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The Disaster of the West

"A year ago Daniel Cohn-Bendit discovered almost `Bolshevist' characteristics in Bush's team of advisors, a sense of mission that is alien on principle to self-criticism..This is the opposite of what constitutes Ameri-ca's fascination up to today, the opposite of liberality.."
The Disaster of the West

Torture and Its Consequences

By Reinhard Mohr

[This article originally published in: Spiegel, May 11, 2004 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.spiegel.de/politik/debatte/0,1518,299331,00.html.]

The pictures from Abu-Ghraib are like a monstrous staging of all the clichés of American imperialism. In comparison, Michael Moore's furious polemics are as harmless as Eichendorf's nature poetry. The whole West is damaged. Its values appear as hypocrisy. The crudest prejudices about its decadence seem confirmed.

One rubs one's eyes. At first, the news can hardly be believed and then one gradually understands. This cannot be true. Still it is reality. At the same time the whole affair appears like a bad B-movie, like a nightmare with a long-term effect, a disaster in slow motion. American soldiers who have occupied Iraq for over a year humiliate and mistreat Iraqi prisoners. They rape Muslim women and force Muslim men to masturbate naked before them, to practice sexual intercourse and stage pornographic scenes.

Dogs, animals regarded as "unclean" in the Muslim world, intimidate and violate defenseless prisoners. Electroshocks transport the incarcerated with hooded heads into fear of death. In one photo a grinning female US soldier leads a naked Iraqi prisoner by the collar. This genuine fascist humiliation will be burned into the memory of the world. The soldiers did all this proudly and cheerfully before a camera, trophies of a blind and dumb triumph.


The digital pictorial world in times of globalization insures the worldwide visibility of nearly every mistreatment, humiliation, brutality and obscenity. Arab television stations like al-Dschasira have long broadcast endless trivialization and embellishment of the most recent horror scenarios. The latest frightening pictures and investigative reports can be quickly accessed on the Internet. Perhaps this is the only comfort at the moment. The World Wide Web serves to enlighten a worldwide public.

Information and the political message coincide this time: enlightenment here and apology there. America, the hegemon of the free West, not only attacked and occupied an Arab-Muslim country under pretense of false facts. America kills more Iraqi civilians and systematically tortures hundreds or thousands of Iraqi prisoners with the approval of its political and military leaders.

"This is the democracy of the West." The programmatic Good Friday sermon to a billion Muslims is now war, occupation, murder and torture.


The nightmare is like a semantic overkill of all the clichés of American imperialism, a single travesty for all kinds of anti-American resentment. In comparison, Michael Moore's furious polemics against Bush & Co. seem as harmless as Eichendorff's nature poetry. As though on commission of Osama Bin Laden, he wrote a script whose weird creepy staging could drive the whole world into a holy war against the Satan of the "faithless crusaders" from Washington and New York. The whole script seems like a single adventurous conspiracy against America, a nightmare on Elm Street with the nightmare occurring in Baghdad, not on the picture screen, in Abu Ghraib and Fallusha. These incidents are certainly the best models for the terror of al-Qaida.

The true disaster is that all the pictures reflect a bitter reality hardly regarded as possible in this extent, not simply regrettable individual cruelties and excesses immanent to war, calculated actions of political irresponsibility. This is a political disaster, not only a physical and moral disaster.


The American and British governments are accused of being directly responsible for their armies' inexcusable deeds. However the whole free West is liable politically and ideologically along with the proclamation of democracy and human rights, enlightenment and civilization generally.

Suddenly the "clash of civilizations", the theme of the American political scientist Samuel Huntington, has a very different sound. Suddenly the Arab-Muslim world actually appears as a victim of the Christian-capitalist West intoxicated with conquest - from the greed for oil to the flagrant humiliation of Islamic society. All depressing conspiracy theories that make America and the West responsible everywhere now have their easy justification.

Every counter-argument first stutters. Every "Yes, but... " is suffocated by the power of torture pictures. Many intellectuals who usually speak at every opportunity are now silent. "Paralyzing shock" occurs.

The authority of the discourse of "freedom and democracy" (Bertolt Brecht) is undermined and repudiated in a dreadful way. The proclamation of liberation sounds as hollow as Saddam's bloody mass murder rule and as undemocratic as the Arab world is today! Referring to Chechnya torture cells unnoticed by the world public where Russian soldiers could do whatever they wanted for years is not a way out.

The carpet is literally pulled out from under the feet of the democratic West. Its moral values now appear and are on record as pure hypocrisy. The crudest prejudices about its alleged decadence seem irrefutably confirmed in the torture-pornographic scenarios.

No room seems to exist any more for criticism, difference, irony and reflection, these achievements of a centuries-old enlightenment. Who still dares to exalt the word and philosophize about the advantages of a democratic constitutional state? Who would praise the benefits of an open society, the freedom of the individual and his or her inalienable rights to the Arab world? Who can freely counter the Qaida-battle-cry "You love life, we love death!" and give a stirring plea for the marvelous life in western civilization?

If there is a parallel to Vietnam, it is the disappointment of those who insist on the essential difference between democracy and dictatorship, between the secular constitutional state and religious-ideological state terror. No slogan is more foolish than "Bush=Saddam". In the worldwide 1968 revolts, a democratic civilization was trampled on though America pretended to act for democratic civilization.


"If Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and General Richard Myers were honorable men, they would resign out of a sense of shame", wrote Tony Judt, director of the Remarque Institute at New York University. "Only old-fashioned sense of duty can strengthen America's position."

However the martial conduct of Bush & Co. bristling with self-confidence and hubris is the exact opposite of this "old-fashioned" attitude that feels bound to its own values and imparts credibility,

A year ago Daniel Cohn-Bendit discovered nearly "Bolshevist" characteristics in Bush's team of advisors, a sense of mission that is alien in principle to self-criticism. Given the moral failure of the Iraq strategy, the national-conservative liberation theology of the Bush administration now capsizes into a bunker-mentality.

This is the opposite of what constitutes America's fascination up to today, the opposite of liberality. Still the bunker was broken open. America is becoming self-critical again.

Perhaps one beautiful day the emphasis on democracy, freedom and human rights will no longer be associated in the rest of the world with naked men on dog leashes.

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