Monday, June 12, 2006

My two cents (you may be asking for change)

My 4th year thesis in undergrad was about the transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa and the truth commissions. How does a society which has seen atrocities (from both sides), move on to coexist peacefully and not continue a cycle of violence against each other. The truth commissions were essentially a large public confessional court wherein people could attend, tell the commission about how they or their loved ones had been wronged, how apartheid effected every facet of their lives, but also how they had done wrong.* Provided the answers were truthful and forthright, they were given amnesty against criminal conviction. The idea was reconciliation between both sides which could form the basis of a cohesive society.

I picked the topic not only because South Africa fascintes me, but because I heard a statistic that gave me pause.**

In Northern Ireland they*** polled children and their parents about their feelings about the other side of the conflict. Oddly enough, the children were the ones who were more outraged and upset at the other side than their parents. Each successive generation was more prone to violence outrage and aggresion agains the other. A succession of younger generaitons could quickly leave a country in shambles without something intervening to stop the cycle of violence.

So, evaulating the truth commissions as a means of "restorative justice" was what I wanted to write about,**** to see if it could lessen or prevent the next generations from beng more angry than the last, breaking the cycle of violence.

With that in mind, I've been mulling over posting about the death of Mr. al-Zarqawi. I'll be the first to say that he may have, indeed, been a very, very bad man. I don't like very, very bad men. I have no interest in any mountains of evidence proving he indeed was a very, very bad man, I'll keep my commentary on the topic to one thing.

I am empathetic and I see the whole world through such a lens. If I were to attend the funeral of a complete stranger it's guaranteed that I'd be in tears before the end of the service. It's just the way I am (and I'm still learning not to make apologies for it).

The pictures plastered all over the Internet and papers and television of al-Zarqawi's death are, in my estimation, pretty gross. They show a bloated face, badly scratched, burnt and swollen from the bombings which ended his life. It's not that I'm not convinced he deserves our sympathies but it does seem wrong (and, contrary to the Geneva Conventions) to plaster his deceased face across the papers. It's the old golden rule, that you should do unto others as you would have done to you. Even if I were a very, very bad man I'm not sure it would be fair to my family to see my face plastered everywhere upon my death.****

Even more troublesome to me is that if our goal is to decrease terrorism (and presumably it is), brandishing his picture is probably not the way to do it.

I don't know a whole lot about Islam and death, but I do know there are some pretty fundamental tenets regarding rituals at death. Fundamental to Muslim beliefs is that the body is sacred, and accordingly postmortem examinations are verboten. There's no question that the cause of death in this situation probably had to be determined as being from blast waves from the bomb, causing "tearing, bruising of the lungs and bleeding," and not a beating (though I'm not sure one realy is any worse than the other; the result is the same).

It's too bad, though, that such a fundamental tenet of this and other fundamental tenets of the Muslim faith were dispensed with.

To me a political ball has been dropped here, and making some slight (and frankly insignificant) changes in how such deaths are handled by those who conducted the bombings could make a significant impact on this and future generations.

It's too bad there wasn't a committee of devout Muslims to whom his body could be turned over to ensure that he receives a proper burial. I'm not saying it should be done for Mr. al-Zarqawi because that's what he'd want, but because the way the West handles his death will effect subsequent generations. The way his death has been handled as it is now probably hasn't won any hearts or minds. In fact, I'd argue that it's had the opposite effect.

I realize that a change in how bodies are handled post mortem won't turn a cold fundamentalist heart into one that dons "USA is a-ok!" t-shirts, but it may cause him or her to lose some arguments about the cruelty of the West with his or her brothers and sisters. It really is the major battle right now, one the West desperately needs to win and cognizant of. Winning the respect of people not yet completely convinced the West is what al-Zarqawi says it is will be key to the West in the years to come.

In this era of global politics the focus should be on preventing terrorists, and the way Mr. al-Zarqawi's death has been handled, plastered all over the media and contrary to the religious tenets of that part of the globe will not win any riends. I have no doubt that actions like this, however incivendal, will be adding to the cycle of violence, not detracting from it. Every situation will be impacted by how things are handled, and I have no doubt the impact here will not, in the long run, be for the better.

*watch "a long night's journey into day" which is a pretty good lesson not only about life in South Africa during apartheid, but also about the truth commission itself.

**well, that and my first thesis was to be about the murder of aboriginal protester Dudley George by Kenneth Deane and the political involvement from the office of our former Premier, BUT the prof I was going to write that thesis for suggested I should try sleeping with him so I quickly switched profs and topics and told the department head. Thanks creepy prof!

***I don't recall who, but just go with me, what's more important is the idea behind it.

****I think this is also why I find taxidermy revolting. We get it. You won, the deer/fish/buffalo/bear/etc. lost. Move on, and for heaven's sake don't mistake such an item for "decor."


ElaineMI said...

I, too, find it highly unpleasant to view the pictures of those that have been killed in Iraq (or anywhere, for that matter). It dates back to the time, (well, almost) to when we taught the Indians to take scalps as souvenirs.

The only possible reason(s) I can come up with for showing these pictures are: (Note: I did not say agreed with these reasons)

1) Al-Zarqawi was a vicious, brutal, murderer. When he delightfully showed himself (masked, of course) sawing off the head of another human being, you knew the retaliation of this would be just as unpleasant.

2) Showing the pictures of this dead man fall under the Freedom of Information Act. Given the media's bloodthirst for the most sensational story, of course they were going to take these photos and publicize them. And since they have been posted all over the world, no one country is innocent on this.

3) By showing al-Zarqawi dead, it proved to his fellow thugs that he was, indeed, dead.

4) This is juvenile, but, they show themeselves hanging bodies, dragging them through the streets, etc. So, we have to follow suit and show that we are no better then the thugs.

Mankind hasn't changed very much. No matter how 'sophisticated' and 'civilized' we claim to be. War is war. Death is death. There is no respect for either.

Dave said...

I have to weigh in on this topic as I think that elainmi has made the most important point (even though it was the shortest).

As distasteful as the showing of the picture may be, it proves that he is dead and discredits any subsequent attempt to say otherwise. The people of the Middle East have an astounding ability to delude themselves into believing ridiculous things that would put conspiracy theorists to shame.

Believe it or not, a vast majority of the people in the Middle East to this day believe that 9/11 was a Jewish conspiracy to get the USA to invade the Muslim world. It is for reasons such as that that I believe the showing of a few pictures proving that he is dead is an entirely justifiable and NECESSARY action.

As so the fiance has finally posted... :)

Kristin said...

What a subject... it is so awful... all of it and I often find myself skimming over information with the mindset of a woman for whom the Nile is just a river in Egypt.

I think, like Elainemi and Dave, the photos are the "proof in the pudding".

The more we glorify death, the less impact it is going to have.

BTW: thanks so much for your kind and supportive comment over on my blog.

sunshine scribe said...

No change required. Thanks for writing this.

I couldn't agree more - these pictures were inappropriate and if they do not make those who are on the other side of this "war on terrorism" mad then I don't know what will.

ElaineMI said...

Sunshine scribe: the other side of terrorism? Don't you see this as a vicious circle? I do. One side does this so the other side does that. It goes around and around. They would be mad over the pictures? How do you think the U.S. felt when the masked cowards sawed off the head of a man that was just working over there? (AND, by the way, that video was found online. How do I know this? Because some sicko that I happened to know, looked it up. Did I see it? No, I didn't need nor want to) What about the 2 boxes, containing 15 heads that they just found over in Iraq...and most of them were Iraqis, from what I heard.

I'm not saying we have to go blow for blow. But look at what is happening over between the Israelis and the Palestinians. One group deals a blow to the other side and that side then has to retaliate. This whole thing is crazy.

Both sides need to stop, take a deep breath and get their asses to the negotiation table, before more lives are lost.

mommy on the verge said...

by posting his photos all over the media, the US was just giving Iraq a big F.U.! I just was thumbing through Newsweek and at the press conference, they had Al-Zarqawi's dead face professionally framed. And I thought 'I wonder what the guy at the frame shop thought.'
Its pretty gross, but the US has to gloat when it is able and has been very few times in this awful war.

Heather said...

Elaine MI: I dunno your history dating it to "scalping" and understand why the US did it, I just think that it was a stupid decision in the long term.

Dave: I dunno dude. I don't think there was any debate he was killed here and I think I'm gonna need some studies/surveys to back up your assertion. They still haven't found any WMD, have they? Not only do I not think it was necessary (though I understand why it was done), I don't think it can be justified when we consider the long term implications of doing so. Oh and dude! Took ya long enough!

Kristin: I completely agree and find it sad that death really has been glorified.

Sunshine Scribe: I completely agree.

ElaineMI: I'm pretty sure that was sunshine's point; that by postion photos one side is making the other side upset. If you're going to play, play nice.

Mommy on the verge: I just think that the people doing the framing will have far less to celebrate because of decisions like framing it.

ElaineMI said...

I have to ask: How was the U.S. giving Iraq a big F.U. by posting a picture of a dead al-Qada criminal from Jordan? This man had spent time in the Jordan jails as a youth. From what I've heard, Jordan doesn't want his body back. His family does but they're entitled to wanting it back.

This man, this al-Zarqawi, was responsible for the deaths of many Iraqis also. So, 'how' was it a slap in the face to Iraq? From what I've read and heard, the Iraqis all breathed a sigh of relief that this murdering psychopath is dead.

As for framing the picture? I will admit, I haven't heard of that atrocity. However, and this doesn't make it right, there are just as many weird and sick individuals all over the world that would do such a thing. Who would want such a nasty picture? Probably somebody who enjoys the pain and suffering and the death of others, no matter who the picture was of. And "those" people don't all live in one country or place either.

Kevin said...

I have to weigh in here Heather and offer the following from a middle east expert at U of T. And by the way, how are ya kiddo? You don't write, you don't call......sob

Beyond functioning as proof, however, the photo exhibit was also part of the U.S. and Iraqi government's propaganda machine, said Paul Kingston, a Middle East expert at the University of Toronto.

"The more dangerous backlash would be jihadists that would suggest (al-Zarqawi) hasn't been killed, that he's still around, and create this kind of mythical figure who roams around, which is what he was before he had been killed, this kind of mythical unifying figure," Kingston said.

Hence, the photos, to "put a kibosh to that."

Sara said...


So I'm mad.

And as time ticks on I'm getting madder about this whole thing.

So here it goes:

Elaine (You're first just cause you posted first):

I agree that those are likely the reasons behind the US's decision re: the pictures. I find it odd, however, that you seem to take no position. I found your posts to be slightly contradictory... out of one side of your mouth you're saying "The US should be ticked! We have a right to do this" but then out of the other side you're saying "But we should end the conflict and not go tit for tat". You seem to agree with SunshineScribe, but then you argue with her... I guess what I'm saying to you is I don't really get your bottom line in all of this... so I'm not sure whether I agree or disagree... but you raise some good points.


I'm calling you out on the following statements you make:

1. "The people of the Middle East have an astounding ability to delude themselves into believing ridiculous things that would put conspiracy theorists to shame."

2. "Believe it or not, a vast majority of the people in the Middle East to this day believe that 9/11 was a Jewish conspiracy to get the USA to invade the Muslim world."

Those are both nothing more than untrue, unfounded, negative, sweeping generalizations, from what I can see. It's no different than if someone said "Most Aboriginals are alcoholics"... or whatever other generalization you want to make.

The fact that you premise your justification for the printing of the pictures on sweeping generalization about a group of people to me makes the justification illogical.

You've provided no proof that either statement is true, and as Heather said show us some studies to back er up... and even if there are studies out there, they're rebutted by the following:

First off, there are MANY people, educated people, from all over the world, who believe that 9/11 is a conspiracy. You might say "Oh those crazy conspiracy theorists" but it'd be naive to think a government would never lie to its people..

So, although you seem to paint a picture of "those people in the middle east" believing "deluded, ridiculous" theories... the first book written on the subject of the 9/11 coverup was written by a frenchman, and experts including Michel Chossudovsky, a prof at Ottawa U, who i can personally say is a rational, reasonable, intelligent, educated man, has followed suit.

It'd be a glaring ommission to think that its only people in the middle east who would believe what you call "ridiculousness"

Further, you make a sweeping generalization about who these "middle eastern" people are. I doubt the majority of people in Israel believe they're the force behind 9/11, but they are firmly middle eastern.

The middle east is defined as follows:

"large region that covers parts of northern Africa, southwestern Asia, and southeastern Europe consisting of Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen."

That's a whole lot of countries with a whole lot of differences.

So bottom line: Do I believe that theory is out there? Sure. Do I believe that the vast majority of middle eastern people, who come from all kinds of religions, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, share some widespread belief that the Jews were at fault? Sure don't. Do I believe its dangerous to lump people together in a big basket because of the area of the world they live in, the colour of their skin, their religious beliefs? Sure do.

and.. While we're talking conspiracy theories... and Michel

Kevin (and Elaine re: How this is the US giving Iraq a big FU):

U of O expert on Globalization and the War on Terrorism Michel Chossudovsky says the following:

"The evidence suggests, however, that Zarqawi was part of a Pentagon disinformation campaign launched in 2003, which was initially intended to justify the US led invasion of Iraq. This central role of Zarqawi as an instrument of war propaganda was recently confirmed by leaked military documents revealed by the Washington Post.

The Pentagon had set up a "Zarqawi program". Military documents confirm that the role of Zarqawi had been deliberately "magnified" with a view to galvanizing public support for the US-UK led "war on terrorism":

Also seems striking, to Chossudovsky also, that this all happens when W has his lowest ever approval rating...

Nutshell, he, a very well educated and well respected man, seems to think that this whole THING (ie Al-Zarqawi being painted as hardcore terrorist leader and man to be found) is nothing more than a conspiracy.

Anyway, I've vented in a totally incoherent manner but the bottom line is I agree with Heather, SunshineScibe Kristin, Mommy on the Verge and maybe Elaine...

There is absolutely no good reason to do something so horribly offensive to the Muslim faith when our goal here is supposed to be peace with the muslims. Maybe he was a bad man, maybe that was all part of the US propaganda machine, but before all that he's a man. A human being like you and I. I wouldn't want my bloated body shown on the 6 o'clock news, and I don't want to be shown Americans beheaded. Two wrongs, however, do not make a right. When we stoop to their level, we are no better than those who we paint as monsters.

As I said on James' blog... until we stop fighting fear, hatred, intolerance and violence WITH fear, hatred, intolerance and violence, we will never progress. Our actions (ie western world) showed just as much intolerance as
the actions of those we denounce. I'd hate us too, if I were over there.

Whatever the reason we kill someone (and really, we shouldn't BE killing people in the first place, but that's a whole other can of worms), death should be respected.... even the death of people who we don't agree with.

..........And frankly, if Robo Harper and W are going to go so far to limit the images of our soldiers COFFINS shown in order to RESPECT the families of the fallen soldiers, but allows bloated BODIES of people on the other side to be shown.. they need to learn a little something about respect.

ElaineMI said...

Sara: I did not mean to give you the impression that I was speaking out of the side of my mouth, saying that the U.S. had a right to do what they're doing. If you got that impression, I'm sorry. It wasn't intended that way. I was merely trying to point out the 'possibilities'. When I first posted on here, I was quick to say I didn't agree with them.

Let me tell you, I have 2 reasons I want to see us out of Iraq. My brother n law is currently working over there. While I don't believe everything he says, as he's got a rather jaded view of things at times, but he's not always wrong either. The other reason I have is that my son will probably be going over there. He's enlisting into the Marines and he will be, most likely, be sent to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Now, I will fully admit that this is a very selfish reason on my part and I do not and will not admit shame in admitting this. I want us OUT of there.

I do not view Muslims as the enemy. There are many that do. Why? Because, as in all situations of disharmony, discord, and war, there is a lot of misunderstanding and fear over what you don't know. Most of us have never bothered to study Islam or even put us in contact with a person of that faith. Most of the Arabic people that I have come into contact (remember, we have a large population of Arabs that have left their countries and live here in Dearborn, MI and I work for an insurance agent and a lot of our customers are Arabic) have been very nice, very respectful. We could all take a lesson on how to treat your fellow man from how they are. So much of the time, there's always a rude slob we run into, and most of the time, it's a WHITE...CAUCASIAN..person.

My bottom line? It's time the women of the world took over. No mother wants her son/daughter to go to war and die. Women will either talk out problems, or hold a grudge and never speak to one another again. It's better then picking up a bomb and strapping it to yourself and blowing yourself and everybody around you up, or picking up a gun and shooting at mostly innocent people that are just trying to get by in this world.

hooligan said...

I wouldn't worry about the media attention surrounding Zarqawi's death offending observant Muslims..his actions would have already done that. Islam frowns upon the killing of innocents, and hacking the heads off living victims would certainly seem to qualify as a forbidden act. He was a truly despicable and evil man, one whom I am sure Muslims are glad to be rid of.

DebbieDoesLife said...

I was reading about Mr. Al Z in my newsweek and decided to go and see the beheading of an American that he performed. Go and watch Nick Berg get his head cut off while he was alive and hear him scream and you would have even less sympathy for this guy.

Do I think killing him is going to solve the problem? No. There will be someone else to take his place and they will hate the US even more. I don't know what the right thing to do is but I think you are right in the meeting violence with violence is only going to begat more violence.

Henly said...

I don't like writing essays.. :) I will sum up my feelings. Note: These thoughts are notwithstanding any grandeur feelings I have on the Iraq situation.

1) As Kevin says, I do think it was important for at least *1* picture of Mr. Z to be released publicly. I buy into the idea that without a 'proof positive' he'd reach a mythical status and possibly act as a motivator, which is the reverse of what the US was trying to accomplish.

2)*Somebody* (insert favourite media conspiracy theory here) went overboard with the publication. The photo in the press conference should have been enough. There was no need for it to be on front pages and TVs everywhere.

3) It was a nice frame. Looked like Pier 1.