Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Selective Torture

Lately, it has become difficult for me to find things to say, topics on which to write. It’s not that I can’t think of anything, but rather that I can’t pinpoint just one.

It is with this in mind that I will begin to write on the first thing that hits me – tonight, I can’t stop thinking about the movie I watched last night in class. It was an HBO documentary called Ghosts of Abu Ghraib. I had seen the more notorious pictures from that prison before, but it didn’t strike me with the force it did when watching this film. Here were interviews with the soldiers who had committed these torture tactics, talking about their situation with an almost detached sense of calm. They held photos that have since been released to the world, especially damaging to the Arab world. And they kept repeating their shared mantra: I had to do it. I was told to do it.

A Jewish woman is a part of my small group in this class, and she expressed anger at this capitulation of responsibility. “It’s not enough,” she said quietly to our group of five, “for the Nazis to say, ‘I was told to do it.’ They still did it. That’s just not enough for me.” I definitely sympathize. These seemingly well-mannered soldiers, no matter what their specific situation or extenuating circumstance, still committed horrible acts. They tortured fellow human beings.  That is, consequently, the theme of the class - Spirituality, Ministry, and Survivors of Human Rights Abuse.  We have met survivors of torture.  We have heard their stories.  And I have no words.

But it can’t just be put on the American soldiers. A chilling moment came when one of the soldiers reflected, with noticeable regret, that “if it wasn’t for those photos, there would be no Abu Ghraib.” Indeed. The documentary held no punches in its claim that our current administration mostly expressed regret that the pictures were ever released, instead of explicitly condemning the ferocious torture of people held on no charges (in the very prison that witnessed the sadism of Saddam Hussein, no less). It’s not that Arab men were being chained hand and foot, naked, being forced into sexually explicit postures, all the while American soldiers stood over them, exercising total and complete domination. No, no. It’s the fact that someone had a camera, and that those damn pics got out!

Our administration, especially George W. Bush, has prided itself on being strong decision-makers – “deciders,” even. Our cowboy president has repeated numerous times that it’s him who makes the decisions, and he will be the one to take responsibility for those decisions. He has based his entire Texan, grassroots, “aw-shucks” image on this powerful idea. But when it comes to actively finding holes in the Geneva Conventions in order to stretch the limits of “legal” torture; when it comes to continuing sanctioned torture at Guantanamo Bay; when it comes to questions concerning the ground situation in Iraq, our president, VP, and others act as though they can’t possibly be held responsible. They talk in circles, dodge questions, and – that old standard – accuse anyone of pushing further of being somehow anti-patriotic and downright haters of men and women in uniform.

Allow me to talk in the informal speak of Mr. Bush: What a bunch of cowards. That’s the only word I can come up with. They have embarrassed America, at home and abroad. Buck up. Take some responsibility. Be a leader. Grow up.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

An Idea

In the Holy Land, come Friday, Muslim shops and businesses close down tight in preparation for the holy day of Islam. This fantastic idea seems incredibly foreign in America, the “land of the free,” where few could imagine stores closing on any specific day.

To preface this, I fully realize that America isn’t – and never has been – a Christian country. (Contrary to popular belief in the current moral degradation of the US, which presupposes a totally fictitious golden age of yester-year in which our forebears were devoutly Christian [which they weren’t], and people were super-godly, pious, and virtually Christ-like in every way [which isn’t possible].) Ours is a country of many different religions and faiths, and to have a holy day celebrated by, for instance, the three faiths of Abraham, then Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are pretty much out of the question. It’s not going to happen.

But just look, for the moment, at the counter-cultural ramifications of closing shop on one day a week – all of the sudden, there is one day a week where we are forced to intentionally set out to experience the holy. We are limited in what we can do: No running to the store for a quick snack; no going out to eat for brunch; no ability to spend money or be consumers in any respect whatsoever. We would need to get creative in how we spend our time. We would not be able to get whatever we want, whenever we wanted it. We would have to do things that (gasp!) don’t require money.

That sounds like a holy day to me.

This will not happen in America, obviously. But it won’t be in the name of religious freedom or tolerance: It will be defended in the name of fervent capitalism – our national religion. There is simply no way any company will close its doors for a day. Imagine the money lost! (Plus, if every other store closed…well…I hear Wal-mart calling…)

Yet I still find this idea to be compelling, however it might be envisioned.

My vote’s for Monday.