Ha’aretz’s Arts & Leisure Section had an entertaining story (Does Allah permit thoughts of sex?) about elaph.com, which is allegedly the first Arabic web site to openly and intentionally [offer] a sex education information and consulting service. The web site is Saudi-funded, and discusses various cultural issues from a liberal perspective, including sex-ed and questions about sexuality, which are the remit of an Egyptian doctor, Khaled Muntasar.
Zvi Bar’el makes an interesting story out of it, and includes one of the funniest lines I’ve read in Ha’aretz, as the eminently sensible and very engaging Dr. Muntasar reassures one of his anxious correspondents that "Sexual contact is not like going to the bathroom and penetration is not like breaking through the Bar Lev Line." The article naturally includes examples of crappy sex-ed practices in Arab schools and several dumb questions from readers which, deliberately or not, serve to reinforce the mantle of superiority and condescension that we in the enlightened West tend to assume whenever we discuss the “backwardness” of Islam and it’s attitude towards women and sex and "shame", etc etc.
On the subject of sex and shame, next Monday sees the publication of Seymour Hersh's new book, Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib, in which he discusses the national disgrace that is the Abu Ghraib scandal and considers where responsibility for it ultimately lies. Hersh has already intimated that the torture of prisoners in Iraq is much worse than the material released so far to the public suggests. On 14 July, Ed Cone's blog reported comments that Hersh made the previous week to the ACLU conference, "America at a Crossroads":
Seymour Hersh says the US government has videotapes of boys being sodomized at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
"The worst is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking," the reporter told an ACLU convention last week. Hersh says there was "a massive amount of criminal wrongdoing that was covered up at the highest command out there, and higher."
He called the prison scene "a series of massive crimes, criminal activity by the president and the vice president, by this administration anyway…war crimes."
The outrages have cost us the support of moderate Arabs, says Hersh. "They see us as a sexually perverse society."
(You can watch the conference on video here; Sy Hersh begins to speak at 1:07:50. His salient comments are:
Some of the worse that happened that you don't know about, ok. Videos, there are women there. Some of you may have read they were passing letters, communications out to their men. This is at Abu Ghraib which is 30 miles from Baghdad [...] The women were passing messages saying "Please come and kill me, because of what's happened". Basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys/children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. The worst about all of them is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has. They are in total terror it's going to come out.
Transcription via Daily Kos: Kids sodomized at Abu Ghraib, Pentagon has the videos - Hersh)
MSNBC’s Jim Miklaszewski referred on air to the same incidents as early as 10 May this year, reporting that U.S. military officials tell NBC News, the unreleased images, show American soldiers severely beating one Iraqi prisoner to near death; apparently, raping an Iraqi female prisoner; acting inappropriately with a dead body; and Iraqi guards apparently videotaped by U.S. soldiers raping young boys.... And Glasgow’s Sunday Herald, citing testimony apparently drawn from the Taguba report, has also reported that coalition forces are imprisoning more than 100 children - some as young as 10 years old - and that detainees are reportedly being subjected to rape and torture:
It was early last October that Kasim Mehaddi Hilas says he witnessed the rape of a boy prisoner aged about 15 in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. “The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets,” he said in a statement given to investigators probing prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib. “Then, when I heard the screaming I climbed the door … and I saw [the soldier’s name is deleted] who was wearing a military uniform.” Hilas, who was himself threatened with being sexually assaulted in Abu Graib, then describes in horrific detail how the soldier raped “the little kid”.
So, if Hersh’s account of children being sodomized at Abu Ghraib is not an isolated claim, why aren't we hearing about it? Can you imagine even for a second what would be the fallout if there was video evidence of soldiers in some Arab country imprisoning American children and raping them? Shock and Awe would be raining down on Damascus (or Tehran, depending which is next on the list); Bernard Lewis and the professional pundit classes would be interviewed ad nausaeum on CNN about how such depravity is a sad but inevitable by-product of "the Arab mind"; Gerry Boykin would be preaching that this is all you can expect from "idol-worshippers"; Charlie Krauthammer would be telling us that the only answer is for Israel to kill more Palestinians; some halfwit in Texas would murder his Sikh neighbor, because "they" all look the same to him; and the 10th Mountain Division would be storming through Muslim villages from Waziristan to Sana'a, kicking down doors and generally showing "the Islams" who's boss. And God only knows what light Tom Friedman would shine on the subject, based on some chance encounter with a Kerala fisherman he bumped into in the departure lounge at Dulles International...
But when the shoe is on the other foot? Crickets chirruping.
I would like to believe that the deafening silence that has greeted the reports of child rape at Abu Ghraib is simply due to the Administration's withholding the video evidence. Hersh has apparently seen the video, as have our members of Congress, but I think it is safe to say that it will be a cold day in hell before this Administration will let us see such explosive evidence of what our "liberation" of Iraq has actually been reduced to. And without visual evidence, reports of torture do unfortunately have a lesser impact. Just remember what a shock it was when the first photo evidence was published from Abu Ghraib: the ICRC had been warning for months that we were doing terrible things to our prisoners in Iraq, but it did not shock any of us until the photographic evidence made the accusations real and undeniable.
I'd like to believe that is why our nation is not generally scandalized by these reports of child rape, but really I don’t. Because, to be honest, our collective response to even those photos we have seen has been pathetically inadequate: ranging from the oh-do-I-have-to? almost-apology from our President, to the minimization of torture as "a big frat party" for soldiers who "need to blow some steam off", and the rationalization of sexual humiliation as just a reflection of what young people see everyday in American popular culture (i.e. the "Something About Mary" defense). Even James Schlesinger, chairman of the advisory panel appointed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in early May to investigate "abuse" of prisoners, thinks that a suitable comparison for the behaviour of our troops on the night shift at Abu Ghraib is the frat movie "Animal House". Well maybe my memory is bad: as I recall, the Animal House students could get pretty gross, but I really don't remember any child rape scenes.
It’s difficult to know what to say when the rape of children is dismissed as student antics; especially by our unshakeably self-righteous culture that has been trumpeting to the world for the last 18 months that it is on some kind of divine crusade to lighten the darkness afflicting the backwards Muslim masses who suffer despotism, and torture and rape rooms etc etc. I do know that we need to see the video evidence that Sy Hersh and our elected representatives have already seen - and all the other evidence that the Bush Administration is too terrified to make public - no matter how bad it is. Because until we have it shoved in our faces in living color, we as a nation will never shut up with our denial and rationalization and belittling of what is being done in our names to people just like us. Won't it put our troops in the war zone at increased risk if we release such explosive material to the scrutiny of the whole world? Probably yes, but we can counter at least some of that backlash by showing at the highest level that we understand the gravity of what we have done. For once in his life, our President could actually take some responsibility for his actions, and specifically for what he has wrought in our various Abu Ghraibs around the globe: for the good of our nation here at home, he could release the evidence, and for the good of our standing abroad, he could resign.
But of course he won't take responsibility, and neither will the rest of us. As a people, we will continue to claim that this is not how we really are, even when the whole world sees with its own eyes the evidence to the contrary, and notes that we allow the leaders who sanctioned the torture of prisoners to remain in their jobs, unchallenged and unaccountable.
Yes, it's comforting to feel superior at the naivete of the questions at elaph.com, and write them off as the product of a culture trapped in a mediaeval world of backwardness and excessive modesty. But if we have reached a point where absolutely nothing is taboo - even the rape of Iraqi children - so long as it is done in the name of the USA, maybe it's time to jettison the smugness and relearn for ourselves the value of a little shame.