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Mark Steyn: Piss and Wind
The Spectator ^ | June 11, 2005 | Mark Steyn
Analyzing the wildly disproportionate anger over the Gitmo guard whose urine accidentally made contact with a copy of the Koran
Robert Mugabe destroyed a mosque the other day. This was in Hatcliffe Extension, a shanty town on the edge of Harare razed by the ‘police’. Mr Mugabe is an equal-opportunity razer: he also bulldozed a Catholic-run Aids centre. Indeed, his goons may have been entirely unaware of their act of Islamophobia. They just went in and totalled the lot, every house, every store, every building. The government destroyed the town in order to drive the locals into the countryside to live on the land stolen from white farmers. Quite how that’s meant to benefit any of the parties involved or the broader needs of Zimbabwe is beyond me, but then I’m no expert in Afro-Marxist economic theory.
The point is that the world’s Muslims seem entirely cool with Infidel Bob razing a mosque. Yet when fraudulent stories about the Koran being flushed down a toilet and other ‘desecrations’ of the Holy Book by US guards at Guantanamo are planted in the media, the planet goes bananas. Western progressives flay the administration for Bush’s ‘cultural insensitivity’, and across the Islamic world bigshots like Imran Khan rush before the TV cameras to whip the natives into a frenzy about this latest disrespect to the Prophet. Last week Ambassador Atta el-Manan Bakhit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference called on Washington to show ‘no leniency’ to the ‘perpetrators’ of ‘this despicable crime’. ‘This disgraceful conduct of those soldiers reveals their blatant hatred and disdain for the religion of millions of Muslims all over the world,’ said His Excellency. The Egyptian foreign minister is also in a tizzy. ‘We denounce in the strongest possible terms what the Pentagon confirmed about the desecration of the Qu’ran,’ says Ahmed Aboul Gheit, calling for strong measures, heads to roll, etc.
And what was it the Pentagon ‘confirmed’? Only the shocking details of Operation Qu’ran Desecration ...hang on, make that Operation Koran Desecration; might as well start the old desecration programme by losing all those whacky apostrophes and flipping the bird to the PC spellcheck. Anyway, Operation Koran Desecration involved ‘urine’, a word the media fell upon like Sarah Miles in a desert. They broke out the bubbly, sang a couple of choruses of ‘Urine the Money’, and splashed the urine around the globe: ‘Gitmo Quran Was Splashed With Urine’ (Associated Press), ‘US Admits Urine-Tainted Koran’ (the Sunday Times of Australia). What happened was that some shaven-headed, bull-necked, Christian-fundamentalist psycho colonel at Guantanamo instituted a regime of mandatory micturition upon the detainees’ Korans; each guard would chug down a case of Bud, just to make sure every sura was sodden.
Er, actually, no. What really happened was that one guard left his observation post and went outside to relieve himself al fresco just as the sultry Caribbean breeze changed direction, resulting in a soupçon of urine being wafted back through an air vent and landing on the Koran and a detainee’s uniform. According to the Pentagon report, ‘The sergeant of the guard responded and immediately relieved the guard’ who’d relieved himself so carelessly. ‘The sergeant of the guard ensured the detainee received a fresh uniform and a new Qu’ran’ — or perhaps a new Q’u-’ran, now with added apostrophes for even greater cultural sensitivity! As for the rogue urinator, he was reprimanded and reassigned to gate duty where he could empty his bladder out of range of any buildings.
So the golden shower turned out to be a golden droplet — one droplet, one time. As leaks go, this isn’t exactly Deep Throat. Other than that drop in the ocean, the incidents of official ‘disrespect’ to the Koran at Guantanamo number under a handful, and none of them, even if one accepts that one can ‘torture’ a book, is entirely satisfactory as an example of the Great Satan’s brutality: in one case, some water balloons thrown by guards resulted in several Korans in the vicinity becoming moistened; in another, a civilian interrogator stepped on a Koran and immediately apologised, but got fired anyway. It’s a good thing he’s not one of those touchy secularists given to suing over public Nativity scenes each Christmas, because he’d have a much better case that the extraordinary deference officialdom now accords the Koran is in breach of the separation of Church and state.
But that’s not how Fleet Street saw it: ‘US admits Koran abuse at Cuba base’ (the Observer), ‘Guards kicked and stamped on Koran, US admits’ (the Independent on Sunday). In fact, the headline should have read: ‘Guantanamo Muslims desecrate their own Korans’. The same report that produced five instances of US ‘disrespect’ for the book also turned up 15 documented instances of ‘disrespect’ by detainees. ‘These included using a Quran as a pillow, ripping pages out of the Quran, attempting to flush a Quran down the toilet and urinating on the Quran’ — the full bladder, not just windborne droplets.
I don’t know why Muslims at Gitmo are flushing the Koran down the can, and it’s hardly my problem. But, when three times as many detainees ‘desecrate’ the Koran as US guards do, it seems clear that the whole Operation Desecration ballyhoo is yet another media crock and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and all the rest are complaining about nothing. Or is Koran desecration one of those things like Jews telling Jewish jokes or gangsta rappers recording numbers like ‘Strictly 4 My Niggaz’: are only devout Muslims allowed to desecrate the Koran? No doubt that’s why the Egyptian foreign minister and co. had no comment on last week’s suicide bombing at a mosque in Kandahar, which killed 20, wounded more than 50 and presumably desecrated every Koran in the building.
But, in that case, how come Robert Mugabe is allowed to bulldoze mosques into rubble?
There is, according to Cair (the Council on American-Islamic Relations) a ‘climate of abuse’ at Guantanamo. Even if non-Muslims are willing to extend their solicitousness to Islam to encompass the notion that it is possible to ‘abuse’ an inanimate object, Cair’s statement is absurd. Yet, as is often the way, the West’s whiny Muslim lobby groups have been effortlessly topped by the old hands of the anti-American Left. Thus, according to Amnesty International, Gitmo is the ‘gulag of our time’.
Well, then, these are diminished times for gulags. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, some 15 to 30 million prisoners passed through the Soviet gulags; at any one time there were around two million held; some two to three million died in the gulags because of malnutrition, typhus, overwork, or simply the whims of the camp commandant. By comparison, Guantanamo at its peak held 750 prisoners; currently there are 520; none has died in captivity, and, as I wrote here three-and-a-half years ago, it has the distinction of being ‘a camp where the medical staff outnumber the prisoners. Atrocious, eh? I bet Rose Addis is glad she didn’t get shipped there rather than the Whittington.’ Indeed, it’s the only gulag in history where the detainees leave in better health and weighing more than when they arrive. This means they’re in much better shape when they get back to killing infidels: of the more than 200 who have been released, about 5 per cent — that’s to say, 12 — have since been recaptured on the battlefield.
Calling Guantanamo a ‘gulag’ is the sort of thing you’d expect from some nutter in the comments section of a kook website. Why would an organisation in the human rights business want to trivialise the murder of millions in totalitarian death camps by comparing them with a non-death camp where you’re at risk of having the frontispiece of your book moistened by a drop of urine if the wind’s blowing in the right direction? If Gitmo’s a gulag, what words does that leave for the systemic rape being practised by the butchers of Darfur? Or is it because they’ve so exhausted the extremes of their vocabulary on Guantanamo that the world’s progressives have so little to say about real horrors like Sudan? Warming to his theme, Amnesty International USA’s executive director William Schulz then declared Donald Rumsfeld the ‘high-level architect of torture’. Asked what evidence he had for his assertion that the defence secretary had approved the use of torture at the camp, Mr Schulz said, ‘It would be fascinating to find out. I have no idea.’
Can anyone play this game? Can I declare that Mr Schulz and the Amnesty board get together every Saturday night and piss all over the Koran? I hasten to add that I’ve no idea whether that’s true, but it would be fascinating to find out.
Guantanamo exists in a legal limbo about which different opinions can be held. And, as in every prison camp, there are no doubt foolish and wicked things that go on. But no serious allegation of torture has been substantiated, and in the al-Qa’eda training manual found in Manchester a couple of years back Rule 18 couldn’t be more explicit: when held captive by the infidel, members ‘must insist on proving that torture was inflicted on them’ and ‘complain to the court of mistreatment while in prison’. A healthy scepticism would seem to be advisable, especially when the alleged forms of torture involve lurid, if psychologically rather obvious, fantasies of menstruating Western women. Instead, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times runs around shrieking like a hysterical ninny that Washington needs to shut down Guantanamo right now — not because of anything that actually occurred there but because of negative ‘perceptions’ of the camp in the overseas press.
And would caving in to those negative perceptions lead to any better press from the Guardian or Le Monde? Nobody got killed in Gitmo, so instead America is being flayed as the planet’s number one torturer for being insufficiently respectful to the holy book of its prisoners, even though the Americans themselves supplied their prisoners with the holy book, even though the preferred holy book of most Americans is banned in the home country of many of the prisoners, even though Americans who fall into the hands of the other side get their heads hacked off, even though the prisoners’ co-religionists themselves blow up more mosques and Korans than Americans ever do, and even though the alleged insufficient respect to the prisoners’ holy book occurred at a rate of one verified incident of possibly intentional disrespect per year. But sure, go ahead, close Gitmo and wait for the torrent of rave reviews — right after the complaints that it is culturally insensitive to rebuild the World Trade Center when it’s the burial site of ten devout Muslim flying enthusiasts.
As Rule 18 of that Manchester manual makes plain, the Islamists understand the West’s fetish for self-torture. After all, you wouldn’t bother alleging torture if you were held captive in Saudi Arabia or Syria or the jails of Ahmed Aboul Gheit’s government in Egypt. If you ‘complained to the court of mistreatment’ in Cairo, Mr Gheit’s judges would say, ‘And your point is?’ But I wonder if the Islamists’ ability to play the Western press like a fiddle is quite so smart in the long run. The majority of Americans have a higher regard for their military than their media, and for the jihad to retain its power in the popular imagination it has to be credible. When Newsweek, CBS et al fall over themselves to shill for Islamist spin-doctors, complaining that the infidels are not handling the Koran in appropriately submissive ways, they risk turning the jihad into one huge laughing stock. In that sense, the whiners are doing far more damage to Islam than the urinators are.
As I’ve said before, the jihad’s pretty much a busted flush. I was asked the other day what I thought about the rumours of al-Zarkawi’s death, and I shrugged. If he’s still alive, the media will say: ah-ha, the mastermind has eluded Bush and lives to fight again. If he’s dead, the media will say: now he’s a legendary martyr whose death will rally thousands of young men to the cause. But the truth is that thousands aren’t being rallied to the cause, and the title of Zarkawi’s latest pep talk — ‘Killing of Muslims is justified’ — sums up why. Four years ago, signing on with al-Qa’eda offered the prospect of taking out the Pentagon. Now all they do is kill fellow Muslims in the Middle East. Not the same appeal.
In the Middle East, as Baby Assad’s pitiful ‘State of the Union’ speech underlined, free Iraq is a more potent force than all the stagnant dictatorships. In Afghanistan the other day, 600 clerics participated in a ceremony stripping Mullah Omar of his religious authority. And, if it’s Koranic desecration you’re after, how about this under-reported news item from the original Islamic republic a few weeks back? In Iran, revellers marked Tchahr Shanbe Souri, the traditional Persian fire festival, by chanting ‘Down with the Islamic Republic!’ and hurling Islamic texts, including the Koran, into the bonfires. The politicised Islam promoted by the Ayatollah, Osama and the Taleban is already on the wane. It was in essence a parasite leeching on to Western decadence and lack of will. And that’s always been the real issue, as the bogus Guantanamo furore demonstrates only too well.