FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

On "Shame"

Entry from Shock and Awe, Anna Tsing and Jennifer Gonzalez (eds), New Pacific Press, Santa Cruz, CA, to be published in Fall 2004

In the spring of 2003 U.S. war planners and their claque in the licensed media were predicting a swift victory in Iraq. The ‘revolution in military affairs’ would produce a collapse of resistance by means of “shock and awe”, a euphemism (with religious overtones) for old-fashioned blitzkrieg. It was not mentioned that Mesopotamia had long been a proving ground for colonial violence from the air; in 1920 Winston Churchill authorized the use of chemical weapons by the RAF “against recalcitrant Arabs”: “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes [to] spread a lively terror”.

In the spring of 2004 the imperial psyche, as the critic Walter Davis observed in Counterpunch, found in Mel Gibson its poet and in Abu Graib its savage feast. In a text by Raphael Patai entitled The Arab Mind it apparently found its catechism. Originally published in the early seventies, though actually belonging to an earlier, second World War, genre of “national character” studies and anthropology-at-a-distance, Edward Said had cited it as the very epitome of crude orientalism. It was reprinted in time for the invasion and became, according to Seymour Hersh, “the bible of the neo-cons in Arab behavior”, as well as a war college handbook on humiliation–in particular the chapter on “sex as a taboo vested with shame and repression”, where we are informed inter alia of “the Arab view that masturbation is far more shameful that visiting prostitutes”. In the foreword to the 2002 reprint, a Colonel De Atkine writes. “At the institution where I teach military officers, The Arab Mind forms the basis of my cultural instruction.”

Hersh’s report helped to explain the source of so much talk of Muslim shame and sexuality, suddenly everywhere on the lips of think-tank pundits and retired generals. Now it is clear why Arabs–unlike, say, Anglo-Saxons–find being stripped naked in front of attack dogs and grinning torturers especially disturbing and shameful. Muslims, we must understand, inhabit shame-cultures, shame being more primitive than guilt, which is Judeo-Christian, enlighened, modern. And, of course, we already have it on Erik Erikson’s authority that, psychologically, guilt is a more “advanced” emotion than shame. Hardly surprising, then, that this warmed-over orientalism was coupled, in White House discussions, with vulgar racist projection–“Arabs only understand force”. Fanon understood this move and where it might lead those “of whom [the occupiers] have never stopped saying that the only language they understand is that of forceSThe argument the native chooses has been furnished by the settler.”

Torture chambers and safehouses litter the hinterland of the base world of the American empire. The names Abu Graib and Guantanamo now stand for a gulag that encompasses the planet. Still, it should be remembered that one quarter of all the world’s prisoners are inside the United States, and they also know plenty about humiliation, sexual and otherwise. Shame.

IAIN A. BOAL, an Irish social historian of science and technics, teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. He can be reached at: iboal@socrates.Berkeley.EDU

More articles by:
September 20, 2018
Michael Hudson
Wasting the Lehman Crisis: What Was Not Saved Was the Economy
John Pilger
Hold the Front Page, the Reporters are Missing
Kenn Orphan
The Power of the Anthropocene
Paul Cox – Stan Cox
Puerto Rico’s Unnatural Disaster Rolls on Into Year Two
Rajan Menon
Yemen’s Descent Into Hell: a Saudi-American War of Terror
Russell Mokhiber
Nick Brana Says Dems Will Again Deny Sanders Presidential Nomination
Nicholas Levis
Three Lessons of Occupy Wall Street, With a Fair Dose of Memory
Steve Martinot
The Constitutionality of Homeless Encampments
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
The Aftershocks of the Economic Collapse Are Still Being Felt
Jesse Jackson
By Enforcing Climate Change Denial, Trump Puts Us All in Peril
George Wuerthner
Coyote Killing is Counter Productive
Mel Gurtov
On Dealing with China
Dean Baker
How to Reduce Corruption in Medicine: Remove the Money
September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail