Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Rape of Dinah/The Danger of Silence (Vayishlach)

With the dissonance between the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars, topics covered in a given Parsha don't always mesh with the American holidays that fall during that week. As you celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, cherish the experience, and be thankful that you live in a country where -- for all the political discord of recent years -- you're living in a country whose soil has been untouched by war for more than a century* and guarantees freedoms to organize, to report and to speak out against that which you don't believe in. First-time contributor Eve's Apple e-mailed me the following commentary, inspired by this report (PDF).

I think when most people read about the story of Dinah, they are initially shocked and appalled by the act of rape itself. We tend to focus our anger mainly on Shechem, the son of Hamor, and contemplate how evil and arrogant he must be to kidnap and rape a woman just because he feels entitled to her.

However, when I read about Dinah’s rape this time around, I was more outraged by Jacob’s response than really anything else. One would think that as Dinah’s father, Jacob would be the most distraught and angered that his daughter has just been raped, but instead of wanting revenge for his innocent daughter’s rape, he is silent.

It truly baffles me how Jacob could remain so quiet and calm after his daughter’s rape. How can he be so silent in the face of tragedy? How could anyone be silent and not take a stand against the rape of the innocent?

I say this, and yet it occurs to me that we, as humans and Americans, are silent everyday as similar atrocities are happening around the world. Just look at the tragedy in Sudan. While there is still ridiculous debate amongst the international community about whether Darfur should be considered genocide, the bottom line is that as many as 400,000 civilians have been killed and up to 2.5 million Darfuris have been forced to leave their homes and now live in camps for internally displaced persons.

Call it genocide, ethnic cleansing, a crime against humanity…it really doesn’t matter what we call it, especially since right now, our silence is doing all the talking.

Now in its fourth year of violence, the U.N. has called Darfur, the world's “greatest humanitarian crisis,” and President Bush has come out and declared it to be genocide. So why then are thousands and thousands of innocent people being killed and raped every day?
“When my village was attacked, 30 men with guns entered in the village. Some of them found me in my house. Three of them raped me and I fell unconscious. The men locked me inside my house (straw hut) and set it on fire. I managed to get out of the house through the burning grass.”
--Woman, 17, October 2004, West Darfur
In Darfur, rape is used as a weapon of war. The Janjaweed rape the Sudanese women as a way to violate their human rights, and also as a way to humiliate her husband, her family and her community. Rapes are done in the open, to young girls, pregnant women, anytime, anywhere. If you resist the rape, then you are beaten and even killed.

"I was sleeping when the attack on Disa started. I was taken away by the attackers, they were all in uniforms. They took dozens of other girls and made us walk for three hours. During the day we were beaten and they were telling us: "You, the black women, we will exterminate you, you have no god." At night we were raped several times. The Arabs guarded us with arms and we were not given food for three days."
--A female refugee from Disa [Masalit village, West Darfur],
interviewed by Amnesty International delegates
in Goz Amer camp for Sudanese refugees in Chad, May 2004
Just like Dinah’s voice is never heard throughout Genesis, these women also usually remain silent about their rapes and beatings. During Dinah’s time, a woman would remain silent about a rape because it was considered an extremely shameful act. (The Law of Deuteronomy 22 and Exodus 22 explain that the rapists would have been expected to marry the woman he rapes, live with her and support her for the rest of her life.)

Likewise, in Sudan and in many Islamic countries, society views sexual assault as a dishonor upon the woman's entire family. Victims can face terrible ostracism and embarrassment if they come forward. Therefore, rape victims remain quiet in order to avoid stigma or further mistreatment. (Just listen to Aziza’s story, which almost completely parallel’s Dinah’s story.)

"I am 16 years old. On day, in March 2004, I was collecting firewood for my family when three armed men on camels came and surrounded me. They held me down, tied my hands and raped me one after the other. When I arrive home, I told my family what happened. They threw me out of home and I had to build my own hut away from them. I was engaged to a man and I was so much looking forward to getting married. After I got raped, he did not want to marry me and broke off the engagement because he said that I was now disgraced and spoilt. When I was eight months pregnant from the rape, the police came to my hut and forced me with their guns to go to the police station. They asked me questions, so I told them that I had been raped. They told me that as I was not married, I will deliver this baby illegally. They beat me with a whip on the chest and back and put me in jail. There were other women in jail, who had the same story. During the day, we had to walk to the well four times a day to get the policemen water, clean and cook for them. At night, I was in a small cell with 23 other women. I had no other food than what I could find during my work during the day. And the only water was what I drank at the well. I stayed 10 days in jail and now I still have to pay the fine, 20,000 Sudanese Dinars (65 USD) they asked me. My child is now 2 months old."
--Woman, 16, February 2005, West Darfur
After the Holocaust, the world said, “Never Again.” After the Rwanda genocide, we promised, “Not on Our Watch.” Genocide is happening and something most be done, more quickly and more forcibly before it is too late. I won’t pretend to have all the answers regarding this tragedy, and I realize that this is a complicated issue that can’t be solved overnight. But what I am 100% sure about is that silence is not an option. We can’t just sit back while innocent people are murdered and raped. This genocide has gone on long enough.
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
--Martin Luther King, Jr.
*All due respect to Pearl Harbor, but I'm talking mainland.

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