Thursday, July 01, 2004

"I Hate Americans"

The final sentence in what is currently Le Monde's most popular article (according to readers' votes on its website) is actually "I hate them". But no matter. It applies to Americans, and so I extrapolated a bit for this post's title.

Iraqis seem optimistic, as we've already seen, and seem to welcome the transition of sovereignty in joy and harmony. Besides, they seem to think that if they have any enemies, it is the forces of terrorism that launch attacks on them as well as on the coalition forces.

But you wouldn't know that from reading France's newspaper of reference. Le Monde offers their special envoy in Iraq one full page to develop a story on Iraqis, and the article Rémy Ourdan pens concerns a couple of Iraqis who… hate the United States.

And, to be quite honest, they have reason to. They were prisoners — innocent as it turns out — in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, and they do not have fond memories of their jailers, to say the least. Ourdan doesn't even need to flex his writing muscles. The entire page is composed by the men's quotes. And here, of course, is where the problems start. There does not seem to have been any fact-checkers set out to corroborate the men's testimony, and no effort to get differing opinions and quotes from other sources. (But that, of course, is forgetting that when capitalist America is involved, any attack is good and welcome.)

Still (that is, in spite of the fact I find hard to believe some of their "testimony" concerning things they did not directly experience, such as a soldier lobbing a grenade into his cousins' mother's house for no apparent reason), I see no reason to go out of my way to put the gist their testimony concerning their own detention into doubt.

The last sentence is devastatingly strong — "I hate them" (the Americans) — and the idea retained is that the bulk of Americans in Iraq is hated by the bulk of Iraqis in Iraq (which, if true, would tend to corrobrate the Gallic thought that France has been right from the beginning and that the Iraqis ought to be grateful for Paris's position and stand by the side of their true protector and benefactor) — which probably helps to explain why the article found itself at the very top of the items recommended by readers.

The article's title seems just as devastating and to paint a picture just as generally harmful to good relations : American Torture, Iraqi Testimony. But as far as testimony goes, when I mentioned "a couple" of Iraqis earlier, I meant that literally; the quotes in the entire article come from just that: two Iraqi men. Sure, the pair were innocent, sure, they suffered, and no doubt they deserve compensation. Still, this was the exception rather than the rule. The exact opposite of the previous state of affairs (under Saddam, that is). But that is something Le Monde will not, will never, explain to its readers.

As far as Guerre contre le terrorisme et droit humanitaire, is concerned, there is not a single article in that special Monde section (to download) on the real torture in Iraq, that practiced by Saddam Hussein for three decades. You know, the severed hands, the faces doused in acid, the meat from wives' arms given to their husbands to eat, etc, not to mention the mass graves throughout the land… (It's probably a safe bet that the newspaper of reference never made any special sections on human rights in Iraq during Saddam's reign.)

So, since Le Monde doesn't present other views to its readers (in spite of the homily that all opinions ought to be represented), I will do it for them. Here are some Iraqis who are hardly ready to believe that the prisoners deserve pity or that they are even innocent or that the Americans (jailers and other) are dirty rotten scoundrels, the true bad guys in the whole Iraqi mess.

But since one of them (an M.D. at Abu Ghraib) showed more discernment than Ourdan — he said "Some of [the prisoners] say they are [innocent] and others boast in front of me, … telling the crimes they committed in details. Of course I’m not naive enough to blindly believe either" — and since they are not the type of Iraqis who would say "I hate Americans", do not expect them to get much room in France's media.

Update: Whereas you have heard about the outrage of the Arab street, Iraq the Model gives us a quite informative piece on Iraqi reactions to the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. Sample (Please notice that the question directed at the Arab media below can also be directed at the French media and other publications on the European continent and, indeed, in the United States):

I think that the event took more space than it actually deserves and the media are creating a mountain from a grain. It's enough for us to remember Saddam's doings to comment on what recently happened"; "I think that those criminals who were responsible for the mass graves in my country (who are now in your jails' cells) should apologize for their massacres against the Iraqi people"; "I'd like to direct my question to the Arabic media 'where were you when Saddam mass-executed my people and used all kinds of torture against us?'"; "I think that our Arab brothers should mind their own business and take a look at their own prisons."

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