Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Curse

I will do the homeland, enemy post next. Today, I am going to tell you about a fight that got me thinking about an absolutely irritating Iranian curse that has to do with long term memory. This is about torture and Andrew Sullivan.

As I was grocery shopping, there was a commotion nearby which almost got out of hand. Luckily, our ever meddlesome nature did some good for a change and prevented a fist fight. What got me thinking though was the absolute last thing one of young men in his twenties shouted at the other in anger...roughly, "I told you 3 times in the (middle) school, and I am telling you again today, Don't you ever…"

Walking home, I am thinking what kind of an idiot holds a grudge for so long, and then I suddenly said to myself, "me, me, me, and millions of other Iranians." And then a very loud uncontrollable laughter.

In the past few months Sullivan has done much fine writing trying to focus attention on the ongoing saga of those vile torture practices. But deep down, I have been so angry with him that I often haven't been able to think straight. And I was asking myself today, why is it that I just can't let it drop. What can cause some grudges to last for ever?

I think it all goes back to when Abu Ghuraib images first became public, and of course what I take as his contributions to the emerging frenzy that had lead to it all. Sullivan's initial reaction when the scandal broke was to talk about "fake torture" photos. But that's the nature of blogging, I am thinking. Events happen fast and so we do our best to respond.

Then in one of his later posts he had the following to say (around 2nd of May 2004 I think):

But it's worth realizing that the nakedness and the sexual humiliation might be far more potent in a sexist, homophobic and patriarchal culture than in less sexually repressed societies. One of the most important things to remember about today's Muslim extremism is that it has taken what is the submission of women under Islam and turned it into a political pathology. Like most variants of fascism, it is deeply troubled by women's equality and by homosexuality. Hence the impact of these images could be psychologically devastating to many Iraqis - and far worse to those in countries where Islamism has made even deeper inroads. This was not simply a p.r. debacle; it was a p.r. catastrophe. And that in itself shows the enormous cultural gulf between where the West is now headed and where Islamism wants to take the Middle East.

And that of course sent me through the roof and lead to the grudge I am discussing here today. There was nothing about Right and Wrong, you see. What he said of course certainly wasn't original or unique to him.

Remember, everything had the feel of frenzy then with quite the fever pitch. It some ways, certain circles continue to send the same vibes today. All sorts of different people wanted to see pain, torment and humiliation. If you do a search, I think there is even an item titled, "More humiliation please" in one highly "respectable" Daily.

There were talks of widespread ritual sexual abuse of children among Arabs that naturally lead to preferences for terrorist tactics, and also those chatters about our "domineering mothers" or more generally, quite the diverse set of arguments that would warrant and justify " made to order" torture practices explicitly aimed at those of us living in the Middle East given our "adolescent obsession" with honor and shame.

Krauthammer has been making a living peddling the kind of stuff Sullivan articulated at the time.

But Sullivan has done much to redeem himself since.

I must admit, I flipped and unleashed some of my fury -- with plenty more left inside, I am guessing.

From a post last May:

So, the pictures of sexual humiliation and torture—that is, forced nudity, piling naked bodies on top of each other, sodomizing the defenseless, raping prisoners, hooding, parading, and leading naked bodies around on a dog leash—these all appear “more potent” to me because of my “sexism, homophobia and patriarchal culture” and of course also because of my “sexual repression?” Is that it? […]

Is this supposed heightened negative perception amongst us the uncouth really an indication of that “enormous gulf” between our cultures that some of you should be proud of? Is torture involving sexual brutalities really more tolerable to you since some of you go skinny dipping and occasionally relax in a Sauna in the nudes? Are you really more accepting of these sadistic practices because some of you might have had a few more one night stands than the rest of us here? What exactly, I wonder, might make Andrew Sullivan blush?

So, here I am, a man in a repressed, sexist and homophobic culture. And yes, in case you are wondering, I too have an overbearing mother I adore. Is that why I feel so depressed and repulsed these days? Really?

I do live in a closed society yes, but I am also asthmatic and occasionally find myself gasping for air. It sounds a lot like the sort of panting you hear from a dog next to the pavement right at the moment when the inquisitive pooch insists on exploring and sniffing as the inattentive, impatient owner violently pulls on the leash to change pace and direction. The sound of that dog’s breathing always infuriates me.

I hate the feel of suffocation. I detest the struggle-- that helpless gasping for air. I despise the hood. I hate the leash. Might this have something to do with my empathy for the prisoners? Or the fact that quite possibly torture looms in the horizon for a lot of us? Must it really come down to your brilliant understanding of our cultures almost always determining the meaning of every one of my emotional reactions for you?

While we are at it: I value sight as well. I depend on my eyes. To live is to see. It is mostly what I see that makes me blush. But since some of you think you live in civilized societies, so beyond misogyny, patriarchy, homophobia, honor and shame, then by all means, share your secrets: What is it exactly that might make you blush?

Thus the set of questions I have been brooding about today: how do any of us--regardless of our perspectives, come to overlook what we understand as some past impropriety? How do we come to terms with what we perceive as transgressions? What can we do to redeem ourselves in the eyes of others?

Just what exactly might be a sensible "expiration date" on a grudge?

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