Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Cultural differences 

Not so much a clash of civilizations but a clash of cultures:
"A former inmate at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison forced by U.S. guards to masturbate in public and piled onto a pyramid of naked men said on Tuesday even Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein did not do such things."
No, Saddam only killed people, usually after torturing them. The following practices were routine when Abu Ghraib was under the old management: "Medical experimentation, beatings, crucifixion, hammering nails into the fingers and hands, amputating sex organs or breasts with an electric carving knife, spraying insecticides into a victim's eyes, branding with a hot iron, committing rape while the victim's spouse is forced to watch, pouring boiling water into the victim's rectum, nailing the tongue to a wooden board, extracting teeth with pliers, using bees and scorpions to sting naked children in front of their parents."

I know which I would rather experience, but I'm just a Westerner and therefore to most of us, saying that American guards were worse than Saddam's torturers sounds obscene. But at least for some Iraqis this is no heated anti-American hyperbole but merely stating the obvious, namely that in the Arab shame and honor culture even hideous torture that destroys manhood is more acceptable than abuse that only questions it.

The world is full of cultural differences. Some people don't understand how we in the West can allow alcohol to be sold in shops, in turn we don't understand how others can genitally mutilate their pre-pubescent girls. Cultural relativists argue that all cultures are equal and thus equally valid, which usually is just a convenient excuse to engage in denigration of their own culture. I don't subscribe to this school of thought, so like most of you I won't agree that Saddam was a better host at Abu Ghraib - but it still helps to understand why others do.

Update: Makes you think, if forcing men to masturbate and building nude pyramids are such horrible and humiliating forms of torture, why hasn't Saddam practiced them in his days? Similiarly, if they're so horrible and humiliating, why haven't the Americans got better intelligence out of their use? Having said all that, it's good to see the wheels of justice turning on this matter. Whether what happened at Abu Ghraib under the Americans constitutes torture or not, it's a behavior that clearly should not have been allowed to happen.

And kind of on the topic, Tom Heard has an innovative alternative to Guantanamo.


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