Two days after the fall of Baghdad last year, the New York Times printed a short editorial written by cnn’s chief news executive, Eason Jordan. Mr. Jordan had visited Baghdad 13 times during the reign of Saddam to lobby the dictatorship to keep cnn’s Baghdad bureau open. Each trip troubled the news executive because of what he witnessed—“awful things that could not be reported because doing so would have jeopardized the lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad staff” (April 11, 2003).
He then recounted a number of stories that cnn buried while Saddam was in charge. One cameraman had been abducted and tortured by Saddam’s henchmen in the mid-1990s because of the ridiculous assumption that Mr. Jordan was a cia operative. In 1995, Uday Hussein told cnn he intended to assassinate two of his brothers-in-law who had defected to neighboring Jordan. cnn put a lid on the threat for fear of what Uday might do to the translator who was present during the interview. (Uday later coaxed the brothers back to Iraq and then killed them.) One Iraqi, after his brother had been killed by the Baathist regime, was forced to congratulate Saddam by letter. One aide to Uday had his front teeth yanked out by pliers and was forbidden to wear dentures afterward because Uday wanted him to be continually reminded of how he upset his boss.
“I felt awful having these stories bottled up inside me,” Mr. Jordan wrote in his article. “Now that Saddam Hussein’s regime is gone, I suspect we will hear many, many more gut-wrenching tales from Iraqis about the decades of torment. At last, these stories can be told freely.”
While that might be true, the media certainly has not amplified them like it has other gut-wrenching atrocities, like the now infamous prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asked Dan Rather to delay running the story until hostilities in Iraq had simmered down. But Rather pressed forward with the story after he learned that the New Yorker magazine was about to uncover the scandal.
Lost in the midst of the prisoner abuse story is how it exposed media hypocrisy. In the world of media elites, it’s perfectly fine to overlook the atrocities of a madman in a far-away country, so long as it keeps your Baghdad bureau open. But to bury photos that would give America’s enemies a powerful weapon and expose U.S. citizens to greater danger would be morally irresponsible, in their minds.
Two weeks after Rather’s story, in response to the Abu Ghraib scandal, a group of masked terrorists filmed the horrific execution of American Nick Berg. The video shows one of the hooded terrorists, possibly al-Qaeda associate Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, grabbing hold of the screaming American’s hair, before he began sawing off his head with a long knife. While the video circulated widely over the Internet, American news networks refrained from showing footage of the actual execution.
None of the above-mentioned events are defensible, no matter the way they were covered (or not covered) by the media. But the way the media approaches such subjects is a story in itself. More than just revealing media bias, it gives insight into the way the human mind will justify certain dubious actions while condemning others.
Gain is Godliness
In i Timothy 6:3-5, the Apostle Paul wrote that the mind of man supposes that gain is godliness. That’s why news organizations can justify burying stories about the vile acts of Saddam Hussein. It’s a tough call, a news executive might reason, but if it keeps our bureau open, maybe it’s the right thing to do. On the other hand, running a story that might endanger American lives is a tough call, but if the story conforms to the newscaster’s political agenda and if it’s a ratings boon, maybe it’s the right thing to do.
Look at the way Arab media outlets covered the Abu Ghraib scandal. There was virtually no mention of the fact that these American offenders were being prosecuted and punished for their crimes. Nothing was said about Abu Ghraib’s infamous history before American occupation—where Saddam’s men forcibly raped and tortured thousands. Indeed, if anything was said about that gruesome history, it was only in making the absurd claim that American occupation was just as bad as Saddam’s rule.
A few weeks before the Abu Ghraib story emerged, Arab networks were the first to break the story about four American contractors whose charred bodies were mutilated before throngs of cheering Iraqis in Fallujah. When they aired that story, there was no accompanying outrage in the Arab world—at least not like there was with the reporting on Abu Ghraib. The same can be said for the Arab reaction to al-Zarqawi chopping that young man’s head off on television.
Why would Arab reporting and reaction in those instances be so different from their reporting of the Abu Ghraib scandal? Isn’t it because, in their minds, the evil wrought upon those four American workers and Nick Berg was more justifiable than the treatment of those Iraqi prisoners? Wouldn’t the average Islamic mind view the prison abuse as more evil than murdering Americans? And wouldn’t the average American mind view decapitating a defenseless American as far more evil than abusing a prisoner of war? Why is that?
What were those American soldiers thinking in Abu Ghraib? What went through their minds at the time they committed their abusive acts? These prisoners are the enemy, they might have reasoned—possibly linked to a worldwide terrorist network. A lot of our fellow-soldiers have gotten killed this week. We’re under a lot of pressure to “soften up” these prisoners for interrogators. With that line of reasoning, would it be possible for the human mind to conclude that if abuse and humiliation gets information out of them, maybe it’s the right thing to do? On the other hand, maybe they were just sexual perverts on a sadistic power trip.
Whatever the motivation, historians have said that their behavior is not exactly uncommon. Writing for the Guardian in London, Joanna Bourke noted that “torture and sexual violence are endemic in wartime. In the past, as now, military personnel tend to simply accept that atrocities, including sexual ones, will take place” (May 7). She then quoted one British colonel who admitted during World War i, “I’ve seen my own men commit atrocities, and should expect to see it again. You can’t stimulate and let loose the animal in man and then expect to be able to cage it up again at a moment’s notice.” She also quoted General Patton, who said during World War ii, that despite his most diligent efforts to prevent it, “There would unquestionably be some raping.”
What the Guardian conveniently left out of its anti-American pages is that it was a thousand times worse under Hitler. How did the Nazi regime treat its captives? How did they interrogate their prisoners? After the Abu Ghraib scandal, German military lawyers advised their soldiers in Afghanistan not to take prisoners of war so they wouldn’t have to turn them over to American authorities, according to Der Spiegel magazine. Think about that for a moment. Think of the moral dilemma German commanders would face should they happen to bump into Osama bin Laden. He is an evil terrorist, but American soldiers are brute beasts. What should we do?
History dating back to ancient times is replete with episodes of brutality and torture during wartime—oftentimes on a massive scale. Over the past century, we’ve witnessed humanity at its worst.
Watching the congressional hearings on the prison abuse scandal, I was struck by how American politicians looked and sounded so righteous. All of them, in some form or another, expressed shock and outrage at the sexually abusive acts depicted in those photos from Abu Ghraib. And yet, every week, thousands upon thousands of images just like those from Iraq—only far worse—come streaming out of Hollywood.
The Bush administration called the obscene images from Abu Ghraib “un-American.” In truth, they are shamefully, quintessentially American. The pornography business in America is bigger than professional football, basketball and baseball combined! Should we then be shocked to discover that one military unit in Iraq had a pornographic ring in its midst—complete with videotaped sex between U.S. soldiers and simulated sex involving Iraqi detainees? American soldiers have been raised in a sex-crazed culture where pornography has gone mainstream. Where do you suppose the soldiers at Abu Ghraib got the idea to film sadomasochistic acts?
Why no congressional hearings on America’s pornography problem? What about the pornography problem within U.S. military circles all over the world?
Listening to our politicians, it’s as if Abu Ghraib happened by accident.
Muslim clerics have a different view. They see events at Abu Ghraib as yet another reflection of America’s depraved culture. They’ve been sickened and repulsed by the photos of their fellow Arabs being paraded about naked—humiliated by a woman, of all people. One detainee who had also been tortured at Abu Ghraib by Saddam’s cronies insisted that the American abuse was worse. Torture, even death, was better than being stripped naked and having your manhood shattered, he said, as if to imply that Saddam’s people never used sex to humiliate prisoners.
Shortly after the war on terror began, the Weekly Standard’s Matt Labash flew to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to report firsthand on the treatment of prisoners at Gitmo. According to soldiers he interviewed, Arab males would strip themselves naked and perform sex acts in front of female soldiers just to embarrass them. Soldiers said detainees also baited them into aggressive behavior so it would appear prisoners were being brutalized in the presence of international witnesses.
None of this is meant to justify the voyeuristic behavior of soldiers at Abu Ghraib, but rather to dispel the notion that Islamic males are somehow immune to sexually deviant behavior. Pornography is now widespread in Iraq—and not just because of Iraq’s newfound “freedoms” under U.S. occupation. High-ranking officials in the Baathist regime were renown for their addiction to pornography and their acts of sexual assault and degradation toward women. Islamic terrorists willing to kill and mutilate in the name of God are also found lacking in sexual morality. Ramzi Yusuf, who orchestrated the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, traversed the world, partying and womanizing at each stop. Many of the 9/11 terrorists frequented strip clubs in Florida and partied on the Las Vegas Strip in the weeks before they attacked America.
They behave like the “infidels” they detest, and then murder Westerners in the name of God. After sawing off Nick Berg’s head, those five terrorists shouted, “God is great!” In their minds, what they did was right and good—or, at the very least, justified.
In President Bush’s mind, terrorism can be defeated if America meets it head-on. Furthermore, he believes U.S.-Arab relations will vastly improve once America firmly establishes a thriving democracy in the Middle East. He has strong views about what evil is in this world. He believes that Americans are a good people who must spread the good.
Liberal minds in America don’t see it that way at all. They believe Mr. Bush’s ideas are dangerous. America has gotten bogged down in Iraq and distracted away from the real war on terrorism. The president has alienated the United States from the rest of the world. In their minds, we need someone like John Kerry to repair the damage that the Bush administration has done.
In Europe and the Middle East, while the general populace might not condone terrorism, they view America as being arrogant and hypocritical.
And on and on it could go. Nations, governments, religions, political parties—even family members and co-workers—disagree on everything, it seems! And it’s all because this world is cut off from God.
When God placed the first man in the Garden of Eden, He offered Adam the opportunity to eat freely from the tree of life, which represented God’s Holy Spirit (Romans 8:10). But Adam, following after his wife, instead ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which represented human nature without God, as influenced by Satan.
Satan convinced Adam and Eve to leave God out of the picture and decide for themselves right from wrong, good versus evil. When they made that disastrous choice, God “drove out the man” from the garden and barred re-entrance (Genesis 3:22-24). God cut man off from the tree of life and left him to his own devices, subject to the powerful influence and sway of Satan the devil (Ephesians 2:2).
This is why the works of this world have brought forth such evil and despicable fruits. It’s why half the people on Earth today are illiterate and uneducated. How much do they care about photographs depicting sexual abuse? Many of them are more concerned about gaining access to fresh water—something 1.2 billion people do not have.
Forty percent of Earth’s inhabitants still use substances like wood and charcoal as their primary source of energy. How worried are they about the rising cost of oil or natural gas?
In 1960, the richest 20 percent of the world’s population was worth 30 times that of the poorest 20 percent. Today, the rich are worth 80 times more. Never in human history has the gap between the rich and poor been so wide—and it keeps getting wider. One in five people on Earth live on less than one dollar per day.
At present, one third of the world’s population is at war. What will it take to solve that problem? Finding Osama bin Laden? Bringing down the “great Satan”?
At least 150 national governments in this world tolerate and use torture as a means of punishment. Will seven Abu Ghraib convictions help eliminate the practice of genital mutilation—something forced upon 2 million girls and women each year?
Viewing the world in its proper context, no wonder God’s final assessment is that all have gone aside—all of us, together, have become filthy—there are none who do good, not even one! (Psalm 14:3). In i Kings 8:38, God calls the human heart, or mind, a plague! God says the human mind, whether conservative or liberal, whether Arab or American, whether Western or Third World—is a sick, disease-ridden plague that spreads just as fast as the human population grows. And world population is ballooning by 75 million people every year.
And every new inhabitant on Earth, thanks to Satan’s powerful influence and the fact that God cut mankind off from the tree of life, comes equipped with the same plague-stricken mind!
Nothing man does or proposes will cure this infectious disease from spreading! That’s not to say there won’t be a lot of ideas thrown into the hat. Liberals have their answer to the problems of this world. So do conservatives. So do Christians, Muslims, atheists, socialists, communists, blacks, whites, browns—all have their “solutions,” but nothing works. Problems persist—world conditions worsen.
Human Good Not the Answer
But does the fact that man has been cut off from God mean there is nothing good in this world? Well, yes and no. Only God is good, Jesus said (Matthew 19:17). This world is evil, Paul wrote in Galatians 1:4. There is nothing worth salvaging, which is why God will allow the Great Tribulation to come upon the whole Earth (Luke 21:35). God will essentially start over and build a new society ruled by Jesus Christ.
But there is some good in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Not all Arabs, after all, are Islamic terrorists. Not every American is addicted to pornography. Not every American soldier abuses prisoners.
But even that “good” must be seen in context. Herbert Armstrong described man’s capacity for good in his book Mystery of the Ages. He said, “[I]t can have a sense of morality, ethics, art, culture not possessed by the dumb animals. But in the realm of good and evil it can know and perform what is good only on the human level, made possible by the human spirit within man. But this sense and performance of good is limited to the human level of the human spirit that is innately selfish” (emphasis added).
This is why Americans and Arabs can view the same evil act and have two completely different reactions. It’s why the media can spin a story one direction under Saddam—and the opposite way under American occupation. It’s why terrorists think the answer is eliminating the “great Satan.” And it’s why America thinks the answer lies in eliminating terrorism.
Innate selfishness. That’s the problem. Left to ourselves, cut off from God, we have assumed that selfish gain is godliness. If it is good for me—for my family—for my country—for my race—for my religion—then it must be right.
For 6,000 years now, because we have been left to ourselves to decide what is right and wrong, man has been limited in his power and ability to do good. He cannot rise above the human level, which, as we have seen, is innately selfish.
God’s love—His goodness—transcends all of that! Godly love puts God first above all else—it loves neighbor, meaning all of mankind, as self. This goodness—this godly love—leads to repentance from sin—a complete change in direction (Romans 2:4). It means turning from the way of selfishness to that of selflessness and sacrifice.
This miraculous change is brought about by God’s Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5)—the spiritual dimension God denied to Adam after he set out to decide for himself what was right and wrong.
But God has made that most valuable resource available to a tiny few for the purpose of preparing them now to rule with Christ when He returns—to teach this world God’s way of life—to help usher in a new age, a new civilization—a wonderful, happy, peaceful age lovingly ruled by the Family of God.
That’s when God will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh (Joel 2:28). That process is beginning now in the smallest of ways. But it will spread and eventually overpower the ubiquitous evil, suffering and misery on Earth. That is how God conquers evil—by overcoming it with good (Romans 12:21).
There is no other way.