Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Other People's Hands: A World Governed by Zarqawis

The tape of the latest beheading in Iraq -- this time Jack Hensley was decapitated, reportedly by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- exposes the evil of the perpetrators and their appeal to the lowest instincts (they apparently think -- maybe correctly -- that such recordings will rally some people to their side), but it also opens a rare window on how power politics really work.

There are many dozens of armies and security forces worldwide that torture, rape or kill screaming captives. But such crimes -- when known -- are rarely reported with the prominence and feeling they deserve, especially if the perpetrators are agents or allies of a dominant state. When they are reported it is frequently in abstract, sanitized or calming language: "human rights violations" "extrajudicial executions," "prisoner abuse."

But in real life the acts are concrete, rancid, and mind-crushingly agonizing. My friend Jafar Siddiq Hamzah (in Indonesia) was abducted, bound, had his face sliced off, and was stabbed to death. My friend Lukki Orellana (in Guatemala) reportedly had her hands hacked off (I saw Jafar's tormented body, but the report on Lukki was second hand from inside the army since, like roughly 40,000 others, she was "disappeared," her body never found. In neither case was anyone arrested, and in neither case did the US government stop supporting the military in question).

Imagine if all such acts were taped and we were all invited to watch and hear them. There wouldn't be time, of course. TV and the internet would be flooded. But at least we would have a better understanding of how life and politics really are.

Its not as if isolated evil has suddenly sprung up and must now be combated. In fact it is much worse than that. Evil has office and legal protection. We are governed by Zarqawis -- those willing for political motives to cause the torture and death of defenseless people. Its just that most of them are stealthy enough to avoid doing it on screen, and fastidious enough to arrange for other people's hands to do the chopping.