Thursday, May 27, 2004

Department of Useful Thought Experiments

Alexander Zaitchik, of New York Press, writes on the recent clamor over Nick Berg's beheading in response to the torture of Iraqis by U.S. troops and contractors at Abu Ghraib:

"One of the more insightful comments from the pro-war camp came from Condi Rice, who compared Berg's killers to the KKK. It's a comparison that quickly leads to a useful thought-experiment. Imagine if an Arab nation invaded the U.S. — on the pretext, say, of our numerous active chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. Let's imagine an Arab force bombed DC, stormed the capital, placed an Arab in the White House, disbanded the armed forces, legalized drugs, nationalized health care and swept thousands of innocent Americans off the streets and into the most notorious prisons of Texas and Florida.

"During all of this, America's underground militias would no doubt unite into a well-armed and nationally organized resistance. Just like in the movies; just like in Iraq.

"Now imagine that reports emerge that American prisoners are being sexually abused and tortured by giggling Arab soldiers, with graphic pictures appearing on BBC America and underground militia blogs. To quell U.S. outrage, the occupying defense minister, let's call him Muhammad Abdulfeld, reluctantly apologizes, calling the images 'un-Islamic' (which is actually how Hezbollah described the Berg killing). Maybe Abdulfeld tosses some euros at the victims' families. 'The American people must understand,' the far-away sultan explains, 'that in an Arab autocracy, mistakes are made, things are untidy.' There are Arab calls for Abdulfeld's resignation, but the minister just flies to Texas for a photo-op after getting chewed out by the sultan, whereupon he declares himself a 'survivor.'

"Now imagine the reaction among the more patriotic members of the American underground—the Central Arkansas Regional Militia, say. Imagine the fate of a young Arab entrepreneur unlucky enough to get caught by the Posse Comitatus or Aryan Nation on some back road in Georgia. Our hypothetical Arab would likely be introduced to some hedge-clippers, several shiny Bowie knives, a blowtorch, some gasoline, some buckshot, some rope and the rear bumper of a full-cab Chevy pick-up. Considering the ugly ends met in recent years by some of those in unoccupied America — Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. come to mind — it's a safe bet our young Arab would not receive the relatively quick slaughter afforded Nick Berg.

"Which isn't to say Berg didn't die a horrific death. The point is that his death brings zero moral clarity to the invasion or the occupation. It does not justify some amorphous 'war on terror,' or dilute the meaning of Abu Ghraib. The lesson of Nick Berg is much more simple and timeless: Don't invade other people's countries and mess with their women. If you do, heads are gonna roll."


A little overblown in style, perhaps; and I don't agree with the lesson Zaitchik draws in conclusion; but nonetheless, in my opinion, a truly instructive exercise.