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The Crime of Writing

Zouhair Ghazzal

Chapter 8. A danger to society: they must therefore all disappear

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  • 1 Asad,Formations of the Secular,193.

1In one of the cases discussed in this Chapter, the prosecution, in the midst of a plea to go for the death penalty, argued that the accused, considering all what he had done and said, does not deserve to live in society because he constitutes a “danger” to the very principles for what a “society” stands for (C8–2 infra). To be sure, both the notion of “society” and that of “danger to society” are new to the twentieth‑century eastern Mediterranean. As the genealogist of religions Talal Asad has persuasively argued, “nationalism, with its vision of a universe of nationalsocieties(the state being thought of as necessary to their full articulation) in which individual humans live their worldly existence, requires the concept of the secular to make sense.” And he adds: “The loyalty that the individual nationalist owes is directly and exclusively to the nation…The men and women of each national society make andowntheir history.”1The link that Asad draws between nation‑state, society, and a secularism which draws individual citizens into a collective secular history of the nation, on the one hand, and an individualistic history which is of their own making on the other, goes back to the nationalisms of nineteenth‑century Europe. It was within such a constellation that, in the aftermath of the French Revolution, thesubjectsof His Majesty the King became thecitizens(citoyens) of the Republican nation; hence the new nationalist configuration uprooted those newly conceived citizens from their communal norms, ethnicity, and religion. The notion of “society” therefore emerges—post‑1789—within the bedrock of atomized individuals, extracted from all communal norms, with a presumed loyalty to the secular nationandstate: it is the latter which makes the very existence of the former possible, granting that aura of respectability that it deserves; hence the hyphen between “nation” and “state” takes a long time—and a cohort of deadly wars—to fully develop and mature. In between nation and state stands the venerable “society,” now reduced to its atomized individuals, having lost their old patriarchal symbolic order, only to be drilled into novel disciplinary practices where subjects are no longer fully immersed into their old identities of region, class, and communal norms. Hence the emergence of the modern abstract individual which issubjectivizedthrough the disciplinary practices of the state.

2To be sure, Asad’s notion of “society,” framed within the nascent secular nation‑state, draws heavily on Foucault’s genealogy of micro‑power in modern European societies and civilizations. Madmen, lepers, criminals, sexual deviants, hysterics, become “a danger to society” precisely because they fail to integrate in the newly established norms of the nation‑state. In Foucauldian genealogy, the Durkheimian “organic solidarity” would actualize not through a “collective consciousness” (conscience collective), but by marking a margin of society “outside” its shared values, only to integrate them by means of juristic, medical, educational and military institutions. Hence the process of integration is one of a double negation: first, by marking a group of individuals as unfit, that is, outside the bounds of legal and medical reason; in a second gesture, such unreasonable individuals would only come back to society by acknowledging the very act that kept them at bay from the rest of us; in a final gesture of (Hegelian) dialectics, such individuals are neither “normal” nor “abnormal,” butsubjectifiedas such as “non‑abnormal,” hence within a margin ofexcess of desirewhich would not be contained within traditional normalcy. In other words, the juridico‑medical discourse, whose aim is to control, discipline, and normalize, unwittingly creates its own “excesses”withinthe psyche of that “non‑abnormal” individual.

3The Syrian judge who desperately pleaded for the death penalty for a young man, who had just turned eighteen, and who had “unwittingly” asphyxiated a boy for the sheer pleasure of sodomizing him, was offended that the man did not repentin public in the aftermath of a guilty verdict (C8–2). Thus, although the court seems to have mastered the idea that the boy’s death was not premeditated, the prosecuting judge was nonetheless more than offended that the young man never apologized, that is, he never acknowledged that his act of sexual lust was sinful, contrary to the norms of society. The offender thus looked right in the eyes of a stunned court and behaved as if he would not care less for the below‑expectations verdict. As the defense counsel heralded satisfaction for the much reduced non‑premeditation penalty, what was lacking was that gesture of sinfulness: “What I did was wicked and immoral; I apologize to society for what I did.” Rather, the provocative demure of the accused—Is that all?—seemed not only to mock the rationale of the verdict itself, but more importantly, it did hit a chord into what the justice of punishment should be all about: that criminals must repent, whatever the verdict, and if they do not, then they are floating around—even after their execution—as persona non grata; while a repenting criminal has been re‑integrated into society at large as that quirky “non‑abnormal.”

  • 2 See myGrammars of Adjudication,Chapter 11.

4To be sure, such logic of repentance and punishment was new to the societies of the eastern Mediterranean. New in the sense that the old Ottoman Ḥanafī penal system, which predominated until the French mandate, would not budge on the subtleties of individual consciousness. With the nation‑state now on the horizon thanks to French tutelage, individuals were not solelytied anymore to their socio‑symbolic communal norms. Instead, they begin to share that unique possibility to opt for personas outside their social space and mores into which they were born. What all of the cases in this book document is that kind of displacement between a role that was traditionally ascribed to the patrimonial individual and the emergence of the modern abstract individual at the mercy of the state apparatuses of the nation‑state. Now crimes must be registered, investigated, and more importantly, criminals speak (and, at times, write) their crimes, document them in relation to other witnesses, experts of sorts, and judges who may or may not be receptive to their pleas. What therefore emerges are personalized histories of Fall and Redemption, where the elementary forms of socialization are at stake, simply because they are not longer what they were prior to the monstrous project of the nascent nation‑state and its will to dominate, archive, and discipline. Maybe the Syrian nation‑state would not look as impressive as the European‑French one upon which it was modeled, but regardless of its perceived failures and incapacities at controlling its own territory, it acts nonetheless with that sustained illusion of a finished project, ready to assume its control over the smallest crime in any regional district, which, to be sure, was not how Ottomans handled crime.2

5From the perspective of this book, which centers on individual criminal histories, it is not enough to take aim at the transition between the old patriarchal symbolic values versus the decentering of the individual in a modern context. Rather, what should be placed into focus are the very forms of subjectivity and knowledge in individual actors. Indeed, what is deployed, once patriarchal authority cannot be sustained as the driving force within a community, is a restructuring of subjectivity indexed on modes of knowledge and perception of the self which attempt to make sense of the lifeworld in terms of what sociologists have labeled as an other‑oriented personality. New forms of dependency therefore arise from the very decline of patriarchal symbolic authority, and it is precisely that kind of reinscription of sexual difference, redistribution of gender roles and (political) subjectivities that we would like to depict in our analysis of criminal cases.

6This chapter documents four very different homicidal cases, beginning with the parricidal daughter who one morning killed her mother when she was still in bed; to the young man, mentioned above, who sodomized a kid for the sheer pleasure of becoming a man, and unwittingly asphyxiated him; or the ex‑husband who was insanely jealous that his ex‑wife had opted for a new lover and fiancé, murdering her with some of her family members in the sanctity of their own home; finally, in our concluding case, a wife who conspired to kill her husband, hoping to salvage that sexual lust with her lover‑murderer. What all such cases have in common is that “seduction of crime” as a last unexpected resort to bypass a deadlock in the socio‑symbolic order of society. The abyss of crime transgresses that order; the criminal is punished and may or may not repent; but in the meantime what remains lurking is that unresolved “non‑abnormal” psyche which has defiled the very roots of social order, leaving an anonymous scar behind the murderous act.

Arson and matricide: the daughter rehabilitates the law

  • 3 Aleppo Jināyāt case 701/996; final ruling missing.

7 [C8–1]In her most sweeping statement to the Jināyāt court prior to the hearings, the accused stated on 26 May 1996 that3

I confess of having committed the crime of killing my mother. The reason was that my mother kept interfering with my marital life, forbidding me from filing for a divorce from my husband. I was also aware that my mother and sisters were having sex with my husband. I reiterate all previous statements [to the police and public prosecution].

8It was in the morning of 11 August 1995 that Fatima Shawwa (b. 1963, maiden name Sari Basha), amid a fight with her husband, decided to burn her house down at the popular neighborhood of Bustān al‑Qaṣr, prior to spending her night at her mother’s home. The mother, who lived on her own, apparently refused to give her daughter any money that night, but nonetheless approved of her staying over. Early in the morning, Fatima, who had always complained that her mother treated her unfairly compared to her sisters, went to her mother’s bed and watched her. She then cut her throat with a knife she had grabbed from the kitchen. But as her mother resisted, the daughter rushed for a hammer to finish off the mother. The beating was so severe that the skull was savagely damaged with the brain plainly visible. The accused then left her mother’s home and went to her mother‑in‑law where she was arrested that same day.

9Besides the daughter’s brief description of her killing her mother while the latter was deep in her sleep, the dossier is not that talkative, except for a personal letter that the defendant had drafted to her “paternal cousin (ibn ʿamm),” identified as “my paternal cousin Muhammad ʿAli Shawwa Abu ʿAbdo,” where “Abu ʿAbdo” seems to refer to the cousin’s nickname, and where the “cousin” claim could have been real or fictive. In effect, considering that the addressee was no one else but the brother of Sabiha’s own husband, her brother‑in‑law, Muhammad ʿAli Shawwa could have been a real cousin, which would make the husband another real cousin too, or else the “paternal cousin” denotation could have simply been a “form of talk,” a way to address someone close.

10The prison document as drafted (or dictated or commissioned) by Fatima was handwritten, but it remains uncertain whether it was her handwriting, not to mention her style. The undated document was drafted in a combination of official and colloquial Arabic, with occasional spelling and grammatical errors, but overall perfectly comprehensible. As with other auto‑biographical documents that we have encountered (those of Buthayna Khattab [C4–1], Hallaq [C4–2], and the shepherd‑who‑writes [C3–1]), the stakes are twofold: first, the real purpose behind its inclusion in the dossier; and, more importantly, the purpose of drafting such a personal letter from the viewpoint of the actor herself. The first issue, regarding the legality of such documents, is not only a matter of formality, but relates to the way social norms receive their codification in the language of law. More importantly, why would the system go beyond the usual statements uttered to police and prosecution, investigating judge, and court, to more personal statements, apropos documents that seem to have been “donated” by family, friends, or counsels, as expressing the accused’s “state of mind” when she was on trial, prior to their incorporation in the official dossier? One thing seems certain as far as auto‑biographical documents are concerned: they have been “donated” for a purpose in mind, either to enhance the prosecution side, or that of the defendant, but beyond that it remains uncertain. In effect, such non‑official documents remain for the most part outside the mainstream of legal communication: their style is personal, and they are often drafted to friends and relatives without any intention to be circulated around—certainly not to the court. That they therefore end up at times part of the case‑file remains an open question: even though judges seldom quote them, they nonetheless reach a quasi‑official status that grants them an aura of their own; yet it remains uncertain whether they have even a minimal effect on the verdict. So why should we, as external observers, care about them? For one thing, theydogenerally form the most compelling element of the dossier, and the fact that their narration was neither one of police editing, nor of the austere question‑and‑answer format of the investigating judge, nor that of a court hearing session, individualizes them even further.

11A note on the upper left identifies the source of the “donation”: it was Fatima’s brother, Muhammad Jamal Sari Basha (b. 1959) who delivered it to the judicial authorities in April 1996, only few months amid the crime on August 1995, which, as we will see, poses a problem of trust: considering that it was addressed to Fatima’s cousin, and since Fatima was not friendly to her mother and brothers, why did the cousin deliver it to the brother, and what was the latter hoping in its delivery to the authorities? Was he attempting to convey his sister’s insanity, her malicious character, her madness?

In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful.

After a peaceful salute,

  • 4 Muhammad ʿAli was the brother of Fatima’s husband, hence her brother‑in‑law. If, as she cla (...)
  • 5 Referring to both son and cousin by their full names has something impersonal abou (...)

To my paternal cousin Muhammad ʿAli Shawwa Abu ʿAbdo,4hoping that when you will receive this missive you will be in good health, as God wishes. In case you would care to ask, I am doing well, and the only thing that I miss is seeing my dear son Sami Shawwa.5I also want you to talk to my brothers so that they would drop their lawsuit against me, and to get me out of my prison. I cannot take it anymore, as I am on the verge ofcommitting another crimein prison. I am unable to live here far away from my son Sami, as I am unable to adapt to this situation in such circumstances. Tell them that if they don’t drop their lawsuit against me so that I get out of here, I will arrange for them seas of blood—not a single sea only—and I can do that from my prison, and not only in talk.

A very, very important remark.

My dear Muhammad ʿAli Shawwa. I am going to tell you something I cannot hide anymore than I did, and I am unable to wait until I hire a lawyer, because my material conditions would not allow me to afford a lawyer.

After I tell you, I beg you to help me as much as you can.

My dad did not die from natural death. My three brothers Muhammad Jamal, Abdul‑Qadir, and Yusuf all participated inthe killing of my dad. My mum was the one who told me this, and my maternal aunt Sabiha Hamwi and my maternal aunt Majida Hamwi both knew about it. There will also be witnesses.

  • 6 For the killing of her mother.
  • 7 The referral report only came on 7 May 1996, the following month after the present letter w (...)

I want you to help me by filing a lawsuit at the Anṣārī police section, the same place where I had been investigated,6because until now I have not appeared in court,7so that they would know about it, and in the meantime my case would start to move. And in case my file is set in motion, there is a possibility that I would need a lawyer.

  • 8 Since Muhammad had two marriages, and Fatima was the second wife, who apparently coexisted (...)
  • 9 In all likelihood he was Fatima’s first husband.

From day one I wassuspicious of my father’s death, because it was not a natural death. It was Abu Saleh, my sister’s husband, who is also the friend of your brother Muhammad, and who was, first, behind Muhammad’s marriage,8and second, supported my marriage to your brother Muhammad, [who had informed me of my father’s death]. My mum and my maternal aunt Sabiha Hamwi both told me that there was a mark of a deadly stabbing on his back, as far as I know. But in the meantime I was unable to do anything, except to remain silent, because I did not know what was the reason, until the problem between me and my mother has surfaced. At the very leastI have been betrayed (maghdūra, victimized) for killing my mother. She was the victim of her own evil acts, as she had slept with my [two] husbands al‑ʿAllaf9and your brother Shawwa. She has abused me and abused herself, and she is now receiving her judgment (dār al‑ḥaqq); regret does not help here.

  • 10 The teenage son appears as the only male hope in a world where the elderly males have all b (...)

I beg you to take care of my son Sami,10your brother’s son, consider him one of your kids, and you have got from my part all thanks and esteem.

  • 11 This letter has no trace in the dossier I consulted in the late 1990s.
  • 12 Punctuations have been modified from the original Arabic to make room for a more comprehens (...)

I have also sent a letter to my husband,11your brother Muhammad Shawwa.12

12The stunning accusation against the mother, namely that she was having sex with Fatima’s husband Muhammad, first showed up in a brief report dated 26 May 1996 (the same time as the above letter), during a routine interviewing of the accused:

I fully confess the crime attributed to me, apropos the killing of my mother, and the reason is that my mother was interfering with my marital life, not allowing me to divorce my husband, and also becausemy mother and sisters were having sex with my husband. I also reiterate what I had stated in previous interrogations.

13Between the two allegations in April and May 1996, the only overlap was the (murdered) mother having sex with Fatima’s (second?) husband. Thus, while the April letter contained far more allegations, in particular apropos the father’s alleged killing by his three sons, and the mother having had sex with Fatima’s two husbands, there was nothing about Fatima’s maternal aunts having had sex with the husband. Fatima thus came with one allegation to the police, then another one to the investigating judge, and a third surfaced in her letter to her cousin‑cum‑brother‑in‑law. As all these allegations about patricide and matricide, inter‑family sex, and the mother’s refusal to help her daughter financially, were stated in different contexts, how should they be read and interpreted?

14Let us examine those allegations in their chronological order first, beginning with the police report dated 12 August 1995.

I testify that I amalways in conflictwith my husband and neighbors. Yesterday Friday morning on 11 August 1995 I burned my home and left it when the fire had completely ravaged it. I then headed towards my mother’s home, who I was in conflict with too, but refrained from telling her what I did with my home.I intended to kill her because she did not give me any money, and she treated me differently from my sisters.I spent the night at her home and slept on a couch, while my mum slept in her own bed in her bedroom. Today early in the morning at around  7:00 I picked a knife from the kitchen, my mother was deep in her sleep, I attempted to cut her throat, but she woke up and told me to leave her alone, and even managed to kick me with her leg, hitting me on the face. I attempted to cut her throat for the second time, blood started to spill all over. As she fell on the floor, I inserted my fingers in her throat so that she wouldn’t scream. I’ve noticed that due to age she had lost all her teeth. I fought with her until she lost consciousness, but was uncertain whether she had effectively died. I went to the kitchen in search for a hammer, then went back to the bedroom and hit her three times on the head. She died. My hand was bleeding and my clothes were patched with blood. I then washed whatever I could of my clothes, and changed my outfit before leaving.I had in mind killing her since last evening. I headed towards my husband’s workplace so that I could see my only child, but did not find my husband. Then went to my mother‑in‑law’s home, and stayed there until you came and arrested me. That is my testimony.

  • 13 This contradicts what she later stated in the letter where she said she wished she could ha (...)

15That same day an investigating judge from the general prosecutor office interviewed her without the presence of a lawyer. Syrian law requests that suspects, defendants, and witnesses be notified of all charges against them, with the right for a counsel when examined by the prosecution. Fatima confirmed that she did not need a lawyer.13

Q. You have been accused of premeditated murder.

A. I confess (aʿtarif) that on 11 August 1995 I went to my mother’s home the victim Hamida Hamwi, having angrily left myhusband’s home. I spent the night at her home, and about 7:00 in the morning, while my mother the victim Hamida was asleep, with a kitchen knife I cut her from the neck. Blood spilled all over her neck; we had a fight; I hit her three times on the head with a hammer. As to the wire that was in the room I did not use it, as it was for the curtains, and was placed over one of the chairs. I then washed my hands and feet from the blood and changed my clothes. While fighting with my mother I scratched my right fingers with the knife. I killed her because she did not give me the money I requested. I am a poor person, and live with my husband and my only son. I had burned my home on 11 August 1995 before going to my mother’s house.

Addition:She added that, “I killed my mother on my own without receiving help from anyone.”

The judge decided to immediately arrest Fatima Sari Basha for the crime attributed to her, and incarcerate her in Aleppo’s main prison on 12 August 1995.

16There were two forensic reports signed that same day. A judge and his assistant visited the crime scene with a policeman which they have described as follows.

  • 14 In many homes the toilet, or the “Arab toilet,” is separate from the bathroom where a showe (...)
  • 15 The dossier that I have consulted did not carry any fingerprint analysis, which tends to be (...)

Once we were inside the victim’s home we saw in the living room two couches, a chair, a fine broom, a bucket of water, two small tables, with a thermos on one of them, a white towel with blood stains, a Kleenex box with blood stains, a black wallet, a white nylon bag with female clothing. There were traces of blood all over: from the living room to the bathroom, and at the toilet’s door up to the kitchen. We saw a cloth in the toilet14with blood stains. We also saw blood stains on the kitchen door one meter from the floor. There was blood on the kitchen sink, and on a cloth that was thrown in the garbage can. We then entered the bedroom of the victim. She was laid on her back with blood all over, and so was the floor of the room. She was wearing a white robe covered with blood stains. Her right hand was damaged. On the left of the body was a white kitchen knife, and scissors close to the bed. We saw blood on the bed sheets, and on the bedroom door, roughly a meter and a half from the floor. On the right side of the body was a black compressed wire. There were two tables upside down, a female shoe, and a knife. In the living room there was a television stand, and a female black shoe. There was blood in the bathroom sink. We ordered that the body be removed from its location and taken to the forensic lab for additional tests, so that the cause of death be accurately detected. We did the necessary pictures and identified fingerprints.15

17The medical examiner’s report was signed that same day.

The external descriptions.The body of a woman in her sixties, average height, thin body, black hair. Traces of hardship and violence. When the body was examined, there was a wound in the head that led to a coming out of the brain material (mādda dimāghiyya) on the left side. Another wound on the neck, and a large one on the face. Several wounds in different sizes on the upper side of the body and shoulders.

Causes of death.Due mostly to the wound on the neck, which in itself was probably sufficient to cause the death. As to the other wounds on the body they may not have caused the death. In effect, the hard wound on the neck has opened one of the blood vessels, causing severe bleeding. She was also hit with a hard tool on the skull, creating severe damage in the bone. The death must have occurred five hours ago.

  • 16 The dossier that I consulted at Aleppo’s Palace of Justice in the late 1990s still did not (...)

18Even though all the perimeters of the investigation were set from day one, and all witnesses (sons of the victims and her neighbors) interviewed in the first week, the comprehensive report by the investigating judge was only drafted early in the following year. This is one of the cases where there was no external witness, leaving the whole case suspended on accounts provided by the killer herself. In his March 1996 report the judge argued that the victim was an “origin (aṣl)” in relation to her killer, meaning that the killer was a “branch (firʿ)” to the victim, due to the daughter–mother relationship. In other words, since victim and killer were directly affiliated to one another in a biological relationship where one “originated” from the other, the killer in this instance should be subject to the death penalty pursuant to article 535/3 of the penal code. It took an additional two months for the referral judge to issue a similar report, only to reduce the crime to a deliberate act (qaṣd).16

19Each case speaks on two separate registers. On one hand, what is publicly displayed is an exhibition of private crimes, lives, repressions, abuses, fears and traumas. On the other hand, all those fears are expressed in the didactic language of official reports, leaving for the most part the personal traumas within the domain of the unspeakable. What did the young matricidal woman “say” to the police, prosecution, and the court? Her tragic life was reduced to a few utterances, which in their heavily “edited” version look like broken chunks from an incomprehensible whole. But what did she exactly “say”? That she torched her “husband’s home” prior to finding refuge in her mother’s home for the night, only to kill the poor old woman in her sleep first thing in the morning. Notice how Fatima describes her “marital home” as her “husband’s home,” which nevertheless resurfaces as “marital” all over. The police report contends that Fatima was “in theprocessof divorcing from her husband,” leaving it uncertain whether she was seeking or filing for divorce, or whether she had effectively divorced. What is important here, however, is that in the official language of bureaucratic institutions, which tend to flatten everything to its most common denominator, the news of divorce in all its ambiguity is supposed to “explicate” the burning of the “husband’s home”:

When we were searching for the suspect, it turned out that she was in theprocessof divorcing from her husband Muhammad Shawwa, and she had burned her home down in the neighborhood of Bustan al‑Qasr, due to aconflict(khilāf) between the two. He was also looking for her, having all of a sudden left without telling anyone of her relatives what she did with her home. That is why she became our prime suspect, we searched for her until we found her at 6:00 p.m. [at her mother‑in‑law’s] that same day [when she killed her mother].

20The awkwardness of the language, its platitude, its routinized allure, place the event on the side of comedy. We have come to be acquainted with expressions like “speaking the unspeakable,” or the “unsaid” (or “non‑said”) when we think of what lies deep into someone’s consciousness but cannot be formulated. But what is it that is expressed in traumatic situations like that of Fatima? Even if we were to seriously take every statement she uttered to the authorities, what she would have statedin totois no more than the bare essentials: “I torched my home due to longstanding conflicts with my husband; I spent the night with my mother, woke up early in the morning, and killed her while she was still in bed sleeping; she refused to give me any money, which I found unfathomable due to the fact that I am a very poor woman with no real income, and my husband hasn’t been helping me either, preferring his other wife over me.” In other words, Fatima, and her authority “editors,” were unable to state anything beyond the externality of the act: the concrete expressions of the self‑as‑agency are not there, and remain muted in the hastiness of the authorities to represent the criminal event. This matricidal woman is mute, as she is unable to say anything of value to the authorities, except for the few “facts” that will incriminate her. One of the mother’s neighbors, a young woman (b. 1967) who claimed to have “heard” but not “seen” the event, was one of those minor witnesses who were only very marginally relevant:

I testify that this morning at around 7:30, when at home, I heard the voice of a mute woman (ṣawt imraʾa kharsāʾ) raising her voices [voice was used in plural:aṣwātihā], and heard another low voice (ṣawt khāfit) saying “leave my hand.” I was sleeping below the bedroom of the victimized woman, but did not leave my home, nor did I see anything with my own eyes, until this morning when the police came.

21The “mute woman” must have been no one else but the victimized mother, but was she really “mute”? There was nothing else in the file that this was the case. Another detail that came up in the same police report, but went unnoticed, was the claim by one of the victim’s sons, who was the first one to have discovered the body and to have alerted the police, that his mother had “mental problems (amrāḍ ʿaqliyya),” leaving it at such an unelaborated stage without any further questions from the police, or later from the prosecution and investigating judge. The picture that therefore emerges apropos the mother, mainly through one of her sons and the daughter who murdered her, was one of an old woman in her sixties who was probably mute, with mental problems, and who was sleeping around with her son‑in‑law.

The violence of the mute woman and the power of speech

22The image that therefore emerges of the victimized mother is one of muted violence, a violence that cannot express itself in words or even gestures, but only as direct violence—that of the daughter that kills her mother with vengeance, by slashing her throat and smashing her head with a hammer. In the universe of this broken family, where the mother‑victim was possibly mute, it was indeed everyone that lacked the power of speech. As violence is not something that “erupts” from the everyday butmakesthe everydayness of the lifeworld, those who suffer the most are those women who have to interiorize the codes of honor in society in order to ensure its biological reproduction. Both mother and daughter have been subjected to male violence, but the daughter, instead of turning against her husband for not supporting her well enough, first burns down “his” home, then goes to her mother’s home, kills her first thing in the morning, with the excuse that she had failed to materially support her. The failure of the husband to provide the emotional and financial support turns against the mother, who is also accused in a confidential letter to the brother‑in‑law of having “slept” with the husband.

23What some of our cases reveal is a “reversal” of the traditional role attributed to women in society. In the case of Sabiha Dalʿun (C5–5), for example, the young and newlywed husband was possibly sacrificed by his mother‑in‑law for failing to properly “read” the traditional honor code; it was indeed the “strong mother”—or the Mother with a capital M—which decided to sacrifice her daughter’s husband, even though it was the daughter which at face value was, in her own recognition, the one who broke all honor taboos. In other words, as both defense and court hadexplicitlystated, the husband should have been spared because he did nothing wrong; it should have been the daughter who should haveunder the customary practicesof her own rural community been the one to have been punished: first for having broken her virginity as a teenager, then for marrying a university graduate like her without informing him of her past and current sexual infidelities. Sabiha was eventually sentenced to death under the law for killing her husband, and the act of sentencing, which dragged on for over 20 years, was more of an embarrassment than a convincing verdict. The reason is that the law is more at ease sentencing criminals who act in violation of what the Code stands for most, namely the protection of the family’s honor, its values, and its contractual obligations. Code and courts thus provide ample “protection” to perpetrators of honor killings against women who had allegedly dishonored the family, for the most part through an illicit sexual liaison. I would like to suggest a parallelism with our current matricidal case of Fatima Shawwa. In both instances, women act not only in opposition to the honor codes within their own community, but also against the laws of the nation (which overtly protect common conceptions of honor, family, and sexuality), byenacting their own law.In the case of Sabiha Dalʿun the mother decides to sacrifice her son‑in‑law for his so‑called “weaknesses” and “effeminate” side: she (and her daughter) thus wanted to sacrifice a potential whistle blower who wouldn’t even get it, namely, that the honor code requires that you keep your mouth shut on marital infidelities rather than placing them into a public narrative of the “dishonored man.” In this instance, therefore, the women (mother and daughter) have acted—through murder—in order to save the family’s honor from thatabsent malewithin the family. It was indeed theabsent XE "men:absent male"male,that male who would have protected (“washed”) the family from female dishonor, who was not there. In the absence of a genuine male figure, one whichcanprotect honor and family, impose a restrained sexuality, women make the law: first through a reversal of the honor codes, then through murder.

  • 17 Zouhair Ghazzal, “Shared Social and Juridical Meanings as Observed in an Aleppo ‘M (...)

24Unlike Sabiha Dalʿun (C5–5), Fatima Shawwa, born and raised in Aleppo, had no university education, and may even have skipped high school. She and her (second?) husband both belonged to the popular classes, living in a neighborhood like Bustan al‑Qasr, while her mother’s home was in the nearby Anṣārī, where Fatima made her first deposition to the police. Unlike the peripheral “illegitimate” neighborhoods of theʿashwāʾiyyāt,whose contracts are by and large regulated by the inhabitants themselves, neighborhoods like Bustan al‑Qasr and Anṣārī are pretty much decently regulated, and are under the city’s regulations, while their inhabitants stand above the proletarian level of the more peripheral neighborhoods.17Muhammad Jamal Sari Basha (b. 1959), the victim’s son and Fatima’s brother, described Fatima’s husband as rather “well‑off” (maysūr), since he owned two bakeries. In one of those terse statements that populate the records of investigating judges, Muhammad Jamal stated on November 1995, in the wake of his mother killing by his sister, that

after my mother’s killing, the same day, I was told that it was my sister Fatima who did it, since she had been for some time requesting money from my mother. I used to give that money to my mother, which in turn handed it to Fatima. I therefore think that my sister did what she did as an outcome of thepressuresthat her husband and his sons had inflicted upon her, even though the husband is well‑off and owns two bakeries.

25The problem with such statements, which often act in court records as rationalizations of the murder, is that between Fatima’s alleged non‑satisfaction with her material conditions, on one hand, and her committing arson and matricide within 24 hours of her leaving her “husband’s home,” on the other, lies all kinds of dormant secrets, frustrated sexualities, oppressed women, unsaid things, and other things that cannot even be represented in language.

26Notice, for instance, the difference in the rationalization of themotif du crimebetween brother and sister. In one more sound bite to the investigating judge several months after her crime, Fatima stated on May 1996 that

I confess to the crime attributed to me regarding the killing of my mother, the cause being that my mother never stopped intermingling in my marital life, forbidding me from seeking divorce from my husband. I also realized thatmy mother and sisters were having sex with my husband.

27What is revealing here is that not only Fatima’s “personal letter” had no place in any of the judges’ memos, but even a statement like this one finds no place either. For example, in the referral report submitted on May 1996 (a couple of weeks before the earlier short confession) only the “poor material conditions” under which the accused lived with her husband and son were named, while everything else remained within the domain of the unspoken.

28With her shocking allegation that her dad “did not die from natural death,” Fatima did not hesitate to identify the killers: her brothers. No reason is furnished for such horrendous parricide, but only silent witnesses: the mother, two maternal aunts, and additional unnamed witnesses. The mother and her sisters were already held guilty for keeping up such a monstrous secret all those years (no precise date is given), before accusing them of another monstrosity: having sex with the husband. In effect, in the letter that was appended to the dossier, only the mother was accused of illicit sex with the husband, while on another occasion, in the presence of an investigative judge, it was the mother and her sisters.

  • 18 The case of the young man who had allegedly raped his mother (C6–4) belongs to that “absent (...)

29With her mother portrayed as a complete monster that does not deserve to live anymore, Fatima can now proceed and declare herself as protective of law and order, and for that, slaughtering her mother was the right thing to do. What is revealing in her letter to her cousin is that her “silence” apropos her father’s parricide was only “revealed” once her “problem” with her mother surfaced. The killing of the mother therefore not only “revealed” that deeply hidden secret, but it was also what brought justice to the household. The mother had to be sacrificed primarily for acting like an “accomplice” in the murder of her husband by his own sons, and for being the sexual partner of Fatima’s husband. When in her letter Fatima notes that her mother “is now receiving her judgment,” the expression ofdār al‑ḥaqqindicates a domain of justice in an unspecified territory where justice is given back to those who deserve it. It is as if Fatima judges the earthly state of justice as too inept to be able to “see” what is going on inside the household’s dirty secrets. Its radar screen is not sophisticated enough to be able to effortlessly detect all those crimes located within the confines of the family and household. Moreover, state‑law is gender biased and grants too much leeway for men to get away with their crimes, as it perceives the female body as the source of all things dishonorable. Such readings of state‑law and the gendered divisions in society come in conjunction with the figure of the “absent male.” It is as if the assumptions of state‑law, which parallel customary practices, invert reality: state‑law assumes that men can protect not only their honor, but also female honor, and that of the household, but such men do not exist anymore, as they have been replaced by the “absent male,” on one hand, and the “aggressive mother” on the other.18

30By writing her own text, albeit in a letter form to a specific family addressee, the murderer becomes author of her crimeandtext. In her various depositions to police, prosecution, and investigating judges, Fatima must have felt constrained in her language. Instead of the official language of the courts, and their claims of objectivity in their handling of testimonies of witnesses and suspects, Fatima re‑writes her own crime‑as‑destiny and now posits herself as author of both crime and text. She reclaims her “voice” in an ephemeral manner. What her own self‑prescribed narrative enabled her to do was to trace her actions back to her father’s parricide. Not that the latter serves as justification for her mother’s matricide, but rather as leeway to textually construct the mother’s monstrosity from its very beginnings: the mother maintained her silence all those years apropos her husband’s parricide, as if she had been an accomplice in the very act allegedly perpetrated by her own sons.

31What judges have therefore missed was “the mother‑as‑tyrant” figure that Fatima had attempted to portray in her truncated statements to police, prosecution, and investigating judges. The notion of “mother‑as‑tyrant” would have also been hard to swallow for medical experts, which would have probably been more on the side of a plea for “insanity” to rationalize that kind of behavior. Fatima’s various utterances and personal letter, however, point to an image of the “mother‑as‑tyrant” through which the killer emerges as someone who restates law and order in a lawless society. It is revealing that Fatima explicitly requested from her cousin (the addressee) that he helps her bring forth her father’s parricide to the attention of the Anṣārī police station, the same location where her mother was murdered and where she had furnished her first testimony. It is as if having broken her long silence through her mother’s killing, hence having finally brought justice to the family, she felt the need to go even further in the rehabilitation of her father’s memory, while denouncing her brothers’ secretive parricide to the police: justice would therefore be served through murder, by denouncing the hideous crimes of others. Thus, while Fatima denounces her brothers’ alleged parricide as shameful, she does not see her own murderous act in that category. It is as if for her individuals, through their own volition, can bring justice to earth through murder—the physical elimination of all those who do not deserve to live.

  • 19 Jean‑Pierre Peter and Jeanne Favret, “The Animal, the Madman, and Death,” in (...)

32The father was in this case largely absent for the simple reason that he was allegedly killed by his three sons. (Even if the father was not “factually” killed by his sons, and suffered only a normal death, the fact remains that the parricidal episodewasin Fatima’s “mindset,” and hencemayhave affected her own rationalization of the events that ultimately led to her mother’s killing. The other more important aspect of her letter to her brother‑in‑law is that it portrays her view of the world and of family relations in particular, hence “factuality” is not the issue here.) But the fathermayhave been absent for another reason as well; he may have been a “weaker” character than the mother, hence denigrated by his sons. The daughter for her part stood by her father’s memory, came at his rescue, after a long tortuous silence, in the wake of her mother’s murder. In other words, the daughter eliminates the mother as the person in the family who made contracts ridiculous: first, by remaining silent over her husband’s murder (which she may have commissioned and witnessed), and second, by having sex with a man who happens to be her son‑in‑law. State law, which takes for granted that family honor must be protected by men, is blind to men’s own vulnerabilities, and to the financial, economic, emotional, psychic, and sexual distresses that men and women are subject to in a developing society where old normative values are constantly challenged. A woman like Fatima (not to mention Sabiha) would herald a new era by slaughtering the mother‑tyrant, or (in the case of Sabiha) by killing a husband who thinks he can invert the honor code (that is, behave like a woman) and get away with it. By killing her mother, the daughter rehabilitates her father’s memory, replaces him symbolically at the head of the household, accepts her fate as a betrayed and victimized woman, and restitutes the law in domains the latter took for granted and was oblivious to. In the image of the law, women can be tyrants because they dishonor the family through illicit sex or illegitimate affairs with married or unmarried men. In Fatima’s mindset, however, a woman like her mother can rise as a tyrant for the simple reason that she had instituted the law of the arbitrary, as she was unable to discern right from wrong, and made every contract impossible. At some level, Fatima’s story is not unlike that of Pierre Rivière, whose case was analyzed by Michel Foucault and his team: “Never again! In my family this tyrant is my mother; she renders every contract void of meaning; she makes my father forfeit his rights and loads him with dues.”19

  • 20 Jean‑Pierre Peter and Jeanne Favret, “The Animal, the Madman, and Death,” 192–93.

33In two consecutive days, and within 24 hours, Fatima managed two acts of destruction: what she referred to as her husband’s home, and her mother’s life, as both—husband and mother—were forces of evil in her life. Moreover, the husband, who was having an affair with the mother (even if from our perspective and that of the judges, the affair remains an allegation, it was nevertheless a plain “reality” in Fatima’s mind), was another one of those “absent males,” who instead of protecting the family’s honor and its wellbeing was behaving recklessly and irresponsibly: he was not strong enough to behave according to what the law dictates. Fatima was therefore suffering from the absence of a father and a husband—and a monstrous mother. Which brings us one more time to the early nineteenth‑century parricidal case of Pierre Rivière, and the fact that in both instances, Fatima and Pierre, their acts were not “pathological” per se, but aimed at the social symbolic order, the order of the contract: “By killing her I am setting an example so that the law may be restored, the contract honored, and tyranny overthrown. I am thus executing the justice of God. Human contracts are monstrous, I appeal to another justice, of which I, monster in semblance, am the providential executor.”20

34For Fatima every contract in her restrained and extended families have been irrevocably breached. Her promiscuous husband not only breached the “sexual contract,” but created a quasi‑incestuous relationship with his mother‑in‑law; he also failed to adequately support his second wife, which incessantly pushed her to humiliate herself and seek material support from her mothers and brothers. The fact that in relative terms the husband was well‑off makes his irreverence towards his second wife another failure in contract. As to the mother, she breached every family contract one could think of (from Fatima’s perspective, of course).

The emergence of the criminal spectator

35Fatima’s letter to her brother‑in‑law involves more than a parading to justice, assuming, of course, that this was what she had in mind. This was a young woman with enormous grievances in her heart and allegations of long‑term abuses. Yet, the letter does not manifest any remorse towards her mother. In the absence of an historical genre where grievances would be expressed, where a politics of denunciation is at stake, where emotions and sufferings receive private and public attention, we are left with similar auto‑biographical statements from other cases and inmates that we have examined (Chapter 4). All of them manifest that urgeto pose oneself as a spectator to the crime at hand,with letters drafted with that internal fury for a need at expressing oneself, of stating a truth that has not been yielded yet, as if nothing has been said to the judicial authorities regarding the truth of crime: it all must be stated all over again, with that personal voice—and in writing. Even though therewereaddressees, but to whom were those missives really addressed to? We have argued all along that each crime should be set within a triangular relation, rather than be limited to the simplistic duality of murderer and victim: there is always that third‑party invisible addressee, which the murderer (unconsciously) had in mind, and which turns out more crucial for the killer than the victim herself. It is, indeed, that third party which refuses to accept the feeling of guilt for the crime, hence refuses to accept himself or herself as addressee. The addressee could be an absent father, a dominant mother, a lover, or a cousin who was your first love; but it could also be that “community” out there to which we belong and acts as the big Other.

36I want to argue that whenever the culprit doubles, in the solitude of her prison cell, into a writer–narrator of the past events that led to the crime scene, there is another triangular structure at play in parallel to the one that we have detected earlier between the murderer, her victim, and the addressee; with the two triangular structures not necessary unrelated. In the case of Fatima, the crime unfolded between herself and her mother, but the addressee was no one else but that absent male which she has been longing for since her father’s sudden death. It could have been the same person to which the letter was addressed, namely, the cousin‑cum‑brother‑in‑law, a male from the family that she had fully trusted. The letter poses itself as a second layer to the crime: it doubles itself as a text to the crime scene. In the two triangular structures, that of the crime and that of the letter, the addressee is the same: the brother‑in‑law. The fact that the latter was the one to have handed in the letter to Fatima’s brother, which in turn delivered it to the judicial authorities, could be an indication that he refused his status as addressee—of both crime and letter. The question therefore amounts to the following: Why did Fatima feel that urge to textualize her crime, to double her criminal act into a letter addressed to her cousin? What does the letter exactly do? How does it function? What was its purpose?

  • 21 Jürgen Habermas,The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, (...)
  • 22 Luc Boltanski,La souffrance à distance, Paris: Gallimard, 1993, 2007, 92 (...)
  • 23 J.L. Austin,How to Do Things With Words,Boston: Harvard University Press (...)
  • 24 Christian Ruby,La Figure du spectateur. Éléments d’histoire culturelle e (...)
  • 25 The prototype here is Laurence Sterne’sTristram Shandy.
  • 26 For example, in the works of James Joyce and William Faulkner.

37If the first triangular structure was between culprit, victim, and addressee (spectator), when it comes to the letter the assailant disengages from her act, only to pose herself as spectator to the very murderous act that she had committed. Now the culprit, placed in the loneliness of her prison cell, watches the crime scene as a spectacle from a distance. She therefore poses herself as a spectator to the spectacle that she had created for herself. As spectator she looks at her own sufferings from the distance of her prison cell, portraying herself as having been persecuted, and that her sufferings are the outcome of such persecution. The crime itself is therefore portrayed as a process of redemption from long‑term sufferings. If the mother was the persecutor, the beneficiary was no one else but the brother‑in‑law. In the second triangular structure therefore, the murderer now sets herself as spectator, not so much, however, of the crime that she had committed, but rather to the sufferings she had been inflicted at the hands of her mother, husband, and brothers; she identifies with the father as someone, like herself, that has endured sufferings at the hands of his wife and sons, then murdered by them. Fatima sets herself as spectator to her own sufferings and those of her father, which were inflicted by the same people. What is unusual, however, is that Fatima sets herself both as spectator and external narrator: in other words, she doubles herself as spectator and impartial narrator of her own sufferings, not to mention the crime that she had committed. As the French sociologist Luc Boltanski has persuasively argued, “suffering from a distance” assumes a “topography of interiority,” which probably began to materialize in the European space in that big shift between the eighteenth‑centuryancien régime,in which trials by ordeal and public executions were fairly common, and post‑revolutionary France where, with the emergence of a more open bourgeois public sphere,21“impartial observers” expressing their grievances and outrage became fairly common.22The “impartial observer” operates within a division which assumes, on one hand, “a self that acts,” and “a self that observes,” on the other. But then even such division cannot operate in the real world of the public sphere in a clear cut fashion: ifyou do things with words,as J.L. Austin had famously stated,23then the distance between the impartial narrator and the person who acts is not that great—the two can in fact conflate into the same person. This impartial observer, which in his personal name publicly airs a grievance or an outrage, grew in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in a variety of forms,24beginning with the modern European novel constructed around a single narrator25(which in its later incarnations evolves as a stream‑of‑consciousness or multi‑narrators techniques26), or in the essay formula as “a conversation with oneself,” not to mention the opinion‑editorials in newspapers and journals. In all such textual approaches, in spite of their variety and differences, the external narrator emerges as an active element struggling in a world of his own making, together with a reflexive self which observes such action. This reflexive narrator therefore constitutes the third element in the triangular structure suggested above, as he watches both spectator and spectacle (triangular structure 8–1):

Figure 8–1. General theory of the modern spectator.

Figure 8–1. General theory of the modern spectator.

38Compared to which for a crime we get the following triangular structure 8–2, which serves as a common matrix for all the crimes in this book:

Figure 8–2. The spectator in relation to a crime scene.

Figure 8–2. The spectator in relation to a crime scene.
  • 27 In liberal countries with a free press (e.g. Lebanon), inmates could also grant interviews (...)
  • 28 As exemplified in the works of Truman Capote,In Cold Blood,and Norman Ma (...)
  • 29 Robert B. Pippin, Fatalism in American Film Noir: Some Cinematic Philoso (...)
  • 30 In some cases (e.g. Buthayna Khattab, C4–1) the crime is never admitted, hence it keeps its (...)
  • 31 Including themusalsalāt,the Syrian TV series, which have rivaled the Egy (...)

39What is unique about all those individuals, with criminal records, and which in the solitude of their prison cell draft memos addressed to family members, relatives, friends, judges and lawyers,27is that they take an active primordial role in both triangular structures (Buthayna Khattab [C4–1], Hallaq [C4–2], the insane shepherd [C3–1]). In structure I the actor is a criminal who murders her victim, while eying a mysterious third‑party addressee, which would refuse her role as recipient with a guilt feeling. In structure II that same actor now narrates her tragic fate, posing herself as an external reflexive narrator with a consciousness sympathetic to the sufferings of others, including the victim which she had sacrificed in her criminal act. Compared to narrators which emerge in the public sphere with a voice sympathetic for the sufferings of others, the criminal narrators remain confined within the boundaries of their penitentiary world, that is, nothing circulates of their tragic fate outside the dossier that incriminates them, even though nothing excludes either that they may metamorphose into acause célèbreeither through their own work or the work of others (writers, filmmakers, artists, journalists, researchers in the humanities and social sciences).28What is unique about such criminals who metamorphose into narrators of their own crimes is that they exercise the art of auto‑biography as a confessional art whose final aim is to make public the very crime that they had committed. In other words, they take the role of “the voice‑over flashback narration” common infilm noir.29Pending of the society in question, such auto‑biographical genres might overlap with literary and artistic works in society at large, hence the privacy of the inmate and her sufferings that are echoed in the world outside the limited (and abusive) confines of the penitentiary. What is tragic about the Syrian prototype of inmates which all of a sudden, and unexpectedly, turn as confessors and/or narrators30of their own crimes, is the absence of connection to the outside world. Those are inmates which exercise the art of auto‑biography, airing their confessions and grievances to friends and relatives in writing, posing themselves as narrators of their own crimes, yet fail to receive recognition from the world outside. There is very little in Syrian society that points to any public attention to criminals: neither crimes are not reported in the state‑controlled media, or else in the scarcity of the work of arts,31crimes have no place at all.

  • 32 One can add here the notion of the Lacanian blot, which, in the context of the triangular s (...)

40Let us analyze this triangular structure more closely. The criminal writes an auto‑biographical statement to a friend, relative, or judge, and in this very act is able to look at herself both in the role of spectator and spectacle—the gaze of the external impartial narrator, which in this instance is interiorized, creating a subject fully aware of her actions and misgivings. But with the conflation here of the roles of spectator and the one who does the introspection, the impartial narrator which provides a synthesis from multiple viewpoints is here the person who happens to be suffering the most, still recovering from the traumatic experience of crime. When lawyers and judges write their memos and reports, they also act like impartial narrators situated in a triangle between the spectators and the spectacle, even though in their case the “impartiality” is not so much determined by different viewpoints, as much as by the norms of justice.32Moreover, judges are not supposed to show their “inner views,” hence their reports and verdicts are drafted in that codified and carefully mastered language of the law than impartial. By contrast, if the auto‑biographical statements of culprits show anything, it would be, indeed, that internal voice, sometimes narrated as a dialogue with a real or imagined other: it is that introspectiveness, which judges typically hide, which constitutes the essence of auto‑biographical statements. One can speak of “vicarious possession” of that observer which absorbs the acts of both spectator and patient (the one who suffers), which what judges want to avoid is precisely that kind of vicariousness. What we can see in Fatima is someone that would be qualified as “hysterical,” in the sense that she became absorbed by the tragedies of her family, whether real or imaginary, which she addressed in her criminal act.

  • 33 Boltanski,La souffrance,66–67; Michel Foucault,Surveiller et pu (...)
  • 34 Boltanski,La souffrance,92.

41At this juncture, and by way of tentative conclusion, we can bring together the work of Michel Foucault on abnormality in conjunction with the politics of suffering of Luc Boltanski. Both seem to signal an historical shift between the public executions of the classical age, where the passive spectators were supposed to contemplate the aura of the execution (hence, behind it, the will of the king) without any critical self‑reflexive stance (at least not one overtly delivered in public), and modern spectacles with their triangular structures, where compassion and pity for the sufferings of others become crucial for a self‑reflexive observer.33Foucault notes a parallel between the end of public executions and the rationalization of justice, that desire to find a cause and justification for the crime; hence the persona of the criminal, that abnormal individual, became central for both the judicial and medical authorities. In the same way that Boltanski speaks of a “doubling of the spectator(le dédoublement du spectateur),”34which doubles as a self that acts and another self that observes, Foucault perceives the doubling of judges in their judiciary and medical functions, a doubling that is necessitated precisely by the requirement to understand and rationalize the behavior of that anomalous persona of the criminal; hence the panic of judges (and doctors) at those “crimes without reason(crimes sans raison).” In other words, in both instances, we are confronted, in the modern age, with that “topography of interiority,” where a person would explode into an unlimited series of enunciative functions.

I tempted him with some money

  • 35 Aleppo Jināyāt 725/995; final Naqḍ ruling missing.

42[C8–2]A young man who had just turned eighteen, as if to accelerate his coming of age, seduces a six‑year old boy who was attending the Friday prayer at a mosque in a popular Aleppo neighborhood.35He gives the boy five liras, buys him some candy, prior to inviting him to a nearby building. Not suspecting anything in the behavior of the young man—the court ruling attributes the boy’s naïve behavior to his “poverty”—the boy escorts him to the designated building a block from the mosque. Once they have reached the top floor, while both were in the stairway that connects to the roof, the young man allegedly urged the boy to take his pants off; when the boy hesitated he forced him to do so, then ripped his underwear off, put his hands on his mouth, with his face towards the floor, sodomizing him. In those couple of minutes when the boy’s mouth was contained by the aggressor’s hand, the boy was apparently asphyxiated and died instantly. The young man rushed outside the building, leaving the boy dead in the staircase, went home, and left the following day to Beirut. He only remained in the Lebanese capital for a couple of weeks where he found some temporary work, went back to Aleppo—to the scene of the crime!—where the police suspected and arrested him.

43No one witnessed the crime itself, but a couple of witnesses claimed to have seen the young man with the boy as soon as the Friday prayers were over. The non‑witnessing makes the culprit the only “witness” to his crime, which gives the case, in the absence of first‑hand witnesses, and of tangible forensic evidence, a self‑referential construction. The Aleppo court, the district attorney’s office, and the upper court in Damascus will, however, all stumble in defining the nature of the crime. There were in fact two distinct—and, to some degree, juridically unrelated—“crimes”: first the sodomy, then the act of killing. It was the latter that posed the most serious problem: Was it intended or accidental? In other words, the distinction parallels that ofqaṣdandʿamd,between “circumstantial” intent and deliberate planning. Clearly, to his advocates, the young man did not premeditate the killing, as his only motive was sexual. But by forcing the boy into the act, and keeping his mouth shut while the boy was in a state of panic and fear, indicate a reckless behavior at best: if the offender was unhesitatingly taking risks, seemed unconcerned, should that imply premeditation? If the case stands too thin for premeditation, the killing of a boy for sexual purposes, with the local outrage that it provoked (the officialal‑Baathnational newspaper, which tends to be short on crimes, briefly took on the offender upon his arrest, and an undated clip was included in the dossier), posed problems nonetheless.

  • 36 To determine, through DNA evidence, whether penetration effectively occurred, in addition t (...)
  • 37 Forensics is a culture all by itself, which requires the implementation of particular techn (...)
  • 38 Because thepersonnalitéclause does not stand on its own in the Syrian ju (...)

44The other matter of concern, in the absence of witnesses, which pushes the structure of the case to be solely constructed by the confession of the defendant himself, is the lack of forensic evidence, so crucial for a case like this one,36but which is not that uncommon in Syrian court proceedings.37The defendant thus de facto became his own witness, which left the case caught into a single voice upon which the judicial authorities did their usual gloss. The case therefore contains very little fact finding—as all evidence has been furnished by the defendant—with albeit different interpretations of the act of killing. The boy’s sodomizing, however, was taken for granted—as “an act beyond common decency”—and did not pose problems of interpretation: a single voice—that of the defendant—dictated its tone to narratives and rulings. Because the boy’s “kidnapping” was interpreted with its sexual motivations—an explanation provided by the defendant himself—his death by suffocation did not need a specific explanation, as it naturally derived from the defendant’s alleged pederasty.38The various judicial instances stumbled therefore on the sole act of suffocation, leaving everything else behind; they did not need that much of a background: only the intentionality behind suffocation would determine the length of the defendant’s sentencing. Such cases with no clear purpose (e.g. theft, a land dispute, or an honor killing), or where the motive is perceived as sexual, soon turn into an uncanny conundrum: the explicandum, the fact that needs an explanation, the death of the boy, receives as explicans “sexual motivation”; but such obscure motivation, however, is what needs to be explained in the first place—thepersonnalitéof the offender—is set aside, but remains nevertheless the hanging motive in the eyes of the general public.

45When the referral judge offered his first synthesis in April 1995, he was adamant that the defendant ʿAli Jamal ʿAli committed a premeditated crime (ʿamd) (article 535 of the penal code) on 8 July 1994 (and arrested on 11 August 1994) against the six‑year old boy Muhammad Kurāni, for having committed a sexual “act beyond decency (al‑fiʿl al‑munāfi li‑l‑ḥishma)” (article 493). Notice how the judge went for the maximum penalty by interpreting asphyxiation as a deliberate act of killing (ʿamd), rather than, say, a byproduct of the defendant’s sexual lust. Considering, however, that the only recognizedmotif du crimewas the sexual act itself, which the defendant himself acknowledged as having been premeditated, why should the killing of the young boy bealsopremeditated? If the defendant had planned for act A (anal sex) and in the meantime “improvised” act B (keeping the boy’s mouth shut with his left hand) in order to proceed with A, would that imply thatbothA and B were deliberately planned? What is it then that justifies the court’s accusation of a “deliberate act of killing by strangulation (al‑qatl al‑ʿamd khanq‑an)”?

46The judge begins with the Friday prayers on 8 July 1994. ʿAli Jamal ʿAli, we are told, “enticed” (istadraja) the six‑year old boy after noticing him in a mosque in the Jabriyyeh neighborhood. He enticed him for a visit to the roof of the Barmada building opposite to the mosque (presumably for the panoramic view of the city). As the boy did not resist, ʿAli took him up the stairways leading to the roof, forcing him to take his pants off and underwear down to his knees, attempting sodomy (fiʿl al‑liwāṭ). Once the boy screamed, the plaintiff shut his mouth by placing his hand over. When the boy’s resistance diminished, the defendant inserted his penis from behind, but noticed that he was not moving and was smelling bad. In panic, ʿAli left the boy dead on the stairs, and escaped the next day to Beirut. In the meantime the police had arrested an innocent man for the crime, who was later acquitted. The defendant came back to Aleppo the following month, repeatedly revisiting the neighborhood of his crime, which raised police suspicion and led to his arrest.

47In his early statements to the police, ʿAli pondered on the unpremeditated aspect of the crime:

I saw that ten‑year old [sic] kid and immediately tempted him with some money, then asked him to accompany me to one of the buildings in the Jabriyyeh neighborhood, which he did. We went up the stairs, once we reached the roof, I asked him to take off his clothes, which he did by lowering his pants and helped him to lower his shorts. But he started to scream, andout of fear that I might be discovered, I inserted my hand in his mouth forbarely a minute. When he went totally mute Ipanickedat the sight of a boy that would neither speak nor budge, and ran away leaving him behind.

48No one would challenge such statements, as the others were after‑the‑fact witnesses: the neighbor who discovered the body, the parents and uncle, but none had witnessed the crime first hand nor seen the boy with the defendant.

49With the defendant’s brief account, four irrelevant witnesses, an autopsy confirming that the boy died asphyxiated, and a memo describing the scene of the crime, the judge’s material runs thus far pretty thin. Notwithstanding the charges of the referral judge, the court had to convene on two interrelated matters: (i) the age of the culprit: even if he were one‑day short of the maturity age of eighteen, his dossier should be reverted to the minors court; (ii) theqaṣdversusʿamd:the head of the palace of justice in Aleppo,known as the first attorney general, recommended the higherʿamdpunishment, which would have categorized the defendant into life sentencing, if not for the death penalty.

50As to the age of the defendant, as if by sheer fate, he wasexactlyeighteen the day of the murder. He was born on 8 July 1976 and committed his crime on 8 July 1994. The court estimated that the crime was committed roughly an hour after the noon Friday prayers, and established that his birth on 8 July 1976 must have been early that day since he was registered that same day prior to the closing of the governmental offices at 2:00: the defendant was only few hours above eighteen when he committed his indecent act and his dossier should be therefore kept within the Jināyāt’s jurisdiction.

51Since another man was wrongly accused in the month or so when the defendant escaped to Beirut, the dossier contains reports and interviews of two defendants, the first one having been released for lack of evidence; the defendant’s denials, and the dramatic confessions of the second defendant the month following the crime. The first defendant, which had a brother who lived in the same building of the crime scene, and who was seen in the vicinity of the mosque that same day, had only circumstantial evidence against him, the kind of evidence that would have been “tested” through fingerprinting or DNA tests (in particular if there was indeed anal penetration, as some reports claimed). Syrian forensics, however, is notorious for foregoing all kind of fingerprinting and DNA evidence: not a single case analyzed in this book contains any of the most common forensics. If evidence is therefore accumulated in the most rudimentary manner, and the interviewsarethe prime conduit for fresh evidence, what could therefore save the case from a fully‑fledged judicial error is confession pure and simple, which was the case here.

52The first accused, who seems to have been arrested a couple of weeks after the murder and gave his first deposition in July 1994, and whom we will refer to as Maher, used to work in a small tailoring manufacture in the Jabriyyeh neighborhood where the crime occurred. The day of the incident he went as usual to his work early in the morning, even though Friday was his official day off:

We had some extra work to do that day even though Friday is our day off. We worked until 12:15 when our boss told us that it is time to leave for the mosque. We went to the mosque (right opposite to the building where the incident occurred) with our boss. I seized the opportunity, when I noticed that my boss was not observing me, to run away back home and pray with my father rather than at the mosque. At home, my sick father was there and we began praying. We then had lunch, and around 2:15 when I was going back to the workshop I passed right in front of the building where the incident occurred. There was nothing unusual for passing by there since that is my usual road, and I did not notice anything unusual, nor did I talk to anyone. I went back to the workshop and stayed there until 8:30. I went to my sister’s home which happens to be in the same building where I worked. But my sister was not there and saw only her husband and their kids. I went back home at 11:00 that night, talked to my father, took my clothes off and went to bed.

53From now on evidence will prove even more contradictory, as the then defendant will fine tune his preliminary statement as more witnesses poured in, leading to circumstantial evidence of a very casual nature. Maher worked in the neighborhood, came to work that day even though it was his day off, avoided the mosque for two different reasons (to accompany his son’s boss, to pray with his father at home), had a sister in the same building of the crime, and provided contradictory statements that some witnesses strongly denied. In sum, he had no strong alibi for the 1:00 to 3:00 afternoon period. Not a single witness, however, saw him with the murdered kid, and he kept denying any involvement until his release. As noted earlier, careful collection and examination of evidence—primarily fingerprinting—could have made a major contribution, but the system does not work that way.

54It was only with the arrest of the second accused ʿAli that Maher was finally released. In his first deposition to the police on 11 August 1994 ʿAli, even though having confessed taking the kid to the upper floor with the deliberate intent to force him into anal sex (fiʿl al‑liwāṭ), and having unwillingly caused the boy’s death by forcing his hand on his mouth for a minute, nevertheless denied anal penetration: “I did nothing [sexual], as I left him in his current condition [not emitting any sound or movement], after having lowered his pants and shorts between his legs. I simply ran away for fear of getting exposed.” In the police report also dated August 11, however, ʿAli was quoted saying that “after having succeeded in keeping the boy’s mouth shut with my left hand, I took my penis out with my right hand and inserted it between the boy’s butts.” How did he get caught? The official explanation—a mixture of factual police analysis and the defendant’s own—was that, even though he held various jobs in the Midan neighborhood, he stopped regularly in Jabriyyeh where he used to buy spare parts for motorbikes, for which he boasted to have developed an expertise. His recurrent trips to the neighborhood, even before his return from Beirut, made him a suspect, and the police had been checking his workshop in Midan since July.

55There were two Jināyāt verdicts. The first one, on October 1995, refrained from any final ruling, arguing that the defendant was notlegallyeighteen at the moment of the crime since he became of age only at the end of that day of 8 July 1994. The court therefore recommended that the case by transferred to the juvenile court. But in another strange twist, however, the Jināyāt reversed its previous decision, and based on a new calculation, decided that when the defendant committed his crime “he already was at least seven hours into his mature age (sinn al‑rushd).” Another element of surprise was the defendant’s staunch denial, in a deposition to the court in June 1995, of any involvement in the raping and killing of the boy. By the time the court, however, went on with its final ruling on August 1996, more than two years after the crime, it took the blunt decision to abide by the defendant’s prior statements to the police, which, upon his arrest, fully confessed the rape, but denied any premeditated killing. The court thus decided in its final ruling to penalize the defendant for S.P.800,000 ($16,000 at the time) to be paid to the plaintiffs‑cum‑heirs for material and moral damages and liabilities (they had initially requested a million pounds). Then, and in opposition to the district attorney’s request, the court opted for aqaṣdverdict, with an initial 12 years of forced labor, and a further extension of up to 20 years (based on section 2, article 498 of the penal code).

56The case was appealed to the higher Naqḍ court in Damascus by the public prosecution office, which had initially insisted on aʿamdruling. In a memo within the one‑month appeal period, the head of the office, judge Mahmud Qujah, argued that even though the defendant had no intention to kill the child, he nevertheless behaved in such a brutal manner so as to “equate” such an act with premeditated killing. Qujah thus concluded in his three‑page Naqḍ memo that the defendant is “an expert criminal with several diverseprecedents, which shows hiscriminal spiritand hiscarelessness about the values of society, as manifested in his final words to the court when he blurted out to the chief judge in contempt: ‘Only that? Why don’t you go ahead with the death penalty?’” “Such a person,” recapped Qujah, “fully deserves the death penalty because he is adanger to society.”

57If Qujah’s plea to the Naqḍ was to go for the death penalty without compromise, which the upper court rebuffed, it nevertheless hardly adds any new element to the case, while moralizing and sensationalizing to the extreme; the limited evidence, however, which by and large relies solely on witnessing rather than forensic evidence, in conjunction with the repetitive nature of all facts and arguments from one report, memo, and verdict to another is what gives this case its special impetus. The importance of Qujah’s plea, however, lies not in the fact that it was addressed to Syria’s supreme court, or that the latter rebuffed it for that matter. As an experienced judge, Qujah knew all too well that the deathwasaccidental, and that the prime aim for the young man who had just turned 18 was sexual gratification with a boy he had randomly picked up: it was indeed precisely the lack of premeditation and the casualness of the man’s style that attracted public attention, and which the judge, professionalism aside, was echoing. A major impetus in the judge’s plea was apropos the defendant’s “carelessness about the values of society,” and the fact that he represented such a “danger to society.” But what kind of danger exactly? And should we worry about which “values” the judge had in mind? We are here into a territory where the sociological dimension of crime, including the way courts handle witnessing and verdicts, becomes irrelevant. The judge knew very well that, professionally speaking, the Jināyāt delivered a plausible verdict, that is to say, it could not have gone for the death penalty because therewasno premeditation in the child’s death. Yet, there was something deeply disturbing both in the defendant’s behavior and the public opinion: the public interest, which prompted theal‑Baathnational daily to carry large extracts of the Jināyāt’s second ruling (which it rarely does), was probably a symptom of deep repressions regarding infantile sexuality and its relation to adult sexuality; the unacknowledged repression and violence that children go through routinely, not to mention incest, which do not receive much public exposure; and the tormented sexuality of teenage men (and women) coming of age in a repressive society, not only politically, but also socially. The age of the defendant, which fostered a debate at the Jināyāt court, and which pushed it into two incompatible rulings, which is fairly unusual, should not be looked upon simply as a technical juridical problem: should the defendant receive his verdict from the Jināyāt, or should the dossier be transferred to the juvenile court? In its first ruling the Jināyāt was well aware that it was only attempting not to hold responsibility for a case that had already attracted too much public attention, hence its attempt to transfer it to another court for a retrial. As to the defendant, the sheer coincidence of the crime with his eighteenth birthday—day‑for‑day—was no coincidence at all: he was celebrating his coming of age by raping a small boy, that is, by enacting his sexual fantasies through a criminal act of transgression.

  • 39 See, Chapter 1.
  • 40 Warwick Tie, “The Psychic Life of Governmentality,”Culture, Theory & Critique, (...)

58It is therefore impossible to understand such cases by limiting ourselves either to the juridical (which is what courts do), or to the sociological dimension of law. I propose to add to the juridical and sociological a third dimension regarding the psychic powers of governmentality. Unlike the Foucauldian notion of power, which we have analyzed earlier,39and which constructs an agency that does not require the notion of the Subject, the criminal cases under analysis cannot be only subsumed under the juridical and medical historical discourses of the “abnormal,” or thepersonnalitéof defendants for that matter. If, as Foucault says, the “cause” of the crime and its “rationality” implied looking at the defendant’s personality retroactively (that is, a rationalization of the crime based on the defendant’s life as seen in light of the criminal act), such discursive practices only highlight power relations with individualized subjects without the requirement of the notion of the Subject: there must be deeper layers in the Subject that at the same time favorably accept subjugation and repression, while at the same time approving acts of transgression asjouissance.There is that “excess” of energy in individualized subjects, which have been normalized through discursive and non‑discursive practices, which cannot be contained within the traditional schemes of governmentality, and which lies outside the symbolic order; criminal acts could be looked upon within that surplus of transgression, which lies deep in a subject’s psyche.40Public interest notwithstanding, the case has stirred an excess attention from the judicial authorities themselves, as if what the profession dictated to judges—a non‑premeditated ruling—was not enough.

  • 41 Christopher Lash,The Culture of Narcissism,New York: Norton, 1979. (...)

59Freud has developed the notion of the uncanny (unheimlich), as a “special shade of anxiety” that surrounds particular experiences, a response that is at the same time “disturbing and pleasurable,” which isjouissantin its effect. For Freud, uncanny feelings signal the return to the subject of long repressed fears, memories, and traumas, that is, a return to the familiar (rather than the unfamiliar) that disquiets the subject: “the uncanny,” says Freud, “is that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar,” an involuntary repetition that takes the subject back home. “Home” means, however, bringing all those involuntary memories and traumatic experiences, fears of castration and childhood sexuality, which long have been repressed. What emerges in this experience of uncanniness, is a sense of what has been concealed and kept out of sight, paradoxically delivers pleasurable and familiar feelings. The narcissistic complex which enables the child to empower itself, rather than dissolve into a plethora of contradictory feelings and fragmented selves, is one such common example of the pleasurable and familiar (the at home with one’s self). But whenever such narcissistic self fails to develop into a social one, one that interacts with a given social milieu, and accepts its “self” as part of it, as seems the norm today,41there is always that left potential for a reactivation of the old fears, repressed memories and traumas. Animistic beliefs, which commonly circulate among individuals and collectivities, express such fears.

  • 42 Talal Asad,Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity, (...)

60Some of the crimes that we have documented in this study manifest that dimension of the uncanny, which emerges from the very nature of the crime itself: a teenage girl that was raped and killed (C5–2); a young man who killed an old man, father of four, for his motorbike (C5–3); a young woman, a university graduate, who kills her husband to safeguard her sense of honor and that of her cousin‑lover (C5–5); or as in this example here, a young man, who just turned eighteen, sodomizes a six‑year old boy, who inadvertently dies asphyxiated. In all such tragic examples, what matters is more than just the decision‑making process and the sociology of law, as the tragic nature of the event drips all over, and we begin to see judges having afterthoughts on their rulings, with public interest steering up, even though in Syria crime tends to be prescribed to the space of the courtroom, seldom attracting any attention, except in private. What all of a sudden emerges is that uncanny feeling in individuals and groups, which translates into an unease at accepting the common “professional” ruling, one that is dictated by the logic of the incident itself and what the law says within the homogenizing and secular framework of the nation‑state.42All of sudden, feelings of outrage erupt, for a case that was supposed to contain no more than what it did: it is here that the uncanny comes through, as those images, childhood memories, fear of the unknown, the fear of the dissolution of the self and society, that have long been repressed, and which re‑emerge—as that all too familiar—in individuals and groups. It is in such rare instances, which push the law to reassert itself outside its normalized routines, that the psychic dimension of the Law as superego becomes visible the most.

61Foucault’s notion of “sovereign power” posits an epistemological shift between the eighteenth‑century classical age, and the nineteenth‑century post‑revolutionary and industrial age. In that new age, to which we still belong, sovereign power interpellates subjects through discursive formations which in their core normalize the subject through a delineation of the abnormal. If crimes must be understood in their causes and thepersonnalitéof the offender, it is because traditionalancien régimesovereign power, based as it was on the symbolic power of the king and his public executions, did not address subjects as subjects, but as collectivities that “sanctioned” sovereign power. Modern forms of governmentality address therefore that lingering issue of the subjectquasubject, one that needs to be normalized in a network of power relations, rather than simply be “sanctioned” by sovereign power. But while Foucault manages, in the bravado that is all too well known of him, to show the intricacies of the new empowering norms over the individual subjects, the latter lose their capacity as subjects, capable of resistance to the forms of knowledge and governmentality which at the same time empower them as individuals, while ripping off their subjectivity qua subjects. Herein lies the importance of the Law as superego, and the uncanniness of law in retroactively accepting transgression while positing it as the essence of official law: it is in the psychic that the modern subject re‑asserts itself as subject.

I saw my divorcée lying down with her new fiancé

  • 43 Idlib case 68/2000; man killed his ex‑wife in a village at her parental home; Idlib Jināyāt (...)

62 [C8–3] One day in early July 1998 at the time of evening prayers ʿUmar (b. 1969), who introduced himself in his depositions under the generic qualification of worker (ʿāmil), shot to death his ex‑wife and some of her relatives at their residential home at the village of al‑Hassaniyyah in the northern province of Idlib.43In one of his earliest depositions to the Idlib police on 15 July 1998 right after his arrest, he claimed that

  • 44 This statement remains unclear and does not recur in the dossier.
  • 45 Presumably regarding her niece’s new engagement.

ten months ago a dispute erupted between me and my wife, the victim Amira bt. ʿAbdul‑Salam Naji, because she refused to marry my brother Yasir who lives in our village.44That eventually led to our divorce, which took place in a sharīʿa court at Jisr al‑Shughūr. Since we have a common child, some intermediaries attempted to reconcile us with the hope that we would reestablish our marital life, leaving the final decision to her father. Three days before the incident, some have intervened to reconcile us. The Tuesday before the incident, which occurred on Friday evening, a couple of individuals from the village of al‑Mulnad came by and visited me in my home, and I urged them that they do their best and reconcile me with my ex‑wife. On Friday a friend came by and informed me that my divorced wife had been engaged to someone from Ḥamā. I was also told that the fiancé’s maternal aunt Maryam Asouadknows the truth,45and I made a deal with my informant at meeting her. I did meet her that day at 11:00 in the home of my informant, only to inform me that my divorcée had been officially engaged to a person from Ḥamā over a week ago. I went back home, and then at 5:00 in the evening that same day I went to the home of the parents of my divorced wife after I picked up my 8.5‑mm gun, which does not carry a permit, and which was loaded with 24 bullets. As soon as I knocked, my ex‑wife’s sister Najah opened the door, and I asked her whether she would let me in. I knew that my divorcée was sitting in a room with her fiancé from Ḥamā, having been informed by the son of one of my divorcée’s sisters. He had told me that they were sitting in an upper room, while her parents were in the lower room. Since the house is only composed of two rooms, I took the stairs and went upstairs, holding the gun in my hand. I found my divorcée—the victim—sitting with her fiancé whose name I ignore. Immediately, and without any previous notice, I started shooting at her, with several shots reaching her body, leading ultimately to her death. Her fiancé managed to hide in one of the corners of the room as soon as I started shooting. They were having lunch when I burst into the room. When I rolled down the stairs, my fiancée’s mother, brother, and two sisters, attempted to catch me. I started shooting at them, and all of them were probably hurt. The following day I was told that my divorcée, her mother, and brother, died, while her sister Zubayda was wounded.

63The strange unsupported allegation that the root of the conflict, which eventually led to divorce, was in the husband’s proposal that his wife marries his brother, never resurfaced in any of the subsequent depositions, the ones made to the police, prosecutor, judges, or during the Jināyāt hearings in Idlib. Nor will anyone press on that issue for that matter. Gradually, however, more details would emerge from the killer himself in subsequent depositions, while some of the previous first‑day facts would be radically altered. Thus, for instance, only three days later, on 18 July 1998, now in the presence of an investigating judge at Jisr al‑Shughur, the killer radically altered his previous description of the crime scene.

As soon as I went upstairs to the upper room and reached its door, I saw my divorcée Amira lying down (mudṭajiʿa) on the knee of a person which I realized was her fiancé. She was caressing him lying on his side while he was sleeping, his pants were down up to his knees. As soon as he saw me, he straightened his pants up and tightened himself (tamāsaka). When Amira approached me, my gun was already in my hand, I pushed her, but she came back to me once more. It was at that moment that I pulled the trigger several times, after which Amira fell down.

64Three days earlier the killer had made the claim that his ex‑wife and fiancé were having lunch when he killed her without warning. Now the implicit allegation was that both were into “oral sex,” and that Amira was offering her fiancé, to whom she had apparently engaged only a week earlier, a fellatio. In another deposition two days earlier (16 July 1998), the killer had claimed that as soon as he reached the upper room, “I found Amira with her new fiancé together, while she was lying down on a pillow. I shouted at her: ‘sit down!’ and immediately afterwards started shooting at her. I can’t remember how many times I shot at her.” Between all those different accounts, real or imagined, which were only three days apart, what stands out was Amira’s gesture at the moment her ex‑husband found her with her new fiancé: Amira lookedcomfortablewith her fiancé—and that seems pretty much the only thing to have stuck a chord in the mind of her disgruntled ex‑husband. In his first deposition, the killer did not dare to mention that “comfort”—or, more accurately, what he probably perceived as a “sleazy” gesture, one in which Amira had “given herself up” to her new fiancé, manifesting a degree of intimacy in the very act of a blowjob (which was only revealed later). In his second revised account, Amira’s lying on the pillow was mentioned for the first time, with that corrective “sit down!,” as if reminding her (and himself, and audience) what a “correct” posture—to sit down properly and decently—ought to be underanycircumstances. Finally, in his third and more detailed account, ʿUmar hints at the two having oral sex. All this could have been true, or a work of imagination, or simply as part of a strategy deployed to win the hearts of his audience back then: the police, prosecutors, lawyers, and judges. After all, since the identity of the killer seems to have been certain from day one, duly endorsed by witnesses, the one thing left to the Idlib Jināyāt was to nail down the crucial premeditation issue:qaṣdorʿamd?Needless to say, ʿUmar seems to have had been aware of that subtle judicial distinction right from the beginning: as soon as the trepidation of the killings went by, he began, in statement after statement, to argue that nothing was fully premeditated, that he behaved in rage like a jealous ex‑husband, one who was promised that his ex‑wife would return to him, but that he was surprised and shocked to learn from friends and relatives that his ex‑wife got engaged—from someone that he even did not know. In his July 18 deposition to the prosecutor, ʿUmar claimed that in the hours preceding the killings, depressed as he was on the news that his ex‑wife got engaged, he got intoxicated by excessively drinking Araq. With such claims, whether true or false, the defendant, following probably a strategy advised by his counsels, was accumulating indications that he was not at the time in his right mind: depression, anger, and humiliation. Having thus confessed the killings, he nonetheless refused the scenario of a cold‑blooded and heartless murderer who fully premeditated his crime.

65The defendant’s counsel in Jisr al‑Shughur went further into that effect, drawing a list of witnesses which he divided into four categories, and which from his standpoint would be enough evidence that his defendant acted foolishly rather than premeditatedly. The defense thus divided the period—close to a year—before the killings into four interrelated “events” (wāqiʿa,pl.waqāʾiʿ), each one with its own set of witnesses. The witnesses, in particular those blood‑related to the victims, were not that talkative beyond the few facts related to the incident.

66First event. The defendant would have been delighted to get back to his wife in the wake of a divorce against his will. He is now in prison amid a conflict with his ex‑wife’s parents. She in turn does not mind getting back to him, and there were persons who worked as intermediaries between the two; some of which made a deal with her parents for a new dowry, themahr.(Four witnesses are identified from the village of al‑Hassaniyyah.)

67Second event. The defendant was informed that his ex‑wife became engaged to another person, and shewasset to marry that same day the incident occurred. (Names of four witnesses from al‑Hassaniyyah and al‑Mulnad.)

68Third event. What the defendant did was an outcome of stern anger (ghaḍab shadīd), but without consciousness, knowledge, or premeditation. He was neither aware of what he was doing, nor of the outcome of his acts. (Names of four witnesses: one was imprisoned in Aleppo, and three others from the above two villages.)

69Fourth event. The defendant had been carrying a gun for several years prior to the incident. (Three witnesses from the above villages.)

70In sum, the defense’s strategy focused on “improvisation” to spare the defendant aʿamdruling. That strategy, however, did not seem to have paid off. Less than two years after the crime, the Idlib Jināyāt issued a severe sentencing. It commanded that the defendant be incarcerated for life with hard labor, and that he compensates the plaintiffs (Amira’s father and sister) for each one of the three victims: SP500,000 for the death of Amira’s mother, SP600,000 for Amira’s teenaged brother, and SP600,000 for the death of Amira herself. It remains unclear how the court made such assessments: Why had the highest price tag been set on the brother? Why did Amira get the same price as her brother, but less than the mother? Could it be that the court reasoned in terms of a mother responsible for a family and household versus a woman that was still nominally single, and was engaged and soon to be married (the same day of her killing; while her wounded sister claimed that the wedding took place just the day before in their own parental home), but was not given that chance? Did the court reason that younger relatives are more “valuable” than older ones? In short, the court opted for aqaṣdruling based on article 534/6 of the penal code. For their part the plaintiffs opted for an appeal.

71The classic example of the lover who feels possessed by his beloved, and where the feeling of loss is precipitated once the beloved went for another lover. The gap between the subject and the socio‑symbolic order precipitates into a death drive. The socio‑symbolic order is reinforced by the beloved’s kin informants who were feeding the lover with the whereabouts of his beloved, providing an active imagery of what she was doing with “this other man.” Like the honor killings which target women, the killer was here constantly fed via the kin informants with words that translated into images of betrayal and loss in his mind. Since desire is the desire of the other, is the other here the woman who betrayed her ex‑lover, urged for a rupture, only to go for another lover? Or is the lover‑killer manifesting to the community at large the precedence that he attributes to the beloved Other over the socio‑symbolic order of the community? In a milieu where men have to repress their feelings of love and affection, the ultimate act of killing for a woman—or killing the woman that revealedmysubjectivity—is the ultimate gesture of sacrifice against the very prohibitions of that community. In the routinized honor killings, the killer operates at least within asocialexcuse against a female who allegedly betrayed the honor values of kin. But in this instance, the beloved wife opted for divorce, then chose another lover, hence was perfectly safe in terms of the honor code: what she did in the aftermath of divorce was her own business, and her ex‑husband and in‑laws should have had no concerns. What is strange, however, was that the victim’s future kin were the ones who fed the killer with everything that he wanted to know but should not have known (or cared about) in the first place, as if they did not want that woman, the ultimatefemme fatale,to be “one of them,” and the ex‑husband was dispatched to get rid of her. Perhaps there is a link between the routinized honor killings and the killing of a woman who seems to be a force of her own, which can seduce one man after the other, which can take an obsessive hold of a man’s imagination, which can become like a morbid death. Here the lover turns against society manifesting his deep love for a woman—through sacrifice.

Shameful sex in the vicinity of the husband’s corpse

  • 46 Idlib Jināyāt 136/1994; only ihala and final sentencing available.
  • 47 The date of birth and age of victims remains for the most part undisclosed.

72 [C8–4] Amina Muhyi al‑Din Bakhit (b. 1974, mother Turkish) got married in 1993 to ʿAbdul‑Hamid ʿAllūn as his second wife.46The referral judge in his report on 26 January 1994 noted that her husband had provided her with a separate house from his first wife and their children in the town of Khān Shaykhūn (province of Idlib). With his second marriage, ʿAbdul‑Hamid apparently became closer to his cousins, which the referral judge hastened to report, “were in an age category closer to the wife,” meaning in their twenties, while the husband was much older.47The judge described the husband as someone “who drank excessively, and who used to ask his wife not to be formal with his cousins… and not to be formal either in her attire.” Eventually, a “love relationship” (ʿalāqa gharāmiyya) allegedly evolved between one of the cousins, Milad ʿAbdul‑Majid ʿAllūn (b. 1967), and Amina, with a possible liaison with another cousin who at the time was serving in the military (hence the inclusion of a report from a military judge in the dossier). The final Idlib Jināyāt report claimed that “letters were exchanged, in which the accused [Amina] expressed her love to the accused [Milad], and her non satisfaction with her husband. She repeatedly asked him to release her from her sufferings. …” The Jināyāt added that the love relationship “then grew from having sex intozinā.” Throughout the brief interlude between the wedding in early 1993 and the husband’s murder, Milad and ʿAbdul‑Hamid became close friends, while Milad kept a close watch on his cousin, “seizing every opportunity to kill him,” which he finally did on the night of 2 April 1993.

73He had “borrowed” that night a 9mm gun from a policeman, and went ahead to ʿAbdul‑Hamid’s home, with Amina’s prior knowledge, to kill him in his sleep. Apparently the victim woke up seconds before Milad pointed the gun at him, attempted to run away, but Milad nonetheless followed him and shot him in the back. He then went to his brother’s home, gave him the gun, after replacing the used bullet, and summoned him to deliver it to its owner on the basis that he was in a rush and had to pick up a bus to Damascus. But he instead came back to Amina, whose husband’s body was now lying on the floor in one of the rooms, and had sex with her twice that same night. He wanted to get rid of the body, but apparently Amina had a better idea. She would fabricate a story whereby a stranger with a foreign accent came to their home and had a fight with her husband regarding a debt, only to kill him. Milad eventually traveled to Damascus, with a dead body behind. Amina for her part went the following day to her in‑laws with her faked story. Stunned with disbelief, they alerted the police who arrested her immediately, and few days later Milad was in turn arrested while hiding in Ḥimṣ.

74Obviously, the structure of the main narrative, which was adopted by the Jināyāt in its sentencing on 26 November 1994 which recommended the death sentence for both defendants, varied from one deposition to another, while the two main protagonists kept altering their narratives in the seven‑month period prior to the ruling. The day following her husband’s killing, Amina was interrogated by the police, acknowledging her affair with Milad, which began five months into her marriage and three months prior to the murder. In an effort to avoid aʿamdsentencing, Amina claimed in her police deposition that the killing just happened accidentally, with no prior planning and premeditation. When her husband went to sleep that night, Milad, who was waiting up on the roof of their home, came down to her, and while they were having sex, her husband woke up and saw them the two together naked in bed.

75In psychoanalytic Lacanian terms, the much older husband takes the role of the symbolic “big Other” who obstructs thejouissanceof his much younger wife and her lover; they therefore needed to get rid of him to pursue their illicit sexual love affair. The husband, however, was not simply obstructing the sexuality of his voluptuous wife, as he did not seem to adopt that moral stance representing the socio‑symbolic order of the community. In effect, from what transpires in early reports he was quite the contrary enjoying his role of a voyeur watching his wife flirting around with his younger cousins, and even inflicting on his wife the superego command of “Forget about me, and enjoy!” Rather than obstructing her with the usual motto that “You are my wife, and you should therefore be faithful to me no matter what, irrespective of the age difference or otherwise,” or rather than simply play the honor game (“You will dishonor us if you flirt around”), he was much more pervert than the simple faithful husband, as attested by the first referral judge report:

After the wedding, the victim engaged with closer relations with his kin, in particular [the killer] Milad Abdul‑Majid and his two brothers, one of whom is an officer in the army, despite the age difference between them, even though his cousins were much closer to his wife’s age than his. The victim was known to be a heavy consumer of alcohol which he consummated at home with Milad. He openly summoned his wife not to be tight (ʿadam al‑taḥaffuẓ) with his paternal cousins. It was indeed within such atmosphere that a love relationship matured between his wife Amina and his paternal cousins Milad and Anmar. Amina for her part used to trade love letters with both cousins each one separately.

  • 48 The smallness and conservatism of Khān Shaykhūn would not have permitted a public consumpti (...)
  • 49 Slavoj Žižek,The Ticklish Subject. The absent centre of political ontolo (...)

76Here the husband was not portrayed as the jealous husband who was summoning his wife to abide by the honor codes, a portrayal that was dropped few months later in the verdict. On the contrary, the husband was having fun watching his playful wife with his two cousins. In her first deposition to the police upon her arrest, Amina reiterated her husband’s liberal attitude, namely that he continuously asked her “not to be conformist in her attire (ʿadam al‑taḥaffuẓ bi‑libāsihā), encouraging her to consume alcohol, even though she refused; he also used to provide her with intoxicating pills so that she would be submerged with a strange feeling, not knowing with whom she was sleeping.” With the husband’s tacit watchful eye the two (or three) lovers could have pursued their sexual liaison as long as they had wished, but they opted instead to kill the husband. Moreover, the night of the killing, they had sex once before the husband was killed (in one version, the husband caught them off guard in the act itself), and twice after the killing while the husband’s body was still there. It was as if the husband’s erroneous comprehending gaze became for the two lovers the very problem of their sexual enjoyment, hence they opted for annihilating that paternal gaze altogether. Had the husband opted for the traditional attitude of honor and sin, the lovers would have probably felt more at ease in their sexual lust. The urge therefore to go that same night for another round of sex—twice in a row—after the killing of the husband, while his body was still laying around, points to that urge to do it one more timeoutside his paternal gaze.Which implies that illusion of a sexuality outside the gaze of the big Other. But the husband, however, at least as portrayed in the early reports (which were later repressed in the final ones in preparation for the final verdict), was extremely sympathetic: not only did he expect that his wife would soon become fond of his two cousins, he even encouraged her to do so. In effect, the husband was portrayed as someone who was in incessant provocation towards the socio‑symbolic order: he openly consumed alcohol at home,48while encouraging his wife to do the sameandfeel at ease with his cousins. However, once such affectionate paternal gaze was done with, the lovers in their sexual haste to copulate twice may have felt a bit disappointed. They may have realized thatjouissancecomes at a price—when the husband was there, and now that he is permanently absent, there was no point in pursuing what became normative for them in the five‑month period. In other words, the husband, by not caring about the socio‑symbolic order, had unconsciously activated that death drive subjectivity into him. He sought for his own death at the hands of his wife’s lover. He knew all too well that he was acting as the Third Gaze as the ultimate guarantee of the sexual relationship between his wife and her lover: “it is the very presence of the silent witness who listens to the couple making love that transubstantiates what is ultimately an encounter between [a wife and her lover] into an encounter that transcends its material conditions.”49The husband therefore acted as a silent witness, without ever intruding, which transforms a banal situation between two lovers, one of which is the witness’ own wife, into something mythical, charged with Eros and Thanatos. It is as if the lovers became overburdened with the mythological encounter that they had created for themselves thanks to their silent partner. Getting rid of that partner therefore seemed the logical conclusion: unable to assume the burden of an intensely charged situation, they opted for murder as a way out—to the death row.

  • 50 Jack Katz,Seductions of Crime. Moral and Sensual Attractions in Doing Ev (...)

77The referral judge undermines the complexity of the case by limiting it to a lover who commits a crime only to efface the traces of another crime, that of illicit sex (zinā), forgetting his earlier remarks that the murdered husband seems to have been enjoying himself as a Third Gaze, to the point that the two lovers felt trapped into such triangular situation. In strict legal terms, the verdict amounted to taking for granted the wife’s account: “What pushed the defendant Milad to shoot her husband is that the latter saw the two of them in the same bed, hence Milad’s desire to drop the curtain on theirzinācrime which he was engaging with Amina, which renders the killing a crime pursuant to article 534–2 of the penal code.” The judge adds as a final remark, as if he was puzzled by the audacity of the lovers after the killing: “The killing did not happen accidentally, but was fully premeditated, which is corroborated by the fact that they had sex twice while the victim’s corpse was lying around in an adjacent room. Such sexual acts were only an overt expression (taʿbīr ṣārikh) for Amina’s satisfaction with the outcome and its desire to do what she did.” Notice how only the femalejouissance(enjoyment) was accounted for, while the man was reduced to an agent of killing, that is, to make the woman’s enjoyment possible, even though in the later final verdict the court recommended for both the death penalty by hanging. In that same verdict, the court made the point repeatedly that Milad had sex twice with the wife’s full “consent” (bi‑riḍāhā), as if the wife’s sexual consent, after her husband’s death, was an indication of her consent for the killing, hence the death penalty for both. The judge’s assessment, however, simple as it may first seem, was not far away from truth: the female uncannyjouissanceachieves its peak on the top of the husband’s corpse, as if, to paraphrase the good old Freud, sexual fulfillment and death would come only hand in hand. Indeed, theinterpretationof sexafterthe murder would become the primordial contentious issue between prosecution and defense, as if sex was the only element that indicated full consent of the killing: “Amina’s having sex after the killing is no indication of a prior consent for the killing [performed by her lover], considering that she had never indulged in any positive act that would lead to her husband’s killing,” claimed the counsel in its defense of Amina. So why would the sex in the aftermath of the killing be an indication of consent for the killing per se? To be sure, neither prosecution nor defense were off the mark from common sense perception of sexuality and death: “I have killed my husband because he was prohibiting my full sexual fulfillment,” goes the common norm, “therefore once I got rid of him, I am back to my self as a person.” But what if sexual satisfaction is possible only through a Third Gaze—that of the husband? By short‑circuiting the Third Gaze the court shunned the unexplainable, while reducing the logic of the crime to the mere act of the killing and to thezinācrime which both preceded it and tragically concluded it—in two separate violent acts. Moreover, the defense offlagrante delictohas been acceptable for centuries in many societies.50The fact therefore that the two lovers were allegedly caught “in the act itself” by the husband, prior to his sacrifice, only strengthens the theory that the victim had every right to protect himself and feel offended against the audacities of the lovers. The death penalty for the lovers, in the eyes of the prosecution, was therefore fully justified on the ground that the victim had in handat the very moment of his sacrifice by the lover (and with the wife’s alleged endorsement) full evidence of his wife’s infidelities, hence his humiliation in his last moments should be fully accounted for and justified in the verdict. The death penalty acts like a spectacle for society at large: as the victim witnessed inflagrante delictohis wife’s infidelities prior to his sacrifice, such final gaze ought to be brought to justice on his own behalf. The gaze of the absent victim transposes into that of society at large in need of a retribution for the wrongdoings of the wife and her lover.

Tales of sexual jouissance

78What is there in common between a woman who killed her mother, a young man who unwittingly asphyxiated a boy for the sole pleasure of sodomy, a man who killed his ex‑wife and some of her relatives in retaliation for a new fiancé, and a wife and her lover who plotted to kill her husband so that they would freely pursue their love affair?

79Not much at first sight. In the common perception of communities into which those offenders were embedded, all such persons were criminal murderers who deserved their fate. For our part, we bundled such cases together under the grand rubric of “family and sexuality”: Does such a topoi bring into light the disparate cases randomly picked up from the archives of the criminal court records (which were offered to the researcher as revealing social reality in their own right), justifying the line of analysis proposed in this chapter? What kind of justification can we offer for our choice of such a random selection of cases?

  • 51 Žižek,The Ticklish Subject, 343.

80Once the old patriarchal order is destabilized, loses its significance in the socio‑symbolic order, parenthood and the family are no longer tied to the substantial notions of authority and honor. Instead, they receive their value from external sources tied to the project of the nascent nation‑state: in other words, they become in a way politicized, subject to the intrusion of the judicial and medical authorities, which can now freely intrude into family dysfunctions, sexual mores, distraught daughters, husbands, homosexuals, and lovers who are constructing their own gendered identities in a world no more bound with traditional values. Instead of the family which is bound to its own substantial values, judges, doctors, and other professionals now assume that dubious role of the “big Other”: in other words, it is the world at large which assumes the uncanny role of paternal authority. Once the mother or father fail to provide their children with the modicum of the social order that ought to be maintained, it is judges, doctors, educators, or the mass‑media at large that assume such role. When a young man was accused of raping his mother, which in this instance acted on her own behalf as plaintiff, in the absence of the male authority of the husband who was allegedly pursuing other lover affairs in Lebanon (C6–4), it was the judge who took the role of a surrogate father, as if it was his own family, declaring the “monstrous” act as “unnatural.” In similar vein, the judge who handled the sodomy case detailed in this chapter (C8–2) was offended that the young man did not repent for the death of the child: in this instance, both offender and victim were at bay in the anonymity of a big city to pursue their own pleasures, as if institutions which were supposed to act as the guarantors of moral values were not there anymore; hence the judiciary, clumsy as it may seem, takes over, becoming all of a sudden a surrogate family. As Slavoj Žižek notes with his usual touch of humor, as long as “I am never really compelled to ‘grow up,’ …all the institutions which follow the family function asersatzfamilies, providing caring surrounding for my Narcissistic endeavors. …”51The detailed narratives of criminal acts provide us with an essential aspect of modernity which tends to be obscured by sociologists and criminologists alike, namely, how much of the subject’s fundamental mode of subjectivity is at stake.

81Fatima Shawwa who sacrificed her mother because, as she claimed to the prosecution, she was treating her poorly and was having an affair with her husband, was acting on behalf of a double humiliation: that of a husband who was allegedly unfaithful—with her own mother—and that of a mother who also was allegedly pursuing an affair with her husband. Add to this the fact that Fatima was already ill at ease with husband and mother, both for treating her like a renegade—in her own interpretation of the events—and for not caring about her and supporting her materially. In other words, she felt humiliated on all counts, as if her persona did not exist in the eyes of others. The killing of her mother, in the aftermath of torching her own marital home the morning before, as documented within the gruesome details of the Jināyāt records, was meant to set the record straight: no more will my mother and my husband‑cum‑mother’s lover humiliate me! Now I am free on my own, waiting to be punished by the justice system. Some of the details provided in Fatima’s testimony make sense together only if taken, first, in their chronological order, and second, in their blatant attempt to explicate the ruthlessness of Fatima’s act and the dire condition of the body, in particular the skull. Fatima spends that fateful night at her mother’s house, hence was in no rush to perform the killing, as if contemplating her mother’s death in the silence of the night. Even in the early morning of the murder, she still gave her mother one last chance, contemplating her in her sleep. Once the narrative kicks on the murder itself, it does seem savage to its extreme, portraying a mother ruthlessly killed by her daughter while defenseless in her sleep. Such gruesome details, however, come with a twist, showing a mother that was able to resist in spite of her old age, and a surprised sluggish daughter unable to impose the fatal blow. In short, the narrative was attempting to come to terms with the monstrosity of the act of matricide, finding an excuse for the excessive damage to the mother’s body and skull. Hence the details.

82By contrast in the case of ʿAli who was accused of forcing a boy into “anal sex,” the act of sodomy was documented in a single sentence as “taking my penis in my right hand and inserting it between the boy’s butts.” Here the shameful act needed no other explanation, as the description itself was self‑evident. As many offenders, however, ʿAli’s act was not without conscience, as he kept visiting the crime scene until he was caught. The difference with the other cases in this chapter is fairly obvious, namely, that in this instance there was neither premeditation nor an intent to kill. Yet, the boy’s age and death, not to mention ʿAli’s refusal to repent, turned the verdict into the most contentious ruling, as it was the only one to have fostered a moral outrage with appeals for the death penalty, even though it was fairly clear that this homicide was not a crime. It was indeed one of the judges who interpellated: “Such a person deserves the death penalty because he is a danger to society.” In the line of reasoning we have investigated in this book, the offender is acting with a public in mind, an external gaze which places primacy on an audience rather than on the victim him(her)self. In other words, the feeling of guilt is transmuted to a third party individual or audience, obfuscating the relationship between offender and victim. Such a setting works well for our protagonist ʿAli: his real interest was not in the act of sexual gratification through sodomy, but the very defilement of the mores of society in desecrating the innocence of a six‑year old boy in the meanest way possible. ʿAli’s demeaning attitude at trial therefore matched the ambition of his negative project.

  • 52 To be fair, the he predominates the she in cases of righteous vengeance in Syrian courts, a (...)

83Our next protagonist ʿUmar shot his ex‑wife and some of her relatives at their own home in a gesture of vengeful righteousness. He reasoned that he had every right to trespass over her moments of happiness with her new lover. ʿUmar may have been humiliated in the settlement of divorce, to which was appended another extravagant humiliation, that of the ex‑wife’s enjoyment with her new fiancé. ʿUmar’s own portrayal of various scenes, whether real or imagined, between his ex‑wife and new lover, which were delivered in piecemeal variations from one investigator to another, as if he was embarrassed to reveal to his audience what did hurt most his sense of honor, namely, that the couple was in a blowjob position, which he may have perceived as one of intimacy and submission where the woman was “lying down” and offering pleasure. The defense at the time did not have much to brag for, except perhaps episodes likes these which touched on the righteousness of the act of murder, some kind of an impoverishedflagrante delicto, which is the element that connects this male protagonist to the next one through its loose end, namely, the Third Gaze. Theflagrante delictois a scene that is staged through the presumed presence of an external viewer—the Third Gaze—which could be a real person (Amina’s husband) or a non‑defined audience. Counsels, whether on the prosecution or defense, typically play on that obscure relation between the real person who allegedly caught the culprits “in the act itself,” on one hand, and the presumed audience outside, which could be anything from the courtroom or the judges, or the mass‑media (“public opinion”) on the other. The shame of the real observer, who has been humiliated, possibly victimized, carrying that burden for righteous vengeance, is, so to speak, shared by that outside audience, which now carries the burden of the absent victim’s gaze.52Both prosecution and defense structure their narratives with that Third Gaze in mind, the real and imagined. All crimes would be incomprehensible if they were to be limited to the relationship between assailant and victim, without taking into consideration how that would be externally perceived. It is such an analysis that we have defended in this work.


1 Asad,Formations of the Secular,193.

2 See myGrammars of Adjudication,Chapter 11.

3 Aleppo Jināyāt case 701/996; final ruling missing.

4 Muhammad ʿAli was the brother of Fatima’s husband, hence her brother‑in‑law. If, as she claims, he was her “paternal cousin,” then Fatima and husband must have also been paternal cousins. There is a possibility, however, that they were “cousins” only in the figurative sense of the term, that is, not as a real blood relationship.

5 Referring to both son and cousin by their full names has something impersonal about it, diminishing its intimacy,as ifthe letter was meant to be read not by the recipient himself, but by some anonymous judicial authority.

6 For the killing of her mother.

7 The referral report only came on 7 May 1996, the following month after the present letter was deposited in the case’s dossier. The likelihood is therefore that the court’s proceedings were set either for late 1996 or early 1997.

8 Since Muhammad had two marriages, and Fatima was the second wife, who apparently coexisted with the first, it is uncertain which marriage is referred to here.

9 In all likelihood he was Fatima’s first husband.

10 The teenage son appears as the only male hope in a world where the elderly males have all betrayed their cause and manhood, and where women have observed such callousness from a distance.

11 This letter has no trace in the dossier I consulted in the late 1990s.

12 Punctuations have been modified from the original Arabic to make room for a more comprehensible text.

13 This contradicts what she later stated in the letter where she said she wished she could have a lawyer, but was unable to afford it.

14 In many homes the toilet, or the “Arab toilet,” is separate from the bathroom where a shower and/or bathtub is located.

15 The dossier that I have consulted did not carry any fingerprint analysis, which tends to be rare in Syrian forensics.

16 The dossier that I consulted at Aleppo’s Palace of Justice in the late 1990s still did not carry the final ruling back then; which made it impossible to pursue the case any further when I inquired about it years later: once a case is sealed, and the dossier goes to the general warehouse, nothing would change its path any further.

17 Zouhair Ghazzal, “Shared Social and Juridical Meanings as Observed in an Aleppo ‘Marginal’ Neighborhood,” in Myriam Ababsa, Baudouin Dupret, Eric Denis, eds.,Public Housing and Urban Land Tenure in the Middle East,Cairo: American University of Cairo Press, 2012, 169–202.

18 The case of the young man who had allegedly raped his mother (C6–4) belongs to that “absent male” scenario: in this instance it was the father who was physically absent, as a worker in Lebanon, and who had remarried there without divorcing his first wife. The rape of the mother, whether real or imaginary, fills the gap that the father had left behind, providing the son with that unique opportunity to become a real man all over again. In other cases (Tirmanini [C9–1], Jummo [C9–2], rite‑of‑passage [C9–3]), the father was not absent, but the son, in order to publicly show his manhood, had to commit a crime to take over his father’s mantle.

19 Jean‑Pierre Peter and Jeanne Favret, “The Animal, the Madman, and Death,” inI, Pierre Rivière, having slaughtered my mother, my sister, and my brother…A Case of Parricide in the 19th century,edited by Michel Foucault, Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1975, 192, originally published by Gallimard (Paris) in 1973.

20 Jean‑Pierre Peter and Jeanne Favret, “The Animal, the Madman, and Death,” 192–93.

21 Jürgen Habermas,The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere,Boston: The MIT Press, 1991.

22 Luc Boltanski,La souffrance à distance, Paris: Gallimard, 1993, 2007, 92ff.

23 J.L. Austin,How to Do Things With Words,Boston: Harvard University Press, 1975.

24 Christian Ruby,La Figure du spectateur. Éléments d’histoire culturelle européenne,Paris: Armand Colin, 2012.

25 The prototype here is Laurence Sterne’sTristram Shandy.

26 For example, in the works of James Joyce and William Faulkner.

27 In liberal countries with a free press (e.g. Lebanon), inmates could also grant interviews to journalists, newspapers, and other media outlets. Some write memoirs and books, which could be published while still serving their sentence, or upon their release or posthumously.

28 As exemplified in the works of Truman Capote,In Cold Blood,and Norman Mailer,The Executioner’s Song,both of which narrate single criminal incidents that became quite famous in their atrocity; Capote’s novel has inspired two fictional films thus far. How far a criminal persona could metamorphose into acause célèbreobviously depends on the level of freedom in a particular society. What the American case shows is that there are no visible limits either to the fictionalization of criminals in the works of art, or in the more populist media outlets.

29 Robert B. Pippin, Fatalism in American Film Noir: Some Cinematic Philosophy, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012.

30 In some cases (e.g. Buthayna Khattab, C4–1) the crime is never admitted, hence it keeps its status as an alleged crime: the alleged criminal is only a narrator, but not a confessor.

31 Including themusalsalāt,the Syrian TV series, which have rivaled the Egyptian and Turkish series, and which have metamorphosed into a popular phenomenon across the Arab world.

32 One can add here the notion of the Lacanian blot, which, in the context of the triangular structures I and II, makes it impossible as spectator or impartial narrator to “see” the Other without distortion: one is not simply limited by knowledge (what one knows and what is not known), but more importantly, by the gaze of the Other, which I, as a perceiving subject (ego) cannot see what it sees in me, and vice versa. Moreover, the acting subject is not only a subject of knowledge, but one who acts with a lack of meaning, purpose, and totality; and within the confines of a superego confronted to the big Other of justice and society.

33 Boltanski,La souffrance,66–67; Michel Foucault,Surveiller et punir,Paris: Gallimard, 1975.

34 Boltanski,La souffrance,92.

35 Aleppo Jināyāt 725/995; final Naqḍ ruling missing.

36 To determine, through DNA evidence, whether penetration effectively occurred, in addition to identifying the person who committed the act.

37 Forensics is a culture all by itself, which requires the implementation of particular techniques. In Syria, therefore, the absence of such culture, in conjunction with poor financing, render forensic evidence practically inexistent.

38 Because thepersonnalitéclause does not stand on its own in the Syrian judiciary, that is, independently from the “facts,” the defendant was not subjected to any medical examination, which would have determined his sexual orientation.

39 See, Chapter 1.

40 Warwick Tie, “The Psychic Life of Governmentality,”Culture, Theory & Critique, 45(2) (2004): 161–76.

41 Christopher Lash,The Culture of Narcissism,New York: Norton, 1979.

42 Talal Asad,Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity,Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003, 193: “Nationalism, with its vision of a universe of nationalsocieties(the state being thought of as necessary to their full articulation) in which individual humans live their worldly existence requires the concept of the secular to make sense. The loyalty that the individual nationalist owes is directly and exclusively to the nation… The men and women each national society make andowntheir history.”

43 Idlib case 68/2000; man killed his ex‑wife in a village at her parental home; Idlib Jināyāt ruling 120 on 14 May 2000; final ruling missing, but summary in Michel Ghannūm’s defense revocation of the case.

44 This statement remains unclear and does not recur in the dossier.

45 Presumably regarding her niece’s new engagement.

46 Idlib Jināyāt 136/1994; only ihala and final sentencing available.

47 The date of birth and age of victims remains for the most part undisclosed.

48 The smallness and conservatism of Khān Shaykhūn would not have permitted a public consumption of alcoholic beverages in cafés and the like.

49 Slavoj Žižek,The Ticklish Subject. The absent centre of political ontology,New York: Verso, 1999. The French filmmaker Catherine Breillat notes apropos one of her latest films,Une vieille maîtresse(2007), that “abstraction” operates necessarily behind a sexual relation: “Je considère que la relation sexuelle est un langage, et non une mécanique. Elle permet de se projeter dans un être. Je ne suis pas du tout hédoniste: le plaisir n’a aucune importance. La jouissance, c’est de se projeter dans quelque chose de très abstrait: c’est « Je pense, donc je suis ». On ne peut pas jouir sans penser.” See, “Entretien avec Catherine Breillat: On doit brûler pour l’art,”Positif,556 (June 2007), 21–25.

50 Jack Katz,Seductions of Crime. Moral and Sensual Attractions in Doing Evil,New York: Basic Books, 1988, 15.

51 Žižek,The Ticklish Subject, 343.

52 To be fair, the he predominates the she in cases of righteous vengeance in Syrian courts, as there are very few instances where it is the woman who has crossed the borderline of honor, humiliation, and crime.

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 8–1. General theory of the modern spectator.
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Titre Figure 8–2. The spectator in relation to a crime scene.
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