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  Guns & Roses — 4  

Sex & Violence
  Vol II : issue 1

  Amrita Pritam
  Mrinal Pande
  Evelyne Accad
  Gagan Gill
  Selina Hossain
  Only in Print

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Evelyne Accad

Violence nourishes itself on such a system. Georges Corm has shown how aggression and violence are founded on the prism of the communities. “Once started, this violence becomes cumulative, especially in a society where the dead must be revenged, and in the light of a failing State. In the kidnappings and counter-kidnappings, the reprisals and counter-reprisals, sometimes spontaneous, sometimes organised, a ruthless amplification of violence follows, where those who have started the death machine disappear in the anonymity of the militias; in fact, the militias not only commit acts of barbarism on the territories they control, but often instigate them.”

Arab society in general, and Lebanese in particular, have always had pride in the za’im (leader, chief, hero). The za’im is the macho man par excellence. Not only does he embody all the usual masculine values of conquest, domination, competition, fighting, boasting, etc., but also that of shatara (cleverness). Shatara means to succeed and get what one wants, even through lying and perfidy. Za’im and shatara are concepts much valued in tribal society. The Lebanese war has transformed the za’im into the askari (man with the gun, militiaman). The askari has technical, military training, and his goal is the “self-preservation” of his group. In addition to his military role and his economic-social function, he has played and continues to play a role that is most violently destructive of his country, and therefore of his sexuality as well. He uses weapons of war to destroy and seize control of one region or of another group. He participates in looting to benefit his clientèle of family and to extend the range of his influence.

Given the extension of his influence, he builds a system of wealth distribution and gains more power. Material goods and gains are obtained through his gun and other war arsenals. It is a primitive system, and a vicious, destructive cycle, rather than a self-preserving one. The more men desire omnipotence and the control of others, the more weapons are used. The means of conquest are given a value in proportion to their success. The gun, the machine-gun, the cannon — all masculine sexual symbols which are extensions of the phallus — are put forward and used to conquer and destroy. For Adam Farrar, there is a kind of jouissance* in war: “One of the main features of the phenomenology of war is the unique intensity of experience. War experience is exactly the converse of alienation. In war, the elimination of all the norms of intersubjectivity produces, not alienation, but the most intense jouissance. The machining of events on the plane of intensity (to use the Deleuzian image), the form of desire, is utterly transformed. Power no longer consists in the capacity to redeem the warrants of communicative intersubjectivity. It consists in the ability of the spear, the sword, the gun, napalm, the bomb etc., to manifest ‘in a blast of sound and energy and light’ (or in another time, the blood of a severed limb or a disembowelled body), the merest ‘wish flashing across your mind like a shadow’.” He says, quoting an article by William Broyles in Esquire entitled ‘Why Men Love War,’ that at some terrible level, for men, it is the closest thing to what childbirth is for women: the initiation into the power of life and death.

Elisabeth Badinter makes the same connection between the experience of childbirth and war: “The word ponos, which designates endured pain, applies as much to a young man learning to harden himself as to the pains of childbirth. In this struggle, the woman inverses certain signs of virility. ‘In order to confront war and to gain access to the statute of citizen, the Greek man buckles up; while a woman in labour, on the contrary, loosens her belt... Nevertheless, even reversed, the sign connecting maternity to combat is there.’ In both cases, man and woman suffer and risk death. Enough to raise themselves to the same level of transcendence. Enough to make the resemblances win over the differences. Across two activities apparently opposed, men and women live a common experience which unites them in the same concept of humanity rather than isolating them in their sexual specificity.”

What Badinter does not grasp is the fundamental difference between creating life in the act of childbirth and destroying it in that of war. Relating the two within a human concept is not a valid explanation. Even if the two experiences could be brought together, they would divide rather than unite man and woman. The meaning and importance given to a military weapon and to the sexual weapon are equal. Man uses his penis like he uses his gun: to conquer, control and possess. The whole macho society must be unveiled and condemned because in the present system, one tries to obtain material goods and territory not in order to enjoy them, not out of need, but to enlarge one’s domain and authority. Similarly, sexual relations are not built on pleasure, tenderness or love, but on reproduction, the preservation of a girl’s virginity (so-called ‘honour’ of the family), the confinement and control of women for the increase in male prestige, and the overestimation of the penis.

Lapierre, already cited, has shown that this phenomenon exists in almost all civilizations, hunting followed by war being at the root of women’s oppression. And Bob Connell sees a relationship between masculinity, violence and war. He says that it is not by chance that the great majority of soldiers are men — 22 million people in arms in the world, in 1976, 20 million of them being men. “Most of the police, most of the prison warders, and almost all the generals, admirals, bureaucrats and politicians who control the apparatus of coercion and collective violence. Most murderers are men. Almost all bandits, armed robbers and muggers are men; all rapists, most domestic bashers; and most people involved in street brawls, riots and the like.”

The opposition between confessional culture/national culture has been very well explained by Corm, who sees in the Lebanese confessional system a culture of dissension based on racism, destructive of freedom of expression, encouraging prejudices, exercising tyranny imposed by the force of weapons. “The strange thing in this affair is that the culture of dissension could have convinced a good number of Lebanese that there can be no existence nor salvation for themselves and their possessions outside of the politicised community setting, when in fact, the sad reality shows, without any question, the beginning of community games and pursuing them, were and remain the main factors of Lebanon’s destruction.”

p. 1 p. 2 p. 3  p. 4 p. 5 p. 6  p. 7  

Evelyne Accad is a novelist, folk song writer and Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Illinois. She divides her time between Paris and Urbana-Champaign