Ever since the video showing the gruesome death of Nick Berg came to light, many conservative commentators have decried the lack of comment on it by liberals, saying that we’d rather discuss what happened at Abu Ghraib, because, as one said, “the existence of a large group of Muslim extremists who are willing to engage in that kind of activity challenges his [in this case, Josh Marshall’s] approach on the war on terror.” Others have criticized the willingness of news outlets to show pictures of what happened at Abu Ghraib, but the unwillingness to show some (if not all) of the footage from Berg’s death, saying that it shows a definite bias (Glenn, I’m looking at you).
But that’s simply, patently ridiculous. There’s nothing new we would have learned from seeing Nick Berg’s death throes. We already know that Zarqawi and people like him revel in death and gore–we’ve known that for years. We saw it when Daniel Pearl died, we saw it on September 11, and we see it day in and night out in Israel, every time another “martyr” decides to speedily fufill their appointment with 72 dusky virgins in Paradise. Seeing Nick’s death only serves to punctuate the barbarity of al-Qaeda’s nihilism; it doesn’t reveal it.
In contrast, the images and videos coming from Abu Ghraib (and other places) reveal a level of brutality that we don’t associate with ourselves, and others have only suspected. Now that it’s out in the open, it’s forcing us to realize that we aren’t intrisically good because we’re Americans, and that we are, in fact, capable of being every bit as barbarous as anyone else. There’s a long history of that, by the way, but we don’t like reading about it, or learning about it, because it doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves.
I think the real reason many of these folks are harping on Nick’s death is because it gives them a chance to score easy political points. Yes, they are that crass, and that desperate. That snuff film gives them the chance to say, “Yes, what happened at Abu Ghraib was awful, but look what happened to this guy!” And then they can try to rally support for the President and the war.
I happen to think that Nick Berg’s death was utterly cruel, and having seen it, I’m a worse person for it. And yes, it’s shocking. But it’s not a surprise. And trying to wave the bloody shirt with it is appalling. The two events aren’t on the same plane, and they don’t cancel each other out. The fact that something like this happened does not give us the moral authority to obliterate Iraq.
There’s precious little–realistically–we can do about Zarqawi and his gang of thugs. There’s a lot we can do about what happened in Abu Ghraib. And I think that what we do–or fail to do about Abu Ghraib, and how we treat Iraqis, will go a lot further towards determining whether or not we win the war on terror.