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HOW IS WHITE SUPREMACY EMBODIED?: “The photographs did not lie.” This is the line that introduces a book containing the official reports of what has come to be known as the “Shocking Prisoner Abuse in Iraq.”If the images of American men and women gleefully posing beside a pyramid of naked Iraqi men, or giving the thumbs up beside hooded and naked prisoners did not lie, what truth did they tell? There has been remarkable consensus around the answer to this question in the media and in the official reports. As the Fay report summed up: the soldiers who abused detainees were “a small group of morally corrupt and unsupervised soldiers and civilians”11 Circumstances, however, pushed many of them to the brink: “The occupiers were overwhelmed.”12 Inadequately trained, demoralized, fearful and pressured “to obtain information that could help save American lives,” they fell into torture and the sexual humiliation of prisoners.13 Perhaps the only disagreement over this version of events has been over whether or not morally weak, low ranking soldiers were in fact encouraged by their leaders to “mistreat” prisoners. The ‘clash of civilizations’ approach to torture reinforced the idea of their barbarism at the same time that it enabled the West to remain on moral high ground. Through the idea of cultural difference, sexualized torture became something more generic – torture for the purpose of obtaining information. Sexualized torture, then, was simply “to attack the prisoners’ identity and values.”15 Believing that the fault had to be traced back to the top, Mark Danner declared the photos “comprehensible” given the cultural characteristics of Arabs and the CIA manual on interrogations. The photos are “staged operas of fabricated shame intended to “intensify” the prisoners’ “guilt feelings, increase his anxiety and his urge to cooperate,” Danner wrote, quoting parts of the CIA’s interrogation policy.16 Photos are a “shame multiplier,” according to the Red Cross, since they could be distributed to the prisoners’ families and used to further humiliate detainees.17 Second, through the idea of culturally specific interrogations techniques, Americans were marked as modern people who did not subscribe to puritanical notions of sex, or to patriarchal notions of women’s role in it. The Iraqis, of course, remained forever confined to the pre-modern. When we in the West see photos of prisoner abuse, and when our official inquiries declare without irony that what is depicted amounts simply to a speciality form of torture required in these strange nether regions of the world, we too mark the boundaries between self and Other, between here and there. “More than skin color, and dress, soldiers view mannerisms, cultural beliefs and traditions as the true ground upon which they distinguish themselves as better and thus able to inflict pain and suffering,” speculates one journalist, thereby reducing the encounter in those prison cells to a culture clash.18 Despite determined efforts to view the torture instrumentally, that is as having a military function, the sex does not easily go away. Three questions persist about the Abu Ghraib photos, questions not answered in the latest findings of Donald Rumsfeld’s ‘independent’ panel of civilian experts (The Schlesinger report) that “chaos” and “sadism” prevailed at Abu Ghraib prison.22 Why the photos? I have yet to find anyone other than Mark Danner who believes that the nearly 2000 photos soldiers sent to their families and to each other were really destined for Iraqi prisoners’ homes or were meant to hang as a threat over detainees of their continual humiliation.23 This leaves the compelling question, as one of Canada’s national newspapers headlined, “why record evil?”24 Why so many of them? It is the excess of it all that troubles. When you are in the realm of such excess, it is harder to believe official accounts about a few bad apples. Finally, why the sex? (This last question is often connected to the question of women’s participation.) There is something too disturbing about the deeply sexualized acts and the grins. Perhaps there is also something too familiar. Certainly the leash Lyndie England held to lead around a naked Iraqi man reminded many of pornography, and the black hooded figure from whose arms electrodes were suspended seemed to one scholar a spectacular and telling inversion of the white hoods of the KKK.25 At the very least, the existence of large numbers of photos indicate something about the widespread nature of these acts of sexualized torture. Of the photo exhibit “War of Extermination: Crimes of the Wehrmacht, 1942-1944" that toured Germany and Austria during the late 1990s, an exhibit that contained hundreds of photos mostly taken by the perpetrators of crimes against Jews Omer Bartov writes: “What many Germans found hard to take was that the exhibition demonstrated in the most graphic manner the complicity of Wehrmacht soldiers in the Holocaust and other crimes of the region, especially in the occupied parts of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.”27 If the soldiers all knew of these crimes, and close to 20 million soldiers passed through the ranks of the Wehmacht, then it follows that Germans knew much more about the Holocaust than they were prepared to acknowledge after the war.28 A debate has long raged among historians about what it took to get so many ordinary Germans to participate in, approve of, or remain indifferent to the Holocaust. The photographs seem to confirm that crimes against Jews had public approval. The record of abuse suggests, too, that there was no fear of reprisal. If the public recording of brutal acts reveals widespread approval and thus something of the collective will, this does not in itself tell us what the photographs do. The photographs oriented ordinary Germans to where they were (an Aryan regime) and who they were – Aryans able to mark the boundary between themselves and non-Aryans.The violence inflicted on Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib by both male and female American and British soldiers was very clearly sexualized. A pyramid of naked male prisoners forced to simulate sodomy conveyed graphically that the project of empire, the West’s domination of the non-West, required strong infusions of a violent heterosexuality and patriarchy. The image of Private Lyndie England grinning and pointing her finger to the genitals of naked Iraqi prisoners indicated that participation in sexualized racial violence and humiliation crossed gender lines. Today an internet web site advises its readers to “do a Lynddie” by finding a victim who deserves to be “Lynndied” and posing for a photo, recording the act while adopting the same pose as Lyndie England did.2 What does this kind of violence and humiliation of racial Others, violence the website boasted “captured the imagination of young men and women all around the world,” indicate about race in the New World Order?. This paper explores what we can learn from Abu Ghraib about how empire is embodied and how it comes into existence through multiple systems of domination. I use the word interlocking rather than intersecting to describe how the systems of oppression are connected. Intersecting remains a word that describes discrete systems whose paths cross. I suggest that the systems are each other and that they give content to each other. While one system (here it is white supremacy) provides the entry point for the discussion (language is after all successive), what is immediately evident as one pursues how white supremacy is embodied and enacted in the everyday, is that individuals come to know themselves within masculinity and femininity. Put another way, the sense of self that is simultaneously required and produced by empire is a self that is experienced in relation to the subordinate other, a relationship that is deeply gendered and sexualized. An interlocking approach requires that we keep several balls in the air at once, striving to overcome the successive process forced upon us by language, and focusing on the ways in which bodies express social hierarchies of power. My question concerning how ordinary people come to participate in racial violence is one that has concerned others, among them educators working in critical pedagogy. The question we all have, of course, is what kind of education would it take to interrupt the production of subjects who so easily participate in racial violence. I suggest that an interlocking approach and a focus on the way in which bodies express social hierarchies are necessary for anyone concerned with this question. In 2004, Henry Giroux published an article entitled “What Might Education Mean After Abu Ghraib: Revisiting Adorno’s Politics of Education.”5 As I do, Giroux rejects the argument that what went on at Abu Ghraib was the work of a few bad apples, although he still considers that special conditions prevailing in Iraq pushed soldiers to the brink and he believes that the torture is simply culturally specific torture, arguments that I reject below. Recognizing that the photos reveal something about collective will, however, Giroux explores where soldiers learned the identities they enacted at Abu Ghraib. The “pedagogical conditions” that produced Abu Ghraib, has something to do with “discourses of privatization, particularly the contracting of military labor, the intersection of militarism and the crisis of masculinity, the war on terrorism, and the racism that makes it so despicable.”6 Specifically, the media’s celebration of violence, hegemonic masculinity with its insistence on “masculine hardness” against feminine softness, and market fundamentalism, all combined in a “furious jingoistic patriotism” evident in these acts of torture. My response to Abu Ghraib springs from my study of Canada’s own Abu Ghraib, events that occurred during the Canadian peacekeeping mission to Somalia in 1993 when Canadian soldiers tortured to death a Somali teenager and were implicated in scores of events involving the humiliation and beatings of detainees, some as young as six years old. Like the violence of occupation, peacekeeping violence enacted by white militaries (on every mission to date) is openly practiced, sexualized, and recorded in photos and videos and in diaries. As I have shown for Canada’s own prisoner abuse scandal, the ‘Somalia Affair,’ these are acts of racial violence, that are undertaken in the name of nation.8 It is through the sexual that racial power is violently articulated and it is through this violence that men and women come to know themselves as gendered members of a superior race and nation.
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