against the evil of gays who distribute "Gays Gone Wild" videos ... or something ...)
LOL!

kenju said...

Excellent post. I was not surprised by the cache of porn either. They will probably try to say it didn't belong to Osama.

Tracie Holladay said...

Me, I'm of 2 minds about this.

I'm not sure this comment will be terribly coherent, but I'm going to try. I have a lot of thoughts in my head.

How is it that only women are exploited by pornography? In the world of adult media, there is a niche for every fetish known to humankind there. Men are exploited. Women are exploited. Gay people are exploited. Lesbians are exploited. Transgender people are exploited. Older people are exploited. People of all ethnicities are exploited.

The entire industry is about exploitation.

Yet, isn't an accountant exploited for his/her skills when he/she takes an accounting job? I'm told that in Germany, prostitution is legal, it is carefully regulated by the state, the sex workers receive good pay and health care, and security is available to them to keep them safe.

Is it just because it involves sex that we Americans often see this as a less than honorable profession?

When I used to write on OpenDiary, I read the blog of a woman who was in the process of starting her own erotic business. She had photos professionally taken, featuring herself, she clearly enjoyed her body and her sexuality, she wasn't doing this out of any desperate economic need but of her own free will, and if this was her free choice, how is this disempowering to her? Perhaps there is some erotica out there that is not demeaning to women, but instead edifies women's sexuality in a strongly positive way.

Insights? Feedback?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Tracie - First of all, I think there is a difference between pornography and erotica. As one of the Supremes said at the time, "I can't define pornography but I know it when I see it." The difference, for me, is that porn is clearly exploitative. And yes, men and women and children can be exploited by porn b/c they are objectified. Their humanity is defined by and reduced to sexual acts.

The focus of this piece is women b/c they are, far and away, the most exploited - in this country and around the world.

I hope that's helpful to you.

Daisy said...

I find it interesting that the news places so much emphasis on a story about bin Laden's porn. Almost forgotten is the fact that the US gov't illegally assassinated a man. As Marjorie Cohn wrote: "Targeted assassinations violate well-established principles of international law. Also called political assassinations, they are extrajudicial executions. These are unlawful and deliberate killings carried out by order of, or with the acquiescence of, a government, outside any judicial framework.

Extrajudicial executions are unlawful, even in armed conflict. In a 1998 report, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions noted that “extrajudicial executions can never be justified under any circumstances, not even in time of war.” The U.N. General Assembly and Human Rights Commission, as well as Amnesty International, have all condemned extrajudicial executions."

Yet, people seem more concerned about porn allegedly found on his computer. I detest the abuse of people in pornography - or any other way. But we seem to focus excessively on this rather than demanding that our own governments act with integrity and justice.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Daisy - This is clearly an attempt to tarnish the man's image in order to better justify our actions. All the government had to do was "report" what they found. No one associated with al-Qaeda will believe it anyway, but the US thinks it looks better in the world's view of what we did.

It's obscene. All of it.

Muthah+ said...

Wearing my "Disarm rapists" t- shirt today.

But the comments are quite telling.

Yes, we are trying to paint a picture that allows us to dismiss OBL as a slug so we can justify our actions. I would be happier if they didn't comment on this kind of stuff.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I think I have some of the best commenters in all of Blogdom. It happened after I put my foot down, my hand to my hip and opened my mouth about 'Anonymous' people who drop their crap and run. I get less and less of them these days. Very thoughtful people I don't always agree with but who are intelligent and articulate. I'm very blessed.

Jamie said...

This is an excellent article. And when it comes to porn, I assume most oppressive men are viewing it worldwide. In fact, one of my friends told me that a man at her office was hauled off in handcuffs by police for viewing porn on a work computer. Yeah!
There have been stories about Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists buying prostitutes in San Diego, and of course all government agencies, including the American military, have been covering up rape and cruelly treating the women who have been raped by male soldiers in their own army. I say it should be considered an act of treason for a male American soldier to rape a female soldier in war time, subject to summary execution. That might stop the rapes. Personally, all men are porn addicts until proven innocent, they love porn, they love buying women, and they think they can rape women anytime they want. IMF head is just a recent case.