Attack in Berlin Christmas market a call for feminist organizing

Image: Reuters/Pawel Kopczynski
Image: Reuters/Pawel Kopczynski

This week my To Do list actually includes both “check opening hours of Vienna Christmas markets” and “write angry letter to Prime Minister Trudeau.”

In light of an attack in Berlin’s Christmas market December 20, the connection between these To Do items is stronger than ever.

I’m a Canadian living in Belgium, and last year the markets in Berlin were the highlights of Christmas. We loved it so much we plan to visit the markets in Vienna and Salzburg this week.

While the immediate news coverage of the Berlin attack includes the predictable claims that Western culture is being infiltrated by Islamic terrorists, what I and other feminists notice is that the attacker in this case, like those in Paris (November 2015), Cologne (December 2015), Brussels (March 2016), Nice (July 2016), Orlando (July 2016) were all men. I insist on naming these attacks as men’s attacks, men’s terror attacks against the innocent, men’s expression of their entitlements under male supremacy.

At least 45 per cent of women in Europe will be physically or sexually assaulted by a man in her life, according to the largest global study of male violence.

This is a much higher chance than being killed by a bomb or truck at a Christmas market. I am one of the luckiest women on the planet in that I have never lived with an abusive man or been physically attacked on the street. Yet, like women all over the world, I am very familiar with living with the threat of attack.

I have internalized the rules about what I’m supposed to wear, how late I can safely be out, and how I’m supposed to move around public space to avoid being harassed or raped. My freedom, even as a Canadian living in Belgium, is constrained daily by the threat of men’s attack.

To women, the terrorist, the battering man, the pimp, and the rapist have much in common. We are advised to monitor our own behaviour, to avoid situations that will put us in harm, yet he is unpredictable. He could strike at any time, and we are to believe that it is our fault.

To women, travel advisories against going to the Christmas markets of Europe sound a lot like, “Carry your keys in your hand. Stay indoors, beware of rapists.” The imposition of armed military at the train stations and in the otherwise charming Grand Place Kerstmarkt in Brussels reminds us women of the big brother, father, or husband who policies our behaviour and uses our honour or safety as his excuse for counter-attacks on other men.

Exploiting the people who are made vulnerable by men’s violent behaviour as an excuse for more violence is a trick of male supremacy. Women do not want one man as our guard against another. Feminists expect all men to stop raping and to censure other men’s violent behavior so women and children can live in peace.

Similarly, in response to terrorizing attacks, we refuse to accept further terror imposed by the state. Not in my name will soldiers and tanks wreck my Christmas market selfies.

Which brings me to my To Do item #2, “Write angry letter to Prime Minister Trudeau.” This appears on my Christmas preparation list because I, like many in the North, am horrified this week by the massacres in Aleppo, Syria.

Too few of us who avoid the Christmas markets out of fear of terror attacks have fully appreciated that the terror we in Europe (and North America) now feel, over the risk of being mown down by a truck while drinking mulled wine, is driven by the same system that is devastating civilian lives in Aleppo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine, and Standing Rock, North Dakota.

It is difficult for most of us to succinctly map the role of our Canadian and European economic, military, and foreign policies in creating a world where undemocratic war-mongering is entrenched, but “Let’s not kid ourselves, Canada is in the war business.”

The war business is part of a worldwide system of violence, exploitation of the innocent, and armed struggle for power that is created, controlled and perpetuated by male supremacy. All women’s freedom is constrained by the accumulated, centuries-old power enforced by male violence. Women’s behavior is circumscribed by the threat and fact that men might (and do) batter, rape, pimp, and buy us. Similarly, unarmed, under-powered women, children and men around they world have our freedom constrained by centuries-old power, enforced by groups of men acting as male-supremacist armies, governments, religions, corporations, and cultural institutions.

Prime Minister Trudeau, like many handsome liberal nice guys, described himself as a feminist but has yet to practically apply his substantial power toward feminist aims of peace and freedom.

Trudeau could halt international arms deals, lead the dismantling of war business in Canada, withdraw Canada from armed conflict worldwide, adhere to our international agreements to accept refugees from conflict zones, fulfill our duties as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and fund the democratic, grassroots organizations across Canada who are working hard in the worldwide feminist movement. These are pragmatic alternatives to terror.

Feminism is a worldwide movement striving for liberation from war, terror, exploitation, and environmental devastation. Indeed, “A global study on violence against women conducted over four decades and in 70 countries reveals the mobilization of feminist movements is more important for change than the wealth of nations, left-wing political parties, or the number of women politicians.”

Feminism commits to our human potential to live in the freedom of peace with our neighbours, sustenance for our families, and care for our planet.

While the warmongers will call on us for armed vigilance in the threat of more terror attacks, women will continue as we always do in the threat of men’s attack: we keep on living and caring, creating joy where we can, and organizing in local feminist groups to try to transform the world for the better.

May I suggest we all add to our To Do list for the New Year: “Find or start a local, grassroots, feminist-led, democratic group. Feminism is the missing peace.*

*Credit to Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter anti-war organizing 2003.

Jacqueline Gullion is a Canadian feminist. She worked in Canada against male violence for 15 years as an unpaid activist, and now lives in Ghent, Belgium, learning Dutch with refugees, organizing a community garden, playing in a feminist drumming troupe, and working in the IT sector.

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