Friday, March 30, 2007

British Hostages

[posted by Callimachus]

Does anyone believe, prima facie, that a British woman sailor who happened to be in Iranian captivity wrote this letter? Any more than he believes she asked to wear that headscarf?

I'm still looking for someone to produce an example of her writing style from before this, or for her family or close friends to weigh in on the matter. But the letter attributed to her is stilted and in passages unidiomatic and curiously peppered with the kind of odd spellings and errors native English speakers do not often make: "... sacrificed due to the intervening policies of the Bush and Blair governments. ... distrust for the people of Iran, and the whole area of the British. ... Whereas .... It is now our time to ask our government to make a change to its oppressive behavior towards other people."

Does anyone believe, prima facie, that this is authentic?

Sadly, yes.

I don’t mean to be disdainful of either of these two, whose predicament I can only imagine, but I think their behavior says something about the tenuous hold the official ideology has over our own centurions. One has to assume that the views of this bunch are, while expressed under duress, at least to some extent, a) sincere — how else to explain Ms. Turney’s eloquence? — and, b) fairly representative. If so, one has to wonder how long before their loyalty to the War Party is exhausted. The “coalition” hasn’t even attacked Iran yet, and already the troops are rebelling. Can we look forward to a full-scale mutiny if and when it comes to war?

The post is titled "Mutiny in the Gulf?"

While we're playing "Does Anyone Really Believe," does anyone really believe none of this would be happening, or it would be happening differently, had there been no Abu Ghraib, no Guantanamo, no Baghram, no Belmarsh? Does anyone really believe Iran only is playing the tat to our tit?

Oh, probably. But I already found one pathetic, deluded enthusiast for the collapse of Western civilization. You go find the others.

So why does Abu Ghraib matter in this story? Some people who are enthusiastic about an assertive War on Terror cast it in terms of a death match against an enemy who understands only brute force and must be responded to in kind. In certain situations that will be the case.

But we -- citizens of this country -- can't allow ourselves to wage the war that way. If it is simply a matter of American self-interest versus Islamist self-interest, then we live at their level. Then we kill with precision and care only because our wealth and technology gives us the luxury to do so. Then they use terror as a tactic because their weakness and poverty makes it the most effective tactic available to them.

If the relative situations were reversed, would the behaviors reverse correspondingly? I refuse to believe that, but only because I believe we represent something more, and better, than our enemies can attain to.

Our enemies have one job: Kill us, create chaos and failure wherever we go, wear us down, drive us out. We -- the Americans and our allies, notably the British -- have many jobs in the world: Policing the seas is one of the most essential among them. The U.S. Navy inherited it from the Royal Navy. It allows international trade to flourish, it allows people to move freely. Without that role, pirates would not be a joke in Disney movies.

To be the police, to claim that authority, you have to function with a higher level of ethics and a consistent, scrupulous attention to the proper handling of suspects. You can't simply allow yourself to become a bigger version of them.

Does anyone seriously fancy the Iranian Navy patroling the high seas to keep them free for commerce? Or the United Nations doing it, for that matter?

Some people get all exercised over the slightest American abuses and pour out into the streets about them, but they can only manage a perfunctory, formulaic disapproval of the hideous crimes of our enemies.

At moments like this, when the self-proclaimed enemies of America behave most reprehensibly, the reaction of some people who live here is to ratchet up the rhetoric about America's faults and failures.

Frankly, all those people make me sick.

Let's say it plainly: It's utterly absurd for America and Britain to be punishing ourselves because we neglected to extend the most tender-hearted Geneva rights to captive terrorists who did not, technically, qualify to receive them, while our own uniformed warriors, should they fall into enemy hands, can expect only torture, humiliation, and public beheading.

In the short run, it's absurd. But in the long run, it's what makes us America, and Britain. Just as what you are seeing on your television these days is what makes Iran Iran.

Amba's posts this week include a quote from Reinhold Niebuhr, who, it seems to me more and more, was presciently addressing modern America, not the America of his own time, in so much of what he wrote. He certainly deserves to be better read among us. Here is what he said about it:

The preservation of a democratic civilization requires the wisdom of the serpent and the harmlessness of the dove. The children of light must be armed with the wisdom of the children of darkness but remain free from their malice. They must know the power of self-interest in human society without giving it moral justification. They must have this wisdom in order that they may beguile, deflect, harness and restrain self-interest, individual and collective, for the sake of the community.