Tag Archives: Congo War

Large Scale Rape Incident in Congo

The UN’s human rights chief has said the “scale and viciousness” of mass rapes in DR Congo “defy belief”, as a report into the attack was released.

Navi Pillay said that, even for the region, the incident stood out because of the “extraordinarily cold-blooded and systematic way” it was carried out.

Some 300 people were raped by armed militia in the attack in August.

Details here

Dirty poor people living in slime: Missionaries and American Idol


Actual missionaries
As you may have noticed, I have written a series of posts about missionaries in eastern Zaire in the 1980s and early 1990s, focusing on my own personal experiences. These seven posts represent only a small number of these experiences, but they are more or less representative. They are meant to underscore the down side of missionary activities in Central Africa. To some extent, the negatives you may see in these essays are part of the reason for missionary activity being illegal in many countries (although the reasons for those laws varies considerably). It is my opinion that missionary activity should never be allowed, but at the same time, missionaries can have a positive effect that would not likely happen in their absence.

Frankly, I think that the world of sceptics and non believers looks a bit asinine for not making much more of an effort to replace these positive effects in a secular way and to give the missionaries a run for their money.

One of the reasons that I’ve written these essays is because I was asked to address this issue by Mike Haubrich. Mike is the producer of Minnesota Atheist Talk Radio. The idea was that I would write a few blog posts on my experiences with missionaries, and then we would do an Atheist Talk Radio spot on the topic. As it turns out, this coming Sunday’s show will be the last Minnesota Atheist Talk Radio instalment. After this, the show will be off the air forever. So don’t miss the show! Mike is producing the upcoming show, and Stephanie Zvan will be conducting the interview.


Do not assume that mud hut = unhappiness
One of the things that I have not sufficiently conveyed in these posts about missionaries is the broad misconception people … not just missionaries, but most people in The West … have about Africans and Africa and the nature of life there. The average American will see a photograph of a mud hut with a grass roof and a family positioned outside the hut staring into the camera and this average American will think, “Oh, those poor people” without any understanding of the fact that they could be looking at the happiest people they’ve ever seen living in relative comfort, with fulfilling lives. They are just not the lives that the average Westerner has determined, in their privileged, middle class, suburban mindset, to be ideal. But who cares what you think?


Most likely, they are dead by now.
Or, you can look at the broadly smiling face of an African Child bursting with happiness, and think, “well, they fixed that one … he’s happy” and not have any idea that this is a kid who will die of malaria next month because the region of Africa he lives in has zero medical care because there is a war going on over access to the raw materials needed to make your cell phone. Or because he lives near a Christian mission with a medical facility but is not a Christian.

In other words, you have no clue, most likely. And not only do you have no clue, but most of the bad stuff happening to these people is your fault. And you’re probably never going to get a clue. In fact, you are going to spend your energy denying that this is all your fault instead of just doing something to undo what your civilization has done.

The reason you not likely to figure this out, and that you are most likely to keep doing the wrong this, is because the reality that you are willfully misunderstanding is actually quite complicated, but you’ve been trained by your culture and society to view Africa and Africans as rather monolithic and simple.

These posts on missionaries don’t help much in that regard. In these posts, the Africans themselves are not really featured, and though they are far from one dimensional (do look and compare the different individuals mentioned) since these posts are not directly about them, there is just not much there. But I do hope that in reading these seven essays that you will come to understand one thing: When the missionary is showing the slide show about the great work the missionaries are doing, whether you are seeing this in church or on the web or at the local community center or public school, and the missionary is asking you for your money to help do more, please do write a check.

And send it to the UN. Or to the Ituri Forest People’s fund. Or some place, but not the missions.

Here are links to the missionary posts:

On a Mission from God

Forget the Maginot Line, What About the Beer Line?

Our Research Camp as a Mission Station

The Great White Missionary

Attack of the Hound of Malembi. Or, “Whose are these people, anyway?”

Don’t be a Jew

The good book

Rape Crisis in East Congo Tied to Mining Activity

-Activists concerned by this year’s escalation of sexual violence in eastern Congo are trying to turn up the heat on those benefitting–directly or indirectly–from illicit mineral extractions.

“Conflict minerals power our entire electronic industry,” John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, told U.S. senators at a May 13 hearing on sexual violence in eastern Congo and Sudan.

The Enough Project is a Washington-based organization campaigning against genocide and crimes against humanity, including rape in eastern Congo.

Women’s eNews

A rape in progress

Please read the following vignette of an actual incident.

I am a scientist observing the culture of the Namoyoma people. I am sitting in a shady spot just outside the village, writing up some notes, and I observe a disturbing event. Four men are trying to drag a young woman from the road into the nearby forest, and from what I hear them saying, they intend to rape her. There are also four older women trying to drag the young woman back to the village, and they are yelling that she must go back to her father’s house where she will be protected. The battle over this young woman continues for quite some time, and the whole time I consider if I should be involved. I am here to study these people, not to interfere. Yet a rape is, at least according to my cultural norms, a bad thing. Do I get involved or not?

Eventually, the four younger men, stronger than the older women, succeed in dragging the young woman into the bush. I assume they raped her. I felt bad about not helping, but I really had little choice in the matter. I did not come here to change things, I came here to observe and to learn. Intervention could have unforeseen consequences. This culture of rape and male dominance is the way things are in this society. It would be foolish and unethical to try to change it no matter how much I disagree with it.

That is a real story, and I’ve changed the details enough so that it might be difficult for you to track down where it comes from. This is because I have no intention at this time of getting into a battle over this particular incident. Rather, I tell you this story to ask the question: Is it appropriate for you, as a private citizen living in some country like the US or Australia or wherever you are reading this from, to get involved in changing the way that people’s cultures operate in areas where you happen to think they are wrong? In a culture like the one described above, where rape of women by men is “normal” and “typical” and “happens all the time” one can certainly feel badly for the women, but can you, should you, actually intervene?

My own answer to the question is substantially different from that of the person who first told the story I relate above. The answer is: “You are asking a stupid question in a stupid way, and need to step back and think about what you are saying.”

Rape may well be a “normal” and “day to day” occurrence in this culture, simply by virtue of the fact (= tautology) that it happens all the time. But there are two reasons why one should not fail to intervene.

One of these two reasons (and I hesitate to prioritize them) is that while rape is “normal” and “frequent” resistance to rape is as well. In the story cited above, there are two opposing forces, but the researcher observing them seems to focus only on one of the two. What about the perspective of the older women pulling on the other arm of this young girl? Are they not part of this culture as well? And certainly the young girl herself is at least as much an example of resistance as she is an example of object. If you must be logical and reflective in the manner of the hapless observer cited above, rather than activist, please consider that not wanting to be raped is a cultural norm as well. Duh.

The other reason is that rape is wrong. Call me a cultural chauvinist if you like.

This post is part of an effort that I was made aware of in a letter from Sheril Kirshenbaum, but with which a lot of people are involved. It is called Silence Is the Enemy, and you can read about it at The Intersection Blog at Discovermagazine.com.

The above example is from Latin America. Recently, mass rape as a tool of warfare has become increasingly exposed (this is not a new phenomenon) in Europe and Africa as part of very recent conflicts. When generation-long warfare is combined with child-solder strategies, as has happened in Liberia, the Congo, and parts of Uganda in recent decades, young men grow up understanding that sex = violent rape, and a sort of post-Apocalypic rape culture often emerges. I’ve provided a handful of links below that you should follow to learn more about this phenomenon. I also recommend the classic but not out of date Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape by Susan Browmiller, and the more recently published examination of former Yugoslavia, Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia

Men, by and large, have a rape switch. All men are capable of rape. Most men are enculturated in a way that reduces rape, and in some societies it is probably true that most violent rape is carried out by individuals who are reasonably labeled as pathological. In other societies, this is not so true. In post war societies such as those described in some of these links, or any society in a state of war, rape becomes routine. The rape switch is flipped to the on position as a matter of course. Most men who were in combat in Viet Nam raped. Similar circumstances have been documented for other wars. I mention this not only to emphasize the depth and breadth of this problem, but to avoid what I fear will be an assumption as Silence Is the Enemy progresses that this is a problem exclusive to the dark skinned of the third world. This is a pan-human problem. None of us, none of our societies, are immune.

Follow the links on Sheril’s blog. Read about this global and serious problem. Donate money to the causes mentioned here and on other blogs. Many of us bloggers who gain income from our blogs are donating some portion of this month’s take to these causes. Take some of your cash and put it on the line as well, please.


The Intersection: Silence Is The Enemy, Sheril’s initial post.

The Intersection: Blogger Coalition, a link farm.

Quiche Moraine: Stephanie wrote this.

Information and commentary:

New York Times OpEd: After Wars, Mass Rapes Persist

CNN.com commentary: War on women in Congo

Do something:

If you are an American, you can write to Congress

Give something. Consider doctors without borders. Me? I’m got my own favorite, the Ituri Forest People’s Fund.

… Continues …