Thursday, May 20, 2004

Behind The Curtain

To anyone who hasn't read Seymour Hersh's latest article, I must reiterate that it is one of the most probing pieces of investigative journalism that I have ever read. As well as tracing the chain of command and executive decisions that lead to the abuse and torture of Iraqi detainees, Hersh describes the intellectual underpinnings for the type of sexual humiliation that was used. His discoveries further cast in doubt the implausible theory that six or seven MPs from Maryland and West Virginia had the intellectual sophistication to know the most effective means of breaking down Arab prisoners. Here is a telling excerpt:

"The notion that Arabs are particularly vulnerable to sexual humiliation became a talking point among pro-war Washington conservatives in the months before the March, 2003, invasion of Iraq. One book that was frequently cited was 'The Arab Mind,' a study of Arab culture and psychology, first published in 1973, by Raphael Patai, a cultural anthropologist who taught at, among other universities, Columbia and Princeton, and who died in 1996. The book includes a twenty-five-page chapter on Arabs and sex, depicting sex as a taboo vested with shame and repression. 'The segregation of the sexes, the veiling of the women . . . and all the other minute rules that govern and restrict contact between men and women, have the effect of making sex a prime mental preoccupation in the Arab world,' Patai wrote. Homosexual activity, 'or any indication of homosexual leanings, as with all other expressions of sexuality, is never given any publicity. These are private affairs and remain in private.' The Patai book, an academic told me, was 'the bible of the neocons on Arab behavior.' In their discussions, he said, two themes emerged—'one, that Arabs only understand force and, two, that the biggest weakness of Arabs is shame and humiliation.'"

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