"Civilizing" the Evildoers of Araby


"Civilizing" Arabs has never been easy. In the 1920’s the poor British occupiers were forced to bomb and gas the Iraqis into peace and stability. As early as 1919, Winston Churchill failed to "understand the squeamishness about the use of gas ……………….. against uncivilized tribes." For the sake of "civilization" itself, PM Lloyd George in 1932, "insisted on reserving the right to bomb niggers," that is Arab "niggers." Since 1991 the Americans have been obliged to twice invade Iraq to restore a degree of "civilization," but the "shock and awe" bombing in March 2003 failed to "pacify" this Arab nation.

Rather ironically, Iraqis have not been impressed by West Texas civilizers in the very "cradle of civilization," and they continue with their evildoing: they oppose the occupation, they are still attacking their liberators. As the brutalization of civilian detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison suggests, Americans find the work of "civilizing" very hard indeed. 9-11 Commission member Bob Kerrey’s warning on April 7th that the problem may well be that the "the US Army – it is a largely Christian Army – is in and occupying a Muslim nation," has gone unheeded.

Defense czar, Rumsfeld, in his press briefing (May 4th), pontificated that the abuse was "totally unacceptable and un-American," adding "our country is our country and it is a wonderful country." On his campaign tour in Ohio on the same day, Bush declared that "we acted, and closed the torture chambers," totally ignoring US torture of Arab civilians in the same notorious prison. Whether it is dementia or idiocy or sheer indifference to killing natives, is unclear, but Bush and his team are obviously deluded about US history and foreign policy. Rumsfeld is wrong on both counts: torturing natives has been the standard US modus operandi, and this installment of brutalization, far from being Un-American, is classically and canonically American.

What these Arab prisoners suffered was pretty mild by longstanding American ethical and military standards. Jefferson enjoyed fornicating with his captive slaves deemed unfit by race and color to be his equals in his own eyes. Andrew Jackson enjoyed killing and "scalping" native Indians, the first terrorists and owners of the "homeland." During the "liberation" and occupation of the Philippines in 1898, torturing the natives was a common practice. In Vietnam, natives were slaughtered en masse by US napalming and carpet bombing, with the death toll at about 3- 4 million for Indo-China in the period 1961 – 1975.

My Lai was unusual only in that it was exposed, debated and became part of the public record. In 1977, the human rights president, Jimmy Carter, rejected the idea of compensation for Vietnam because "the destruction was mutual." John Kerry is now describing his opposition to the Vietnam war, and to the American habit of raping, torturing, murdering civilians, as the overreaction of a youthful soldier. About 200, 000 civilians and soldiers – by some accounts 400, 000 – were bombed to death in the 1991 war against Iraq, including the famous "turkey shoot" of soldiers and Asian and Arab civilians traveling from Kuwait City to Basra at the end of the war.

About 4000 Afghanis, about 8000 Iraqis, and over 600 Arab and South Asians, the majority civilians, most of them Arabs and nearly all Muslims, have been jailed in US prisons in Kabul, Baghdad and Guantanamo, all without legal rights, and subjected to various forms of physical and psychological torture as detailed by Amnesty International. Israel’s occupying Army routinely kills and tortures Palestinian "suspects," bulldozes their homes. In Ramallah in 2001, Israeli soldiers defecated and urinated in the Palestinian Authority offices and apartments they occupied as reported by Israeli (Jewish) journalist Amira Hass. Arafat and his fellow Arabs were fittingly humiliated.

The Israeli Army, at the request of the Pentagon, has made its tested methods of "interrogating" their natives available to the US occupation forces in Iraq. None of this is controversial any longer, and it all gives us insight into the character of Western secular culture, and its supporting Judeo-Christian template, at his point in history. What is striking in both cases, is the uncanny combination of claims of ignorance, purity of motives, contempt for Arabs and Muslims, and denial of responsibility by the civilian and military bosses.

Rumsfeld and General Myers, both claimed not to have read the US Army commissioned February 2004 report on "systemic" abuse of Afghani and Arab prisoners by US Major General Antonio Taguba. Myers pleads innocence as does his boss, Bush, who assures us that "he shares a deep disgust" at their treatment but offers no condemnation initially, and issues no orders to investigate the practice forthwith. Instead, Bush declares that "that is not the way we do things in America," contradicting the US historical record of 2 centuries of such documented conduct. Bush and his faithful Anglo-Saxon ally, Blair, insist that their invasion of Iraq was driven by the highest of motives, by the best of intentions, and this brutalization is the "work of a few people," "rogue" elements presumably.

None of this holds up in light of Taguba=s analysis which shows that abuse was official US protocol, implicit and explicit. Furthermore, this policy is broadly consistent with US Army conduct in the third world generally. As lieutenants of the much advertised Western civilization, the US soldier- guards (male and female) felt authorized to sexually humiliate and degrade their Arab captives in a manner unforgivably offensive to Muslim identity and sensibility. In a Western culture in which in the absence of shame and guilt about sexual promiscuity, sexual vulgarity and public nudity are matters of pride, the pornographic debasement of Arab Muslims, in particular males, must have been "fun," especially for the "liberated" white female soldier caught on tape laughing and pointing to the naked Arab’s genitals.

Tacitly sanctioned by higher ups as revealed by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker, this obscene dehumanization of Muslim Arabs, apparently, did not count as torture. Nor did the planners and executers of the invasion seem to care much for the human rights of "uncivilized" Arabs. Undoubtedly, this is the real antisemitism of our time, the contempt for Arab Semites and their culture and values by the West led by the United States. By its conduct, the US has transformed this invasion into war against all Arabs and Muslims, notwithstanding its rhetoric to the contrary.

US’s quisling Arab regimes will not been able to contain the rage of the insulted Arab people much longer. As accurately noted by the Editor of the London-based Arabic daily, Al-Quds Al-Arabi, "This is the outcome of the culture of hate that the US administration adopts against the Arabs and Muslims" (May 4th). The US has failed in Iraq, it has been defeated by its own racist, anti-Arab discourse and policy, as in the Fallujah slaughter, as in the Abu Ghraib torture , and US withdrawal from Iraq is just a matter of time.