Monday, August 23, 2004

I Stand By My Story…

A couple of readers have pointed out that one exhibit in Perpignan will be including photos from the killing fields of Iraq. They make it sound like there will be just as many photos on this as on Abu Ghraib and like they will be similarly treated. So was I wrong to write that the Visa pour l'image photojournalism festival will not be showing photos of Saddam Hussein's crimes?

Technically, perhaps, it would seem that way at first. But after examining the evidence…

…I stand by my story.

And how!

Let me explain why.

Ever so often we get comments from irate readers, challenging our contention that what drives government policy in France amounts, at last partly, to (rabid?) anti-Americanism, and that the French are actually quite reasonable and willing to be self-critical. This they accompany by specific examples. Meanwhile, all sorts of people and the French media will claim that they are objective and that the lucid people they are do give all the viewpoints.

Indeed, in Le Monde, you will on occasion find columns and letters to the editor castigating France's Iraq policy while praising Bush's, or articles with content that supports the case for war against Saddam Hussein.

However, I call these token articles and token letters to the editor (here an example from Germany). As I have written elsewhere, they appear far and few between, and I have given my opinion that a ballpark figure of how often they would appear would be less than 5% of the time (and print space).

Their main purpose is not to get an intellectual discussion of any sort going, but to serve as a piece of evidence for the powers-that-be (both to others and to themselves) that they (the latter) have been fair, that they are reasonable, and that they are objective. Following that, they will not weigh the evidence or hold a meaningful discussion, but return to the usual Bush-bashing, the traditional America-mocking, and the typical expression of disgust over the latest capitalist outrage.

If you will bear with me while I briefly discuss two examples, I will get back to the issue at hand. The two examples happen to be extremely meaningful.

In the first, Rémy Ourdan introduces his Le Monde article, entitled France's position remains highly criticized by the Iraqis, with these words: "It is almost impossible, except among unseated Ba'athist officials, to find anybody who supports Paris's position in the crisis. France's policy remains highly criticized by Iraqis. Contrary to what Europeans often think, the fact of being opposed to the American occupation in no way heightens the popularity of Europe or one or another country in Iraq"…

The second example is Mouna Naïm's Le Monde article entitled The Issue of Iraq's Weaponry Is Not Clear-Cut: In the review Politique Étrangère, five experts keep the debate on the existence of WMD alive.

As I have written elsewhere, the first article basically undermines, undoes, and shatters the whole peace camp logic in favor of continued peace and dialog with Saddam Hussein (at least with regards to this position favoring — and being favored by — Iraqis); while the second undermines, undoes, and shatters the entire controversy that has been damaging George W Bush and Tony Blair with regards to their alleged lies when they mentioned the dictator's weapons of mass destruction as a reason for launching the attack on the Iraq.

However, in the first case, the article's content was mentioned just that one time — and then it was back to speaking of the humanists' great protection against the scourge of war, the growing insecurity, and Iraqis' resentment against the Yanks; and in the second, the article was hidden in a media review on one of the back pages — and then it was back to carping about the lies of the Bush camp.

So Ted Welch is right: I find this an injustice worthy of fighting against, bravely or otherwise.

Now, back to Perpignan. Just as I consider those rare pro-US articles and letters to be tokens, which are not taken into account for any other reason than to heap praise upon oneself (as objective, wise, tolerant, etc etc, etc), I consider the (few) photos in the exhibit to be tokens that serve as a smokescreen to hide Europe's anti-Americanism.

As it happens, the evidence bears me out.

Were the photos of killing fields to be as numerous and to be displayed as prominently as those of the Abu Ghraib snapshots, I would have been forced to recant. Had both groups of pictures been displayed with (hardly) any comments — just like they were on ¡No Pasarán! — I would have been forced to recant. (And to apologize.) And I would have done so.

But check the evidence:

First of all, look at the URL page of the "official festive announcement": When I first came upon it, I was moved by all those pictures of Saddam's victims, especially that stomach-churning (black and white) picture of the man cut in two at the waist — until I saw it was a picture of a Hollywood prop! Then the cell picture of the bizarre Asian-looking "Iraqis" at the top of the page made sense; it was for a story on "the alarming mental health crisis" from China to Pakistan. Even the Muslim woman behind a (prison?) fence has nothing to do with Iraq. As it happens, both the text and the photo of the killing field are in the least important place, at the bottom of the page (the text at the bottom of the first column, the photo at that of the second column).

This ties in with the expression the festival's director uses for the Abu Ghraib snapshots. The "most important pictures of the year" (as Ray D points out) concerns not the graves of hundreds of thousands killed by a dictator (some for as little as laughing about a joke of Saddam Hussein), but a couple of dozen prisoners (maybe many more, I'm willing to grant you that) forced to pose for sophomoric pictures.

Third, and more importantly, read the text of the website (followed by its logical translation):

  • 'Why Mister, why?' (the pleas of an innocent before the treacherous war-mongering Yanks)
  • the year America occupied Iraq (Gratuitiously, and without any reason whatsoever, Americans submitted the entire Iraqi population to a humiliating and unnecessary occupation, there having been nothing in the country beforehand to merit anything other than national satisfaction and general contentment)
  • The situation in Iraq following the declaration of 'mission accomplished' represented a culture clash of rare proportions (Washington was/Americans are dumb and short-sighted, certainly not as world-wise as (say) the French)
  • Geert van Kesteren was witness to what went wrong (A world-wise European hits it on the nail)
  • He saw clouds of sadness coming from the mass graves created by the Saddam regime (as Ray D points out, "The focus is not on Saddam's regime or its atrocities. They simply say in one line that the Saddam regime "created" the graves… (gee I wonder how that happened). It is really more about describing sadness since the "arrogant occupying" power came to town.")
  • …and Shi'ites enjoying their awakening freedom (for God's sake, do not even think of writing who got them that freedom in the first place [see more about US troops two lines down])
  • He saw the occupying force of an arrogant world power (just like all lucid, world-wise beings [mainly Europeans] do)
  • Embedded with US troops, he witnessed disgraceful raids on Iraqi citizens (nothing about US troops awakening the Iraqis' freedom here and nothing about the disgraceful raids of a dictator's police forces forcing themselves into houses to remove Iraqis to the jails and torture chambers [the real ones] of Saddam Hussein [more on this below])
  • Citizens had hoped for a better, non-violent, future, but their hopes were dashed (Like all the wise, inherently peace-loving members of our world community, every single Iraqi wanted/wants only cooperation and understanding and love and peace and freedom, but, as usual, those dastardly violent beings, the treacherous American war-lover party, blew out that flame of hope)
  • In a clear photojournalistic way… (with the inherent wisdom and lucidity of European humanitarians…)
  • Geert van Kesteren outlines why it will take a long time before the Iraqi people can enjoy a semblance of peace (a humanistic European clearly knows where to place the blame of Iraq's sorry state, i.e., on the American presence, natch)
In other words, the "most important pictures of the year" exhibit is here to heap criticism on Americans, and what some readers suggest is an exhibit on Saddam's mass graves — but which is really called the Geert van Kesteren / Focus / Cosmos exhibit and which will evidently include far more pictures castigating U.S. troops — will also heap criticism on Americans.

This, we must suppose, is what the French call "ouvrir le débat" (an oft-used phrase meaning "a serious debate must be opened"), with supposedly all viewpoints considered…

So, this exhibit I consider the same as the token letters and articles: a smokescreen.

Once one's conscience has been cleared, thanks to having let someone "with a narrow viewpoint" speak (briefly) his mind, then one can get back to the real dangers in everyday life — castigating and blaming America.

And needless to say, I won't even start going into the fact that the country's media have been talking exclusively about the Abu Ghraib snapshots (but then, there's hardly anything unusual abut that, is there now?).

So there you have it: I find this an injustice worthy of fighting against, bravely or otherwise.

Before I close, I would like to remind you again of the first token article we discussed at the opening of this post. The journalist made an amazing proposition: he actually asked those who are first and foremost concerned by the fall of Saddam Hussein and the presence of foreign soldiers in their country — i.e., the Iraqis themselves — how they felt about the war and its aftermath.

Now I would like you to ask you to take another look at the photo of the father bestowing a final kiss on the dried skull of his son. (It should not escape notice that the place this skeleton was dug up at was the burial grounds of… Abu Ghraib.)

Which pictures do you think Ghirayer Ali would deem "the most important photos of the year", Monsieur Leroy? Those showing some of hundreds of thousands of murdered Iraqi civilians dug up from the Iraqi sands, including his son at Abu Ghraib, or the snapshots documenting US troops humiliating prisoners (a good portion of which were those who murdered their countrymen in the first place)?

Before I'm accused of catering to base emotionalism, I will take back the question, and ask a more general one: which of the two groups of pictures do you think your average Iraqi would deem "the most important photos of the year", Monsieur Leroy?

You don't know it, Monsieur Leroy, but the answer (or I should say: because the answer) lies in the Rémy Ourdan article that most readers have already forgotten.

An Iraqi living in Germany adds the following on David's Medienkritik:

I often find people asking me: Was Saddam that evil ? -No, he was as evil that fantasy can't imagine. Well, this question is out of the frame because everyone knows this who just took a glimpse of Saddam's Iraq.

I can count some books about Modern Iraq which aren't translated into German because all translators are busy with Michael Moore new books and the audience doesn't want it.

Maybe the covering up of the US Press is not systemtatic or so, but until the trial of Saddam there will be no final view on Saddam's Iraq. The German Press is busy with covering up the "resistance" which is by all odds just a minority of the Iraqi people, while the majority was victim of the practices of torture and so on.

I've got a relative in Baghdad telling me that every five minutes you see in Iraq an amputed man who lost his limbs either by war or torture or by other causes. I told him they are rarely seen on T.V. here. So the press ignores that masses of disabled persons for searching al-Jazeera-like masked, coward men with a Ak-47 telling what the audience likes to hear.

Maybe the German Press took the glasses filtering all colours of the World except Blue, White and Red, so they can watch out for Americans !

Samir adds that one of the writers, who claimed that the Geert van Kesteren exhibit shows that Europeans are exceedingly fair and objective, ignored the hyperlinks he had recommended a few days earlier. (Semir finds this unjust, and so do I.)

The Iraqi Holocaust is a clearing house for information on atrocities under the Iraqi dictator and the Ba'ath party.

Iraq Center is the documental center for human rights in Iraq. Besides truly horrifying photos, it shows drawings of the forms of torture used by Saddam's thugs, a quite different form of treatment than that given at Abu Ghraib. Samir issues a warning: the pictures are horrible!

You can see more pictures if you replace the last number "1", for first picture, with "2", "3", etc, e.g.

There are 15 pictures of torture methods available. Most of them are unknown to the German public.

And no wonder. The German media — and the French media — see no need to make anything (beyond a few token texts or photo displays) of viewpoints and pictures that undermine the peace camp's position or that supports Bush's decision to go to war.

So Ted Welch is right: I find this an injustice worthy of fighting against, bravely or otherwise.

I stand by my story.

UPDATE: The best way to find out, I figured, was to go see with my own eyes. So I filled 'er up, got behind the wheel, and drove to Perpignan. There I walked around the city, visiting the various places set up to welcome the best news photos of the year. To make a long story short, my worst suspicions — and what I wrote in this column — were confirmed

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