OPINION

Barbarism and simulation

Eight against four, with the sadistic voice of the ninth, the cameraman, even harsher than the beatings by baton. Eight well-trained, armed troops against four unarmed civilians. Eight people convinced that they’re right against four youths convinced that they will always be wronged. Footage of the British soldiers abusing four Iraqi youths in Basra caused a furor – in fact greater than the images of US troops torturing Iraqi prisoners. But now we know what to expect from London and Washington: a few strong-worded headlines; a couple of officials muttering excuses out of their bottomless imperial stock phrases; a military officer announcing, in a pompous tone, investigations aimed at proving what Blair has already claimed: that these troops «are doing a good job in Iraq.» Those who seek evidence of some unfolding clash of civilizations, meaning that their superior, Western civilization is in a struggle against the Arabs’ inferior one in order to reform it, will find it hard to explain the connection between Western courtesy on the one hand and the Guantanamo prison camp, repeated torture incidents or violent beatings of civilians, on the other. Another related report, however, may shed some light on to the affair: US training camps allegedly hire Arab speakers for 220 dollars a day to play the role of Iraqi civilians in an Iraqi village. Contact with the impersonators is supposed to help US troops prepare for their mission. The problem is the simulation game makes soldiers see the actual mission as taking place in a movie. When they get to Iraq, they still think they are dealing with dummies or, worse, with evil film characters. Brainwashed with the role of liberators, they only see dummies or targets. That makes it easier to pull the trigger. But death is never mere simulation.