Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » May 2004 » Shanin Cole, a Pakistani-American independent scholar from Ann Arbor

[« At least somebody gets it....] [This is scary.... »]

05/06/2004: Shanin Cole, a Pakistani-American independent scholar from Ann Arbor

has an excellent "guest editorial" up at Informed Comment: America in the Balance: Sex, Lies and Prison Abuse


As a Muslim-American woman trained in Pakistan as an attorney, it deeply pains me to see the US constitution and the bill of rights defamed in this way. As an immigrant to this country in the 1980s, I fell in love with those documents, which seemed to me only a little short of divine revelation in their wisdom and justice.

But since September 11, I have been on an emotional roller coaster ride, frightened half to death about the survival of American democracy. It seemed to me that every day US policy climbed another rung in the ladder of hypocrisy.

Some apologists will say that these things happen in war. I agree. The problem here is that the Bush administration proclaimed that it went into Iraq with the express purpose of establishing democracy and rights, and with a promise to improve the lives of the people. The very rationale for the war has been perhaps fatally undermined.

My second concern is a gender issue. As a woman it has long been hard for me to hear from the Muslim community the often sweeping denunciations of American women. The images of Private Lynddie England prancing in front of naked, hooded prisoners will only reinforce stereotypes of American women as morally lax. In World War II, the British complained of American men that they were oversexed, overpaid and over here. Are Iraqis now echoing that sentiment more forcefully, but now with regard to both sexes?

Nobody in the Middle East is going to accept that these episodes were the mistake of a handful of soldiers. They will think that the abuse derived from racism, religious bigotry, and loss of control in Iraq. From Saudi Arabia to Turkey, no one in the region will admire America’s violation of the Geneva Conventions. In their minds, the US had over-ruled the United Nations and had gone into Iraq unilaterally. America already had two strikes against it in public opinion in the region. The prison abuse was strike three.

When Muslim males look at these pictures, they will feel dishonored and humiliated, and some may well decide that it is henceforth a religious duty to expel the immoral Americans. The photos of prisoner torture have the potential to unite Iraqis behind a new nationalist fervor, and to bring Shiites and Sunnis together. Some will wonder whether their daughters can possibly be safe from the American infidels if male POWs are treated this way.

Arabs are angered that President Bush has expressed only regrets, but offered no formal apology in his interviews on Arabic-language satellite television. His attempt to place the blame on a small handful of perpetrators reminds Muslim viewers of their own fruitless attempts to convince the American public that September 11 itself was the work of a small handful of terrorists. Many Americans never accepted the latter argument. Can we really expect Middle Easterners to be mollified so easily?
Go read the whole thing; this is an educated woman who speaks with knowledge of both Muslim and American culture

Len on 05.06.04 @ 11:48 AM CST

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