Iraq: The Deadly Embrace

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: Abu Ghraib, Crime And Justice, Iraq Views: 5851

The photos of decapitated hostages and the detainees in Abu Ghraib are in many ways the flip-sides of the same imperial coin: on the one side is the barbarity of the occupied and on the other is the barbarity of the occupier. They are both hideous examples of the capability of humans for cruelty but yet they are neither surprising nor are they isolated examples of depravity. Rather, these images depict in sickening clarity the natural result of one nation imposing its will on another. This is the price that always has been and always will be paid for Empire. 

A society, such as ours, that defines itself by its humanity, respect for justice and recognition of human rights does not begin an occupation with such bestial cruelty but history teaches that, regardless of our piety at home, if we are to maintain an occupation abroad we must jettison some of those same principles by which we define ourselves. The domestic outrage that the Abu Ghraib images elicited in both America and her allies suggests that we, as a people, are neither prepared nor willing to accept the New American Century envisioned by the war's architects in Washington. 

There is an awful pattern apparent in recent events: "insurgents" kidnap a civilian member of the occupation; the kidnappers demand the withdrawal of troops from Iraq or the release of prisoners; when the demands are not met, the victim is killed -- usually decapitated -- and his killing video-taped or photographed for the benefit of their supporters and the rest of the world. 

As the insurgency escalates -- and with it attacks on American soldiers and civilians -- so will demands for better intelligence about the resistance. As the insurgency grows so to does the demand that intelligence be forthcoming -- and with it comes the pressure to use torture to extract this information. The more torture is employed against the civilian population, the more it builds resentment; and the more that popular resentment grows, the greater the resistance to occupation. 

It's a cycle of violence that has played out in human history for as long as one power has sought to impose its will by military force on another. The US used torture -- water torture, maiming, dragging suspects by horses and setting alight -- to maintain its occupation of the Philippines. The British used torture when faced by the Mau Mau insurrection in Kenya. In the 1950s, the French became trapped in this same cycle as they struggled to retain control of Algeria. When faced with a popular resistance, they turned to torture to produce the intelligence that was needed to counter the uprising. Whatever cognitive dissonance may have existed in the heart of a nation that had signed the Geneva Convention and avowed a belief in human rights was salved by defining the government's actions in Algeria as outside the usual strictures of international law. 

That the murders in Saudi Arabia of American expatriates and the murders of foreign workers in Iraq are inextricably linked to American conduct in the region is undeniable. Nick Berg, Paul Johnson and Kim Sun-il were all dressed in the same orange jump-suits prior to being murdered. It is no coincidence that the outfits and colors chosen for their murders were the same color and style as clothes worn by detainees in Guantanomo Bay and Abu Ghraib. 

Throughout history, violence of the occupier begets more violence from the occupied. Once locked in this deadly embrace, it becomes impossible for either occupier or occupied to end the killing. In a world made smaller by the digital media and when faced with a people who identify themselves first and foremost as a religious community, America's difficulties in Iraq do not stop at the borders -- as the murder of Americans in Saudi Arabia shows. 

Our outrage at the treatment of detainees in US-run prisons and our disgust at the sight of murdered civilians demonstrate our moral unprepardness for the horrors of extending American hegemony. History shows only two exit strategies: leave willingly or leave unwillingly. Until then, when confronted by the next example of torture or the next murdered Westerner, we should recall the words of the poet, W.H. Auden: "I and the public know, what all school children learn. Those to whom evil is done, do evil in return".

Amir Butler is executive director of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee (AMPAC). He can be contacted at [email protected].

  Category: Americas, World Affairs
  Topics: Abu Ghraib, Crime And Justice, Iraq
Views: 5851

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Older Comments:
So when is Sean being sent to the front lines to fight for his dictator ? These Nazis are the enemies of all that is decent, right and just in the world.


You are correct H.A., Sean may be a great person, but his words are not...great. You can clearly see in his comment that he is telling all Muslims to stop attacking the U.S.A.....of the 8 million American Muslim citizens who live in the U.S.A., does anyone think that even one of them would want to attack the U.S.A.? Not one would think of doing such a terrible thing, in fact if ANYONE ever does think of doing something like that, whether they be Muslim or not, then they need to be dealt with individually. The U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority kills Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan on a daily basis...but I would not even ever for a second consider saying something like, "Americans (doesn't matter who you are), stop attacking us and being complacent about innocent Iraqi's being killed, or else you will pay the price!" So this is why I don't accept Sean's comment as being admirable or courageous H.A..

I would hope you can understand that. See H.A., I have conversed with Sean and an individual named Kim here in another article opinion section before...they displayed a great deal of racism and hatred towards Islam as a faith, not just Muslims. I cannot say that is admirable or courageous. If I am wrong, Sean please come forward and tell me how you feel about the Islamic faith, and how you feel about Muslims. It would really say a lot, thanks.

It's time to start political reformation, and stop making U.S. soldiers to go on military expeditions to places where death and violence are created and people die on both sides.

Like you said H.A., regime change and political reformation is vital in the USA, not only Iraq or elsewhere, in order to bring calmness to humanity, and to bring those responsible for sickening crimes to justice.


Sean is a great person. We should admire his courage. He is right in some respects. People in the USA are fearful of another attack. We, Muslims, should not blame them for such fears.

He did not mean to express hatred toward Muslims as is suggested by some...

9/11 happened b/c of U.S. policies in the Middle East. People in the United States need to understand that.

As long as they support the zionists in Israel and kill Muslims like cattles in Palestines and in the Middle East via the puppets, future big bangs in the USA (in my opionion) would be unavoidable.

Hence, it time for a regime and policy change in the USA.

Another ignoramous called Sean coming here trying to talk all big but can't do much...still using the 9/11 approach in order to justify his rage and hatred against Muslims. Clearly you are an Islamaphobe, and need to get a reality check Sean. You don't know the first thing about Muslims, and the people writing many articles and discussing here. They come from amongst the 8 million American Muslims, and I myself being a Canadian Muslim. If only you could conceptualize 12 years of sanctions against the people of Iraq which was initiated by the American government, or if you could transport back in time to see the abandonment of the mujahideen of Afghanistan who were used in 1979 by that era's US Administration.
Yea so wake up man your country is not the only place where innocent people are attacked, do you live in a dream world? Oh yeah I forgot, the American dream, sorry ma bad....pathetic, your overry simplistic justification of your nation's actions, and your mind-boggling complacency with your government's actions whether they be of present or the past, makes me see how much American's need to wake up to about Muslims and Islam, and you Sean are a perfect subject for this classification.

Maybe you should consider your Auden quote, then look at the smoking ruins of the WTC, and ponder the fate of the world. The Americans act to protect themselves, as I am sure that any other nation (France, Germany, Iran whoever)would. This isn't evil, its common sense. Stop attacking us for no reason, and we'll leave you be. Keep attacking us, and I am sure that any who prove to be complicit in terror will pay the price.

What an eloquent, well-written article that speaks the truth. This is the opinion of a person who is thoughtful, intelligent and knows history. Opinions like this are rarely seen in the US media.

Muslims are always depicted as barbaric, amoral and fanatical. We are all suicide bombers and religious extremists. America's cultural and moral superiority has always been undermined by its hypocrisy. This arrogance and elitist mentality has turned Iraq into a battleground where innocent peoples lives are being threatened everyday. Is this really what democracy is all about? The Iraqi people need to decide their own destiny in their own way without the intervention of the US and the terrorists who claim to be Muslims.

What u sow ,so do u reap.US said , we're the best,an arrogant approach is bound to be hated.How strange,crimes of oppressors are compared with the crimes of the oppressed.The so called " civilised" were in true colours" the most barbaric " and the acts of oppresed ones were out of sheer suffering,agony,helplessness,frustration,misery.......etc.
Here many legalised crimes are compared with few crimes.
Alas, thats itttt........