Violence and culture

Well it seems that major news outlets have decided to call a spade a spade and refer to the “civil war” in Iraq– much to the chagrin of the Bush administration.  Anyway, I was reading a very disturbing article in the paper over Thanksgiving break about a recent Shiite attack on a Sunni mosque where the victims who fled the building were burned alive.  The story went on to detail the fact that it has also become quite common for the fighters in this civil war to torture people with drills before killing and beheading them.  Unfortunately, I am not surprised that such human brutality and savagery exists.  What disturbs me, though, is that such behavior has at least implicit support from the larger communities represented by these combatants or they would not be engaged in it.  Here's one of those areas where I am a cultural relativist.  The American people saw the results of napalm in Vietnam and we were horrified by it.  Surely, many decent Iraqis are horrified by the action of their countrymen, but too many must be giving silent assent in order for such actions to continue.  We can certainly do some awful things in America and other first-world countries, but I'd like to think that under no circumstances would the barbaric actions being undertaken in Iraq be met with any popular support whatsoever.  As to why this difference, there are very many possible social and cultural factors.  I'm not going to pick one. 

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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