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Trickle Down Racism
Nations are supposed to get the Governments they deserve. I am not sure that any country deserves George Bush; the Americans didn't elect him President and the Iraquis, over whom he is attempting to rule, obviously don't want him.
In Jamaica there is a saying that “wha' start bad a mawning, can't come good a evenin' – Oh!”
The American air is filled with protestations about the essential goodness of the American resolve to bring Freedom™ (Reg.US Pat. Off.) to the ‘darker parts of the world”, an unfortunate phrase, which suggests that Mr Bush may have been thinking of some of the hapless people he spoke of last week. Then, apropos of nothing, he blurted some gibberish about his not believing what some people felt – that dark skinned people are unable to govern themselves.
That this was rubbish is demonstrated by Bush's own behaviour and by the US foreign policy establishment which has directed forcible interference with dozens of darker skinned peoples over the years, the most recent being Haiti. And within the last few days the US president has declared his renewed intention to sabotage and bring down the government of Cuba.
The aim of course is quite simple and humane: to instal US Freedom™ wherever the lesser breeds without the law pullulate in obvious menace to the United States of American and world peace.
Mr Bush at the moment, is in the grip of his latest and most severe crisis, although in typical fashion, he appears not to understand this fact. Speaking about the torture of Iraqis by US servicemen he has stated a few elementary truths, which we must accept: "Their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people. That's not the way we do things in America. I didn't like it one bit." He was unable to say he was sorry when he tried to explain his position on two Arabic language television networks. It was only the next day, in a meeting with the King Of Jordan that he told the King – obviously in reply to a direct question –that he was sorry for what had happened. King Abdullah, one expects, will dutifully carry this message back to the Arab and Muslim worlds.
“This is not America, “ Mr. Bush told the Arabic language audiences, “America is a country of justice and law and freedom and treating people with respect.”
Unfortunately the Arab world and much of the rest of the world, including his own countrymen, don't believe him.
After having ‘spanked' Mr Rumsfeld on Thursday, Mr Bush offered a pathetic defense of his Defence Secretary. Apparently searching for words he said of Mr Rumsfeld: “a really good Secretary of Defence” who had been with him through two wars and would ‘stay in my Cabinet” .
Rumsfeld too didn't appear to understand the need for an apology until some days after the political Krakatoa exploded in the Administration's face. Men of character, which is what they claim they are, don't need to be told when to apologise.
Al Jazeera used a cricketing metaphor to describe Bush's dilemma: he was, the station said, “on the back-foot” ..
The Usual Suspects
Watching the Senate Armed Forces Committee interviewing Mr Rumsfeld and his aides, one got the impression that not all members really wanted to get at the facts. Among those who did were Senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Teddy Kennedy and Carl Levin. Some others, including two of the women, Senators Dole and Collins, were convinced that this was a local difficulty, an outrage obviously, but perpetrated by one or two (or maybe a dozen or two) bad apples.
Others were concerned about whether the rot was systemic, whether the military was covering up and why it took so long for the investigations to be communicated to the President and to the Congress. General Myers, the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff, was very comforting. His belief in the US constitution, the effectiveness of military justice and his desire not to prejudice the trials of the accused malefactors were the reasons the Congress didn't get the story. And while the President had been told about the atrocities toward the end of January no one explained how it came about that according to him, he didn't know what was happening until last week.
It was all, apparently a matter of the pictures of the abuse, and General Myers had called Dan Rather at CBS to ask that the pictures not be shown just now because of the outrage they would produce and the probability that they would have inflamed Arab opinion. Not to worry, apparently some even more incendiary videos are still to come
The poor are over-represented in US prisons and in the US military. One of the most prominent accused, Lynndie England, is a girl of 20 who joined the army to pay her way through college.
The relatives of Lynndie England, Ivan Frederick and Charles Graner all profess surprise at the charges against them, although Graner is a former prison officer with a bad record.
Clearly, however, the army inquiry is likely to find that the accused enlisted men and women were guilty of a peculiar and isolated depravity and when they are found guilty, the whole miserable affair will be over, they hope. .
Unfortunately, the Arab and brown-skinned world, and much of the world, brown-skinned or not, do not quite see things that way. They believe that the torture is a predictable expression of American culture.
The perspective outside of the US is that the United States believes that:
1 It can do what it bloody well likes;
2 It can call on the rest of the world to clean up when it makes a mess of things.
The first principle is exemplified by the US disdain for treaties and international conventions like the Kyoto protocol, the ABM Treaty, the International Criminal Court, the Hague and Geneva Conventions and others.
The second is exemplified by Iraq and Haiti, most recently. In both of these, when the US has accomplished its primary objective, gaining control or the appearance of control, the rest of the world is invited to repair the damage.
In Iraq that scenario is looking less and less likely.
The Iraqis are tired of being misrepresented by Americans as a bunch of uncouth savages. It was Rumsfeld, remember, who stood by while organised gangs stole and destroyed priceless artefacts of civilisations going back 8,000 years. “Freedom is untidy” he said then.
The Iraqis are being blamed for the run down state of their country after ten years of UN sanctions and American and British bombing of the infrastructure. Senator Dole and I imagine many Americans, appears to be under the impression that Iraqi women had no rights under Saddam People like Dole and Rumsfeld, not to speak of the ‘Great Non-Intercontinental,' George Bush, see the US presence in Iraq as a civilising mission and one that can be contracted out to mercenaries.
The importance of Honour
Part of the problem with the American perspective is that they have objectified everyone but themselves. The French are lazy, erratic winebibbers, the Germans are a plodding lot addicted to dictators and the Swedes a have a predilection for socialism and suicide .
In the real world, the hapless Iraqis, lacking freedom, are, along with the Cubans, and contrary to US perceptions, among the best educated people in the world, a fact unknown in the North Atlantic world.
When the US speaks of fanatics and Saddam ‘bitter-enders', they are not conscious that they have in just one year, managed to provoke the enmity of almost the entire population of Iraq , radicals and moderates alike, and the people on whom they came to bestow freedom have an entirely different concept of what freedom is.
An American serviceman may see no harm in a woman ordering a man to masturbate in front of her, but one Iraqi said the acts were so offens
ive to him that he could not bring himself even to speak about them.
Mr Rumsfeld, who feels that such acts were “terrible” is, however, the man who professed no great concern for the way detainees were treated in the law-free zone of Guantanamo Bay. The tortures at Abu Ghraib may have happened ‘on his watch' but so too did the massacre of more than 2,000 men in Afghanistan at Shebargan, where people were suffocated in freight containers and buried by American bulldozers, while a thousand or so were r simply gunned down at the Qala al Jangi fort outside Mazar al Sharif during the war against the Taliban. No one has ever been r held esponsible for these war crimes. The system does work.
The culture of revenge is now so cold-blooded and depraved that honour can be satisfied by contract killers.
As one Arab told the Al Arabiya, network, it is true perhaps, that the American atrocities were carried out by 'only a few people', but that was also true of September 11 and clearly 'only a few' were involved in the desecration of American bodies in Fallujah. And since the American punishment of Fallujah was not only illegal but also disproportionate, it would appear to licence any over-reaction by anyone to whatever insult he decides must be revenged.
As someone once said, an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. And old William Shakespeare, or whoever, said
“O, It is excellent to have a giant's strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.”
That is a thought which has obviously not occurred to the American Press, who are, in my opinion, responsible for inducing Americans to view life as a kind of video game. According to my bete blanc, Wolf Blitzer, “Mr Rumsfeld made a robust apology.”
That apology and all the others, are meant for American consumption, as far as Arabs and Muslims are concerned.
What was needed is something more profound, but apparently, unattainable in this age: it is that the United States should be able to recognise other people – Haitians, Iraqis, Nigerians, Cubans and the rest of us – as human beings, not perhaps part of the American dream, but at least, entitled, inalienably, to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness however we choose to define it.
What we want, in a word, is respect.
Copyright©2004 John Maxwell