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On Rape and the Media Politics of Libya: “There’s a Stirring in the Pot…Stirring in My Soul”

As a young black girl like most children I told lies. I told big lies. I told small lies. I told white lies. I told lies. And, even had the audacity to argue with my “all seeing all knowing” do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do black grandmother about the usage of lie over her usage of “telling a story.” What does telling a story have to do with telling a lie? I tell you, this infuriated me. I prefer the word lie. Even though my grandmother and I had many disagreements over the terming of untruths often leaving my backside sore with resentment, she had a remarkable almost supernatural way of knowing when I, her precocious granddaughter, was telling her a lie. She would say with a type of black woman resolve, “There’s a stirring in the pot . . . there’s a stirring in my soul,” and before she could finish her statement I knew she knew that I had lied. And, boy did my sore backside know it too.

And, so in the tradition of my no nonsense black grandmother, I say, “There’s a stirring in the pot . . . there’s a stirring in my soul that something is not quite right about the media’s framing of the rape of Iman al-Obeidi by Gaddafi forces.” Mind you, I take every woman’s allegation of rape as truth. I do this because often it is true. The available data and shush shush stories of such and such alone confirm the prevalence of rape in our world. Furthermore, I take serious a woman’s claim of rape because so many people are willing to dismiss her claim and blame her for what she wore, what she drunk, and where she was. And if she happens to be poor/working class woman of color, I am even more likely to believe her because so many people believe brown and black female hypersexualized bodies cannot be raped. So, to say the least, I take Iman al-Obeidi’s claim of rape as truth.

However, there’s a stirring in the pot and a stirring in my soul.

If we look at the people’s freedom movements in Tunisia, in Egypt, and in Algeria and who their martyrs were they where people who the people upheld as their image, their clarion call, their mobilizing collective frame against their corrupt and oppressive governments. And, for the most part, international media were not the ones’ pinpointing the faces of their movements. It was the people. And, it will always be the people. Therefore, there is a part of me that questions the media’s telling of her story and how they have now made her the face of the Libyan movement for freedom. I tell you, there are many reasons there is a stirring in my soul.

First, when has there ever been weekly on the hour of the hour national coverage of a woman of color’s story of violence let alone a woman of color’s story of sexual violence who lives outside of the US. I tell you, like clockwork CNN, MSNBC, FOX News, and other syndicates have been obsessed with showing the images of Iman and her struggle to be heard at the Libyan press conference. And, all I could think about is how often rape and other forms of violence happens to women globally and in particular in other African countries and the national news does not showcase those stories like the seven black women, both Christian and Muslim, who were recently killed in Cote D’ Ivoire because they want peace in their country.

I tell you, there’s a stirring in the pot.

Secondly, a part of me thinks about the politics of using sexual violence against women as a mobilizing frame that literally tugs on traditional gender roles of protecting, “our women,” narratives. Mind you, I know the power of using the image of “Mother” to incite people to protest. Just look at the women’s Anti Pass Campaign in South Africa, the women’s movement in Liberia, and the women’s bus movement in Montgomery, Alabama. There is something quite powerful about using the image of a woman to move people to act. However, I also know how these same exact images of women can be used for nefarious purposes or for “our interest” in Libya. I know the need for oil is great and governments will do whatever it takes to get it even if it means stirring the pot.

Thirdly, we all know that when there is war or the “threat of Libya destabilizing the region” that there is rape. We know this or should know this. We can look historically or at current times to see how governments, groups, and fanatics have used systemic rape to humiliate, to control, and to utterly annihilate the opposition. So, the question is, why feature Iman’s story above all the other stories of rape? What is more unique about her story then countless other stories? I tell you, we had to mobilize in 2007 around various stories of sexual violence against women of color because the national news refused to cover it. So, yet, again why is the media so enraptured by her story of sexual violence? I tell you, there’s a stirring in the pot and it smells to, “To high Heaven.”

And, because it “smells to high Heaven,” something in you should be stirred up. Something in you should say, “There is something about all of this that does not feel quite right.” We as critical thinking people . . . we as spiritually aware people . . . we as survivors of sexual trauma people . . . we as envisioners of a world without war people . . . must constantly be alert when media and governments choose to focus on women’s bodies as the reason for anything let alone war. We must learn to trust the stirrings within us because those stirrings will have profound implications for our world and, specifically, for the lived experiences of women worldwide.

Yes, there’s a stirring in the pot and a deep bottom well like stirring in my soul . . . and it smells to high Heaven.