Abu Ghraib and the blame game

lynndie_englandA news report by The Washington Post‘s Caryle Murphy and a column by Frank Rich of The New York Times both explore the question of whether pornography helped create the atmosphere of abuse and sexual humiliation at Abu Ghraib prison.

Murphy reports on a meeting that occurred at St. John the Apostle Catholic Church in Leesburg, Va. Paul Vitz, a professor of psychiatry at New York University and author of Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship, states the indictment of American pop culture concisely:

“For a large number of young people today, particularly young men, the only moral framework they get is through the popular media,” including computer games and Web sites bursting with violence and sex, Vitz added. “When people immerse themselves in the pornography and violence of American pop culture, it’s not surprising it has consequences. It’s a no-brainer.”

Richard Mouw, dean of Fuller Theological Seminary, agrees on the horrid nature of sexual humiliation and warns against Muslim-bashing:

“This kind of sexual humiliation, it’s bad enough to any human being,” Mouw said. “But when it also violates deep convictions Muslims have about nudity and having [their] private parts exposed in front of other men and acting out homosexual things and being humiliated by women in your nakedness, it’s deeply violating.”

Mouw, who questioned the moral justification for the war in Iraq before the U.S. invasion, said he believes that antipathy to Muslims may also have contributed to the atmosphere in which the sexual abuse was allowed to happen.

“I think the overlay on this is a very strong tendency in our culture to demonize Muslims … that goes beyond what we did ideologically in our definition of” Germans and Koreans in past wars, Mouw said. “It’s all tied up with a very strong religious warfare kind of mentality — that they’re on a jihad against us and we need to respond in kind.”

The Rev. Gerard J. McGlone, a Jesuit and professor at Johns Hopkins and Georgetown universities, takes the self-examination further, though, and uses absolutist language to condemn an absolutist strawman:

“When you say, ‘I can, in the name of God, go after all these Islamic people and Iraqis and treat them in whatever way I want’ … it’s bad theology and toxic morality because anything I do in the name of God is justified,” McGlone said.

Even for those who say they are not fighting Islam, the Jesuit priest added, “the good versus the evil paradigm is in place. This is absolute bad morality besides being bad foreign policy. The world is not black and white … and this is dominating the military right now.”

But McGlone is the peaceful soul of reason compared to Rich, who yet again flogs Mel Gibson, evangelicals and Catholics for their tacky taste in films:

Audiences of evangelicals and Catholics defied critics and made “The Passion of the Christ” one of most profitable films ever produced. Catholics regard the film as a thoroughly Catholic spectacle, focused as it is on the Virgin Mary and Jesus’ suffering. Yet Mel Gibson, a traditionalist Catholic, built an audience with screenings in evangelical megachurches, even hiring Billy Graham’s public relations man. Many evangelicals embraced the movie as a way to strike a blow of their own in the culture wars.

Rich delivers one powerful zinger, however, in challenging the notion that porn culture breaks cleanly along the borders of blue and red America:

Phil Harvey, the president of the North Carolina-based Adam & Eve, one of the country’s largest suppliers of mail-order adult products, said in an interview last week that his business has “for years” been roughly the same per capita throughout the continental United States, with those Deep South bastions of the Bible Belt, Alabama and Mississippi, buying only 10 percent fewer sex toys and porn videos than everyone else. Even residents of the Cincinnati metropolitan area — home to Citizens for Community Values and famous for antismut battles over Larry Flynt and Robert Mapplethorpe — turned out to be slightly larger-than-average users of porn Web sites, according to a 2001 Nielsen Internet survey.

Many cultural conservatives would have no trouble agreeing to this much: Sexual exploitation is evil, regardless of whether it occurs in Abu Ghraib or in the pages of mainstream porn magazines. And, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn observed many years ago, the line between good and evil runs through every human heart.

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