That Torture Thing II

Posted by sepoy on July 09, 2006 · 5 mins read

Last night, I happened to catch the beginning of a Law & Order episode [don't ask me which variety but it starred Pvt. Pyle] which was set in the 'tech' world. The story, though, quickly moved beyond the use of a pringles can for wireless into torture at Gitmo and an army psychologist who decided to use the interrogation techniques on a psychotic kid in NYC. Here it was, on primetime tv, a discussion of reasons and after-effects of using torture with a doctor trying to reconcile some good out of what she practiced at Gitmo; a turbulent personality pushed over the edge by those same into murder; and a police department trying to figure out who to blame for all this.

Fast forward that same night, battling insomnia, I put in the recent movie release, The War Within. Torture again was the lynchpin that turned an ordinary Pakistani Hassan, depicted by Ayad Akhtar, into a suicide bomber. The movie opens with Hassan kidnapped off the streets of Paris by the Americans and renditioned over to the Pakistanis for years(?) of abuse and torture. His brother was killed in a riot against the Afghanistan war and the Pakistanis seem to think he had terror plans. They intend to burn those plans out of Hassan. It is in the cell that he discovers Islam ... which is about all the exposition we have to this war within. Hassan becomes a suicide bomber because he is tortured. And off he goes to NYC and the Grand Central to take his revenge on the Americans. Why Hassan is not out to blow himself up inside Islamabad's secretariat building is not addressed. It is the Pakistanis who kill his brother and Pakistanis who torture him. Why the USA? Hassan doesn't say - neither does the film.

Perhaps the writers thought that the USA is a given as a target. Ok, fine. But, what about Islam? Is Islam just as given as a faith of vengeance? In the only direct instance of justification, Hassan lays out a verse from Surah alBaqarah [2:216]:

Warfare is ordained for you, though it is hateful unto you; but it may happen that ye hate a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that ye love a thing which is bad for you. Allah knoweth, ye know not. Right. Is Hassan going to kill innocents because God told him so? In the cell? How about what comes next? They question thee (O Muhammad) with regard to warfare in the sacred month. Say: Warfare therein is a great (transgression), but to turn (men) from the way of Allah, and to disbelieve in Him and in the Inviolable Place of Worship, and to expel His people thence, is a greater with Allah; for persecution is worse than killing. And they will not cease from fighting against you till they have made you renegades from your religion, if they can. And whoso becometh a renegade and dieth in his disbelief: such are they whose works have fallen both in the world and the Hereafter. Such are rightful owners of the Fire: they will abide therein. and the next ayah: Lo! those who believe, and those who emigrate (to escape the persecution) and strive in the way of Allah, these have hope of Allah's mercy. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

I am not really out to make any bigger points about jihad, just saying that the Islam in the movie is as simplistic as the devout kamikazee, Hassan, who appears to be alone in his convictions and his scars. There is no complimentary to Hassan's faith among his friends, his local mosque preacher or even his fellow jihadists. Hassan prays. Hassan frowns on wine. Hassan frowns on his fellow jihadist's quick decline into the corrupt morals of the American back-alleys. Where is the source of his righteousness? What motivates him.

Since Islam failed to be a sufficient motivator for the other jihadist, as far as I read the movie, Torture becomes the primary designated engine of hatred. Vengeance for what was done to him. Whatever else drives the jihadists, I think vengeance for personal affliction is the least of it. Read the profile of Shehzad Tanweer and tell me what you see. The War Within misreads what L&O makes abundantly clear: Torture does change ... but it is the torturer that is made into a monster.

related: That Torture Thing.

also see:Reflections on War, Detention and Rights


Jonathan Dresner | July 10, 2006

Your little turing test timed out on me, and lost my comment. What I was trying to say was that the movie seems to be collapsing the colonial abuse/personal abuse to make a point about the relationship between systemic problems and revenge. What makes the jihadi education so successful is that it makes people internalize abuse (real, imagined or otherwise) which didn't happen to them, but that doesn't mean that the sense of rage and desire for vengeance isn't somehow genuine.

sepoy | July 10, 2006

I don't doubt that vengeance isn't genuine, I question the personal narrative. "What makes the jihadi education so successful is that it makes people internalize abuse (real, imagined or otherwise) which didn’t happen to them" ...exactly. Which is why a movie that purports to show us the jihadist p.o.v. needs closer scrutiny. There is whole different morality attached to the paradigm that TWW argues around and one that emerges from the jihadists in the real world.

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