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Friday, May 14, 2004

Scrap Skin

I might change my mind, but I haven't yet watched the Nick Berg video because the picture of a bearded young man sitting cross-legged in front of a wall of hooded, armed men behind him was quite enough. Further viewing will tell me nothing about Al Qaeda that I couldn't have guessed from Daniel Pearl's death in 2002. Nor would it tell me anything new about the Islamofascist governments that run large parts of the Middle East. Public punishments, at times including beheadings and limb amputations, have been a part of the penal system in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran for years.

A few years back, before 9/11 even, some photos appeared on the 'Net - I can't recall what source - of people in Iraq who'd had limbs cut off. Thieves, I guess, plus adulterers, plus maybe even a few people who held forth about Hussein et al after getting too much caffeine in a café. To tell the truth, the people themselves didn't really stay in my mind. It was the photos of bundles I recall - groups of stiff, pasty hands reaching for the camera, several feet clumped together like a bunch of bananas. As my disbelief faded, the bundles finally took their place in my mind as what they were. The post-punishment collection of amputated limbs.

Generalized Abrasion.

Yesterday, an essay by Andrew Sullivan on the potential of reversing anti-Americanism in the Middle East ended with this thought:

"But no one enjoys being occupied and no one enjoys being reminded that they were unable to liberate themselves. Useful to remember about our current problems. Useful to remember, also, about the French."

I agree. The French-bashing was irresistable in the couple of months before the Iraq War. But as the UN Trompe-L'Oeil-For-Food scandal plays out further and further from the general consciousness of the Western press and left for us war-supportive partisans to keep track of, somehow this has affected how I think about the French (with at least two big-shot names represented in OfF paperwork).

Namely, I think of how the generation of Americans, British, and Russians that fought the Fuhrer, the Emperor and Il Duce is fading away, as are the generation of Germans, Japanese, and Italians that fought for them or supported them in other ways. At the same time, the generations of French people that were liberated are dying off as well, including members of the Resistance. The later generations got sick of hearing about heroism here and greatness there in people they can perfectly well see as flawed and rather grandiose. They were sick of hearing about the Americans, the British, their own Resistance heroes, etc. Just plain sick of their implied inferiority.

This is understandable, but the attrition of the World War II generations now encourages people to take their freedoms utterly for granted, as if there were no natural enemies of social and political liberalism but spoilsports inside their countrys' borders. Maybe we ought to be able to feel just that at ease with our freedoms of speech, assembly, like that. But each of these generations must accept that for the most part, there's always some clown or clowns out there who really are offended by what we take for granted. This acceptance will probably always be acquired the hard way.
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