Reality Torture in Basra

spiked editor Mick Hume's Notebook in The Times (London).

Mick Hume

Mick Hume

Topics Politics
  • The pictures of Iraqi prisoners being abused at a British army base near Basra seem so similar to the infamous photographs of grinning American soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison that you might assume that they are copycat photos.

Yet it turns out that the Basra pictures were taken six months before the Abu Ghraib snaps – and a year before the American ones were published around the world.

If we want to discover what inspired these appalling images, perhaps we should start by looking closer to home, at the cultural elite that produces reality television shows such as Celebrity Big Brother. So far as I know, nobody has yet been forced to masturbate or simulate anal sex on reality TV. But these programmes and the staged pictures of prisoner abuse all look like products of the same transatlantic culture: the decadent show-it-all circus of ‘look at me and my hang-ups’, which has made exhibitionism and voyeurism respectable. The photographs of Iraqis apparently being abused by British soldiers have been widely described as ‘the shame of the Army’. Yet the striking thing is that the soldiers in the pictures appear anything but ashamed. Like the US guards at Abu Ghraib, they are smiling and giving the thumbs-up to the camera, posing themselves and their victims for the pictures, revelling in the degrading spectacle. These are not hidden-camera exposés: the abuse was staged in order to be photographed.

Meanwhile, over in reality TV land, a growing army of shameless self-publicists is taken to ever lower depths of mutual degradation for the benefit the camera. It is as if anything goes, as long as it can be exposed on film. The line between public and private has been eroded so badly that even one’s darkest thoughts and fantasies can now be paraded. Indeed such exposure is not only allowed, it is positively encouraged.

Things have reached the point where humiliating yourself and other people in front of millions is celebrated as cool entertainment. Pack up that degraded culture in your kitbag and ship it into a warzone, and you can end up with a situation where, as one Iraqi victim from the American prison pictures put it, some soldiers stage and film acts of abuse ‘like it was theatre for them’. We await the broadcast of Abu Ghraib – The Opera on the BBC.

  • We were warned this week that ‘alarm bells are ringing’ about Islamophobia in Britain, after it was reported that half the prosecutions for religious hate crime last year involved Muslim victims.

Closer inspection of the figures from the Crown Prosecution Service, however, reveals that amounted to 22 cases out of a total of 44. Few seem very serious. The one anti-Muslim hate crime that the CPS report highlighted involved a passenger in a cab who used abusive language to the driver. He was jailed for four months for ‘religiously aggravated common assault’.

There is little evidence of any wave of popular Islamophobia. But there is plenty to suggest that some in high places are suffering from an exaggerated fear of an anti-Muslim backlash, viewing the public as a pogrom waiting to happen. Asked about the relatively low numbers of religious hate crimes, the director of equality and diversity at the CPS offered the apologetic explanation that it was ‘early days’ for this new offence! Perhaps we should be ringing the alarm bells about what my journalist friend, Patrick West, once described as ‘Islamophobia-phobia’.

  • If there is one spectacle more pathetic than the infantile media squabbling between Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger, it is the sight of a senior Metropolitan Police officer and a government minister trying to break up the PR bunfight.

Apparently they fear that such petty exchanges of insults could spark crowd trouble at the forthcoming match between Arsenal and Manchester United, as if Ferguson and Wenger really were commanders of the ‘red and white armies’ that their fans sing about. Even to a United nut such as myself, these rows are obviously just displacement activity for two increasingly impotent men, whose real frustration is seeing Chelsea disappear over the horizon towards the premiership title. Never mind mass riots; in the words of Jorge Luis Borges describing the Falklands conflict, the Fergie-Wenger spat looks more like ‘two bald men fighting over a comb’.

Mick Hume is editor of spiked
This article is republished from The Times (London)

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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