No doubt the abuse of the prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison is a crime that must be investigated and its perpetrators brought to justice. The civilized world spoke in one voice when it claimed that this transgression was morally unacceptable. But then again, this is war, and most events during wartime could hardly be deemed as “morally acceptable”; nonetheless the US administration ought to be commended for its public admission and regret for the actions of a very small minority of its armed forces.
Sadly, a similar commitment to introspection and compassion for justice is absent when it comes to most Arab leaders today. While legions of talking heads and pundits in the American and European media fret about the “public rage” that the abuses will ostensibly engender in the Arab world, they fail to take notice that the abuses of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of American servicemen in Abu Ghraib were but a small reflection of what happens every day in almost every Arab country—the only difference is that in the rest of the Arab world, the abuses are worse… much, much worse.
The crocodile tears of Arab dictators and the corrupt Arab league are a public spectacle, geared not towards the Arab people that they oppress, but towards a naïve Western media.
Where were the public trials for those who slaughtered tens of thousands of innocent Syrians in Hamma in 1982, or more recently the indiscriminate jailing and murder of anti-government demonstrators and human rights leaders in Allepo and Damascus? Where were the calls for the prosecution of the war criminals that committed these despicable acts of genocide? Where were the calls for prosecution of those who killed Nicholas Berg, an innocent American, who was beheaded savagely for the world to see? Why have the Arab dictators that are calling for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld themselves not under scrutiny for the tens of thousands of political prisoners that have been hideously tortured, executed, or are still currently rotting in sub-human conditions for years in places like Baschar Assad’s Sednaya and Tadmur prisons?
Too many people in the Arab world still bear the scars of having loved ones “disappeared” or having personally suffered sadistic torture at the hands of organs of Ba’ath state security like the Syrian Ba’ath. And when I speak of torture, I mean real torture, where one begs to be killed to end the pain—not the pain of humiliation, but the pain of going through another day of having one’s genitals electrocuted or one’s daughter gang-raped in front of his eyes. That is true torture; it is a torture ubiquitous to the Arab world, yet no one cries for those victims.
It seems, that the addiction to anti-Americanism is such that it blinds even the most well-meaning progressive from the real horror that is occurring on a daily basis in the middle east; a horror that is not being perpetrated in Baghdad, but in Damascus; a horror that is not being committed at the hands of Americans, but by reactionary Ba’ath thugs who are totally oblivious to the value of human life and dignity.
The Arab dictators are not condemning America for any real wrong that it might have committed; Abu Ghraib is child’s play by their standards. Rather, the condemnations and kabuki theatre of faux-indignation are part of a calculated effort by Arab dictators to attempt to discredit and stem the Arab Democratic revolution that threatens their ability to cling to power.
The United States has done more for the advancement of Arab dignity than any of the nations in the Arab League; Iraqis now have the dignity to choose their own destiny, to live a life void of Ba’athist terror. The Arab dictators are loathe to admit this fact, and instead of emulating the progressive reform that Iraq is undergoing, they have instead opted to push their respective societies even further back in time and oppose calls of liberalization emanating from all corners of Arab civic life.
In the end, while our Arab leaders still hide behind their empty rhetoric, the US opens up to the world, admits its mistake, and seeks forgiveness. The most powerful men on earth are humbled by the experience and try, under a full vibrant democracy, to correct the wrong their people perpetrated upon other people.
If Arab leaders have any modicum of courage, any sense of compassion for the real suffering of the Arab people under their tools of oppression, if they have any urge to help the Arab people reclaim their dignity, they would do well to condemn not the Americans for what happened at Abu Ghraib, but themselves for having enslaved the entire Arab world in something that would make Abu Ghraib seem like Disneyland.