An Actual War On Women, Ctd

Ariel Ahram goes deep in exploring ISIS’s use of sexual violence, arguing that it represents “as much an undertaking in state-making as in war-making”:

The power to control or manipulate sexual and ethnic identity is a key component of all state power. In the Middle East, the regulation of sexual relations is often used as a means to create or reinforce ethno-sectarian boundaries.

In the 19th century the Ottoman authorities prohibited marriage between Shi’i men and Sunni women in the provinces of Iraq for fear that Shi’i Iranians were gaining a demographic foothold in the region. Since Islamic law privileges male prerogative over children, the move was meant to block the propagation of Shi’ism within the Ottoman domain. Marriage of Shi’i women to Sunni men was still permitted, since the children of such a union were deemed Sunni. Saddam Hussein took similar measures in the 1970s and 1980s. In late 1970s, in the immediate wake of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the government moved to deport some 40,000 people deemed to be of “Iranian” (i.e., Shi’i) origins.  Thousands of families were interned in prison or prison camps for months, where they were subject to rape and torture, before being transported to the border. …

ISIS’s violence is a heinous crime of war, but also represents a particular form of statecraft. At first glance, it might appear that these practices, though justified by selective interpretations of Islamic law, serve only to satisfy prurient sexual urges. Much like its manipulation of water and oil resources, though, ISIS’s use of sexual and ethnic violence has both ancient and modern antecedents. By selectively reinforcing, creating, and severing ties of kinship, these violent practices can affect bonds of loyalty and obedience far more substantially than the simple distribution of resource rents.