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Abu Ghraib, Flannery O'Connor and the Problem of American Innocence, by David Griffith
Most of the debate over the grotesque photos from Abu Ghraib has been about politics. But for the real meaning of these images, maybe we should look to the grotesque stories of Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor.

Catholics Should Not Be Conflicted On Issue Of Torture, by Paul Likoudis
During the nomination of Alberto Gonzales as U.S. Attorney General, just about everyone took a stand on the torture issue—except for conservative religious groups.

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Dishonor at Guantanamo

The post-sixties generation is now grown up. Why did we ever believe that, if given the choice, the children of liberation would always make love, not war?

Detainees (prisoners) are watched by an MP in Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba


Saar describes a female military interrogator questioning an uncooperative 21-year-old Saudi detainee... The interrogator wanted to "break him," Saar adds, describing how she removed her uniform top to expose a tight-fitting T-shirt and began taunting the detainee, touching her breasts, rubbing them against the prisoner's back and commenting on his apparent erection... The concept was to make the detainee feel that after talking to her he was unclean and was unable to go before his God in prayer and gain strength," says the draft, stamped "Secret."
Associated Press, 1/28/05

President George W. Bush's second inaugural address was thick with references to "freedom." But what kind of freedom does America really worship?

The body desacralized, the appetite unleashed, so easily become the torturer's tools.
When I first read the news reports of the sexual and religious humiliation of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, as disclosed to the press on January 28 by former Army Sgt. Erik Saar, my first reaction was disbelief that a young woman of her generation—my generationcould be so blase about aggressive sexual self-display, not just for personal pleasure but to attack the very idea of the dignity of the body. In other words, to torture.

The incident revealed a chilling synergy between right-wing militarism and left-wing libertinism. A culture that treats the body as a mere machine for pleasure will produce the perfect recruits for the machinery of pain. The breakdown of ethical restraints in our military prisons has been made possible by the liberal idolatry of the self, whose will to power cannot tolerate the restraints of chastity or religious obligation.

 It's ironic that the secular left has spent decades attacking the religious right for upholding traditional sexual morality, even as the right-wing has devoted its energy to electing a government that uses sexual immorality to break prisoners. Conservative leaders score points with their base by denouncing the corrupt media, but the truth is, boys and girls reared on dehumanizing fare like "Temptation Island" and "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" are the perfect cannon fodder for a counter-jihad that makes casual use of torture.

Boys and girls reared on dehumanizing fare like "Temptation Island" and "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" are the perfect cannon fodder for a counter-jihad that makes casual use of torture.
Even now, liberal commentators are straining to fit the abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib into the familiar template of militarist patriarchy, of a piece with incidents like the Tailhook scandal. How inconvenient that the actual perpetrators of these abuses grotesquely epitomize the modern, sexually aggressive, physically dominant woman, while the closest representative of the patriarchy is the taboo-laden Muslim culture of the victims. Yet these women are simultaneously the pawns of a (largely male) military establishment, just as they were victimized by the (again, largely male) media executives who convinced them that acting like a prostitute was the route to empowerment. The ultimate rebellion against the establishment neatly facilitates the ultimate power play by that establishment. The transgressive now serves the repressive.

Indeed, there's a disturbing similarity between the soldiers' mockery of Muslim purity laws and the left-wing use of blasphemy as a radical protest technique. I'm reminded of the AIDS activist group ACT-UP, which disrupted Catholic worship services and threw consecrated hosts on the ground. Or the many contemporary artists who defile Christian religious symbols with sexual acts or bodily fluids (e.g. Andres Serrano's famous Piss Christ) to generate shock value and feelings of moral superiority over timid believers. Liberals who defended these stunts as skirmishes in the war of enlightenment against superstition have no right to be shocked when the sons and daughters of the culture of naked egotism apply the same tactics abroad. After all, America is synonymous with freedom, even when freedom means the right to piss on God.

The centuries-old legacy of a Western crusade against Islam acquired a new sense of justification from the fact that the jihadists themselves conceive of their war on America in religious terms. But whatever beliefs divide us, there was a time not so long ago when we would have shared these Muslim prisoners' awareness that sexual temptations outside marriage should be avoided, that bodily taboos exist to preserve privacy and the possibility of non-exploitative intimacy. We would have been ashamed to let our daughters and sisters participate in such an exercise, recognizing their dishonor as real and not simply an amusing artifact of a primitive religious worldview. Now our military representatives flaunt that values gap, holding it up as the essence of what distinguishes America from its captives.

I’m reminded of the AIDS activist group ACT-UP, which disrupted Catholic worship services and threw consecrated hosts on the ground.
Many Christians and other cultural conservatives, tired of relativist appeasement and political correctness, are so glad that President Bush has brought God-talk back into politics that they give the administration a free pass for its cynical exploitation of our worst impulses. Liberals who decry the Republicans' intermingling of Christianity and politics are right for all the wrong reasons: they think of Bush's political agenda as a cloak for his religious one, when the reverse is true.

The Bush administration perverts the language of religion, be it Christianity or the American civil religion of "freedom" and spiritual good feelings, to demonize our Muslim enemies as evil incarnate, rather than as people whose misguided desire for political hegemony happens to conflict with ours, and who sometimes use evil means to advance their interests. Unfortunately, none of the creeds professed by our leaders have much impact on how we treat those enemies when they fall into our hands. 'Freedom' is twisted into an ideology that stands for everything that distinguishes Us from Them—and, conveniently, to justify what we do to Them so they can become like Us.

American norms regarding sex and gender are in many ways preferable to those of, say, Saudi Arabia. I'm glad to live in a country where I won't be beaten for driving a car or leaving my hair uncovered. But if we really wanted to prove that our "values" distinguish Us from Them, we would go out of our way to provide the Guantanamo prisoners and other enemy combatants with the due process and humane treatment that are the foundation of our constitutional creed. We would exemplify the Christian precept that all people are equally made in God's image, whether or not they belong to our tribe or serve our interests.

They think of Bush's political agenda as a cloak for his religious one, when the reverse is true.
To point out left-wing complicity in the desensitized culture that brought us Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib is in no way to diminish the culpability of the Bush administration, which tacitly encouraged interrogators to violate human rights and international law. The greatest blasphemy is using Christian rhetoric to stick a happy face on a regime that would have us act from fear instead of faith, and that uses self-justifying legalism to exclude prisoners and aliens (those special objects of Christ's concern) from the circle of our ethical obligations.

I merely want to warn progressives to think twice before breaking down the taboos that we once called civilization. The body desacralized, the appetite unleashed, so easily become the torturer's tools. Why did we ever believe that if given the choice, the children of liberation would always make love, not war? 

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March 14, 2005

JENDI REITER is a widely published poet and essayist whose work has appeared in Poetry, The New Criterion, First Things, Hanging Loose, Cider Press Review, Southern Poetry Review, Grasslands Review, Best American Poetry, and many other publications. Turning Point Books published her first book of poetry, 'A Talent for Sadness', in the fall of 2003. See her work at www.JendiReiter.com. She is also Vice President of Winning Writers (www.winningwriters.com).

Copyright © 2005, Jendi Reiter. All rights reserved.

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READER COMMENTS
03.17.05   JMDempsey says:
Well, you'll get it from all sides on this. I agree that the over-the-top sexualization of the culture has had deleterious (and many unintended) consequences, and that in some cases the openly erotic imagery and behavior made possible by the left-driven sexual revolution has been adopted by the right for its purposes. But I think that happens more on the individual level than as a matter of organizational policy. In other words, a lot of young people (including soldiers) who probably consider themselves conservatives don't think twice about using sex in an off-handed, careless, perhaps destructive, way. That's the norm in the society in which they've grown up. But where I disagree is that this is a matter of military policy. I seriously doubt the order came down from the Pentagon for female soldiers to humiliate Muslim prisoners by rubbing their breasts against them (although some 30-year-old captains are certainly capable of conceiving such a thing). Twenty-one-year olds (whatever their political stripe) are quite able to come up with these ideas on their own. And never give it a second thought.J.M. Dempsey

03.14.05   Godspy says:
The post-sixties generation is now grown up. Why did we ever believe that, if given the choice, the children of liberation would always make love, not war?

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