The Sexualization of (Political) Violence
A columnist on the Electronic Intifada (a website dedicated to news, information, and blogs on Israel’s occupation of the West Bank), Benjamin Doherty, recently pointed out in an article how the Israeli Army has directly and indirectly used Instagram and other social media outlets to promote it’s image. Some of these pictures are provocatively sexualized, with Israeli soldiers posting photos of themselves posing half-naked while holding an M-16 rifle. Doherty has a name for this phenomenon among the Israeli Army, “War Sporno”. As he puts it to use “male and female bodies to eroticize the military, to displace violence against Palestinians, to encourage Western public’s to identify with Israeli soldiers.” While I agree partially with Mr. Doherty’s analysis of this, I think there is another, even more dangerous and devious side to this “War Sporno”. Because it doesn’t just work to present a positive image of the Israeli military (and State of Israel as a whole) by “de-uglyfing” the imagery of the occupation and Israeli soldiers. Even worse, it is trying to erase morality and ethics from the political situation entirely by portraying violence against the Palestinian people as a part of an almost romanticized justification. Surpassing even any necessity to present oneself as moral or “good”, because the moral question no longer applies. Though there is a difference between the official Israeli Army’s use of War Sporno, which is just trying to “de-uglify” the image of the occupation and Israeli soldiers by presenting them in a positive and “beautiful” light, and the unofficial, regular Israel soldiers use of War Sporno, which evermore represents something of a conflation between the oppressive violence against the Palestinian people and the sexualization of the Israeli army (and people).
War Sporno represents a dangerous product, some produced through decades of oppression and dehumanization of the Palestinian people. In the end, the goal of such dehumanization is not to try to present oneself as the moral good of a conflict, but to present evil as something positive in the face of such a conflict. And to make that evil seem all the more attractive through the use of a sexual image of violence. With talk of annexation of the West Bank increasing as well as the growing political hegemony of the right-wing in Israel, we shouldn’t throw out the possibility that in such a scenario, there will not be members of the Israeli far right who may consider that political Apartheid over the Palestinians is not something permanent. That eventually Israel will undergo the same faith as South Africa and will be ruled mainly by an Arab majority. And that with already most of the world condemning this near-future Israel, the only way to truly end the “Palestinian problem” is through total genocide of the Palestinian population. Whether through mass murder or sterilization of the populace. And in such an event, dehumanization of a people prove to be a great tool in the perpetration of absolute atrocities.
But if this is the case, then War Sporno is nothing new in the history of human conflict. The linking of sex and political violence have occurred in many conflict zones, from the Serb army in the Bosnian war to both sides of the Liberian civil war, where a stunning 75% of the women in Liberia during that war were reported to have been raped. We must realized that correlating violence in any such a matter as being romanticized is inherent dehumanizing and ethically immoral, especially if this violence functions on a mass political scale. When this happens, truly horrific things can occur, and we lose all sense of our basic humanity.