Saturday, May 21, 2005

Knickers & The Art of Humilation

In U.S. Report, Brutal Details of 2 Afghan Inmates' Deaths - New York Times

Yesterday afternoon's late link was for my eTV Broadband system and may have taken a while to load. This link above will take you to the actual story.

The item didn't get the coverage it deserved on last night's UK television service. Whilst it did make the BBC late night programmes, it was couched in general coverage of prisoner abuse with principal focus centering on the protests about US treatment of the Koran itself. Overshadowing everything however, was a lot of fuss about Saddam in his knickers! Or rather, Saddam in some ill-fitting, presumably prison-issue, pair of American desisnged Y-Fronts. One wonders if the real humiliation was to show him clad in an imperialist western garment the aesthetic of which bears an uncanny resemblance to a straight-jacket.

I like seeing people in their underwear. It can be sexy of course, but that's not my point. What people wear in the street as a fashion statement is generally an expression of their conformity, unconformity or contrived exhibitionism. Unless they're actively expecting to get their kit off at some point, chances are people will simply be wearing something underneath that makes them feel comfortable. Back in the 1970s, a female photographer (whose name temporarily escapes me!) published a book entitled "Rock Stars In Their Underpants" - it caused something of a stir in those days but was intruiging largely because her subjects had been captured in inpromptu situations, the resulting portraits revealing a lot about her subjects in a way slightly at odds with their public persona.

Although opposed to the invasion of Iraq, I'm no fan of Saddam Hussain and there is a long social history (worldwide) of publicly exhibiting wrong-doers for the purpose of humiliation that could, in the right context, justify the release of these pictures. The real outrage here is that the context is not right - the images are out-of-date and the media have been duped into engaging in a titillation bonanza that will be probably unseen by Saddam himself and serve only to anger those trying to moderate the civil strife in what's left of his former domain.

Cultures belong to themselves and whilst we can criticise or even oppose them, we have no divine right to interfere with them. Saddam was a dictator and had few friends in the land he once ruled, but he did, in the wholly abstract sense, represent them. The iron fist of his rule, corrupt and ethnically-biased as it was to our eyes, nonetheless maintained a unity of sorts in what was a modern, functioning state. Personal freedoms and self-determination may have been absent for many, but revolution comes from within not without. Natural change, when it had come of its own accord, might not have been democratic or even secular, but would have been culturally valid in the Arabic world. It would also more than likely have been very bloody, for such is part of that culture! Yet it would probably have been cleaner and more definitive than the mess created by the present Anglo-American interference.

The majority of Iraqis today do not look back favorably on Saddam himself, but they probably look back longingly for the symbol of unity that, as an icon, he provided. In parading him on the world stage this way, the issue of not really one of Saddam's humiliation at all. He is not even exposed naked. Rather, it is the (minimalistic) dressing of a broken man in the trappings of the imperial conquerer, that represents a humiliation for a culture itself. It is an insult, pure and simple! It will antagonise the Islamic territories and further the cause of the civil war now ranging in Iraq itself.

I am reminded of Ghandhi and how real peaceful change can occur. Maybe what Iraq needs is a new cultural icon prepared to brave the world wearing his or her real cultural underwear. But that's a metaphor and not something I would dare insult them by asking.

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