On May 12, I posted an article entitled, “The Torture Debate Shows Our Vulnerability to Radical Evil.” My conclusion:
Nearly two hundred thousand Americans, military and civilian personnel, were exposed to Iraqi terrorist organizations that routinely employed suicide bombings in order to kill Americans and their supporters. Some of these organizations were supported by Iran, which employed waves of children as human minesweepers in its war with Iraq. These atrocities were motivated by a religion that permits a peaceful interpretation, but cannot refute the cruelest and most violent interpretation. America simply is in no position to expose large numbers of its military and civilian personnel to this sort of horror. Instead we should attempt to quarantine such cultures and expose our own people to them as little as possible. In other words, we should intervene in the Islamic world where urgent American security interests are at stake, but to the minimum extent possible, and with no commitment to determine the civil outcome. We must leave the Muslim world to its own destiny rather than to attempt to engineer a happy ending. And unless Western leaders, religious as well as civic, help their followers to understand the Islamic manifestation of radical evil, the West will continue to be vulnerable.
I wish I had put the matter more strongly:
In countries where torture is habitual, unexceptionable and embedded in everyday life, it is foolish to imagine that our armed forces might conduct successful operations without employing torture as a matter of normal practice. That is why we cannot hope to intervene in civil societies in the Middle East. On April 4, the London Times published a video of Taliban soldiers publicly torturing a teenaged girl in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, reportedly for the crime of stepping out of her house unaccompanied. It is hideous; men hold the girl down while one beats her with a leather strap. The girl screams in pain. Around her a large circle of men watch.
That sort of atrocity is part of everyday life in the Middle East, as Daniel Pipes observes:
Some of the bravest and most distinguished analysts from the Middle East emphasize that region’s culture of cruelty. Kanan Makiya titled his 1994 book about Arabs Cruelty and Silence. Fouad Ajami writes about Beirut being “lost to a new reign of cruelty,” about Iraq’s “plunder and cruelty and sectarian animus,” and about the region’s “cruelty, waste, and confusion.”
This observation came in Pipes’ recent commentary on a remarkable report of the torture of a businessman by a prince of the United Arab Emirates over a commercial dispute. Videotapes of Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan torturing a grain dealer over a $5,000 delivery were aired April 22 on ABC News.
The Sheikh begins by stuffing sand down the man’s mouth, as the police officers restrain the victim. Then he fires bullets from an automatic rifle around him as the man howls incomprehensibly. At another point on the tape, the Sheikh can be seen telling the cameraman to come closer. “Get closer. Get closer. Get closer. Let his suffering show,” the Sheikh says.
Over the course of the tape, Sheikh Issa acts in an increasingly sadistic manner. He uses an electric cattle prod against the man’s testicles and inserts it in his anus. At another point, as the man wails in pain, the Sheikh pours lighter fluid on the man’s testicles and sets them aflame. Then the tape shows the Sheikh sorting through some wooden planks. “I remember there was one that had a nail in it,” he says on the tape. The Sheikh then pulls down the pants of the victim and repeatedly strikes him with board and its protruding nail.
Sometimes ignorance and prejudice reinforce a hostile view of peoples or countries. In the case of the Middle East, the vast majority of Americans have no clue as to the degree of ambient cruelty. Leave aside that between 50% (lowest estimate) and 90% (highest estimate) of Egyptian girls are subjected to genital mutilation, the horror of everyday life in what President Obama calls “the Muslim world” is more than the American mind can absorb.