Thursday, May 06, 2004

Embarrassing Empire

Lenin's Tomb dissects "former Communist activist and son of a CPGB stalwart" turned neo-conservative David Aaronovitch's attempt to trivialize British imperialism as "a departure from national character, an unpleasant aberration -- a bit like a staid aunt getting drunk and making fart jokes on New Year's Eve." It is a common response of ideologues on the right to insist on the basic decency of national character and treat all the cruel brutalities committed against the colonized, when exposed, as merely embarrassing episodes -- exceptions rather than the rule of empire. Is it possible for the (publicly religious) US right to take this line on the images of US torture of Iraqi prisoners and sell it successfully? Apparently impossible. Jay Moore says that some influential segments of the US right have so far had "a hard time finding much to say about" them, suggesting that they are "in deep denial":
I spend a bit of time every day, when I can find the time after breakfast, monitoring the basic U.S. right-wing Web sites that get lots of hits like, and to see what they're spewing out and spinning on various topics of the day. The Drudge Report is covering the torture revelations from Iraq. But the two more ultra-right Web sites are having a hard time finding much to say about it or they are still in deep denial. News Max is running a story today entitled "New Revelations Show Some Iraq Prison 'Abuse' Justified" and another one about an Iraqi prison abuse victim who, despite it all, wants to come and live in America. The ironical thing is that the sexual content of these photos is probably going to be harder for these reactionary types to handle than the obscenely violent photos from this war or from Vietnam such as the infamous Pulitzer Prize winning photo of the screaming little girl running down the street after having been napalmed. ("Right-wingers in Deep Denial," May 6, 2004)
Indeed, the right have a stock response to images of violence -- "war is hell" -- which can resonate outside the right-wing universe, because acceptance if not approval of the facts of random casualties, including the fact that many civilians are killed along with combatants, is implicit in acceptance of modern warfare, across the political spectrum, with the exception of a minority of diehard pacifists. The right have, however, no stock response to images of American enjoyment of sexual torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners -- because there can't be any that can rationalize them within their official ideological framework and will find a responsive cord beyond the right-wing choir. Neither do segments of multinational -- including Iraqi -- middle strata of intellectuals and professionals (from the United States to the Middle East to beyond) who would have liked to support and be part of the management of empire of capital, and, perhaps it is to them that conduct of the American empire may prove the most embarrassing. In this regard, multinational petit-bourgeois embarrassment about images of Pfc. Lynndie England holding a leash around one Iraqi man's neck and cheerfully pointing out the genitalia of another Iraqi man who was forced to masturbate -- by now transmitted worldwide -- may undermine the cultural hegemony of the American power elite more subtly and profoundly than any denunciation of more obviously violent acts of the empire possibly can. After such knowledge, what consent?

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