From the GDN:
A two-day photography exhibition under the theme American Freedom to Hell opened yesterday at Al Jazeera Theatre, Arad. It featured around 50 photographs collected from news agencies showing various atrocities committed in Iraq. The exhibition, organised by National Committee in Support of the Iraqi People, was part of the activities marking the theatre's 30th anniversary. It aims at creating popular support to end the suffering of the Iraqi people. Visitors were also asked to sign an Iraqi flag, which will be sent to United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, calling for an end to atrocities in Iraq. (Continued)
So they actually showed this same "exhibition" a few weeks back at the Al Oruba Club, and I decided to take the time out to go and see what it was all about. The description in the newspaper said that it was a "photography exhibition" so I was expecting to see some high quality and artistic snaps by professional photographers highlighting the plight of the Iraqis. That it was titled "American Freedom to Hell" did of course make me suspicious of what I might actually see.
It turned out to be a collection of the Abu Ghraib photographs, and a few others, enlarged and placed around the room. I was a bit disappointed. Yes, those pictures have a very important message and they should get all the publicity they can. But the message they were trying to spread was different. As you can judge from the title, their message was to blame Americans for everything and to garner hatred towards them. As I have stated before, we need to move away from this idea. Those pictures should be a reminder to us that torture must not be tolerated anywhere, in the US, in Iraq, or in Bahrain. However the one-sided stance taken by the organizers of this event was quite embarassing.
I decided to have a quick word the organizers to ask a few questions. There was a very nice looking young girl standing at the entrance who seemed to be in charge at the time. I asked her what the purpose of the exhibition was. She told me that it was so that Americans will begin to become aware of the atrocities being committed in Iraq by their military. I tried explaining to her that naming the exhibition American Freedom to Hell was not really going to be much of a crowd-puller among the American expats here, but I don't think she understood my point. I suggested that maybe next week they should do an exhibition of all the atrocities committed by Muslim terrorists in the name of Islam. She responded by trying to explain that those "mistakes" are not "part of Islam", implying that we as Muslims don't bear any of the responsibility.
But there is a much more worrying aspect to all of this self-victimization. The latest ISIM newsletter has an article titled A Culture of Righteousness and Martyrdom (pdf 191KB), by Elliott Colla, assistant professor of Comparative Literature at Brown University. In it Prof Colla makes a very interesting observation:
We might remember that whether in post-WWI Germany, or more recently in Serbia, Israel, and Rwanda, or in the US following 9-11, the deployment of military force has all too often been preceded by a popular discourse of national victimization. This history suggests that since it is no longer considered acceptable to engage in political violence except in the cause of defence, we should be wary whenever we see cultures, as in the US right now, which invest so heavily in images of victimization. Such images—regardless of their veracity or applicability—are essential for legitimising violence and military intervention.
And this is equally applicable to the Arab and Muslim world, where we spend so much time trying to portray ourselves as the victims of atrocities in Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, and of course, Iraq. Now I don't mean to suggest that the cute girl who I spoke to at the Al Oruba Club was necessarily to trying promote the use of violence. Rather, I think it is worrying that this portrayal of self-victimization is taking place in Bahrain because it pushes the momentum of public discourse in the direction towards a point where the use of violence is justified for the sake of a "greater cause". And this is nothing new. It is exactly these types of images that have mobilized large numbers of youths around the Muslim world (even those from well-off homes) to join the movements of violent "resistance", or become suicide bombers. It is crucial that we do not let the emotions evoked by these images obscure the beauty of passive resistance.