Sunday, 15 January 2012

On downplaying corpse desecration

Regarding, the four marines videotaped urinating on the bodies of Taliban fighters, I don't disagree with those who point out it that it seems to actually rank relatively low on the list of transgressions that US troops have committed in the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. Furthermore, I agree with those noting that it's odd to strain at corpse desecration while swallowing the camel of torture. What I don't agree with is the implied conclusion that we should be making less of a big deal about this. Why not conclude instead that  we should have been making a bigger deal of the heretofore downplayed atrocities?

But there's another argument making the rounds that bothers me even more. Bill Maher and others are making an attempt to downplay the seriousness of the offense on the grounds that it's being committed against bad people. According to the likes of Maher and Loesch, it's not really such a terrible thing to urinate on the corpses of Taliban fighters because the Taliban are such odious people and/or have committed such odious offenses. This argument is one of the popular arguments that have been used for all sorts of egregious violations of civil liberties and international law since the "war on terror" (and, of course, most wars throughout history) has commenced. It's the argument that some people are so despicable and so unlike us that we can drop the ordinary rules and laws that distinguish civilized societies from beasts in the forest or the characters in Lord of the Flies. In fact, the argument when applied to corpse desecration is even more brutish as there's no further utilitarian appeal to justify the actions, as is often the case with attempts to justify torture, just plain vengeance and blood lust. Just as free speech means little unless it protects the most objectionable speech, these laws and protections mean something only if they actually do protect respect for those we're ordinarily least inclined to protect.

Update: I tweeted this post and Bill Maher responded and clarified that he didn't claim it was acceptable, just that the US has done far worse things that bothered him more. Fair enough, and in this post I didn't say he claimed it was perfectly acceptable, that was only in my tweet. Nonetheless, while Maher didn't exactly say it was perfectly okay, he was very dismissive of the incident w/ a "shit happens" (when agreeing with Rob Reimer), noted that it's "like a TD dance" and pointed out that they may have been honor rapists so he didn't care much, which is all pretty much indistinguishable from saying it was acceptable from where I'm sitting.

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