Friday, July 09, 2010

When the N.Y. Times called indifference to child sex abuse ‘heartwarming’…

The Easter-time controversies over Pope Benedict XVI's handling of sex abuse flamed out quicker than expected. The New York Times' attacks on the Pope quieted down following reports of exculpatory information in its primary sources, criticism concerning poor and inaccurate reporting, and the revelation that some key documents used in fact originated with a lawyer intending to sue the Vatican.[1]

Of course, these contrary reports lacked the prominence of the original Times stories. The damage to the papacy had been done. High-ranking prelates now have a credible example of an unfounded, sensationalist media attack. The cynical bishop will use the attack as an empty excuse for inaction; the naïve will explain the details of the attack without benefit to an unknowing public outraged by reporters’ half-truths.

Now the Times has tried to renew the controversy with another story from Laurie Goodstein, followed by a Thursday editorial.[2]

Religion journalist Mollie Hemingway of, herself a Lutheran, has critically examined the latest report and declared it to be "a hit piece." Other critics were also harsh.

As usual, the Times has posed as a moral authority and, like the Church it criticizes, it is slow to acknowledge its mistakes and errors.

But even as the Times appoints itself papal adviser and advocates a worldwide "zero tolerance policy" for the Catholic Church, it is useful to remember that the newspaper is selective in its attention and can show gruesome moral flexibility where the sexual abuse of children is concerned.

Take the October 27, 2007 Times op-ed "A True Culture War" by University of Chicago anthropology professor Richard Schweder.[3]

There, he recounts anthropologist Montgomery McFate’s efforts to help the U.S. military understand the cultures of Afghanistan. Citing an NPR news show story, Schweder adds:

Nevertheless the military voices on the show had their winning moments, sounding like old-fashioned relativists, whose basic mission in life was to counter ethnocentrism and disarm those possessed by a strident sense of group superiority. Ms. McFate stressed her success at getting American soldiers to stop making moral judgments about a local Afghan cultural practice in which older men go off with younger boys on “love Thursdays” and do some “hanky-panky.” “Stop imposing your values on others,” was the message for the American soldiers. She was way beyond “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and I found it heartwarming. [my emphasis]

Prof. Schweder’s nauseating, flippant attitude should not distract from the very real threats facing young boys in Afghanistan.

In June 2008 allegations began surfacing that Afghan security forces were sexually abusing young boys at Canadian bases in Afghanistan. Soldiers and chaplains told military commanders of the incidents.

According to the Ottawa Citizen’s Sept. 21, 2009 story “Sex abuse and silence exposed,”[4] in 2008 Brig. General J.C. Collin, commander of Land Force Central Area, “passed on to the senior army leadership the concerns raised by military police who said they had been told by their commanders not to interfere in incidents in which Afghan forces were having sex with children.”

One reputed witness is former Cpl. Travis Schouten. According to the Toronto Star:

He says he was told by an Afghan translator about "Man Sex Thursday," a weekly routine in which Afghan soldiers, police and translators sexually abused young boys. Schouten is overwhelmed by guilt for not having intervened when he heard what he believes were the cries of boys being sexually assaulted, sounds he says were corroborated when he later saw a young boy, barely alive, with signs of rape trauma.[5]

The trauma was such that (this is not for the squeamish) the boy’s bowels had fallen out of his body. Cpl. Schouten himself suffers from post-traumatic stress.

“We allow rampant abuse of young boys at the hands of what is supposed to be their finest police officers and army officers, then what does that say?” the soldier told the Ottawa Citizen in 2009. [6]

That report continues, saying Defence Department records show military police were upset about such incidents but were told not to interfere. Army officers’ 2007 discussions of the issue had as their main concern that “the media would somehow find out.”

Another soldier told Canwest News Service that soldiers were informed the practice involved “consenting Afghans,” no one was raped, and the children involved were “given small gifts or money in return for sex.” Perhaps academic anthropology explained it all away.

For his part, Schouten rightly doubts the ability of six- to eleven-year-olds to consent. One of his translators apparently told Schouten how he enjoys the violent practice and also uses a knife on the youths.

Schouten’s words are a rebuke to Prof. Schweder:

“The Canadian Forces wants people to think it’s a cultural thing, that everyone is doing it, because it takes the onus of responsibility off them to stop it.”

“I do feel people should be held accountable and people should know this is what is going on over there,” he told the Ottawa Citizen.

And the New York Times’ response to these claims of cover-ups? A search on “Schouten” reveals no results. The Canadian charges are not on its radar.

In 2002 the Times did inform us that although the “puritanical” Taliban “tried hard to erase pedophilia… now that the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice is gone, some people here are indulging in it once again.” [7]

The Times reporter interviewed 19-year-old Ahmed Fareed, who at the age of 12 was taken into a pedophiliac relationship with a 22-year-old. The piece concludes:

…he insisted that he does not regret being lured into a relationship by his older friend. When asked if he would do the same to a young boy, Mr. Fareed said, yes.

''I'm looking for one now,'' he said with a smile.

At least this Times writer had enough sense to recognize pedophilia as a “curse.” But what of his responsibility to report a professed child predator?

Both journalists and the military forces in Afghanistan have arguments for silence and a “don’t look, don’t tell” policy.

A journalist might say that reporting these likely criminals to authorities would compromise his special need for sources by making others less willing to speak to journalists. Informing could subject his pedophiliac source to harsh, even fatal punishment.

A military officer might say soldiers have a larger mission to run and it is not their role to intervene on an issue that could alienate allies.

But here we hear echoes of the bishop who did not report a priest to the authorities because of the special paternal relationship between him and the priest, or because of fears the priest couldn’t handle prison, or because of fears the publicity could adversely affect the Church’s mission.

And what of our love for zero tolerance policies? There is always something for which we, the fallen ones, will excuse or ignore crimes against children, whether we are clergymen, reporters or soldiers.

But at least let’s not declare to be “heartwarming” the intense corruption of our Afghan allies’ culture or the relativism of certain professors who write for the New York Times.

Twitter: @kevinjjones, @MZHemingway

[1] Phil Blosser's special blog on the 2010 sex abuse reportage is a useful resource.

[2] Church Office Failed to Act on Abuse Scandal and The Pope's Duty.

[3] A True Culture War.
Also note that the big controversy among anthropologists was not how to handle sexual abuse of children in the field, but whether cooperation with the U.S. military violates their professional standards.

[4] Sex abuse and silence exposed

[5] Post-traumatic stress disorder's hidden scars

[6] Former Canadian soldier speaks out against 'disgusting' child rape in Afghanistan

[7] An open secret: warlords and pedophilia.
Sympathy for the Taliban is hard for any American. But knowing of the wretches who practice these foul customs makes the Taliban’s reputed tyranny somewhat more understandable.


Lydia McGrew said...

This is truly shocking. Is there any evidence of a change in army policy now that this has been exposed? Any change at all?

Bill White said...

I wonder whether Michael Yon could be persuaded to opine on the subject? I'll ask him on his facebook page.

Kevin J Jones said...


Shocking indeed.

Which army policy did you have in mind? The Canadian military's "don't look" policy or the U.S. Army's "inculturation" advice to be non-judgmental?

It is my hope that the anthropology professor and the radio broadcast upon which he based his op-ed was exaggerating about the U.S. program.

I did not find any further information on the Canadian whistleblower indicating he had prevailed.

Considering the quality of our Afghan allies, it's understandable any changes would not be public. But considering how under-reported their foul vices are, I'm not optimistic about change.

This story is so depressing already, but I have to add one thing. When the American media were joking about how U.S. forces are paying Afghan warlords with Viagra pills, only Diana West noted that we were probably helping impotent ogres with child brides.

Some of this neglect is due to American innocence about foreigners' depravity, but clearly our own relativism and licentiousness have also dulled our consciences.

Lydia McGrew said...

I guess I meant either policy and in particular any policy that resulted in these horrible things taking place _on our or the Canadians' own bases_ without being stopped. It's one thing to say that we can't go out in the villages and stop it. It's another thing to allow this to take place on allied military bases and even within hearing of Canadian and American soldiers and to do nothing other than (perhaps) treating the injuries to the children afterwards. That is beyond belief. How do we expect to set up any kind of democracy in Afghanistan if we can't even keep some measure of order and prevent horrific abuse of children on our own bases? We must be insane.

Kevin Jones said...

To be clear, I have not read an account of such crimes happening on U.S. bases. I have read only a few American accounts of "Man-love Thursday" actions among Afghan allies, and these appeared to involve adults and took place in the field.

Steve Hayes said...

And then there is the recent article in the Guardian linking fornication with children to the ordination of women.