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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Burning Witches

by digby

As regular readers know, I have been exercised about the fact that some people believe that torture is no longer taboo --- that we are normalizing the concept in our minds in anticipation of the government legalizing it. Some have called me shockingly naive for not knowing that we have always tortured and abused and that this is nothing new, but I think this misses my point. It is true that our nation has always engaged in bad acts, I am well aware of that. But this is something new. We have high level people in our government attempting to create a legal torture regime on the basis of a new constitutional finding that the executive branch is unfettered by the rule of law in a time of war --- our current "war" conveniently having no obvious end. For a long, long time now, if our government tortured and abused, it at least had the decency to hide it.

If you want proof that torture is still not publicly acceptable in our culture, you need look no farther than the 90-7 vote in the senate. A whole lot of big shots, including tough guy red-state Republicans, don't want to be associated with supporting torture. They know damned well that it is beyond the pale. (For now.)

If we allow this to become normalized, I don't think it will stop at suspected terrorists --- eventually people will ask why we should have all these laws and prohibitions in the case of non-terrorist, but equally heinous, crimes. How do you tell the family of a victim of a suspected gang killing that the suspected perpetrators have a right to lawyers and a right not to incriminate themselves? Is their pain less than the pain of terrorism victims? Why shouldn't these "worst of the worst" be tortured by the police or the FBI to find out what they know? After all, more people could die if they aren't forced to give up their home boys.

The reason that people do not demand this now is because we have long required a public adherence to the rule of law --- and we have instinctively understood that authorities sometimes make mistakes, are corrupt or inept. Due process is required to mitigate those human failings. Yet, innocent people are still caught up in the system even with all these processes. Imagine what would happen if we didn't have them?

Once you introduce torture into the equation, justified by the fact that these are people alleged to be "the worst of the worst" you are letting go of the idea that innocent people are sometimes incarcerated, and that it matters that we don't treat innocent people barbarously, even if we are inclined by primitive notions of revenge to treat guilty people that way. We know that non-terrorists have been caught up in the net and have been tortured and abused. Even more horrifyingly, we know that even innocent, mentally ill people have been tortured and abused. (I don't think you can go any lower than that --- maybe children, but they did that too.)

There are important moral and human rights arguments to be made against torture of anyone, guilty or innocent. I believe that it makes an entire society, an entire culture, immoral. But the most immoral act of all immoral acts is to torture an innocent person. And since nobody is omniscient, to torture a person with no due process, no right to confront accusers, no way of proving their innocence, it is guaranteed that we are doing this under our torture regime. As I said, we know that we are.

One might assume that there is no one on the planet who thinks that torturing innocent people is right. Certainly, it's going to be hard to find intelligent educated people who believe that it is a moral good to do so. But not impossible. As it turns out there is a moral argument for torturing innocent people:

From Orrin Judd:

You might want to go back and brush up on your history, witchcraft was quite popular, even within the Church, for an awfully long time. In fact, it's back today in the form of Wicca. In its denial of the basis of Western Civilization it is so transgressive that it deserved to be and was persecuted. People who deny there were witches because they don't like how the religious treated them are akin to the Left denying there were Communists because they don't like that Americans reviled them. Jews too were justifiably, though unnecessarily, persecuted for their beliefs and inability to conform to social norms. The great injustice was the persecution of the conversos in Spain, who were sincere converts to Christianity.

Of course, anti-Semitism only became exterminationist once you mixed in Darwinism and racial theory, by which it is necessary to kill any group outside your own discrete gene pool.

There are of course variations within any group, but folks conform to type more than less.

Posted by: oj at November 25, 2005 01:49 PM

I think he understands something I failed to understand about this argument. This isn't about terrorism. It isn't about national security. It isn't about the rule of law or enlightenment values. It's about conforming to social norms. That puts the whole thing in perspective, doesn't it? What I call "innocent" isn't innocent at all. Just being a practicing Muslim makes one guilty.

It's nice to know that we shouldn't be persecuting those who have converted to Christianity (or properly protestantised Islam, which translates into an embrace of Western Civilization.) The good news is that "protestantising" (forcing Western conformity on) the billion Muslims out there will be a cakewalk:

You can have a number of voices so long as everyone has just one hymnal. That's the essence of the protestantism that the End of History requires. It'll be easy enough to Reform Islam, just as we did Catholicism, Judaism, and the rest.

Posted by: oj at November 25, 2005 10:56 AM

And here I thought the whole "End of History" thing had been laughed out of town by the events of 9/11. Apparently History has only been postponed. Protestantism is still on the march, "reforming" witches and Muslims alike. And if it takes a little waterboarding or burning at the stake to get the job done, so be it. These people have to understand that we're going to end History one bloody non-conformist bastard at a time if we have to.

I have to hand it to Orin Judd. Like Ann Coulter, who's rhetoric is not nearly as elegant, he is at least willing to put his beliefs on the table and take responsibility for them. So was Ann, when she wrote:

We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.

Like the Spanish inquisitors and Salem witch burners before us, we owe it to the world to continue to End History by torturing and persecuting those trangressive non-conformists who deny "the basis of Western Civilization" as necessary. Indeed, we can't help ourselves. It's our destiny.

But I have to say that Orrin is very mistaken to think that exterminationism only came into existence once Darwinism and racial theory emerged. As good Protestants, 'reformed" and unreformed Catholics and Jews know, that is something that has been going on for a very, very long time. Dig it:

1 Samuel 15

15:1 Samuel also said unto Saul, The LORD sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the LORD.

15:2 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt.

15:3 Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.

15:4 And Saul gathered the people together, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand footmen, and ten thousand men of Judah.

15:5 And Saul came to a city of Amalek, and laid wait in the valley.

15:6 And Saul said unto the Kenites, Go, depart, get you down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them: for ye shewed kindness to all the children of Israel, when they came up out of Egypt. So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites.

15:7 And Saul smote the Amalekites from Havilah until thou comest to Shur, that is over against Egypt.

There's more. Saul spared the Amakalite king and some good sheep and oxen, sorely disappointing God. Samuel promptly kills them himself, on God's orders. Ain't nothin' new 'bout genocide. Sometimes it's God's work.