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Torture of society

by: Rabbi Jeremy Rosen - Last updated: 2004-05-29

Jeremy Rosen

Jeremy Rosen

It is interesting that I can find no word in biblical Hebrew for torture! I am not suggesting it didn’t happen.

Throughout history human beings have been unbelievable cruel to each other, beyond the imagination. If you read the way the Egyptians or the Babylonians dealt with their captives or the Greeks and Romans with theirs, the way Crusaders decimated the Jews of the Rhineland in 1096 and then compounded it all with a barbaric massacre in Jerusalem or Chmielnicki ravaged the Jewish population of Poland in 1648, not to mention the extreme sadism of the Germans in the last century, one begins to wonder with Jonathan Swift whether animals are not of a higher order and sensitive than humans. We humans may be good at just theorizing and come up with great ideas but we are not much good at putting them into practice.

What has been happening at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq gets more and more disgusting as it unfolds. It’s not the torturing to exact information. I’m an unreconstructed conservative when it comes to getting information that may save lives. Do whatever it takes. What I find surprising is the sexual intercourse in front of prisoners, forcing masturbation, covering with faeces and taking photos to pass on to friends. Of course none of this begins to compare with those disgusting animals that chanted Allahu Akbar in a frenzy as they decapitated Nick Berg. But lets just confine ourselves to human beings.

I want to understand how a culture developed in the American army that seems both at odds with its history and yet symptomatic of a lot of current American society. In the Second World War, GI’s conducted themselves overwhelmingly in a moral manner that contrasted with the total absence of humanity that the overwhelming majority of Nazi Germans consistently displayed.

What has happened since? American (and British) society has changed. The Jerry Springer show illustrates how so many flaunt their sexual deviations proudly and publicly and how valueless so many Americans are. So-called reality shows, show the reality of the gutter or the brothel. The Internet’s freedom to display the sexual antics of sad, empty people who are described as celebrities extends the all-pervading pornography beyond any previous bounds and makes it available to everyone. The dehumanising of human beings by treating their bodies as flesh to be examined, poked and is placed alongside film clips of rape, murder and sadism that sometimes come up on computer screens by accident or the mistyping of one letter let alone through subscription. This all-pervasive sexually sadistic material is now the most common imagery of all for millions of people and one cannot underestimate the corrosive effect it is having on human sensibility.

Of course I cannot put it all down to pornography and snuff flicks. The animals that massacred millions in Germany, Cambodia, and Rwanda or attacked the Twin Towers may not have been porno freaks. But I do believe it has an effect on values and attitudes in society today.  In Britain the Army brushed a string of suspicious ‘suicides’ amongst young cadets under the carpet for years and still refuses to confront reality.

The American Armed Forces have been accused of allowing almost constant abuse of women in a range of situations and venues. Nothing significant has been done to address the issue. This past week, once again, women have come forward in America to protest that their treatment and rapes were ignored and their abusers allowed to continue their careers unhindered. If this is the mood of the American army, that testosterone charged males can get away with almost anything, then it is bound to create an atmosphere of sexual depravity.

I am struck by the fact that whatever errors the Israeli Armed forces have been accused of, and torture is one of them, nothing on this scale of consistent moral depravity has been uncovered despite the constant scrutiny Israel is under. There have indeed been charges from both women and men of sexual assault and Moshe Dayan and Yitzchak Rabin amongst many other top guns were famed for using their positions to take advantage of army girls.

Israeli society is no longer what it was. Most now feel closer to American mores than to Jewish ones. And embattled soldiers have to cope all the time with terror tactics and the immoral abuses of children, women and misuses of ambulances. What they constantly have to face, brings out the worst not the best. But in general the Israeli army is one that we can be proud of.

I don’t expect anyone else in this biased world to feel this way. An error by the Israeli army brings forth an immediate motion of condemnation from that pathetic and corrupt organisation called the UN. When America does the same there is not a peep. Demolishing houses warrants a Security Council debate but not shooting unarmed children in an immobilized car at point blank range. And of course when Muslims massacre hundreds of thousands in Sudan or Chad , no one in the UN dares utter a peep .

The world is corrupt in many ways. But frankly I’m more concerned that we live up to our standards than theirs.

Shabbat Shalom