Friday, December 24, 2004

Thomas Friedman's Face of Evil

Thomas Friedman's column in the New York Times today uses the murder of two Iraqi election workers by insurgents to make his point that the United States is fighting "pure evil" in Iraq, and that whether you support the war or oppose it, these are the real stakes, and they reduce all the other issues, nuances, realities, and truths to meaningless mush.

There has been so much violence in Iraq that it's become hard to distinguish one senseless act from another. But there was a picture that ran on the front page of this newspaper on Monday that really got to me. It showed several Iraqi gunmen, in broad daylight and without masks, murdering two Iraqi election workers. The murder scene was a busy street in the heart of Baghdad. The two election workers had been dragged from their car into the middle of the street. They looked young, the sort of young people you'd see doing election canvassing in America or Ukraine or El Salvador.

One was kneeling with his arms behind his back, waiting to be shot in the head. Another was lying on his side. The gunman had either just pumped a bullet into him or was about to. I first saw the picture on the Internet, and I did something I've never done before - I blew it up so it covered my whole screen. I wanted to look at it more closely. You don't often get to see the face of pure evil.
What nonsense. WAR is evil, and war creates evil, at ever escalating levels. There IS no war without atrocities, and acts of unspeakable evil. To single out this particular incident, and claim that it means this war in Iraq is about the forces of democracy (the United States) arrayed against the forces of evil (the "Baathist, Saddam-supporting" insurgents) is simple-minded because it ignores everything that has happened in the past two years that led to and created that moment.

Friedman says, "Do not be fooled into thinking that the Iraqi gunmen in this picture are really defending their country and have no alternative. The Sunni-Baathist minority that ruled Iraq for so many years has been invited, indeed begged, to join in this election and to share in the design and wealth of post-Saddam Iraq." But in order to make that statement and believe it, Friedman has to ignore the fact that opponents of the U.S. invasion said quite clearly and repeatedly before March 2003 that Iraqis would NOT welcome Americans with open arms; that a U.S. invading army would be regarded as attackers, not liberators; that an American Occupation of Iraq would lead to resentment, suspicion, and anger, not gratitude and the desire to participate in a U.S.-orchestrated election process. In order to believe that the Sunni minority must be evil because they were "invited" to "join in this election" and are refusing to do so, Friedman has to make the huge and unwarranted assumption that the Sunni minority believes the election process is legitimate. They do not, and for that matter, neither do most Iraqis in general, even the ones who do not actively support the insurgency. How could an election process that has been designed and orchestrated by a foreign military power be regarded as legitimate? Americans are viewed as conquerors and occupiers, not facilitators of democracy.

I don't like Iraqi election workers being murdered execution-style in broad daylight on a city street any more than Friedman does. It revolts me and horrifies me, as it does any decent human being. But whether Friedman likes it or not, those insurgents consider themselves patriots. From their point of view, they are fighting for their country against a foreign power that wants to rule it; and when they kill Iraqi election workers, it's no different from American revolutionaries killing Tory colonists who supported the British and opposed the Revolution. Does Friedman believe that atrocities against colonists believed to be collaborating with the British did not happen routinely during the American Revolution?

Then there is the hypocrisy factor, which permeates Friedman's pious and self-righteous words. If Iraqi insurgents killing Iraqi election workers is "the face of pure evil," then what would one call the humiliation and brutalization of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. military personnel? I'm not talking just about Abu Ghraib, bad as that was. Any American reading the major papers this past week would know that documents written by FBI agents and recently obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union reveal abuse of prisoners both in Guantanamo and in Iraq that is much more widespread, severe, and systemic than the Bush administration and the Pentagon have led us to believe. U.S. interrogators put lighted cigarettes in detainees' ears, beat them, strangled them, held guns to their heads in mock executions (including the mock execution of an Iraqi teenager done in the presence of the boy's father and brother), subjected them to electric shocks, threatened them with dogs, left them shackled in cells without food or water or access to toilet facilities for days. Is that not also the "face of pure evil"? And are Iraqis, insurgents and otherwise, supposed to have faith in an election process run by the country that allows atrocities like this to occur?

There is more coverage of the torture of Iraqis by Americans here, here, and here.

No comments: