The biblical book of Proverbs reminds us that "righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people" (14:34).
As I write this, U.S. President George W. Bush is giving two interviews to Arab-language television stations in an attempt at damage control.
The Arab world is incensed at pictures of Iraqi prisoners being sexually abused and humiliated while naked, involuntarily posing for photographs taken with gloating American servicemen and at least one servicewoman. American leaders have expressed horror and shame at these incidents. These apologies are not likely to change Arab public opinion, which is increasingly anti-American.
The president of Egypt, ironically the second-biggest recipient of U.S. aid, proclaimed America "this most hated of nations." Although well-known for his penchant for overstatement, his words are reminiscent of a prophecy in Deuteronomy 28, a chapter that promises God's blessings for obedience and warns of the inevitable curses that come from disobedience to God's laws. As a nation turns away from God, it will "become troublesome to all the kingdoms of the earth" (verse 25).
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in a television interview that the American servicemen responsible for these atrocities were not typical of Americans serving in the military and that their behavior was not the norm in the United States.
Almost certainly this is true for Mr. Rumsfeld's generation, but is it true for all Americans?
Pornography gains recognition
Some time ago, ABC Nightline's Ted Koppel related an incident at a U.S. airport. Upon his arrival, a member of the public recognized him and came forward asking for his autograph. While signing, he saw that a fellow passenger was mobbed by people as he got off the plane, also requesting his autograph. He did not recognize the passenger and inquired as to who was receiving all this attention.
He was informed that the man was a famous American porn star. Clearly, this man was a lot more famous than Mr. Koppel. Obviously, more people watch adult movies than tune in to what I believe is America's most serious nightly television news program.
But Mr. Koppel made another observation—that there was no sense of shame or embarrassment among those surrounding the porn star, requesting his autograph. They were quite open in public about the fact that they all watched his "movies."
A whole generation (or two) has grown up since the legalization of pornography 35 years ago. For over 10 years porn has been available on the Web where even children can access the material. Is it any wonder that U.S. servicemen should submit captured prisoners to the same humiliating sexual acts that they may have seen on film or the Internet thousands of times?
Should we be shocked that one of the acts they made Iraqi prisoners perform was shamelessly exhibited before the whole world from the Oval Office of the White House during the formative teenage years of these same soldiers?
"Recruitment posters for al-Qaeda"
Is it any wonder that terrorists, most notably Osama bin Laden, have exploited this sexual depravity to their own advantage? One of the principle reasons given by al-Qaeda's leader in his "Letter to America" for the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, was the shameful sexual sin committed in the White House, for which he holds all the American people responsible. His reasoning is based on the fact that the United States is a democracy whose leaders are answerable to the people.
Extracts from Osama bin Laden's "Letter to America" were published in the London Observer newspaper on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2002. The full text was available on the paper's Web site. When cataloging America's sins, the leader of al-Qaeda spoke out strongly against immorality.
"You are a nation that permits acts of immorality, and you consider them to be pillars of personal freedom." Continuing: "Who can forget your President Clinton's immoral acts committed in the Oval Office? After that you did not even bring him to account, other than that 'he made a mistake,' after which everything passed with no punishment. Is there a worse kind of event for which your name will go down in history and be remembered by nations?"
It's hardly surprising that some have described the pictures of Iraqi prisoner abuse as "recruitment posters for al-Qaeda."
As if to emphasize this point, a few days after the publication of the first photographs, an al-Qaeda cell operating in Iraq beheaded an American civilian, 26-year-old Nicholas Berg, filming the horrendous act and then distributing the graphic image over the Internet for the whole world to see. They further declared this would be the fate of any other American males who came into their hands, whereas female Americans caught would be sold into slavery. These punishments are in accordance with Islamic teaching and traditions—the beheading of infidel males and the selling into slavery of their wives and children.
The propaganda war
The war in Iraq is becoming a propaganda war as much as a military conflict. This is in stark contrast to the first Gulf War fought in 1991. In the intervening years, satellite television has become a big factor with hundreds of millions of people around the world now seeing vivid images of daily conflict every hour on the hour. Two Arab language satellite television stations constantly broadcast negative images of the U.S. role in Iraq while playing down atrocities committed by terrorists.
Even in the United States, while many pictures were shown of the prisoner abuse, television stations refused to show the beheading of Mr. Berg and showed heavily edited pictures of the four American civilians who were shot, burned, hacked to pieces and then hanged from a bridge. These pictures were considered too gruesome for people to see, although they were no worse than Hollywood's daily fare. The result, though, is very serious—the world gets a distorted image of the conflict—with Americans routinely portrayed as the bad guys fighting an "innocent" enemy that simply wants Americans to go home.
Columnist Molly Ivins summed up the present situation on May 22, 2004, in an article titled "Time to Cut Our Losses in Iraq":
"On the plus side, Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. On the minus side, we have encouraged anti-American terrorists everywhere, put ourselves at greater risk of terrorist attack, lost enormous amounts of goodwill around the world, earned the resentment of many of our closest allies and cost ourselves around $200 billion we really could have used for more constructive projects. The worst possibility is that we have set up the Iraqis for a horrible three-way civil war, a development that was foreseen before the invasion and is looming now."
"Put ourselves at greater risk of terrorist attack?" U.S. News and World Report led its "Washington Whispers" section the same week with a brief item headlined, "From the White House, a Nightmare Scenario" (May 24, 2004, p. 6). "'We assume,' says a top administration official, 'an attack will happen leading up to the election...[and] it will happen here.'"
The report continues: "There are two worst-case scenarios, the official says. The first posits an attack on Washington, possibly the Capitol, which was believed to be the target of the 9/11 jet that crashed in Pennsylvania. Theory 2: smaller but more frequent attacks in Washington and other major cities leading up to the election."
The threat of an imminent attack or series of attacks cannot be blamed solely on the immoral acts of a few American troops. But those acts only confirmed the negative impression many around the world already have of the United States—an impression reinforced on a daily basis by American movies and television shows.
When American leaders talk of bringing democracy to a former dictatorship, people with little or no knowledge of democracy automatically equate democracy with American culture. To many, if not most, democracy equals too much freedom equals American culture equals sexual immorality and children talking back to their parents! And they don't want it.
The shameful acts forced on Iraqi prisoners of war will incur a heavy price on other military personnel serving in that country. More seriously, they have exposed the hypocrisy of a nation historically committed to human rights, which has become the leading producer of pornography. Americans shamelessly perform sexual acts for the entertainment of people around the world, a degrading trade in "the bodies and souls of men" (Revelation 18:13).
A friend of mine, who is a U.S. marine and whose unit recently served in Iraq, informed me that Iraqis are capitalizing on the sexual weaknesses of American servicemen, providing them with a night's "entertainment" with a female for $300. Their religion forbids them from using Iraqi women for such purposes, so instead they bring in women from Eastern Europe and Russia, some of whom may be there against their will—that is, they are sex slaves.
"The great Satan"
This is in stark contrast to World War II, when Congress refused to authorize the distribution of condoms among American GIs for fear it would encourage immorality. In World War II, remember, Americans were considered the good guys. Today, the United States is perceived in the Islamic world as "the great Satan."
Although there are many factors that contribute to this perception, the lack of morality among some U.S. troops has become a major factor in the ongoing war on terror.
If America were to begin to earnestly pursue a morally upright way of life, based on God's eternal Ten Commandments, the nation could count on God's blessings. Many faithful who live a true Christian life believe that a veil of protection has been withdrawn because of so much immorality in the land. Ultimately a nation's welfare and protection is in the hands of the Almighty. —WNP
How does God want us to live? How can we avoid the tragic consequences of what the Bible calls sin? What guidelines and eternal principles will lead to happiness now and blessings for eternity. Our free booklet, The Ten Commandments, sheds light on this important subject.