Here's a fascinating take on how George W. Bush might unintentionally have made the Arab world more conscious and supportive of the concept of human rights. Money quote:
A particular event can trigger a rise or decline in rights consciousness in any country or culture in the world- East or West. Abu Ghraib served as a pivotal moment for human rights consciousness in the Arab world. Because the torture and abuse depicted was so widely seen as directed towards the Arab or Muslim man, many felt a profound sense of personal violation. As they grappled to formulate a response, they often found themselves invoking human rights.
“Abu Ghraib probably brought home the concept of human rights more strongly than anything else. People started debating human rights issues in talking about Abu Ghraib…What is your right to be treated like a human being in dignity?” an Arab activist told me in Amman in 2006. Gauging public sentiment, some Arab leaders joined in. Hosni Mubarak called Abu Ghraib “abhorrent and sickening, and against all human values and human rights confirmed and defended by the international community”.
Denials of fair trials in Guantanamo, CIA black sites, renditions of terrorist suspects to third countries known to torture, and legal formulations paving the way for “enhanced interrogation techniques” all brought discussions of human rights further to the fore of Arab consciousness. Instead of viewing human rights as a Western imposition, increasingly it became a language that Arab populations embraced to challenge America’s post-9/11 policies.
And so America's violation of core human rights de-stigmatized the concept in the Arab mind, and enabled the Arab world to fully own the concept for themselves. One of the key catalysts for the revolts was, after all, the torture regimes in Jordan and Egypt and Libya and Tunisia. Suddenly, this was like America. And therefore more indefensible. Which led to more consciousness of this evil, and more determination to fight back one day against it.
And what mattered were videos and images of the torture - just as in Abu Ghraib. Here is one of the YouTubes of gruesome torture by the Egyptian police (extremely disturbing) that helped galvanize the populace. Every single thing you see in this video was also committed by US forces against defenseless prisoners during the presidency of George W Bush. Every single one - except the sodomitic rape - was approved by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld - and then made "legal" with skewed legal logic (according to the Justice Department) by their legal hatchetmen, John Yoo and Jay Bybee. Now you know why the CIA destroyed the tapes of their own torture sessions. Here is a Mubarak-style "stress position" captured, as in Abu Ghraib, by a digital camera (this time with a cell-phone):
Remind you of anything?
That's Shai Mokhtari's argument at least - and it requires more evidence than the piece provides. But it has a ring of truth to it to me, not least because it serves as an almost perfect example of unintended consequences.
It rings true to me in another context as well. When I'm asked who has been the most important catalyst for marriage equality, I think of George W. Bush. Before his endorsement of the Federal Marriage Amendment, there was some lingering debate in the gay community about whether civil marriage should be a key priority (Democratic Party front-groups like the Human Rights Campaign were deeply opposed to making civil marriage an issue throughout the 1990s). But as soon as Bush came out against it, the gay community united in favor of it.
As soon as America used torture, many young Arabs associated their own regimes with the demonized West. And so it became more legit to fight back against them. When you are dealing with populations who have developed a deep suspicion of those in power in America, this can happen.
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