Yoshie Furuhashi, "Particularly Humiliating in 'Arab Culture'?"

Yoshie Furuhashi writes:

"Particularly Humiliating in 'Arab Culture'?"

Yoshie Furuhashi

Throughout the US media coverage of Abu Ghraib torture scandal, I've kept seeing the same idea — be it journalists' own or expressed in others' remarks quoted or paraphrased in articles — that the torture in question is particularly humiliating in Arab or Muslim culture.For example:

  • "Members of the [Senate Armed Services] committee, Republicans as well as Democrats, have expressed extreme annoyance recently over not being informed about the explosive photographs depicting abuse that included sexual humiliation — a particular outrage in Arab culture" (David Stout, "Rumsfeld Offers an Apology," New York Times/International Herald Tribune, May 8, 2004).
  • " Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she was skeptical that the young guards would choose to inflict 'bizarre sexual humiliations that were specifically designed to be particularly offensive to Muslim men'" (Esther Schrader and Elizabeth Shogren, "Officials Clash on Roles at Prison," Los Angeles Times, May 12, 2004).
  • "[N]akedness, homosexuality and control by a woman might be particularly humiliating in Arab culture" (Michael A. Fuoco and Cindi Lash, "A Long Way from Obscurity," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 14, 2004).
  • "Male homosexuality is deeply shameful in Arab culture; to force naked Arab prisoners to simulate gay sex, taking pictures you could threaten to show, would be far worse than beating them" (Gregg Easterbrook, "Whatever It Takes," New Republic, May 17, 2004).
  • To top it all off, Andrew Marshall of Reuters writes of three Iraqis working for Reuters who were subjected to torture by the US military: "Two of the three said they had been forced to insert a finger into their anus and then lick it, and were forced to put shoes in their mouths, particularly humiliating in Arab culture" ("Reuters Staff Abused by U.S. Troops in Iraq," May 18, 2004)! People of any culture in the world would consider being forced to "insert a finger into their anus and then lick it" and to "put shoes in their mouths" no less degrading than people in "Arab culture" do!!!

    The subtext of many reports on torture of Iraqi prisoners is a bizarre mixture of sexism, homophobia, and orientalism. Even as they express sympathy for the tortured prisoners and criticize the US military, they suggest implicitly that such torture is more intolerable to men than to women; that, if Arab men find such torture humiliating, it is in part because they are more sexually conservative than American men; and that gay American men would not feel the same torture to be as humiliating as it is to Arab men (all of whom the media assume to be straight), because, after all, they enjoy getting naked with other men. Such sexist, homophobic, and orientalist rhetoric obscures and trivializes the central issue: violation of human rights.