Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Selective Outrage

While driving in to work today I heard a story on the radio regarding a special needs children's orphanage in Iraq that was recently raided. According to the story, a routine military patrol in Baghdad happened to look over a wall, and saw the following:

...Inside the building, a government-run orphanage for special needs children, the soldiers found emaciated little bodies tied to the cribs, CBS News reports exclusively. They had been kept this way for more than a month, according to the soldiers called in to rescue the dying boys. ...

..."The kids were tied up, naked, covered in their own waste — feces — and there were three people that were cooking themselves food, but nothing for the kids," Lt. Stephen Duperre said. ...

The tone of the article was one of shock and dismay. As if, in a country where its former leader would use nerve gas to kill his own citizens for the crime of being from a different tribe than he, we should be surprised that special needs kids are abused and left to die.

But, my overarching reaction was something more akin to "Hey, where've you been, CBS? You don't have to go to Iraq to see abuse of those who are in institutions." Perhaps you should look a little bit closer to home. For starters, you could look at how UNICEF has cataloged systemic abuse of children in institutions all across the world, including in the West.

One could also go to this web site to see stories from former patients in mental institutions in the US. Another place closer to home would be to read Amanda Baggs' list of ways institutionalized people are abused in institutions. Finally, abuse of autistics both in and out of institutions is cataloged by Joel Smith here.

I guess the bottom line is while I think people should be outraged at the treatment that these children were/weren't receiving, I think that CBS missed an opportunity (responsibility?) to also shed a little light on a lot of abuse that happens a lot closer to home, here in the US.


ballastexistenz said...

Whenever I see stuff about torture, and all the shock and outrage, my reaction is always, "Yes, this is worth the outrage, but why are you shocked, this is going on in your backyards in all sorts of forms too, why do people never talk about that?"

I read somewhere that torture is one of the least-prosecuted crimes, and one reason among many is that within the country that it's taking place in, there's that sort of "not here" dynamic in place and it's probably being done by people well-respected by the general public.

Another Autism Mom said...

I don't think it is fair to generalize cruelty and torture to the whole Iraqi people. There are wonderful folks there too, just like anywhere else in the world. If you read the news story, you can see for instance that a local council member was in tears during a TV interview when he remembers what he saw while helping rescue the children.

And, even though there is abuse happening in American mental institutions, I highly doubt that we would find anything as tragic and horrendous as what we saw in that Iraqi orphanage. That IS news-worthy, and worthy of international outrage.

I'm sorry, but if anything American media is too focused on everything that happens in our backyards, and Americans hardly know what's going on in other parts of the world. Let's not be so self-centered that all we can see is the importance of our own problems.

laurentius rex said...

This post frightens me, for although abuse goes on in the US it does not take priority over abuse in a far off country whose infrastructure has been thoroughly destroyed by the US and UK allies creating an environment where Hobbes observations prove true once again.

"Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

Leviathan Chapter XVIII

Club 166 said...

OK, so I didn't intend for this post to be about international politics, or the rightness or wrongness of the Iraq war. And I also didn't intend to portray all Iraqi's as torturers and complicit in this.

So let me summarize the points I was trying to make:

1) Yes, this was a horrible thing, and worthy of news coverage and public outrage.

2) Such a scenario is not confined solely to Iraq. Thus my reference to the UNICEF paper, as well as domestic (US) references.

3) Too many times (as Amanda points out) citizens of all countries turn a "blind eye" to what happens in their own country, while decrying what happens somewhere else. Germans don't like to talk about the Holocaust, Japanese don't like to talk about cruel medical experiments their doctors performed during WWII, etc. But I purposely included the US references because that is where I live, and I didn't want to be just one more person saying "Aren't those people over there brutal, good thing we areen't like that!" I realize that the US is very egocentric, but in this case I thought it important to point out our own flaws.

4) I think there is a universal tendency in human nature to take those who we consider "other", whether by race, nationality, disability, or other factors, and dehumanize them in some fashion in order to be able to justify treating them in a sub-human fashion. I think CBS missed an opportunity to point this out.

5) Maybe if we could get troops to storm all of our instituions, with cameramen close behind, we would see similar types of despicable things. Perhaps not as much starving (though withholding food has been reported), but restraint, electric shocks, physical torture (punches, kicks, slaps), and misuse of drugs are all things which could easily be found. To think otherwise is to continue to fool ourselves.

kristina said...

I'll respond rather briefly-----we should be outraged that we have not been outraged before.

Steve D said...

In response to Larry's post -
What has occurred in Iraq since US/UK involvement is not at all good. What occurred in Iraq prior to US/UK involvement was absolutely atrocious. Your position on this only more adequately highlights the point Joe is making in his post - that until a famiiar media spotlight falls on atrocity, we simply choose not to believe it exists. Now that the BBC sends daily broadcasts into our living rooms of how our troops and leaders have bungled the Iraq situation, you find it so easy to disparage them. I speculate that if most of us dig back 5 years into our memory banks, we had never spent one spare moment considering the fate of any member of the Iraqi people. Even on one of the fateful days that thousands of them were choking in the streets in front of their homes, babies tucked away in their arms. We had no idea, but would have if we had cared to consider it. Some human traits are universal and, yes, even excusable.

laurentius rex said...

The West created this situation in Iraq, first in propping up Saddams regime as a bolster against the Iranians, and then by making Iraq the scapegoat for all things ill in the middle east, Sanctions had a major part to play in the destruction of Iraqs economy before the current war.

Does anyone care what is going on in Saudi in terms of human rights? No there is another blind eye being turned.

Thank goodness for Amnesty International, although it seems the Pope has turned his divisions on them lately which is not a good sign for World peace.

Steve D said...

Your statement is far too simplistic, LR. The West did not "create" the situation in Iraq, it contributed to the situation. Your reasoning would indicate that, had the West not ever become involved in Iraq, then all would be just fine over there, which is most certainly not the case. Contrary to popular media propaganda (did I say that out loud? I meant to say opinion), the West is pretty much responsible for all the ills of the world. It is simply not a sound opinion on so many levels.

It doesn't change the fact content of Joe's post is horrific, regardless of where it happened.

Anonymous said...

Truthfully these types of environments are my biggest fear when I think about Autism rates in other countries. This is not a story about Iraq as much as disability rights worldwide.

I hear so much discussion about Autism not being "accepted" here in the states. But what kind of acceptance exists in some of these other countries. I am stereotyping here but I often think about a country where boys are born to be the heir of their family. Now insert a boy who may not be able to speak and may have behaviors different than the norm.

I love my son and accept him as he is but will all of these families do so as well? Think of China and their "one child policy". They have for years aborted girls. How would they react to a boy who turned out to be so different than they "expected". It really breaks my heart to even think about it.

Daisy said...

Just to send the topic another direction -- Maybe RFK Jr. could speak to this issue. Or not. :)

Club 166 said...

Since RFK, Jr. had an aunt that was institutionalized, perhaps he could. At least he would have more experience (and hopefully more accurate information) than he does about autism.

Philip. said...

Nothing upsets or outrages me more than the abuse of children!!