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Paternalism and Abu Ghraib

Why should Iraqis react any differently to the prisoner-abuse pictures than Americans did to the Falluja mutilations?

12:00 AM, May 11, 2004 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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Americans and other Westerners instinctively saw these images for what they were: The product of a few deranged, dangerous men--not an example of the broader Iraqi national character. Americans were so understanding of this fact, that the president never mentioned the Falluja mutilations specifically. The closest he came was in his April 13 press conference, when he remarked, "Most Iraqis, by far, reject violence and oppose dictatorship."

SO WHY IS IT that Americans were able to take the Falluja pictures in stride, yet President Bush is "sorry that people who have been seeing those pictures" in Iraq "didn't understand the true nature and heart of America"? Is there something about the Iraqis and others in the Middle East that the president thinks makes them incapable of making reasonable distinctions? Or could it be that there are cultural differences which cause people to react differently?

Whatever the case, perhaps the next time President Bush is asked about whether cultural differences might make democracy difficult in Iraq, he won't simply dismiss his questioner as being racist.

Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.