WAVE OF MUTILATION
This time last week, we were debating whether or not most men hate women (a piquant post-Valentine subject). I argued that most men do not hate women, though the gap between the sexes which we find so difficult to bridge must lead to catastrophic breakdowns in communication. My disputant argued that male contempt of women was ubiquitous, and that she and most of her female friends had been the victims of sexual harassment at least once in the last year or so.
Although I maintain that most men do not hate women, casual misogyny is indeed systemic. The headlines in today’s newspapers bear this out – the creepy fascination with “prostitute-killer” Steve Wright, the man who “raped and killed hookers” during a six-week killing spree in 2006, the man who exploited “vice girls” hooked on hard drugs. The language, as Joan Smith writes in today’s Guardian, is no different from the Yorkshire Ripper headlines 25 years ago. Even when our attention turns to the “monstrous” Wright, those five women cannot escape the tag – they cannot be daughters, or girlfriends, or mates – they can only be prostitutes.
So caught up are the press in the trials of Wright and Mark Dixon, the killer of Sally-Anne Bowman (forever, and somewhat cryptically, assigned the tag of “young model”), they have neglected to cover a story of much greater importance: the allegation that British troops tortured, killed and mutilated 20 Iraqi prisoners during 2004:
The lawyers, who are bringing a damages claim in the UK courts, say the five witnesses are labourers who have lived all their lives in Majar and had "absolutely nothing" to do with the Shia Mahdi army, who engaged British troops in the gun battle.
Solicitor Martyn Day said: "The nature of a number of the injuries of the Iraqis would seem to us to be highly unusual in a battlefield. For example, quite how so many of the Iraqis sustained single gunshots to the head and from seemingly at close quarter, how did two of them end with their eyes gouged out, how did one have his penis cut off (and) some have torture wounds?"
Solicitor Phil Shiner said: "There is the clearest evidence available of systematic abuse and systematic failings at the very highest levels of politicians, the civil service and the military." He added: "Until we as a nation face up to this evidence we cannot hope for the fundamental reforms required to ensure these things can never happen again. We do not want to be talked about in the same vein as the Japanese in the second world war or the Americans at My Lai , but unless we stand up and say as a nation that this cannot happen in our name, that is where we seem to be headed."
Violence can be magnetic or repulsive. The Iraq story was not covered in any depth by any of the newspapers because it alleges that the British military were engaged in acts of the most appalling and psychotic violence, and we cannot bear to consider it, especially when it is carried out against beings who we barely think of as human beings anyway.
The murders of these six young women, however, has an erotic pull similar to that of the car crash. They combine sex and death, and we appear to view with as much jouissance as disgust. The press slyly explains them away by reference to the prostitution or the modelling careers of the victims, and by the existence of irredeemable evil, and we all sleep easy in our beds. Alas, an explanation for the atrocities committed in our name, by our military, under the direction of our government, appears to be beyond them.