Master’s Degree: Teaching Torture as a Western Value

In a recent London Review of Books article detailing the abysmal horrors of Egypt’s prison system — a multi-circled hell with visible and invisible layers, all of them wretched, some of them unspeakably so — Tom Stevenson noted, in passing, this piece of historical context:

“The prison system in Egypt is the legacy of a long period of British control, followed by the successive autocracies of Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak. It was in a British prison during the Second World War that some of the torture techniques now employed by Egyptian intelligence were refined. The Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre was annexed to a British army camp in the Cairo suburb of Maadi. The camp had a cinema, boxing ring and ice-cream parlour for the soldiers, but a few hundred metres away British interrogators were experimenting on as many as sixty prisoners at a time, attempting to induce hallucinations with thyroxine, or trying to break them psychologically by forcing them to dig their own graves.”

This is an important fact to remember. Far be it from me to deny agency to the creative peoples of the Middle East, who like all other human groupings are entirely capable of devising their own methods and traditions of tormenting each other. But this tidbit of recent history reminds us of the true nature of the “Western values” said to be under attack by the “savages” of Islamic extremism.

(Always excepting the Islamic extremists that our Western Valuists arm and support, of course, such as the Saudi royals or the Libyan extremists ushered to power by the humanitarian application of NATO bombs.) It also reminds us that today’s incessant Western “interventions” in the region are not some new direction forced on civilization’s defenders by the sudden and unfathomable rise of Islamic extremism, but a continuation of old polices, all based on the unexamined assumption of Western superiority — and the entirely transparent lust for power and loot on the part of Western elites.

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