Friday, May 26, 2006

Le Livre Noir de Saddam Hussein

Kudos to Derek, our loyal reader from Massachusetts, for drawing my attention to a recent review of a new Black Book of (Iraqi) Baathism (Le Livre noir de Saddam Hussein, Ed. Chris Kutschera) published in the Weekly Standard (Gerard Alexander, "Baathed in Blood - Chronicling the horror, and scope, of Saddam's tyranny," Vol. 11, Issue 34). Here's an excerpt of the review forwarded to me by Derek:

The pattern is plain: Over and over again, perceived abuses by Western societies--colonialism, the Vietnam war--are revisited in conversation and thought until they are part of our mental furniture. What happens to the crimes of others is very different. Some of them get sucked down the memory hole. Those of us of a certain age remember that the very independent Idi Amin was far worse, but it is Joseph Mobutu--portrayed as a U.S. ally, if not puppet--who has emerged as the durable symbol of abusive African rule.

More often, crimes committed by non-Westerners are blamed on Westerners. As in: America provided Saddam with chemical weapons; Palestinians mimic Israeli brutality; the Khmer Rouge was driven to madness by U.S. bombing. It was Belgian colonialism that taught Rwandan Hutu génocidaires to be tribal and to kill. And the CIA created Osama bin Laden, while U.S. excesses created his followers.

The soft bigotry here is not of low expectations but of no expectations. This suggests that only Westerners have moral agency. To deny a person the capacity to initiate evil is to deny them the capacity to initiate good, or anything in between.

The result is a vicious cycle in which many educated people engage easily with the storylines they already know, and are unsure what to do with the unfamiliar. Most infamously, members of the world's intellectual and journalistic classes have a habit of not denying Communist atrocities but of knowing almost no details about them and never volunteering the topic.
Reminds me of Noam Chomsky's initial denials of the genocide perpetrated by Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (Chomsky subsequently recognized Pol Pot's crimes for what they were but his writings continued to obfuscate the issue).

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