It was at the height of the Watergate scandal during President Richard Nixon's presidency in 1975 when, after his return from America, Syed Abulala Maudoodi spoke at Karachi University praising American democracy. The reaction of America towards the abuse in Iraq reminded me of his comments almost 30 years ago. What impressed Maudoodi, the most prominent Islamic scholar and the foremost Muslim critic of the West in the last 50 years, was the free press and the system of checks and balances of American democracy which he observed during the Watergate scandal during his stay in the US.
America's reaction to the torturous sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners of war is a sign of a nation living its ideals. Although they are reacting to something extremely abhorrent and horrible, it gives me confidence in humanity and in America.
Yes. They were soldiers of the American occupying army who did the most horrific things to Iraqi prisoners. But what the Muslim world also needs to know is how America is reacting to it.
Seventy-three percent of Americans surveyed say Iraqi abuse was unjustified. Many Christian organizations in American are speaking out. Everyone who matters in America is showing their displeasure over the images and asking for the understanding of the Muslim world. They want to make it clear that these are isolated cases and America is not like that. It reminds me of the aftermath of 9/11 when Muslims were trying their best to explain that the 19 hijackers were not representatives of Islam or Muslims. Maybe the super-humbling experience of a super-power will allow it to understand the pain Muslims have gone through paying for those 19 hijackers' acts of terrorism.
Let's see how some of the important institutions in America are reacting to the Iraqi prison abuse tragedy.
The American media has not been as free and independent lately as the European media. But one cannot much complain about the coverage of the Iraqi abuse.
- It was an American network, CBS, who broadcast the photos that outraged the world.
- Almost all media has been repeatedly reporting the abuse. No one is trying to hide something that can clearly hurt American national pride.
- Many media outlets have published the extremely damaging, still classified, Taguba Report.
- Almost all editorials and op-ed page writers have condemned the abuse in the strongest possible terms.
- The media continues to disseminate follow-up stories on the issue.
- The media is regularly reporting the public's outrage.
- A few talk show hosts who took the abuse lightly are being criticized.
- A few stories are connecting the Iraqi abuse tragedy to the sexual attacks on female American soldiers by fellow male soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
- Other media reports are suggesting abuse in Iraq is similar to prisoner abuse in the US.
- Now the award-winning journalist Seymour M. Hersh has written that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners was a result of the policy approved by the Secretary of Defense.
- The government advertisement were not withdrawn from any newspaper for reporting the classified, General Taguba Report.
- No writer, editor or correspondent has been picked up by any intelligence or military agency to date for writing hostile stories against US military interests.
- The US government has not banned any newspaper, TV channel or radio station due to the negative coverage that is causing the president's ratings to decline.
Executive and the Legislative Leadership:
Republicans and Democrats, Executive and Legislative branches of the government have all have been vocal in condemning the abuse.
- The Senate has condemned it with 98 votes.
- The House has also approved 365-to-50 a resolution that "deplores and condemns" the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
- Republicans and Democrats are both being given equal time to raise questions and read their comments, although Republicans have a majority.
- President Bush and almost everyone in the executive branch have condemned it.
- The military and general after general, have been publicly answering questions about this issue. This is significant because at a time of war, they are answering to the civilian leadership instead of using the ongoing situation in Iraq as an excuse to refuse to answer allegations.
- The executive branch has made it public that there are more horrific pictures of abuse in existence and they are being shown to the Senate and the House.
- Although some Senators are outraged over the ', all has been a civil discourse.
- By the way, no outspoken Democrats were arrested after the hearing outside the Hill by the President's secret service.
- The Senate is conducting a public hearing about the abuse live in front of cameras and via live broadcasts, where army generals and their civilian leaders are being questioned. Transcripts are available on the Internet.
- The House is doing the same.
- Major questions are being raised about the executive's openness on this issue.
- The main questions being asked deal with the issue of who else knew the abuse was going and when, and whether Abu Ghraib is an isolated case or a reflection of a systemic problem.
The Military Response:
This is the institution facing tremendous stress. Let us see how the institution is performing under the extraordinary pressure of the media, politicians, and the public besides fighting insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan:
- It was an honorable American soldier from Pennsylvania who brought the abuse to the attention of investigators. On January 13, 2004, Army Spc. Joseph M. Darby, an MP with the 800th at Abu Ghraib, first reported cases of abuse at the prison. He is being praised by almost everyone in America.
- The military officer who received the complaint did not sit on it. Within a day an investigation was launched by the military.
- Several soldiers were suspended from their duties before the images went public.
- Several soldiers are now facing court marshals.
- Military and civilian attorneys are available for soldiers to defend themselves in the court martial. In addition, the accused soldiers are issuing statements to the media saying that they were following orders when they engaged in the abuse of the Iraqi prisoners.
- It was an American General, Antonio Taguba, who wrote the most damaging report to date on the abuses. He is being praised instead of being admonished.
- There are more than 20 investigations in place.
- Individual soldiers returning from Iraq are openly commenting about the cases of abuse in Iraq.
- The commanding general of Iraqi prisons where the abuse occurred, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski was was given a letter of admonishment for the abuse.
- No secret agency is kidnapping any reporter for reporting against the interests of the American military.
- The Military Chief of Staff has not threatened to take over the country if criticism of the armed forces does not stopped.
This is the time for the Muslim world to stop watching Hollywood movies and see how America is handling a moral crisis involving abuse of their imprisoned enemies.
No it is not a perfect system. No human system can be perfect since we are not perfect. Of course, not everything is fine and good. There are many questions that have to be answered. But all of them are being asked by the media and leaders openly and publicly. If you have any questions just raise them now. All media, senators, congresspersons' contact information is available right on the Internet.
In case some cynic declares that all of this is being done to please the Muslim world, I would say maybe there is a bit of truth to that. But if America cared for world public opinion, they may not have invaded Iraq to begin with. This moral outrage is not a fake show, it's the true reflection of how America is feeling at this moment. This is democracy at its best.
Yes. I believe the American attack on Iraq was unjust. I have been writing about it and have spoken against it in rallies as millions of other Americans believe and speak against it. When the war began, we were a minority. Now a majority believes that it was wrong to attack Iraq.
Yes. There are many areas of concern regarding this scandal, some of which you can find in my article regarding the demonization of Muslims in America. However, please also note that all references in that article are themselves gleaned mostly from the American media itself which is open to report on these issues.
But the point is, this is the beauty of an open society, a free media, freedom of speech and democracy. I wish Egyptian papers could write about the torture in Egypt as much as American papers can. I wish Saudi Arabian people could also demonstrate the outrage they feel about the daily rape of Sri Lankan and Filipino maids working in the homes of Saudi Arabia.
When Muslim societies are as committed to free press, free speech and democracy as we are to Islam, Muslims will be on a better ground to challenge the "immorality" of America. If Muslims love the ideals of liberty, justice, peace, and fairness we believe existed at the time of the Prophet and the rightly guided caliphs, and would like these values to become the dominant traits of Muslim societies today, then it cannot be done without the free press, due process, and democracy.
If media in the Muslim world can generate even one-tenth of the moral outrage shown by American society at this moment regarding the torture and violation of human rights in Muslim countries, we will be on our way towards a better world.
Photo Attribution: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Abu_Ghraib_17a.jpg