Thursday, October 19, 2006
Earlier I discussed torture. This was about the quiet but clear drift towards an official acceptance of torture as a weapon against terrorism. I broadly agreed with my friend John Gray. Torture is just what human beings do. It cannot be banished from human affairs by human rationality or aspiration. Gray has used the return of torture as evidence supporting his own scepticism about the idea of progress. Now a BBC survey shows that, globally, about one in three people believe that some degree of torture should be perimissible. Since there was no previous survey to provide comparable figures, this is not evidence of increasing support for torture. But two points: the overall figure is remarkably high and the reponse in individual countries seems significant. In Israel 43 per cent are in favour of torture, the highest figure of all, and only 48 per cent against. Second is Iraq (42 per cent) followed by Indonesia and the Philippines (40 per cent). China is at 37 per cent, as is Russia, and the US figure is 36 per cent. At 24 per cent Britain is the highest of the Western European countries polled and Italy (14 per cent) the lowest. There appears to be a clear correlation with the immediate experience of terrorism, though the Madrid bombings do not seem to have persuaded the Spanish (16 per cent). No firm conclusions can be drawn from one survey. But it is striking how many people are prepared to support torture openly and in the unthreatening moment of being questioned by a pollster. When the terrorist chips are down and when the question is not being asked of an individual but of a group, then support would certainly be much higher. To repeat the conclusion of my last post, torture, like gentleness, compassion and art, is just what we do.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 5:44 am