Thursday, May 06, 2004


It is possible both to burn with personal shame and rage at the fools Abu Ghraib, who threw away so much for so little, and at the same time to remind other people to keep the reaction to their criminal folly in perspective. The incident itself is one thing; the way it has been received around the world is another. Here's a good example of perspective, by a voice from the Middle East that is no American lackey:

Absolutes are appealing, but in imposing them, moralists must consider two points: That only a system which responds to censure through amelioration can eventually set lawful standards of behavior; and that some of Washington's more zealous Middle Eastern critics often avoided applying a universal ethical yardstick when considering what took place under Saddam - even as the US today accepts their moral privilege to condemn its actions in Abu Ghraib.

There is no justification (let alone a politically expedient rationale) for a host of recent American undertakings in Iraq - whether the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners or the bombardment of civilians in Falluja. However, there is also no excuse for denying that what we have seen in the past week in the US has been the thrashing about of a democratic system that feels disgraced by the behavior of several of its citizens, and that intends to rectify matters.

The Egyptian playwright Ali Salem told me recently that the true indignity of the Iraq war was that it was not Arabs who had overthrown Saddam Hussein. He was right. As Arabs examine the photographs from Abu Ghraib and read about American misconduct there, they might reflect less on what this says about the US, which usually ponders its worst excesses, than what it says about their own systems, where such images could only have been glimpsed over the carcass of an overthrown regime.

Abu Ghraib, or how to lose some perspective on a very foul affair, in the (Lebanon) "Daily Star."