Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Aid and Comfort to al Qaeda

The events at Abu Ghraib prison could not be more damaging to American prestige and support in the Arab world were they directed by al Qaeda. The photographs that have emerged, and the wealth of materials that will surely emerge in the future, (apparently, there are CD-ROMs full of pictures and videos of similar, and even worse, abuses out there) are finely tuned to outrage the Arab mind. The abuse of these prisoners was quite calculated. The humiliation of these prisoners is not the accidental product of a bunch of West Virginian hicks having some twisted fun hazing prisoners. The humiliation of these prisoners was designed by people who knew Arab culture intimately and chose carefully the means just short of the technical meaning of ‘torture’ to break the prisoners. The nudity, the sexual abuse, and the presence of Western women, were all carefully designed to play upon the most sensitive vulnerabilities of the Arab cultural norms of shame and sexual identity. These images will consequently reinforce the most potent aspects of al Qaeda’s propaganda, helping to discredit America’s motives, pressuring Arab governments to distance themselves from American policy in the region, and inflaming Arab public opinion and outrage.

Al Qaeda’s uses the sexual humiliation of the Arab male by the West as one of it’s central, and most potent themes. They claim that one of the methods of America’s war on the Arab civilization is to actively seek the emasculation of the Arab man. The graphic sexual humiliation and homosexual acts depicted in these photos are a non-verbal and incredibly powerful confirmation of al Qaeda’s claim. Even worse, this story is being repressed by the national media of many of our Middle Eastern allies because it is so damaging to them and to us. This censorship will not be effective, but it will further reinforce the illegitimacy of those governments to their own people, and confirm their collusion with America.

The final and intolerable element has yet to fall into place; photographs of Arab women being sexually abused in a similar fashion. Such photos almost surely exist, and it is likely only a matter of time before they emerge. There was an entire women’s wing in Abu Ghraib, and abuse of this population is very likely in the completely negligent command environment allowed to fester at this, and other prisons. Even one such photo will create a backlash of the sort that even American arms cannot deal with. We suffered defeat and stalemate in Falluja as a result of challenging the cultural potency of a minor Shi’ite cleric. Such an image would precipitate the same sort of insurrection throughout Iraq with a much stronger cultural motivator; the defense of Arab womanhood. We would almost certainly be forced to retire from Iraq precipitously, and without a face-saving settlement. America might well face military humiliation as a result of Bush’s negligent leadership.

This story actually broke over two weeks ago, but CBS sat on it at the request of the military. Elements of the Iraqi resistance shelled Abu Ghraib about two weeks ago, killing and wounding many prisoners. Why would they do this? Because it was known that there were women in Abu Ghraib, and they already knew about what had happened in the prison. Once they had word of what was happening in the prison, they felt it preferable to try to kill the women in the prison rather than to let them endure such treatment. Wrong in our culture, but nearly inescapable cultural logic to Arabs. This is the extent to which Iraqis will go when faced with such humiliation; does anyone really imagine that we can control or survive such frenzy? The match is poised on at the fuse; God help us if it touches.

The Bush Administration, despite their protestations of innocence and ignorance are completely responsible for the conditions allowed to exist in Abu Ghraib and other military prisons. They set policies which made intel gathering the supreme and only value by which the performance of these prisons would be judged. They made the policies that placed military intelligence and civilian contractors in charge of in these prisons with mixed populations. They failed to demand oversight of operations and to ensure compliance with international laws because they were supremely arrogant and short-sighted. The result many well be to deliver Iraq to the insurgents, and to strengthen the most radical elements of Iraqi society at precisely the time when more level heads should prevail. The Bush Administration through it’s negligence and incompetence may be giving birth to a radicalized and anti-American Iraq at a time when support for continued war and occupation is waning at home. The result may well be the sort of ‘vacuum’ of which Democratic politicians warn might pull terrorist elements into Iraq once we leave. If it had set out to intentionally do so, the Bush Administration could not have done more to give aid and comfort to jihadi terrorism organizations, such as al Qaida, both by bolstering their propaganda and recruiting, and providing a likely haven for operations,. Bush has proven once again, that when it comes to supporting terrorism, sheer incompetence is the only tactic more powerful than complete inaction, his other favorite tactic.


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