Defining images

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: United States Of America Views: 4191

The disastrous fallout from the dozens of photographs depicting the abuse and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners appears to be relentless. Almost every day, more and more photos are being released to the public, and, every day, more and more rage is fomented against the United States, especially from within the Arab and Muslim worlds. I was disgusted to the core after seeing only a few of the photographs. I still cannot believe that fellow Americans could be capable of "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses," cq in the words of Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, of Iraqi detainees in U.S. custody. 

From the beginning, our leaders sought to distance the majority of U.S. soldiers--all of America in fact--from the despicable acts of those few rogue GIs. In an interview with Arab-language television station Al-Arabiya, President Bush said, "First, I want to tell the people of the Middle East that the practices that took place in that prison are abhorrent, and they don't represent America." 

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee in a May 7 hearing, said the abuse of Iraqi detainees "was inconsistent with the values of our nation. It was inconsistent with the teachings of the military. ... And it was certainly fundamentally un-American." 

Senator Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), a member of the committee, said: "The acts depicted in those photographs shown around the world do not in any way represent the values of the United States of America or our armed forces." 

Every American knows that the brutal and gruesome images are the antithesis of the definition of an American soldier. The honorable and brave men and women of the armed forces, who have made no small sacrifice in enlisting to serve their country, put their lives on the line every day to protect the freedoms we sometimes take for granted. 

Day in and day out, they do an outstanding job and deserve our admiration, honor and respect. No doubt, the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by some U.S. soldiers has stained and shamed every American the world over. 

Nevertheless, to judge every American by these is patently unfair and unjust. Those photos, although taken by an American and depicting brutality at the hands of Americans, are not America. Period. 

And here is where we Americans must pause and reflect. Just as it hurts to be painted by the world with the same broad brush of the brutality at Abu Ghraib, we should never do the same here at home. 

Take American Muslims. For as long as I can remember, American Muslims have had to contend with the unending association between Islam and terrorism. 

The terms "Muslim terrorist" and "Islamic terror," sadly, have become part and parcel of the American lexicon, especially in the media. With each report of a suicide bombing in Israel, with each attack on Americans by gleeful Iraqis yelling "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great), with each airing of the latest audiotape by Osama bin Laden threatening America and its citizens, that association becomes entrenched even further. 

American Muslims, just like their non-Muslim compatriots, think it unfair to be continually judged by the actions of a rogue minority. 

Both acts of association have led to adverse consequences. 

The shocking pictures of American abuse of Iraqis have damaged American credibility around the world. In fact, on May 7, Libyan Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassouna al-Shawish, in response to U.S. criticism of his country, retorted by saying, "America has no right to talk about human rights--or even animal rights." 

Every action of America to promote freedom and human rights around the world will now be viewed with the utmost suspicion and skepticism. Similarly, the association between Muslims and terrorism, coupled with the still-prevalent fear and misunderstanding of Islam, has led to an increase by almost 70 percent of anti-Muslim incidents in 2003. 

That figure comes from a recently released report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a prominent Washington, D.C.-based national Islamic advocacy group. In addition, hate crimes against Muslims have increased 121 percent, the highest number ever recorded. 

Yet we must not stop at the stereotyping of Muslims. 

The generalization of anyone is wrong, and it leads to division and disunity. I know this firsthand because of an experience I had soon after Sept. 11. 

Our mosque had an open house, and up rode two men in leather jackets on motorcycles. Everyone's eyes, including mine, were fixed on them in nervous suspicion. I took them on a tour of the mosque, always on edge, half expecting them to do something wrong. 

My fears turned out to be totally unfounded: They were among the nicest men I had ever met. The stereotypes I harbored about "men in leather jackets who ride motorcycles" put up an unnecessary barrier between them and me. 

Everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt, and the whole must never be judged by the sins of the few. 

Assuredly, these are some of the darkest days for the men and women of our military. It pains me deeply to look at or even read about the photos of the abused Iraqi prisoners, and I can only imagine the sadness, shame and pain our soldiers must be feeling right now. 

My heart, and the collective heart of our nation, goes out to them.

Yet if we can learn anything from this terrible tragedy, we must learn never to judge the whole by the sins of the few. If we can accomplish this as a nation, then there may yet be some good to arise out of the ashes of the Iraqi prisoner abuse tragedy. 

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer.

Copyright (c) 2004, Chicago Tribune

  Category: Americas, World Affairs
  Topics: United States Of America
Views: 4191

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Older Comments:
I've check out the link, BNAK. I must say I was speechless for sometime after reading the article, not to talk of the 1hr or thereabout spellbound i remained reading it. It is just AWESOME. Every body(especially Americans) should read THIS. Check the link in comment No. 24767.

The question now is what does the world do? I for one 'm returning to Allah. What about you?


BNAK said:
A chilling article. Must Read for everyone:

I have to agree with Hudd D'Alhamd in the sense that your comment on Americans and Muslims being differnt is very irritating. I my self am a muslim and and American. Are you not awair that their are muslims in America. In fact there are around 5 million muslims in America, and that number is growing. I have a quote that i think everybody should read and take into consideration, not only on just recent events but for every day life and every situation.

"A persons thoughts, beliefs, faiths, color, race, religion, ideas and so on, does not make him our enemy. Our ignorance to these qualities and our unwillingness to change that ignorance is our enemy. We cannot truly judge any person to be our enemy until we have truthfully learned about them and what they believe in. Therefore until you have defeated the battle against ignorance, ignorance is your only enemy."

Esther your comment is irritating me like reccuring piles. I do not accept comments like:"There is a difference between Americans and muslims." Just what the hell are you insinuating? What Muslims are you talking about? American?, Canadian?, Iraqi?, Saudi?, Kuwaiti?, Pakistani? Please be specific before being stupid. If I flip what you said it would sound like:"There is a difference between the Iraqis and the Christians" Then you would come at me with the same question,'which one?'. But would I put a question like that, provided I wasn't stupid? Yes, in the case if I 100% saw the American invasion of Iraq as a new crussade! Are you trying to prove this end of our argument? Is the US invasion a new crussade? Is the purpose of US in Iraq, the conversion of the Iraqis to the Evangelical Baptist Denomination of the Bushites?! If so, your comment is legitimate, do you understand what I'm telling you? I suppose that even if you believed that in the bottom of your racist white heart you wouldn't flaunt it, would you? Next you say, while the majority Americans are sad for the Iraqis in Abu Ghraib, not so the Middle East concerning Berg's or Pearl's killing. These are two people in the wrong place at the wrong time. Killed by God knows who for God knows what purpose. 10000 Iraqi civilians, mostly children have been killed by your bastards of American soldiers. Thousands of Palestinian civilians have been killed by the Israeli hellions. And you tell me about two Americans that both were in very dangerous areas to be and their being there was their own adult responsibility? What the hell was Berg doing in a war zone in a country invaded by his nation(making him very unpopular) where US soldiers were killed on a daily ratio? He asked for it, one could say, al-Mansoor Avenue in Baghdad is not quite Wall Street in NY. Can you fathom the difference or is it too high a concept for you? He could have been killed(Berg) even on Wall Street,mind you,under the cover of dark by thugs.

You Muslims should just stop infighting and get "together". Pls stop blowing up your own, like the suicide-bombers. Create a political clout in Washington DC and make "others" fight for you, like the American Israelis do. Look how they created the Iraq war, the continuous Afghan war, the sanctions against Syria, Iran as the axis of el. Suicide-bomber: please don't kill yourself. Use tact and diplomacy. And make simpletons like me know who the real terrorists are, The Neocons in DC, the Iraelis and not the Palestinians- most of who are innocent.

Dr. Hassaballa's article was well written and a true
representation of not only Muslim Americans, but also
Americans in general. As an ummah, we are too often quick to
judge America by the same faults we are judged for.

As Salaamu Alaikum,

I am in total concurrence with this article. It is the job and responsiblity of every Muslim to reflect the best qualities of Islam, whether in or out of America. Our beloved Prophet (PBUH) is the best example we have to follow. In his last sermon he specifically addressed the issue of discrimination. Allah will judge us by the taqwa in our hearts not by how we are physically created.

Terrific article!! Fair, open-minded, and heartfelt.

There is a difference between Americans and muslims. While the majority of Americans are angry, sad, and sick that prisoners are abuse this is not the case in the Middle East. The muslim community one the other hand does not care about the beheadings and killings that are going on. Killing of Westerners has actually been going on for a long time. And Daniel Pearl was not the first Western to be beheaded.

... Does the word psychophant ring a bell. What are the prejudices that led these Americans to attack Iraq in the first place? was it not the false belief that Iraq was somehow connected to 9/11. During the war there were numerous images that depicted U.S. soldiers writing graffitti on artillery shells refering to al-Qaeda and revenge for 9/11 as their prime motivation. When they fire on Iraqi civilians, or engage the local resistance they are always refered to as terrorists. What happened in Abu Ghraib was the natural end product of the dehumanizing process that started from the top down, beginning with the disemination of false information and inflated rhetoric from the oval office, there is also evidence that this was NOT an isolated incident and this kind of punishment is pervasive and systematic. Until today not one senior official has taken responsibility, and they will continue to 'investigate' and evade until most americans forget that the crimes ever took place.
I personallly have made my choice. I am prejudiced towards those who submit to Allah, those who seek to implement the 'sacred law' and establish an Islamic way of life. I am against those who seek to supplant the Islamic ideals with their jerry springer, sexually perverted, materialistic, shameless, greed oriented, destructive culture, using terms such as freedom and who seek to replace the precepts of Islam doctrine with Humanism. Humanism is only an aspect of Islam which only makes sense as a part of the Islamic whole, going down this wrong road will ultimately lead to such things as homosexual marriages and other perverse behaviour, because the internal touch stone will be lost.
The author can probably find a job as a future Interim Council Member when the U.S. decides to liberate his country of origin, from its people.

I don't think it could have been said any better. I agree with you, Hesham, 100%. Even though I too was disgusted by what happened to the Iraqi prisoners, I hope that some good can come out of the situation. The good being that all Americans will learn what it's like to be judged by the bad actions of a few, and that we can all work together at fixing this problem.

absolutely! it is sad that stereotypes and bigotry are mistaken for knowledge and open mindness... i must say that today America has lost any kind of real freedom of speech, which it claims to offer to others, ironically. i can talk about politics with people in South america and even if our vision differs, still eat together the following our country now, hell no! 2 choices for everything!! republican or democrat! patriot or not! coke or pepsi! cheddar or swiss! ....sad indeed