For US to be 'insensitive' to certain cultures is not necessarily a bad thing

 

Opinion/Mark Steyn: "Just look at the way US army reservist Lynndie England holds the leash of the naked, bearded Iraqi," writes Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent of the London Independent.

"Take a close look at the leather strap, the pain on the prisoner's face. No sadistic movie could outdo the damage of this image. In September 2001, the planes smashed into the buildings; today, Lynndie smashes to pieces our entire morality with just one tug on the leash." Hmm. Sounds like Fiskie's the one straining at the leash here.

For a week now, readers have been e-mailing me crowing that I haven't got the guts to confront the truth about Abu Ghraib prison. As one correspondent put it, "I was looking forward to reading about how the moronic lefty press should instead be praising those heroic American soldiers bringing freedom, and saving us from those barbaric Arabs. I thought at least that you'd say that you'd have done the same thing in their position."

Well, no, actually. Making a homo-erotic pyramid of young Iraqi men naked with their bottoms in the air is not my idea of a good time. So I didn't write about it last week, because I didn't have anything much to say. I'm revolted by the abuse of prisoners, but evidently not as revolted as Fiskie and co, so best to let 'em off the leash and go capering round the yard. And now that they have, let me say this: As a political scandal, it's already over.

Historians will disagree about the precise moment it turned into a damp squib. Perhaps it was when Democratic blowhard Joe Biden demanded of Don Rumsfeld "What did he know and when did he know it?" Or perhaps it was when the Democrats' leader in the Senate, Tom Daschle, launched into a long whiney complaint about why he and his colleagues hadn't been kept informed by the Pentagon. "Why were we not told in a classified briefing why this happened, and that it happened at all?" he huffed. "That is inexcusable; it's an outrage."

Got it. To Senator Daschle, the outrage isn't the Iraqi buttock mountain or the dog shots, but the fact that the Pentagon had had the appalling lese-majeste not to inform the Senate grandees about it before it turned up on TV. The Democrats have become so formulaic in their Bush-bashing they can't recognise a real scandal when it drops in their lap. When you've got a bunch of shocking pictures, and darker rumours about rape, murder and corpse mutilation, how dumb do you have to be to start talking about breaches of Senate process (Daschle) and reciting tired old clichés from Watergate (Biden)? Congratulations to the Senate Democrats for making a very particular and graphic scandal sound like all the other dead horses they've been flogging for the last year. On Friday, when they pulled the Defence Secretary in for the full Senate grilling and demanded to know why he hadn't resigned, Rumsfeld seemed positively affable about entertaining the proposition.

As well he might. According to that day's polls, 69 per cent of Americans want him to stay on as Defence Secretary. In other words, half the folks planning to vote for John Kerry don't want Rummy to quit.

It's all very well for Robert Fisk to assert that one West Virginia woman walking a naked Muslim man round like a dog "smashes to pieces our entire morality". But Democratic Senators tread that path at their peril. The recent spate of embittered memoirs by disaffected Treasury Secretaries, terrorism bureaucrats and Foreign Service diplomats are one thing: they're anti-Bush, anti-Rummy, anti-Condi. But, when you start bandying around speculation on widespread systemic torture authorised all the way up the chain, that's not anti-Bush but anti-military.

Senate Democrats may be high on Vietnam analogies, but when they start impugning the integrity of the US armed forces, the American people are never going to follow them. Fisk thinks it's your basic clash of cultures: "Could neo-conservative Christianity - Lynndie is also a churchgoer - have collided so violently, so revoltingly, so obscenely with Islam?" "Neo-conservative Christianity"? What the heck is that? I thought all we sinister neocons were Jews. The reality is that Lynndie's appetites owe less to her churchgoing than to her embarking in Iraq on an affair with her comrade (and accomplice) soldier Charles Graner. Private England is four months pregnant with Graner's child. Graner was formerly a Pennsylvania prison guard and has a history of domestic violence.

Before concocting entirely fictional demographics - West Virginia trailer-park neo-conservative Christians - you could more easily make the argument that the England-Graner relationship is a textbook example of the corruption of military discipline that occurs when you insist on pretending there's no such thing as gender. Or you could make that argument if you were anyone other than a Democratic Senator in thrall to your party's pieties on political correctness.

Likewise, the alleged "cultural insensitivity" to Arabs arises almost entirely from the presence of Lynndie England - take her out of the shot and you could find identical scenes any day of the week in gaols throughout the Middle East. But Democrats are hardly in a position to call for a male-only army in Iraq.

The American people seem to have figured this out. The actual, specific abuse is wrong and should be punished, but the attempt to burden it with some highly selective general conclusions is rightly seen as a lot of baloney. If President Bush wants to embark on an apology tour to the Arab world, that's up to him. But what happened at Abu Ghraid is terrible because it's an offence to American values, not Arab ones. It's ridiculous to insist that America has to apologise to Arab thugocracies in which what's merely simulated in those photographs is done for real every day of the week.

Two of the "humiliated" prisoners have since been released and said they'd like to emigrate to America.

As for the allegedly seething Arab street, my advice to them would be to lay off the interviews, or at least not to respond to the pictures by saying things like: "They wanted us to feel as though we were women, the way women feel, and this is the worst insult, to feel like a woman."

When you imply that being an Arab woman is analogous to perpetual degradation, you remind Americans that being "insensitive" to certain cultures is not necessarily a bad thing.