Amanda Marcotte on the feminist blog Pandagon has one of the best blog posts I have read for ages on the dehumanising of the Other as a response to the fear of death. I think fear of death is more powerful in our society, because we stress the Self so much, and we emphasise Control, though obviously fear is powerful for all humans everywhere. And we have no protection from it - only delay.
Amanda reminds us that as we fear death more we fear our own embodiment as flesh and hate the treacherous flesh which beguiles and fails us. Thus we stress the embodiment of the Other - their sexuality, their treacherous destructiveness, their need to be controlled. Penetration becomes a symbolic confirmation of that vulnerability. Thus the man who is penetrated is hated as a traitor, revealing that 'male' can also be embodied and vulnerable. Thus the female who is pregnant is feared as a source of death, who must be controlled. Thus the torture victim must be penetrated by implements, or even by water. I know this is not a new idea, I just think it is worth reiterating, because without this concept the huge changes that are happening these days seem illogical and random.
The counteraction to the fear of death is to imagine one's-self as a being of law, of thought, of words. Thus there must be no doubt about the legalistic minutiae of scripture. Thus 'we' are rational. Thus we silence you, or torture you until you speak, and you must speak the words we want to hear. (ETA - Thus 'we' are not animals, 'we' are not flesh, we did not evolve through mutation and death.)
My son was telling me about an online friend who posts stories about himself as a killing being, a cyborg, who feels nothing. I think this is a common fantasy.
How can anybody look at the figure of Christ on the cross and think that’s anything but a condemnation of torture? For the thinking person, it clearly is. But for the fundamentalist, that image creates anxiety about death and makes them cling to their hierarchical values even more, and those values include the belief that Muslims are inferior, not-saved, and eligible for torture. They’re going to hell anyway.