Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Sheik Torturing a Business Associate: As American as Al Capone

I think a few of the underlying ideas behind multiculturalism are valid. Some things are determined by culture, and aren't right or wrong in any universal sense. For example:
  • Driving on the right (or left) side of the road
  • Which fork you use first
    • Or, for that matter, eating fried chicken
      • With a fork
      • Without a fork
      • At all
That's one of the reasons I became a Catholic.

Back to tolerance, torture, and a global society.

Torture a Business Associate? Videotape it?? Let the Videotape Get Loose??!

There's a story in the news, over a month old, about a videotape that appears to show one man torturing another. The (alleged) torturee is an American citizen (decidedly non-WASP), the (alleged) torturer is a member of Abu Dhabi's royal family: Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan.

A CNN article on this case is fairly low-key: "A member of the royal family of Abu Dhabi who was captured on videotape torturing an Afghan grain dealer has reportedly been detained, a senior U.S. State Department official told CNN Saturday.

"The official said the government of the United Arab Emirates, which includes Abu Dhabi as one of its seven emirates, told the State Department that Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan is under house arrest pending an investigation, but that the United States has not independently confirmed the development.

"The videotape emerged last month in a federal civil lawsuit filed in Houston, Texas, by Bassam Nabulsi, a U.S. citizen, against the sheikh. Former business partners, the men had a falling out, in part over the tape....

"...The tape of the heinous torture session is delaying the ratification of a civil nuclear deal between the United Arab Emirates and the United States, senior U.S. officials familiar with the case have said. The senior U.S. officials said the administration has held off on the ratification process because it believes sensitivities over the story can hurt its passage.

"On Saturday, Human Rights Watch called the sheikh's reported detention 'a significant development' but said the UAE government needs to do more to restore confidence in its judicial system...." (CNN)

Torturing a Business Associate? I'd Say This is Serious

I think that it might be imprudent to let the private affairs of another country's ruling family interfere with an international deal. Of course, the matter of a member of the royal family conducting business by pouring salt into somebody's wounds, and then driving over the chap in a Mercedes SUV does raise some public relations issues, at least.

It's easy for me to say 'ratify,' or 'not ratify:' I'm not facing reelection, a few years down the pike. And, I do believe that intentionally running over someone in an SUV is naughty: Whether it's a Mercedes or not.
Salt in Open Wounds and Assault With an SUV: This I Can Call Torture
Moral relativists will insist that being run over by an SUV is just like having water poured on your face, with a cloth getting in the way.

I don't see it that way, but I'm not very "sophisticated," by the dominant American culture's standards. Not being on the same page with leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Professor Ward Churchill doesn't bother me a bit. (Being counter-cultural isn't what it used to be.)

How Dare Westerners Try Imposing Their Values on Another Culture!?

I've never heard an advocate of American academia's take on multiculturalism defend what this Arab sheik seems to have done. Fervent devotion to moral relativism doesn't seem to extend to activities that the better sort don't like.

I don't think that torturing a business associate is right, either.

This proves Islam is Wicked, Right?

Hardly. It does offer strong evidence that the royal family of the United Arab Emirates are as human as the rest of us, but I don't see religion being involved.

There have been enough Muslims saying "This is Not Us," and mosques working against terrorist recruiters, to convince me that Islam isn't some monolithic death cult, bent on the destruction of Western Civilization, beer, and Mickey Mouse.

I can understand how people get that impression, though. The House of Saud and Saudi Arabia's courts seem determined to show that Islam is a weird sort of sideshow, run by men with very odd psychological issues.

It's not just Saudi Arabia: Leaders of Sudan and Bahrain have done their part in hurting Islam's image. Actually, Bahrain's issue with a college teacher may have had some merit: but Sudan's snit over a teddy bear was, in my opinion, over the top.
Sudan: That's an African Country, Right?
Sudan is in Africa, but a little over a third of the people are Arabic: and they're the ones running the place. Which includes an "Arabization" program, and protecting people from teddy bears.
What About Bahrain?
Bahrain's a smallish island off Saudi Arabia. About 62% of the people there are Bahraini. They probably see that as distinct from "Arab," but I think it's a bit too subtle a distinction for most foreigners to notice.

And, not to be too judgmental, Bahrain doesn't seem the safest place for foreigners: particularly women, and people without a whole lot of wealth.
"...Bahrain is a destination country for men and women trafficked for the purposes of involuntary servitude and commercial sexual exploitation; men and women from Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia migrate voluntarily to Bahrain to work as laborers or domestic servants where some face conditions of involuntary servitude such as unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on movements, non-payment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse; women from Thailand, Morocco, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia are trafficked to Bahrain for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation...." (CIA World Factbook)

These are Islamic Countries: So Islam is Bad, Right?

They're also countries where the majority of people have dark hair, and speak Arabic. But that doesn't mean that brunettes are bad, or that speaking Arabic makes people do naughty things.

Looking at the Middle East, where Islam is filtered through one cultural filter, and Indonesia, where until very recently Islam was filtered through a very non-Arabic cultural filter, I think there's reason to believe that it isn't Islam that's an issue, but local and regional cultures.

Torturing a Business Associate? That Would Never Happen in America!

Two words: gangland Chicago.

Back in the 'good old days,' when people like Al Capone were running Chicago, the windy city had a colorful reputation. My father grew up near there, and told me a little of what it was like, when the owner of a business might explain, "he made me an offer I couldn't refuse," and it wasn't particularly good news.

On the positive side, a close collaboration between organized crime and city government made it possible to quickly and effectively deal with everyday problems like potholes and defective plumbing. It was in the interests of the bosses to keep their subjects free from reasons to complain - apart from the occasional shakedown.

Chicago of the twenties and thirties might be used as 'proof' that American culture was basically criminal. After all, Chicago is an American city, inhabited mostly by Americans. Never mind that a federal law enforcement agency and the Chicago Crime Commission made it their business to overturn this cherished cultural tradition.

Culture, History, and Awkward Publicity

I think that people in the Middle East - their leaders, at any rate - are in a very awkward position. Their culture was ancient when the Roman Republic became an Empire, and had been isolated for nearly a thousand years when the world of steam engines, streaming video, space ships, and robots arrived.

People in European-based cultures have had dozens of generations to get used to ideas like freedom, representative government, and not killing people you don't approve of.

In the Middle East, I think we're looking at a pre-Abrahamic culture getting used to the idea that our post-industrial global society is:
  • Something they have to deal with
  • Not going to go away quietly
From one point of view, it doesn't help that the global society has very efficient information gathering and disseminating technology: and a culture that isn't afraid to use it.

A century ago, a businessman who was part of an Arabic royal family could probably torture - or kill - a troublesome business associate with relative impunity. And, apart from the traveler's tale now and again, the rest of the world wouldn't know what happened.

Now, particularly since the sheik seems to have not only videotaped his actions, but let the video get out of his control, quite a large percentage of the world's population knows what's happening.

And, doesn't like what it sees.

My guess is that people who follow Islam are going through an uncomfortable time in their religion's history. They're going to have to decide what Islam is. And, like it or not, they're going to have to get used to sharing the glaring light of Information Age technology and institutions shining on them.

I think the same applies to entrenched American cultural enclaves, too: but that's another topic.
After I finished this post, another headline from the wild, weird, world of Saudi Arabia appeared:

"Saudi judge: It's OK to slap spendthrift wives"
CNN (May 10, 2009)

"Husbands are allowed to slap their wives if they spend lavishly, a Saudi judge said recently during a seminar on domestic violence, Saudi media reported Sunday.

"Arab News, a Saudi English-language daily newspaper based in Riyadh, reported that Judge Hamad Al-Razine said that 'if a person gives SR 1,200 [$320] to his wife and she spends 900 riyals [$240] to purchase an abaya [the black cover that women in Saudi Arabia must wear] from a brand shop and if her husband slaps her on the face as a reaction to her action, she deserves that punishment.'..."

On the other hand, Saudi justice is showing some signs of catching up with the 17th century:

"... Another Saudi judge, in the city of Onaiza, was the source of a separate recent controversy: he twice denied a request from the mother of an 8-year-old girl that the girl be granted a divorce from her 47-year-old husband.

"Last month, after human-groups condemned the union, the girl was granted the divorce...."

I am not making this up.

In the news: More-or-less related posts:


Brigid said...

"( isn't what it used to be.)"

Is there a word missing in there?

Brian H. Gill said...


Two words, actually. Thanks!

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.