On Nudity and Culture

There has been a big brouhaha of late over Obama's course decision about no releasing hundreds of new photographs of the atrocities committed by the US military at Abu Ghraib. During the campaign, Obama stated unequivocally that they should be released. Now he's not releasing them because he doesn't want US servicemen to be attacked because of what's on the photos. Many are suggesting that the photos aren't being released because they would show the extent of the atrocities- that it wasn't just a few bad apples, but in fact a covert policy of the US military to demean and torture. And if that's true, higher heads would roll. But there's a completely different reason why these photos shouldn't be released.

They shouldn't be released because of the reason that the original photos should never have been released. Yes, the photos should be investigated, and every individual who was responsible for these actions should be fully prosecuted. But the photos should be viewed only by those who need to seem them directly- defense and prosecuting attorneys, and judges and juries.

It was quite clear that the perpetrators of Abu Ghraib knew what they were doing. They were making use of Arab cultural norms and fears to intimidate and demean their prisoners. They used Arab dislike of homosexuality to put Arab men in compromising positions. But more to the point, they used the Arab conventions against nudity to attack their prisoners.

This isn't only true in Arab culture. It's a widely held Middle Eastern belief, found even with Noah at the time that the Genesis stories were being told and written. Nudity is inappropriate- to a far greater degree than we find in Western culture. In early hadith in Islam, one is told that even a husband and wife should never be completely naked in front of each other. (It is unknown, naturally, how much these particularly hadith are followed. But even today, there are imams calling for this to be followed.) In the wider Arab and Middle Eastern culture, the shame of nudity never transfers to the person viewing, but rather to the person viewed; to the one who is naked. That person is exposed in front of others, in a culture where what others view is paramount above all else. These are shame cultures, not guilt cultures.

Thus, when the perpetrators of Abu Ghraib took pictures of nude Arab men, they were knowingly attempting to shame them. When we allowed those pictures to be reproduced in newspapers and the American nightly news, ostensibly in order to reveal America's crimes to the world, we were unknowingly assisting the perpetrators of Abu Ghraib in their crimes. We were increasing the shame of the Arab victims a thousand fold, beyond the wildest dreams of the evildoers of Abu Ghraib.

Now we hear that there are more pictures, hundreds more. This can only mean more shame, for more people. Haven't they suffered enough at our hands? Is there any reason to assist the perpetrators of Abu Ghraib? Prosecute them, certainly. But let us end the suffering of our victims. Don't publish these photos.


Arlen Specter's Secret Plan

I've finally realized how very devious Arlen Specter is.

He has always been a moderate maverick Republican- well, since he switched from being a Democrat 30 years ago. Recently, as we all know, he switched parties, back to the Democrats. He did this very honestly and openly- he couldn't win the election as a Republican. His party has gone so very right-wing, that Pennsylvanians won't vote for a moderate in the primary. That, and 200,000 Pennsylvanians have switched to Democrat, following the general trend of the country, which now has only some 20% willing to admit to being a Republican. (There may, of course, be more Republicans than this- again, it's the number willing to admit to it.) Considering that there are few moderates in the party left, and those remaining are ultra-right-wing, that 20% is actually rather scary, but I'll save that topic for another post...

In the process of switching parties, Arlen managed to tick off nearly every Democrat. That's not easy to do. He already had his erstwhile party angry with him for leaving and getting the Democrats closer to Magic 60. But he publicly stated that he would maintain his seniority, pushing some Democrats off their position in committees. He stated he wouldn't be a "loyal Democrat", and immediately proved it by voting against a couple Obama proposals that the rest of the Democrats voted for. And then he came out and said that he hoped the Republican Coleman would defeat the Democrat Franken in the Minnesota Senate Race, even calling, oddly, for Franken to "do the right thing". (He corrected this later by saying he briefly forgot which team he was on. I really hate it when an NBA player is traded and on the court does the same thing.)

Now, no one likes Specter. The Democratic caucus in the Senate stripped him of all his committee positions (though later they returned a subcommittee position to him), stripping him also of a strong electoral argument he was hoping to make in 2010- "I can bring home the bacon." The idea of him not being a loyal Democrat is sure to get a lot of press in his now Democratic primary. A few Democrats are considering running against him.

And I suddenly realized...what if this was all part of his plan? He couldn't win as a Republican, because he is too moderate. He could probably win the general if he made it that far, but another Republican in Pennsylvania would not. There was only one way out.

Specter would switch parties and run as a Democrat, but then do everything possible to turn off Democratic voters. Specter would still win the primary on name recognition, as he's represented Pennsylvania for 30+ years, and he has Obama's commitment of support. The Republicans would elect a conservative Republican in the primary, who would then run against Specter in the general. Now we come to the general election, where more of the electorate might be on the side of a moderate Democrat/Republican than a conservative Republican, but since Specter has proved to be such a wishy-washy Democrat, the population isn't just that interested in him. Lacking a Presidential race, they have less incentive to be excited about a guy who they aren't sure is really on board with the Democrat thing. The Democrat voters stay home in droves, and, by the skin of his teeth, the conservative Republican wins the Pennsylvania Senate seat.

Arlen Specter- loyal Republican to the end?