Monday, April 17, 2006


I often drop by Coturnix/Bora’s site Science and Politics to look around. Bora is a one-note political commentator, and a bit shrill at times, but he has some of the best links around. Yesterday he linked to an article on Pharyngula, a blog dedicated to evolution and anti-Christian rants (more the former than the latter, but the emotional investment seems about equal). The specific article has very little, if anything, to offer anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Christianity (I’ll save the puzzle of why so many people who declaim that ‘religious nuts’ have no authority to speak about science without an advanced degree, but feel perfectly fine in discussing theology without even minimal study for another time). Reading it out of a sense of duty, to see if there was perhaps some insight I might miss, I came across this little gem;

“…our nation tortures to the death… … brown-skinned Middle Eastern people right now. How can we look at the Passion spectacles now and not feel a deep shame?”

There are so many errors and assumption in this one quote that I feel compelled to respond.

First of all, PZ Myers, the author, is so very quick to refer to Middle Easterners as “brown people” that I am stunned. I travel in diverse circles and I find that many more Liberals are willing to describe a population as “brown people” than Conservatives. From this author to George Carlin, the description of Semitic people as “brown” is all too common. Not only are Arabs of a variety of skin tones, just like, say, Caucasian Americans, but not all Middle Easterners are even Semitic. The Iranians, for example, are Aryan; in Tehran blue eyes and blonde hair are not uncommon. Most of the soldiers I know are aware of this; a great many of the conservatives I know are as shocked by the Liberal use of the term as I am, so I suspect they either know these things, or would simply never utter the phrase.

Second, PZ Myers is comparing current day Middle Easterners to Jesus, implying He was also a “brown person”. Well, I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. While I don’t think he was a blonde with blue eyes, modern genetic research indicates that Jews of the 1st Century almost certainly looked much like Jews of today – in other words, what modern minds would call “White”. While intermarriage has always occurred, the people of the Middle East are largely what you and I would call “White” and , essentially, always have been. Seriously, look at Tariq Azziz, or Ayatollah Khomeini – my black Irish father-in-law is much darker than either of them. So PZ Myers’ knowledge of the people of the Middle East seems a bit sparse.

Of course, he could have put it that way to imply that the American military had racist motives for going into Iraq, but that makes less sense. After all, the military is a very integrated group and, most critically, the military is told where to go – it doesn’t get to decide. Maybe he meant the administration had racist motives for sending the army? Well, one would hope that the Black Secretary of State, Black National Security Advisor, or one of the other minority members of the most diverse administration in history would have mentioned any racist overtones to policy, but maybe they are all race traitors. After all, so many Liberals seem to think that any minority that isn’t Liberal is automatically a traitor to their own people.

But Conservatives are the ones obsessed by race. Go figure.

Even more egregious is his statement that ‘our nation tortures people’. It does? When? Where? Who?

Let’s assume he is referring to Abu Ghraib. If so, he seems confused about the facts of that terrible incident. As is well documented, the abuse was by soldiers acting outside of the rules. The proof that such actions were not condoned is not just the many army regulations in dozens of manuals and training programs, but the prompt response of army investigators when they were approached by a witness. The military criminal investigation division promptly removed almost 20 enlisted and officers from duty and began an in-depth investigation. The evidence was not classified, but was instead largely made public. Two more investigations followed, with the report of one being briefly classified before being released.

The results were criminal charges against the soldiers where evidence could prove their criminal activities (six in total). The remainder were removed from duty, a serious blow to their careers (especially considering that there was too little evidence to go to courts-martial in those cases). Included in this was Brigadier General Janis Karpinsky, who was removed from command and demoted.

So it sounds to me like a group of soldiers violated orders, acted outside the law, were caught, investigated, charged, and found guilty. The people who allowed an environment where such things happened were removed from their positions and put places where they couldn’t be that lax again. These actions – investigation, trial, punishment – were conducted by my government and punished people who broke the law. So PZ Myers must not have been referring to Abu Ghraib.

Maybe he meant the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp? Well, I do have serious issues with the legality of how people held there are classified under the law – but despite the release of dozens of detainees, the only person injured thus far where the injuries could be proven is an American soldier. Despite many allegations, no one has been able to prove anything. And some of the accusations are, frankly, ludicrous. One prisoner claimed he was forced to walk on glass shards and then had his face ground into glass while cigarettes were put out on his body – without a mark left on him. Are the prisoners in a stressful situation? Certainly. Are they sometimes made uncomfortable? Absolutely. Are the conditions as extreme as a standard French prison? No, they are much better than the usual French prison. In other words, while the French decry the ‘terrible conditions’ of the prisoners at Gitmo, those self-same prisoners are in much better condition than check-forgers in Paris jails.

Maybe Prof. Myers is referring to the secret prisons America maintains in Europe? You know, the ones that no one can seem to find, that no one can report being held in, and with all the nations putatively involved denying it. Heck, even the EU commission says there weren’t any secret American prisons in Europe.

So – Middle Easterners aren’t “brown people”, they are just people. The U.S. has investigated and punished people who tortured prisoners and made the evidence and related proceedings public. Despite outrageous claims of secret prisons, none have been found. Despite the fact that virtually everyone in the world knows exactly where the Guantanamo facility is and each person leaving it is an instant media target, no one can prove anything concerning actual torture.

I may be mistaken, but I can’t Google anytime the Pharyngula blog has condemned beheadings, or terror. It seems innocent reporters, aid workers, etc. snatched off the streets, tortured with actual, you know, blood drawn, and then beheaded on camera is No Big Deal ™ compared to non-existent secret prisons, Gitmo prisoners forced to listen to the Go-Go’s and, of course, a half-dozen criminals rotting in American prisons for breaking American laws.

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