2.6.06

Are we banalising torture ?

Before the present talk about torture in our societies, torture existed. There were some 'rogue states' and regimes torturing their political prisoners to extract information or to break their will. People and media and leaders in the 'free world' used to protest loud and regularly about torture, sometimes exert sanctions against nations practising torture.

This is how institutional torture was perceived after the signing of the UN convention against torture in 1987, it was seen as a shame, a moral stain tarnishing and sullying nations and citizens.

Since the 'free world', the world that 'does not torture' neither 'condone torture', started his 'war on terror', torture talk changed. First it was a murmur. Then a multitude of facts started to make the murmur louder and louder. We, citizens of the 'free world' , learned that our governments are making transactions with states who torture. We also learned, that in 'remote' prisons, in 'remote' countries, hidden from the eyes of international organisations who used to watch and to report to us about torture in the 'other world', torutre was actually taking place and performed by people who belonged to us. We also realised that our governments were talking openly about torture, not trying to understand it and to eradicate it but to redefine it. We realised that high profile experts in the legal, medical and scientific spheres, were working day and night trying to provide expertise to our governments on how to make torture more efficient, more scientific, more knowledgeable, more invisible, going as far as to defend it in certain circumstances, to convince us that this is an evil we couldn't escape, for the sake of 'our freedoms'. So the open talk on torture is becoming all about its justification in our 'free world'.

Our governments continue to torture. And with the debate about its justification, it is no more secretive, shameful, brutal and forbidden. It is around us, it is between us, it is with us, it is intractable. It is something we are starting to talk about, like other things, organise an action day so we may feel good about it, like action day against mental illness or action day against tobacco or earth action day or mother's day or car free day and so on...

In this spirit and with the idea that torture is here to stay with us, bloggers and Human rights organisations are launching a 'Torture Awareness Month'*. I was asked to join, I find the idea awkward for all the reasons I listed above. I refused, then I accepted and now I really feel unconfortable with the whole idea.

*I agree with the bloggers initiative and I don't think that the initiative in itself is banalising torture but it is the result of the banalisation of torture by our 'democratic' and 'free' regimes. Should we accept this banalisation ? How should we act as to repel forcefully this banalisation ? I don't have right now the correct answer and this is why I joined the intitiative.

4 comments:

Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

“I was asked to join, I find the idea awkward for all the reasons I listed above. I refused, then I accepted and now I really feel unconfortable with the whole idea.”
Well done!
You shouldn’t feel uncomfortable: in this context, “torture” is just code word for TeX-Aviv…
: )

“Before the present talk about torture in our societies, torture existed. There were some rogue states and regimes torturing their political prisoners to extract information or to break their will. People and media and leaders in the free world used to protest loud and regularly about torture, sometimes exert sanctions against nations who torture.
Torture existed but it was seen as a shame, a moral stain tarnishing and sullying nations and citizens”

Not true.
The French tortured (and often killed) civilians in Algeria until the early 1960s, and none of their officers was ever shamed or prosecuted for his criminal deeds.
The same is true for the UK: British forces tortured, raped and killed tens of thousands of civilians as late as the 1970s in countries as diverse as Kenya, Northern Ireland or the Sultanate of Oman…and many of England’s war criminals have actually been knighted by her majesty and enjoy a nice retirement in Bornemouth or Marbella while their victims’ families ask in vain for justice.

Sophia said...

Victor,

I completely agree with you" I should ahve added to ''Torture existed but it was seen as a shame...'' Only since 1987 the year the UN convention against torture became effective. The link is in my links list.

As for the bloggers initiative my answer was and still the following:
*I agree with the bloggers initiative and I don't think that the initiative in itself is banalising torture but it is the result of the banalisation of torture by our 'democratic' and 'free' regimes. Should we accept this banalisation ? How should we act as to repel forcefully this banalisation ? I don't have right now the correct answer and this is why I joined the intitiative.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Sophia, I am glad you joined the initiative. I think there is a disconnect in our society when we speak of torture. First, it has come into vogue since 9/11 as something good people do to get bad people to give up information. Shows like '24' reinforce this line of thinking. We struggle with this as if its a moral choice. "Oh how terrible, but I must torture to prevent the ticking bomb from going off." This thought persists because torture is done in the shadows and to someone we consider so evil that we do not even consider them human. Then we pat ourselves on the back because Jack Bauer just saved the world.

The disconnect is this. Torture = severe pain. Torture equals severe pain upon one person - a human being. It is more personal than a bomb that kills thousands which we have become so used to. Torture is horrible. I have a uncle who was tortured because he married the wrong girl. Torture happens for all sorts of reasons and all of them are evil.

Torture is done by evil people. Those who commit torture become torturers and never return. In that torture has at least two victims.

I joined because I believe if the American people really knew what torture was - beyond the movies - what real torture was, as a society we would reject it. And if we didnt, well, then we are doomed anyway.

I want the American people to know what their tax dollars are buying them. The word "torture" must be shown to mean what it is - boiling people's skin off, cutting off their genitals, making a person wallow in his/her faeces - fun things that Jack Bauer would be proud of.

That is not banality - its horror. And we should aim to eradicate it.

Sorry for the rambling comment. Usually I am more coherent :)

Sophia said...

Dr Strangelove,

First I must tell you this is a great movie.

''Torture is done by evil people. Those who commit torture become torturers and never return. In that torture has at least two victims.''
TRUE

I visited your blog, looks interesting. Keep up the good work.

 
Since March 29th 2006