When the pictures become the story

Graphically exposed to images of dehumanization of fellow-beings, the brain savaged with stories despicable, how then does every nerve celled in your body react? Are you  sick, nauseated and disgusted at the sight of someone repeatedly denuded of all human dignity? Or are you simply outraged? Or overwhelmed by the unspeakable cruelty? Or your heart shrieks out for the person brutalized beyond human thought?

Your mettle is being tested.

The pile of naked Iraqi prisoners  – dead still flesh – baited by jeering women and men American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison making it a sport, converting it into a spectacle for the world to watch digitally, bring anguish and anger at first sight. What thoughts must pass in the minds of these shackled men compressed against each other? The pornographic sadism makes one wince and turn the gaze away. But pummeled unremittingly by the media, we now know that 1,800 more appalling images lie confined in Pentagon’s custody that were on display for the American Congress to view and hang their heads in shame.

Videos, made as souvenirs by the soldiers, show forced sexual acts between male detainees – so sexually explicit – a prisoner tied to a rope made to repeatedly bang into a cell door until he collapses; another forced to sodomize himself with a banana; of dogs snarling at cowering prisoners with some appearing to have dog bite wounds and abrasions; Iraqi women forced into baring their breasts by American soldiers.

Nawabpur gallops to mind. Another time and space. Two women, naked, made to march through the streets while men jeer and the police stand by idly. Does anyone care what happened to the psyche of the miserable victims or their families of this remote town in Pakistan? Perhaps not. The outcry, localized and muted, died down soon thereafter; the hearts and minds of Pakistanis and rest of humanity never consciously crying out as it does now for the Abu Ghraib barbaric abuse.

Nawabpur would have been buried but for an English-language newspaper, The Muslim, that first ran the story some 20 years back. The male relatives of a young village girl who was supposedly romantically involved with a lad considered below her status turned up at the lad’s home one day and seized his mother and sister, tearing their clothes off and forcing them to march naked in the small bazaar for the whole village to view. The culprits got away with light punishment. No Islamic cleric ever speaks up on crimes against women in Pakistan. Honor killings are encouraged by the clergy and the murderers who kill their wives, daughters, sisters and female relatives on suspicion of illicit relationships are allowed to go free.


The woman in blue burqa with black rubber shoes – remember her? Sitting still in an open van as she’s driven to her execution site where excited Afghan men, hungry for macabre sport and thirsty for human blood, wait to watch her stand in the middle of the stadium, with a rifle pointed to her head and the trigger pulled, reduced to a heap, left behind as the leers of the frenzied crowd dies down – these images remain frozen in eternity.

The world was aghast. The woman – unknown and unseen died all alone – what were her last thoughts as she sat in that white van that drove her to the throes of death? Helpless and resigned to her horrible fate. She too must have parents, siblings, even a husband or children? They must have come to collect her bullet-ridden body. Shame on the Taliban, who touted themselves as practicing the pristine form of Islam, for turning this execution of a woman into a male sporting event, billed as great entertainment for ‘men only’.

  Zia-ul- Haq, Pakistan’s military dictator (1977- 1988), was the cruelest ruler Pakistan ever had. He hanged people – beginning from Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to just about anyone who dared to challenge him. And he hanged them publicly for others to fear him. The state-run Pakistan Television(PTV)showed lifeless men dangling from the gallows in the presence of huge crowds during the khabarnama(nightly news). That was not too long ago.

Photos of men, half-bent with their wrists tied to chairs, and their shalwars (pants) lowered down to their ankles, while a leash-totting muscular man in a mask mercilessly lashed the bare hips of the victims whose screams of pain mixed with the cheers of the crowds. The stripes would continue until the unfortunate sods passed out and the doctor declared ‘enough’! PTV never missed an opportunity to show images of this semi-pornographic sadism in its nightly news.

All this was done in the name of Islam?

Photos don’t need a script to tell the story.  They are the story!

When Zia governed, we watched this drama of torture while we went about our daily lives. I guess we had become immune to cruelty around us. While US secretary of defense Rumsfeld has shamefacedly promised atonement of the sins that took place “under his watch” at the Abu Ghraib prison by paying monetary compensation to the abused victims and bring to justice the men and women responsible for this crime, who in the name of God, has ever atoned for the injustice done to the thousands in Pakistan under Zia and his successors’ watch?

Take a moment to think about it.

Humans have played God since the world began. In more recent times, photos of Jews on death row trudging to their graves – there is a photo of a woman with head shaven, skeleton-like and bare-footed, dragging a trolley of human carcass freshly executed by the Nazis. The Jewish woman’s job was to transport her load of mortal remains to the giant furnace that swallowed up in its fire bodies of men, women and children rounded up and killed only because they were Jews. The sight of that bald woman and the menacing curls of smoke- black and thick – that the chimney fueled by endless human bodies it provided is so haunting, even today, as are photos carried by The New York Times of mountains made of gold wedding bands and shoes once worn by humans that Hitler annihilated. The Holocaust and the murder of millions of Jews will be around forever as a grim reminder.

Were they children of a lesser God?

Before the whites in America stopped calling the blacks “Negroes”, lynching used to be a  popular sport out here. It was an open season to hunt down “Negroes” whenever a white man cried foul. The black was immediately hauled up to the nearest pole or a tree, a rope tied around his neck and left to strangulate to death! The crowd – so-called civilized – of white men, women and children simply adored the sight of a black dangling with everything about him inhumanly disarrayed.

Were the blacks not human? Certainly not according to the white slave masters! The US today champions the human rights of the darker world, but its backyard is strewn with rights abuses. Amnesty International has released reports over the years that go un-reported by the American media.  Each of them detailing how police officers routinely beat the blacks and the Latino prisoners, burning them on hot radiators, smothering them with plastic bags and applying electric shocks to their genitalia.

Black people in America would be murdered in public view should they dare to vote or testify against a white as late as 1955. Now for the first time in the history of the civil rights movement, a case against some people in Mississippi who are still alive and were involved in killing a black teenager, Emmett Till, 49 years ago, could face a trial should the Congress attempt to force the United States Justice Department to re-open the case.

The Till family may yet get justice done, even after a lapse of half a century! America is ashamed of its racial past, but there are still some in high places today, who like the senator from Oklahoma, James Inhofe, thundered before the congressional committee that he was “more outraged by the outrage” than by the treatment of the Iraqi prisoners declaring that on the whole they “must thank Allah” every morning for not being tortured by Saddam Hussein!

The senator from Oklahoma has still not seen the light and if he has, then he is no better than his white ancestors who tortured the blacks and found nothing inhuman about it. He is in blatant denial of the damning report forwarded by the Red Cross that revealed that prisoners were “routinely stripped with their hands bound behind their backs, and posed with women’s underwear over their heads.” And that they were often photographed. The Report also mentions the use of attack dogs during the interrogation of the prisoners authorized by the commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Sanchez. 

So what is to be done? Instead of remaining a silent witness, should we all not stand up and challenge those in power to wrest justice for people violated? The majority of world  citizens are humane, so why must humanity be crushed by a handful of perverts who like to play God?

Think about it.

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