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Gehad Mazarweh I Torture and the Culture of Torture


Project: Torture and the Culture of Torture


After the allied powers had realized the dimension of the Nazi crimes against humanity, the European Convention of Human Rights was passed on December 12, 1948; Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares: “No one can be exposed to torture or brutal inhuman or debasing treatment or punishment”.

The meaning of this declaration was and still is to protect human beings from other’s arbitrariness, to counteract inhuman and debasing methods and, if possible, to stop them. It is astounding and at the same time shocking that torture and techniques of torture have experienced a tremendous increase since this declaration was passed. The apparent fight against torture paralleled a rapid further development. The countries that had openly proclaimed a “defense of civilization” were, and still are, leading in the practice of torture. The allied powers that denounced torture and its destructive influence on human rights and human dignity still support the phenomenon of torture. Torture and being tortured still seems to be a reliable way of fighting against political opponents and dissidents. Actually, for the allied powers the 2nd World War only stopped in Europe. Rivalry and war have only been relocated to other continents (the so-called proxy war).

Political as well as economic reasons were and are decisive for the conflicts. In order not to lose influence, the allies (former colonized countries) had to be supported in all possible ways. Next to weapons and military education even torture instruments, torture methods and torture practitioners were exported for the fight against rivals. Proven methods of the Nazis are still used and, according to the requirements, improved, completed and sold on the world market (e.g. The KUBARK Manual of Counter-Intelligence Interrogation). By this, many western democracies unmask themselves, such as the USA in East Asia and Latin America, Great Britain and France in Africa, Asia and Middle East. They proclaimed freedom, democracy, and human rights and enforced their claim with the help of violence and oppression. What was actually intended to be used in the fight against enemies of the state is used, if required, as a preventive measure against all opponents or only suspects. What was intended for the defense of freedom becomes, thereby, a threat of it. The identification with                          evil made it easier for the ruling class of developing countries to apply these abominable measures themselves. In cases where their interests seemed to be in danger, the roles of victim and torturer turned around. These projects search for explanations of this phenomenon. How is it possible that a tortured, mortified individual is able to do the same to others?

Torture is a depraved, repulsive, perverted and unnatural assault on the rights and dignity of man, on his mental and physic health as well as on human culture. A society using or even tolerating torture as an instrument should be, at least, called to account for its doings.

Although the origin of its usage seems to be hidden in history’s darkness, no doubts exist on the statement that torture has had its place in human history. Where humans live, torture finds its place. Although historians have done a lot to blur the traces of torture, there are references to the fact that torture has existed as a legal method and a part of the legislative act in Europe and Far East since 3000 years. An Egyptian writer’s description of Pharaoh Ramses II who tortured some unfortunate prisoners with the intention to learn the plan of the enemies during the Hittite’s invasion of Egypt in 1.300 BC is probably the first written proof. In Ancient Greece prisoners were also tortured. In the Babylonia or Jewish legal system, torture was not referred to, but evidently the Assyrians made use of it. Islam clearly prohibits every kind of torture, however since the reign of the third Caliph and the foundation of the first police force administration assaults were registered. (Unfortunately, most political systems of the Arabic and Muslim countries nowadays are the worst torturers).

In this respect, the Arabic/Muslim countries and Israel are very similar.

The original, legal form of torture had its aim in obtaining information that would not have been provided voluntarily. Although this assumption is valid until today, it is known that these kinds of witness accounts are always dubious.

“If we chose, we could reasonably exaggerate its meaning by insisting on the fact that it is the only true kind of witness account. But if it turns against us and is at our enemy’s will, we can destroy the value of true accounts and every application of torture in general” (Aristotle).

By now, we are sure of the fact that it is the purpose of torture to destroy the tortured in a way they will not able to resist the system ever again and, especially, that they will become a huge burden to their community.

The Roman legal system that has always been acknowledged with high appreciation and admiration approved the torture of slaves and foreigners. Long after they had been released they were haunted by mental and physical pains. This is confirmed by a large number of scientific investigations (victims of torture during the 2nd World War, Americans in East Asia and elsewhere). Not only have the victims suffered under the consequences of torture but also their family members. Mostly a certain period of time has to pass until the effect of torture can go by, encompassing generations. Part of the dramatic side-effect of torture is the participation of scientists (psychologists, physicians) in its planning and realization. When the scenes of the tortured prisoners in Abu Ghraib, Iraq and Guantanamo, Cuba were screened to the world, the people were profoundly shocked and appalled at the sight of this brutality; however it is only a small fraction of what is happening in prisons all over the world.

Those who have suffered torture cannot find back to society, to this world. The disgrace of destruction cannot be extinguished. The trust in the world, already partly destroyed in the very beginning, and finally irretrievably destroyed in the process of being tortured, will not be recovered. Experiencing the fellow man as a counter man remains as a condensed terror in the victim of torture: No one is hoping anymore for a world in which the principle of hope exists.” (Jean Améry)

In the last years, publications dealing with the “clash of civilizations” and the risks that we have to face if this escalation is going to continue have increased. In the 2nd World War the race has been the defining rule for discrimination and prosecution, today it is the culture we belong to.  

Artneuland is a cultural organization that strives for an encounter of different cultures and religions. By implementing programs and projects which are established by representatives of these religions and cultures, a common base for a dialogue will be created. This project dealing with “violence in culture and culture of violence” sees its task in examining the phenomenon and in raising the guests awareness of kind of injustice. Finally, they should change from being mere observer into active contributors in a fight against the practice of torture. It is the aim to inform mankind thoroughly and to build a strong consciousness against injustice, discrimination and prosecution according to Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Gehad Mazarweh

// March 2009
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Gehad Mazarweh I Torture and the Culture of Torture [deutsch]

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