The Crusader Prison at Abu Ghraib
By Louis Farshee
In the weeks leading to the US invasion of Iraq the Bush Administration promised
that American military might would deliver nothing less than a demonstration of
Shock and Awe to Saddam Hussein and his regime. Once that promise was
fulfilled a different kind of Shock and Awe was delivered to the world in the
form of photographic and testimonial evidence of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.
Excluding the 33 percent of the American populace that supports torture of
prisoners (ABC Poll), there has been an increasing outcry from other quarters.
Among the questions posed is why did it happen? The answer begins at the time
of the invasion of Iraq when violations of international law converged with
contempt for rules of basic human decency. The result was the abuse of Iraqi
(and other) prisoners by certain US military, intelligence and mercenary
Those abuses happened because U.S. Defense Department policy-makers, military
commanders in charge of Abu Ghraib and/or interrogators, implicitly or
explicitly, permitted them to occur. If there is not a field manual titled
Abusing Iraqi Prisoners sufficient memoranda is surfacing to indicate it is a
work in progress. Yet, this explanation remains incomplete because inculcation
for the types of unsavory and illegal conduct under investigation has far more
insidious and subtle roots. Those roots might include factors such as
anti-Islamic religious prejudice, fraudulent or inaccurate scholarship and
Anti-Islamic religious prejudice is found among certain Western Christians who
believe they are members of a superior institutional religion. Illusions of
this type are traceable in history back to at least the 11th Century Crusades
when western Christians invaded the Middle East. These Christians contrast
their version of Christianity with Islam which they define as a false religion
that foments terrorism and anti-Christian sentiment. Because they believe they
are first in the eyes of God they have a duty to fight Islam or demand en-masse
conversion of Muslims to Christianity or resort to an often heard contemporary
formula, "kill them all and let God sort them out." Perspectives founded
in medieval Christian supremacy are expressed today in colorful and sometimes
not-so-subtle variations by Christian Evangelicals such as Pat Robertson, Jerry
Falwell and Franklin Graham. Each has taken his turn at vilifying Islam and its
Among high-profile non-clergy Christian Evangelicals is Lt. General William
Boykin. He has publicly stated that his God is superior to that of Muslims
and characterized the "war on terrorism" as a battle with Satan. The reason
America has been targeted, General Boykin has asserted, is because "we're a
Christian nation." Bear in mind that General Boykin is not some lose-cannon
renegade exercising his right to free speech, but military assistant to
Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, Stephen Cambone. Boykin allegedly
made recommendations to the Pentagon in the summer of 2003 on interrogation
methods to "soften-up" Iraqi "detainees," a charge denied by the
Pentagon (Hersh). When called on to reassign General Boykin, George Bush
refused to do so, possibly because his public disapproval of Boykin's views
could cost Bush support from Christian Evangelicals for whom Boykin is
considered to be a Crusader-general.
These 21st Century Crusaders allege they participate in two-way conversations
with God and view their version of Christianity as exclusive personal property.
It is their key to paradise through fulfillment of their interpretation of
Biblical writ and prophecy. This notion is so wide spread among an estimated
70 million US Evangelical Christians that it has emerged as an industry unto
itself. Books, television channels, films and other forms of mass communication
and entertainment are dedicated to a theology of intolerance and hate that
places Evangelical-Christians at the top of God's hierarchy of the elect
excluding all others, non-Evangelical Christians, Muslims, Jews or whatever.
Brutality founded in medieval religious thought fostered slaughter of an
estimated 60,000 Jews, Eastern Christians and Muslims when Jerusalem fell to the
Crusader siege in July 1099. Crimes of that period recorded by Crusader and
Arab chroniclers include cannibalism practiced by Crusader forces who roasted
and dined on human flesh. This nasty aspect of history is overlooked or
ignored by the west but has not been forgotten by those who populate the Middle
East today (Maalouf, Chapter 3).
If one thinks corrupt Biblical interpretation is not a powerful influence in
social and religious thought consider the myth recorded in the Book of Genesis
that people with black skin are descendants of Ham, the youngest son of Noah.
According to this tradition, Ham saw his drunken father sleeping naked and was
cursed when the old patriarch awoke and heard of this. The curse visited upon
Ham and his descendants was to have their skin blackened. Therefore, despising
those with black skin is merely following in the footsteps of God's
condemnation. This contention has existed for centuries and was condemned by
the father of historiography, Ibn Khaldun. Writing in 1377 he observed that "no
reference is made there to blackness" in the Biblical story (Ibn Khaldun p.
Among some critics of Islam is a much favored "gotcha" of selectively
quoting certain passages from the Koran as evidence of Islam's unsavory if not
satanic foundations and teachings. But, selective quotations of scriptures work
both ways. For example, if one looks in the Bible for fulfillment of God's
plans and promises through incest it is in Genesis 19: 30-38; and God-sanctioned
military invasion, property theft and genocide appears throughout the Book of
Joshua. If all Muslims can be condemned by quoting isolated verses from the
Koran, why is it not appropriate to condemn all Christians in the same manner by
quoting isolated verses from the Bible?
Because there are almost two dozen countries where some form of the Arabic
language is spoken it is typical in popular reductive thought to combine
multiple cultural and religious groups into an abstract collective noun such as,
"the Arabs." The only true Arabs were those from early Arabia (today Saudi
Arabia) having long since mixed with other races and no longer existing in a
pure racial sense. The Arabic speaking people of North Africa, from Morocco to
Egypt, were not generally referred to as Arabs until after 1945. They are no
more genetically related to the Arabic speaking people of the Levant (Syria,
Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories) than any other
diverse racial groups (Glubb). Yet, in the world of fraudulent scholarship all
three-hundred million people who speak the Arabic language are defined and
stereotyped as "the Arabs."
In the field of fraudulent scholarship is a work titled The Arab Mind (Patai).
The title alone reveals its spurious perspective by use of the definite article,
The. This book is used by certain instructors to indoctrinate military
personnel for deployment to Arabic speaking countries. Its premises, described
by Edward Said as racist, and by other scholars as 19th Century thinking, are
that the only thing ALL Arabs understand is force and ALL Arabs are sexually
dysfunctional because of their culture of personal modesty (Said; Hersh). One
can only imagine the condemnation that would erupt from "conservatives" if a
text titled The American Mind was used to indoctrinate Arabs about Americans.
Next-of-kin to fraudulent scholarship is inaccurate discourse. A recent example
appeared in the New York Times titled "From Ancient Greece to Iraq, the Power
of Words in Wartime." In the body of the article the author, "a linguistics
professor at the University of California," wrote "The war in Iraq has added
new examples [of nicknames given the enemy. Some American soldiers refer to
the Iraqis as ‘hadjiis (sic),' used in a derogatory way, apparently unaware
that the word, which comes from the Arabic term for a pilgrimage to Mecca, is
used as a term of respect for older Muslim men" (Lakoff).
This definition is narrow and inaccurate. The Arabic noun hajji (masculine
singular) is derived from the root verb, hajjuh, which is, to visit a holy
place. This may be any place holy to any religion (or religions in the case of
Jerusalem) and would include but not be limited to Bethlehem, Nazareth, Karbala,
Mecca, Lumbini, (birthplace of the Buddha), and the Golden Temple of the Sikhs
at Amritsar. Although the pilgrimage to Mecca, the hajj, is the name of the
Fifth Pillar of Islam, this is not its exclusive meaning. As for using the word
hajjis, "as a term of respect for older Muslim men," this is inaccurate. In
Islamic usage hajji is a title of respect used only if a man, young or old, has
made the pilgrimage to Mecca (there are also singular and plural feminine forms
When formulas for military and political inculcation mix errant Christian
fanaticism, fraudulent scholarship, inaccurate discourse and racism a noxious
elixir is created and its results are apparent in the graphic photographs of
prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. Suggesting that better military command control
or better training will prevent its reoccurrence during the "war on terror"
or at any time in the future is wishful thinking at best. The core of the
answer to, how did it happen, is found in the motives of those who foment
conflict and exploit racial and religious bigotry as a means to an end. If
11th Century mentality continues to be utilized by 21st Century Crusaders they
will ignite resistance from their victims. It took several centuries to expel
the medieval Crusaders from the Middle East and it might take that long again
but the people who live there today will not sit passively and consent to being
trampled or cannibalized.
Louis Farshee is an independent businessman and free-lance writer living in the
US Pacific Northwest. He can be contacted at email@example.com
ABC News/Washington Post Poll conducted May 20-23, 2004.
John Bagot Glubb. 2001. The Life and Times of Mohamed. New York: Cooper
Seymour M. Hersh. 2004. "How a secret Pentagon program came to Abu
Ghraib." The New Yorker. May 24.
Ibn Khaldun. 1967. The Muqaddimah. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Franz Rosenthal translation abridged and edited by N. J. Dawood.
Robin Tolmach Lakoff. 2004. "From Ancient Greece to Iraq, the Power of Words
in Wartime." New York Times, May 18.
Amin Maalouf. 1983. The Crusades Through Arab Eyes. London: Saqi Books.
Translated by Jon Rothschild.
Raphael Patai. 1973. The Arab Mind. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
Edward W. Said. 1979. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.
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