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Summer 2004

Dogs of War

by Jonathan Ephrain Underhill

There is a tale in the Islamic apocrypha about the prophet Mohammed, a dog, and a cat.  Mohammed was making a journey in the country between two towns, accompanied by the animals.  During the course of his journey, it came time to kneel and pray, as it does five times every day.  Mohammed did this, but did not see until it was too late that there was a snake in the place he had chosen to kneel.  The snake hissed, and the dog ran away in fright.  The cat bared its claws and pounced, killing the serpent, and protecting the prophet.

     Thus one will find, throughout the Muslim world, that mosques are generously inhabited by tribes of lounging cats – that one cat’s act of courage by Mohammed’s side has earned his entire species the highest accord in the culture of Islam.  Consequently, the dog, so beloved to the Western heart, is known throughout Muslimdom as a cowardly and craven animal – none is allowed within a mosque, and few are kept as pets at all.  To call a man a dog in the heat of the Middle-East is not merely a piratical affectation; it is a summoning of all the lowly attributes thought to be possessed by that animal who abandoned Mohammed in his dire moment.

     Quite a few of the notorious torture photographs, of course, show American soldiers either treating Iraqis like dogs on leashes, or taunting the Iraqis with military canines.  It must be realized that these images – horrendous already to anyone with a whit of humanity - carry an entirely different connotation to an American eye than to an Arab one. 

It may be nit-picking to argue about ‘degrees’ of torture, but I am nothing if I am not a nit-picker, and it is valid, indeed, to point out that we have not merely become a nation of torturers, but one of true cultural malice.  Those soldiers, officers, and professional mercenaries who have been employed in the realization of George W. Bush’s dream of empire have combined their cultural ignorance (for how many of our military men have even bothered to skim through the Cliff’s Notes Qu’ran?) and their unmatched guile to lower the United States to the depths of History’s worst tyrannies.  Some flickering bright bulb in our armed forces saw how the Iraqis feared and loathed those slobbering snarling dogs, and employed just that effect in the Army’s systematic torture.

And this little cultural lesson is important to the American rube, so that he may understand just what effect these incidents will have on their Arab counterparts.  The great lands of Arabia are not inflamed merely because we have shown ourselves to be immoral on top of our arrogance, but because we have debased the Iraqis as Muslims, as well as human beings.  If there is any stubborn boob left in the Union who still doesn’t think this is a religious war, let them now be reformed.  When our next captured prisoner is crucified instead of beheaded, we may get some sense of how the Arabs have received those snapshots of dogs and men.

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