Here are a couple of items that reveal how some of us in the US, along with some of our increasingly indistinguishable allies the Israelis, are having problems maintaining a morally superior self-image in the face of the latest news.
First up, from Jeanne at Body and Soul: And in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. She meditates on the Abu Ghraib abuses, and the reaction they produce in a thoughtful Christian like herself. Under the recently released image of the naked Iraqi, coated in shit, his arms stretched out to either side while an American soldier leers at him, she quotes from an essay at beliefnet (Jack Miles explains why Christian ethics demand we treat prisoners as we would the Lord):
Prisoners have a special place in the Christian imagination. It matters that Jesus himself was a prisoner. To speak the language of American law enforcement, his death was a death in custody. His most influential followers, Peter and Paul, were also prisoners. They too died in custody. John the Baptist, who first acclaimed Jesus as Messiah, was beheaded in a Roman prison. Christianity is a religion founded by men in deep trouble with the law, men familiar with the inside of prisons, whose message was “the last shall be first, and the first last.”
The images of sexual humiliation and words describing sadistic abuse have been horrifying. But a naked, shackled and filth-splattered prisoner, arms outstretched, speaks to the imagination of someone raised on the stations of the cross in a unique way. It makes demands on the soul that I don’t know how to meet.
On a related theme, I noticed the following story, about how an Israeli politician has sparked controversy by criticizing home demolitions in Gaza. From Lapid calls for end to Rafah demolitions:
“The demolition of houses in Rafah must stop. It is not humane, not Jewish and causes us grave damage in the world,” Justice Minister Yosef Lapid told the cabinet yesterday.
Lapid added that he had seen a picture of an elderly Palestinian woman searching in the debris for her medication, and had been reminded of his grandmother [who perished in the Holocaust].
His remarks sparked an uproar in the cabinet since Lapid is a Holocaust survivor and his words were interpreted as a comparison between the IDF and the Nazis.
But Lapid said his comments had been misunderstood.
“I’m not referring to the Germans. I’m not referring to the Holocaust,” Lapid said. “When you see the harm done and you see a helpless old woman, you think of your grandmother.”
I don’t know; I think some comparisons are too apt to be easily unspun. We’d all like to think we’re more like Christ than his tormenters, more like the innocent victims of the Holocaust than the men who carried it out. But the seeds of evil are in all of us, just waiting for an opportunity to grow. And those who deny that the loudest are the ones doing the most to bring it about.