Tuesday, May 04, 2004

A wall of silence

Unfortunately, I think Virginia Tilley has nailed the likely US response to the torture at Abu Ghraib. The public doesn't have the tools or awareness to grapple with this development since, she writes,

The US population has been dangerously insulated from the crimes in Iraq, and remains insulated by top-level denial that these latest terrible photos signal anything substantial about the occupation. In an especially insidious twist, the Bush administration has been playing on Vietnam syndrome in holding any critical regard of our soldiers as unpatriotic: consequently, the media and much of the country has absorbed a collective decision to lavish only praise, to "support our fine men and women" who are doing a "fabulous job" and "deserve our support." Yet that ethos, generous in spirit, has translated into a wall of silence which has fostered rampant ignorance about Iraqi-civilian suffering at US hands and the implications of these abuses for the US role, and has forestalled any sober collective effort to correct them. Hence the relatively muted US response to these dreadful photos reflects a great national confusion and in-drawing of breath, as the population is confronted by photos which are, to many sheltered people, so unexplainable, and whose very discussion has no moral standing in the current national climate-except to reject as an aberration.

Instead of absorbing that a moral rot pervades the occupation, the US population is therefore likely to find baffling, extremist or even absurd the scandalized reactions of the Arab world and in Europe, for whom the photos are the US occupation's moral death-knell. For of course, as an aberration, these crimes imply nothing about our larger mission and certainly not our culture, right? The irony here is that, if these photos had instead portrayed American soldiers abused in some Arab prison, screaming right-wing US media would have waved them as substantiating every racist claim of inherent Arab depravity. On Fox News, ranks of flunky intellectuals would have soberly propounded the social-psychological violence inherent in Muslim theology and the "Arab mind"; tears of patriotic passion would have celebrated US military might as the golden force opposing the dark ferocity of the savage Arab masses. Feeble liberal protest -- that it is wrong to extrapolate from one prison policy to a whole culture -- would have been derided and silenced. And high-minded speeches would have emerged from the White House, mustering US patriotic zeal to combat these forces of evil which produced such an outrage. Yet when others launch similar stereotyping distortions of us, we claim the high ground: those ignorant savage Arabs, we sneer, with no conception of our culture. How gullible and backward they are, to fail to grasp the truth and be so enflamed. It must be al-Jazeera's fault.
Yep. Must be.