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The Crime of Writing

Zouhair Ghazzal

Chapter 9. The place of third parties in land crimes

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  • 1 Timothy Mitchell, Rule of Experts, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002, raises such ques (...)

1Research on land and property has been limited to tropes cherished by social historians: ownership (or lack thereof), class struggle between peasants and their landlords, the Baathist agrarian reforms of the 1960s, and the redistribution of ownership that followed. What we fail to see are the concrete power relations in a community, the day‑to‑day activity that centers on quotidian hurdles and rituals, episodes of violence, and how contractual obligations are negotiated. A criminal case, where the crime scene was set in a rural community, or at the very least associated to it through kin networks, but which was nonetheless processed in an urban environment where courts are located, may or may not carry some of the elements that we are aspiring for, and which by definition are hard to document. Think, for instance, of how much un‑documented violence is left behind: but can violence be really documented, in the sense of receiving textual evidence, reports, and judicial review? And which authority would document violence, and for what purposes exactly?1 In this chapter, which associates crime with land, we will be concerned, as in previous chapters, in how the crime scene was narrated. Even though land is a more celebrated topos than, say, the network of family and sexuality, and for that matter, is taken more seriously, as it is situated at the core of political economy, our purpose here is not to add anything to the conventions of the political economy of land (even though readers may feel free to do so), but to focus, once more, on narration. Indeed, it is through narration that the totality of the “social fact” comes into existence, primarily through an institution like witnessing.

2Property has invariably been a major source of conflict in Syrian society, which is not to be limited to the hurdles that the state has imposed on the transfer of private property since the 1960s. What criminal court records clearly show is that there is a great deal of violence that is displayed among individuals or groups for various purposes: honor, women, property, family and kin, not to mention the power relations within a community. In such instances state power through its judiciary apparatus only intervenes to “remedy” a situation, and it is precisely such an intrusion in the private lives of infamous individuals which is of great interest: to be able to document how those lives come to light through a myriad of narratives. Once we consider that law is a total social phenomenon, not to be limited to its internal rules and regulations, and not to be seen as a mere epiphenomenon of the social, then all kinds of social relations begin to emerge from what the social actors narrate in relation to the crime scene.

Honor, kin, land, and modernity

  • 2 By maintaining the old Ottoman category of milk, which in Ottoman centuries simply delineated the m (...)

3A number of crime cases are related to land issues, either directly or indirectly, even though many would fall into the latter category, among them the four cases detailed in this Chapter. In fact, crimes directly related to the “possession” of property are less common than cases where honor (or the sense of honor) seems to predominate. Honor would in this instance be attributed either to the status of the family or clan, or else to male or female honor (hence a sexuality‑cum‑honor conundrum). Another problem in linking property to crime and honor is that for a number of women who are killed for an allegedly “honorable purpose” it remains to be determined whether it was an “honor crime” stricto sensu, or whether the woman was eliminated as a potential heir, that is, her killing would have contributed at reducing the number of potential heirs. (Islamic rules of succession make it mandatory that a woman inherits half of the male’s share, rules that are applied by and large even to minorities like Christians and Jews. However, for agrarian properties, which are still formally classified, since the French Mandate land laws of 1930–32, as mīrī lands, the inheritance of a woman would be equal to the male’s share; since many urban properties are still classified as mīrī rather than strict milk, they would hence follow in principle the same non‑sharīʿa rule of equal inheritance.)2

4For several reasons the connection that we are proposing in our analysis of crime, land, and honor poses a host of problems, in particular when it comes to the association of economic interests (land ownership and its possession) with honor. For one thing, should honor be looked upon, in line with kinship, as symbolic strategies that would regulate—and conceal—real economic interests? In other words, do social actors have to go through the various strategies of honor in terms of bluffing, threatening, killing, mourning, male domination, and all the rest, in order to protect their core economic interests, which for the most part, unlike honor, would remain hidden? Does the socio‑symbolic order, which carries ideological meanings, obfuscate the real economic interests? And is crime, which is a quintessential imaginary act, constitute a “return of the repressed,” namely the real economic interests that are lurking beneath the symbolic representations? Moreover, is there a dichotomy between what actors do in public, and what they believe in at the personal level? Or, in other words, in societies where kin predominates as symbolic exchange, how much of the “personal,” such as a criminal act, would be attributed to factors “outside” the pressures of kin strategies?

  • 3 Such criticism has been addressed to the “Algerian” work of Pierre Bourdieu by Enrique Martin–Criad (...)

5There is that prowling danger for developing societies, where the nation‑state is historically weak, to be perceived as divided between a traditional mode of life that is self‑sustaining and coherent, on the one hand, and a modernization that is going awry on many grounds, and proves incompatible with traditional values, on the other.3 With that kind of division, honor would be perceived as the engine that would sustain traditional normative values. On the other hand, the integration of a society and culture into a capitalist world‑economy would damage the balance fostered by honor and tradition through, for instance, the primacy accorded to the commercialization of land and the injection of monetary, financial, and fiscal policies into the economy. In short, modernity would in general not be perceived as compatible with the traditional networks of kin and honor, while crime would be looked upon as an effect of the slow breakdown of tradition: the more the symbolic values of tradition are displaced by modernity, the more social actors are pushed towards imaginary bonds of cohesion, for which crime would serve as a vehicle. At the level of the actor–subject, using the familiar Lacanian psychoanalytic jargon of symbolic–imaginary–real, the symbolic would be represented by the normative values of society, while crime would foster an imagined community that the offenders would have worked out in their imaginary, and finally the real would be what the actors experience through their body (the lived experience, sexuality, economic practices).

6I will argue, however, that the above presumed core division between tradition and modernity is too schematic and does not account well for the historical realities of developing societies with weak to violent nation‑state formations. In the case of the societies and cultures on the eastern Mediterranean, the insertion of monetary practices and the commercialization of land go back to the late Ottomans. Not only have such practices not fragmented the kin and honor strategies, but they even have tended to reinforce them while realigning them to new economic strategies. In many cases, the more a family succeeds in the monetary economy, the more it contributes at reinforcing the indigenous order. The new strategies have been assimilated through tradition, and problems tend to erupt only, when under financial stress, a family is unable to maintain its supremacy through the combination of kin and honor. It is well known that under such conditions large families (based traditionally on landowning), tribal shaykhs, assemblies of elders, attempt to consolidate their power, while adding new functions, in a monetarist economy.

  • 4 On the difficulties of writing a history and sociology of land and labor for a region like Akkar, l (...)

7Where do honor strategies fall in all this? The exchanges of honor would be analyzed as strategies (or procedures and processes) in which the objective would be to maximize honor through risk taking: economic capital is valuable only as long as it maximizes honor. Hence the grammar of honor exchange would be played within two parallel registers: One that would be explicitly experienced as the register of honor, and a second one that would reveal the economic interests behind the honor strategies. Honor would thus serve as a dissimulated and denied strategy behind the more “real” economic interests. If, however, honor would dissimulate the economic and monetary interests, it is not because the corresponding economic institutions for the accumulation of capital would be inexistent, but because in such societies such institutions would require a heavy investment and legitimation in honor, for instance, in strategies of gift‑exchange. Which social groups would benefit the most from honor?4

The landed aristocracy

  • 5 Timur Kuran, The Long Divergence. How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East, Princeton: Princeton U (...)

8Under Ottoman rule the Syrian provinces of the Empire had the bulk of their lands granted to urban notables. Those were state‑owned mīrī lands that were offered to the highest bidder as part of the tax‑farming iltizām system. This aristocratie foncière, devoid of any real political power, even though they did not formally “own” the lands that were received as grants, or which had been blocked from circulation under the waqf system, nevertheless informally “owned” much of these rural properties, which gave them substantial rent control. The 1858 land code inadvertently placed even more power into the hands of a nobility whose main resources stemmed either from leasing “its” lands to the élites among the peasantry, or else had its peasants work under corvée labor.5

9The colonial and postcolonial periods both witnessed major uplifts in land ownership. To begin with, the venerable iltizām system broke down completely and was gradually replaced—as a direct outcome to the 1858 land code—by direct ownership. The large amount of waqf properties either de facto became state properties, or else their management was relegated to the ministry of awqāf. By the 1940s and 1950s the majority of the Arab states had abolished the private family waqf system (Syria did so in 1949, under the brief but eventful military interlude of Ḥusnī al‑Zaʿīm), which eventually led to public sales of hitherto blocked properties, or their “restitution” to their original private beneficiaries (assuming, of course, that they did bother to reclaim them), or else their de facto assimilation into state‑owned public domains. The land reforms of the 1960s inaugurated the transfer of small‑ to mid‑sized properties to the peasantry, granting them full ownership rights, while at the same time considerably reducing large‑sized properties—particularly in the northern‑eastern Jazīra region, which produces three‑fourth of the Syrian grains, and which has been living under dire drought conditions since 2005. With all that, large land ownership has nevertheless managed to persist, albeit with varied proportions across the Syrian territory. For instance, in the region of concern to us in this study, that of Aleppo, Bāb al‑Hawa, and Idlib, large ownership could not be as extensive as that in the Jazīra region, due to the nature of crops, resources, and the proximity of cities to rural territories.

10The land reforms and the subsequent “socialist” policies of the Baath did not prevent, however, frictions from erupting on both sides—from landowners and peasants. In fact, one of the most poorly documented chapters in Syrian economic rural history are the strategies that both sides have deployed since the 1960s to safeguard their rights. Thus, while peasants pressed for more ownership and better control over their resources, landowners for their part attempted to stick to what was left of their properties after the reforms. At times confrontations turned nasty, if not bloody. In the mid‑1990s, during a summer visit to Aleppo’s Palace of Justice, I was informed by a descendant of the Jābirī family, which were among Aleppo’s most prominent notables under the Ottomans, distinguished with the Kawākibīs for their long line of muftis, that some of their peasants, with the hope of getting better deals from them (including, presumably, more properties), had set their crops on fire. The Jābirī in question, having filed a lawsuit, was that day in court to follow up his grievance: “Such cases have become way too common, and the legal system is too slow, too cumbersome, and so corrupt to be totally inefficient on such matters.” How common are such cases of peasants acting on their own behalf against their landlords remains unknown. What is more certain, however, is that in the triangle of Aleppo, Bāb al‑Hawa (along the Turkish border), and Idlib, incidents of violence between landlords and their peasants did accelerate, albeit at an irregular pace. In such regions of high fertility, and unlike the grain‑dominated areas of the Jazira region where properties are large but, as a result of intense mechanization, do not require much manpower, the labor of peasants proves more than necessary on lands where olive trees and various vegetables and fruits are cultivated. Manual labor would always be needed whatever the status of technology. Moreover, the lands, in addition to being much smaller than the grain‑dominated areas of the Jazira, need constant irrigation and labor. Some landlords, instead of adopting an “arrogant” attitude, have settled for less, meaning that specific arrangements were worked out with their peasants: for instance, the sharing of crops, or the allocation of parcels of lands whose produce would be fully at the disposal of the peasant laborers, without proceeding, however, with any transfer of property to the latter. A descendant of the Kikhiya family (also among Aleppo’s ex‑Ottoman notables), maps in hand, explained to me how in the 1990s he worked out several successive deals with his peasants in their lands close to the Turkish border. He had marked on his large detailed maps each kind of plantation with a different color, highlighting the shared produce between himself and his laborers: “I had to do it that way in order not to mix things up. Now my son would pick up from where I have left without any problem.”

Anatomy of a murder scene

  • 6 The following account is solely based on the report drafted by the referral judge in Aleppo in 1996 (...)
  • 7 Emphasis is mine.

11[C9–1] Muhammad Saleh Tirmanini was an accomplished lawyer and landowner. The Tirmaninis, who originate from Tirmanin along the Syrian–Turkish border, were under Ottoman rule a family of notables living from the rents of their iltizām. Along their landowning duties, they contributed in a number of muftis, lawyers, and judges. Landowning was thus to them, as for a number of the urban upper middle class, a source of rent which provided them with a more or less stable income in parallel to their embracing some of the liberal professions. Muhammad Saleh was apparently sure of himself that day of 24 May 1995 when he picked up in his car a policeman from the small town of Muslimiyyah, in the vicinity of Aleppo, where the main prison is located, having already secured the loyalty of two witnesses.6 For decades he suffered from bad relationships with his tenant farmers, using both the civil and penal courts in Aleppo to chastise them. As a professional lawyer he was well aware of the vicissitudes of the court system. A court convocation for a witness to show up at a hearing on a particular date could take forever to materialize: either the recipient would allege that it was lost in the mail, or that it came too late to its destination, or else the witness would manage to rebuff it. To speed up the process Muhammad Saleh decided that he would personally deliver to its destination the court injunction regarding a truck that was seized from the defendants and whose sale date was now set. But was he aware of the risks he was taking, and how inflammatory his attitude was? To begin with, the defendant Rahhal al‑Hamd (b. 1931) had already been imprisoned in relation to a previous dispute with his landlord Tirmanini. To add insult to injury, when Rahhal, who at the time was a tenant farmer to Tirmanini, saw the policeman with the court order in his hand, he had not been out of prison that long, barely enjoying few nights in the comfort of his own home. He was furious at what he imminently perceived as another unjust provocation and tore apart the court order: “Only two days had passed since I came out of prison, due to a complaint from the same lawyer [Tirmanini] regarding the usurpation7 (ghaṣb) of a property and a previous dispute between us. There were lots of suits regarding the lands on which we labor, and from which the lawyer [and landlord] had been attempting to force us out.” That was stated by Rahhal to a prosecutor a couple of weeks in the aftermath of Tirmanini’s murder at the hands of Rahhal’s own son. Even though the land issue serves only as a backdrop for the murder, and is for all purposes useless when it comes to determining who the killer is and how the murder was executed, it is indeed the only element that places the case in the framework of the class struggle over land ownership. For those who interpret law and the judiciary apparatus within a structuralist model where the dominant “bourgeois” class would exercise its hegemony over the rest of society, they would undoubtedly look at this case in terms of a peasantry receiving additional chastisements from a subdued judiciary apparatus. Thus, in addition to their de facto domination by capital and the commercialization of land, laborers and tenant farmers are disciplined by the judiciary whenever they attempt to “appropriate” some of their masters’ capital—for instance, in claiming a land as their own. However, the judicial process, even if biased towards landlords, is not that simple, as its logic defies class struggle.

12For over 20 years Tirmanini fought his opponents by bringing them to justice. At a time when his opponents felt that he was trespassing his limits, they went after him. Were it not for the lands, the killing would certainly have not occurred. In itself the land conflicts, having spanned over two decades, are irrelevant to describe a crime that did not seem prima facie premeditated and was planned and executed in a state of fury within less than an hour. On the other, were it not for all those past and present conflicts, the crime would certainly not have occurred. We have noted earlier what the defendant Rahhal (the father) said to the prosecution, and that is one side of the story. The other side was narrated by the victim’s son Ghalib to the prosecution (27 August 1995):

20 years ago my deceased father purchased land in Handarat from the Jabiris, and there was an agreement with the peasants that they would have their own parcels in lieu of their labor. Among them was the defendant Rahhal [the father], who was not related to the land purchased by my father, but who managed an exchange (tabādul) with some of the peasants working on that land, and then claimed that he enjoyed a right (ḥaqq) over my father’s land. He started usurping (ightiṣāb) with his sons parts of our lands, which incited my father to initiate several lawsuits, some of which led to court rulings in 1994 for the crime of usurpation. As a result, the defendant Hasan b. Rahhal [the second son] broke my father’s arm and was incarcerated for two years for having done this.

13We roughly understand that (i) Tirmanini, instead of paying his peasants for their labor, allocated them with parcels of lands for their own use in what looks like sharecropping contracts, even though it does seem that the property rights remained his own; (ii) some of Tirmanini’s peasants unlawfully “exchanged” their rights with the Rahhals, which (iii) impelled a series of suits against the latter.

14The referral judge, in his preliminary 21‑page report of the case on August 1996, over a year after the killing, played on two stances. On one hand, he was eager to situate the crime within a longue durée perspective, one punctuated by long feuds and suits between the two parties, while, on the other, he was convinced that :

the killing was the outcome of its moment (walīdat sāʿatu‑ha), and was not prepared beforehand, because the intention to kill (niyyat al‑qatl) grew up in the defendant ʿAbdul‑Hamid [Rahhal’s son, b. 1964] once he realized from his father that the victim has dispatched a policeman to inform him of the date of delivery and sale of their seized truck for the benefit of the victim. That eventually fostered hate and anger in his spirit, pushing him immediately towards his criminal act. All that points to an intended qaṣd killing, punishable under article 533 of the penal code.

15The judge argued that the crime was neither planned beforehand nor premeditated, but intended:

The defendant used a gun, which is a tool of killing in its very nature, and then pointed it towards the victim’s head, which is a vulnerable location (makān qātil) in the body, then fired several shots on the victim’s head until he realized that he was dead.

16In sum, the broader 20‑year perspective of intense rivalries seem to have been dismissed altogether in favor of the “moment” of the killing itself. The referral judge for his part defined ʿamd as

a special category of killing, which should be proven independently, and discussed clearly. ʿAmd occurs only when the criminal premeditates what he intends to do, attempts to foresee the consequences, insists upon committing his act, plans its causes while having plenty of time to release the tension and anger in him. He then comes and commits his act calmly, with a clean mind, so that if someone commits a crime without that ability to plan and think beforehand, with all that anger and excitement into him, that is definitely not ʿamd.

17Consider how for his part the killer ʿAbdul‑Hamid (b. 1964) formulated his case during his police deposition on June 1995, the day of his arrest in Aleppo, a week after his father Rahhal had given himself up to the police and “confessed” for “his” killing Tirmanini out of rage, and how such a documentation of the crime scene “matches” its non‑premeditated aspect, as elaborated by the referral judge. The police eventually dismissed Rahhal’s “confessions” since they did not match those of witnesses present at Tirmanini’s farm. The son’s account begins with his father’s anger and rage upon receiving the court order from the policeman, feelings which he then alleged soon got into him:

When I saw how distressed and angered my father was, I was very much affected by the incident, and the anger and stress were now into me. I went into my room and seized my 9mm gun which I normally keep under my mattress. I got out of the house…in the direction of the camp (mukhayyam) with the sole purpose of looking for Muhammad Saleh Tirmanini and killing him as soon as I run into him. The reason behind my anger, and which fuelled my intention (niyya) to kill, was the number of lawsuits that Tirmanini had against me, my father, brothers, and family, which only left troubles (irbāk‑āt) behind. I wanted to convince him to negotiate with us regarding the suits on the land. When I reached the camp, I was in this strong emotional state of anger, and with the intent to get rid of Tirmanini, because I was convinced that once I would kill him and get rid of him, I will then put an end to these suits and formalities.

18Statements like this are read by the referral judge as a sign of non‑premeditation, of an act that was without much thinking and planning. In other words, the abstractness of the penal code, which clearly cannot come to terms with a concrete definition of premeditation, finds its illustration in statements like these, which are uttered by the protagonists, picked up by judges in their reports to the court in order to frame the case in one way or another, which in this instance was non‑premeditation.

The return of the repressed

19In a way similar to our second crime below (C9–2), the son would take his father’s mantle, an act which he realized he could only fulfill by killing Tirmanini. Between the father and Tirmanini, between landlord and farmer, was a long line of hostility, which in juridical terms was acknowledged as “usurpation.” The tenant‑farmer was repeatedly accused of “trespassing” over and “usurping” the lands of Tirmanini. Landlord and farmer were both located in an area with strong kin bonds, and with kin goes honor and shame, values that both parties ascribe to. Hierarchies in rural areas are even stronger than in cities, and whenever political relations are not there per se, relations of domination take precedence: the inferior status of women, the subordination of youth to elders, and the development of a class of landowners, which have for the most part inherited their status from Ottoman times, and which are not an hereditary aristocracy per se (since no political role is assigned to them). Moreover, in a society where politics is hijacked through the one‑party system, what translates on the ground as “politics” are anti‑Baath underground affiliations with “nationalist” ambitions; for example, Kurdish separatist movements located in northern Syria (see infra the fourth case, C9–4).

20Tirmanini’s behavior did not seem much concerned with appearances; but it remains uncertain whether such behavior was part of his own personal idiosyncrasies, or the community, exacerbated by decades of Baathist agrarian reforms and one‑party politics, was at the bottom of its social relations. Tirmanini’s behavior could not have been worse, or at the very least could not have come at a worse moment. First, he continuously provoked his laborers by bringing them to justice. Such a recourse to justice, which in the case of Tirmanini seems to have been systematic, looks indeed strange in the context of a small rural community tied together by kin and honor, and by the intricacies of class hierarchies between landowners and their laborers or tenant‑farmers; all of which was kept by a façade of proper appearance, which primarily implied respecting the codes of honor. In short, even if kin, religion, land, labor, and the (capitalist) market all share their infrastructural material basis, they would crucially need that façade of an appearance in order to come to terms with the deep economic inequalities that they continuously engender—and it is precisely honor that plays that supreme role of grand arbitrator—Lacan’s Master–Signifier—the big Other, the individual, and collective superego, which regulate ideology’s superstructural role.

21It was as if, therefore, Tirmanini’s behavior, by continuously harassing his tenant‑workers through court action, consciously intended to break with that veneer of proper appearance and honor codes that regulate society’s ideological superstructure. But why would he do it that way? Tirmanini behaved as if he was situated in a bourgeois liberal society, split between a formal‑legal equality sustained by judicial and political institutions, on the one hand, and class distinctions enforced by the economic system on the other. In other words, he behaved like an anonymous bourgeois landowner faced with an anonymous tenant‑farmer whom he knew only by name, and to solve his grievances with the latter he repeatedly subjected him to anonymous court injunctions. One of the witnesses who happened to be in Tirmanini’s car the day he was murdered, and whom Tirmanini hoped that he would “witness” Rahhal’s “reception” of the injunction, recounted the following to the police:

After we dropped the policeman, Tirmanini went on to check farmers on his lands, and we reached the junction where a pharmaceutical factory is located. He there met with Abdullah Adib with whom he had fostered a friendship. He saluted him and asked him, “What are you doing here?”, to which the other replied, “I am working on the crops.” Tirmanini then notified him that “You should not work on the second parcel of land, because I have a ruling that states that the crops are all mine.”

22What is even stranger in Tirmanini’s anonymous motto is his insistence upon a hand‑delivery of the injunction, a gesture that in itself already breaks all the rules of “anonymity”: in this instance, the injunction, instead of being delivered by a policeman on behalf of a court authority, was delivered by Tirmanini himself accompanied by a policeman whom he personally picked up, in the company of two “witnesses,” in his car. The “witnesses,” we are told, both of which were personally hand‑picked, freaked out at the last moment, out of fear of clan reprisals, realizing that all honor étiquettes have already been irreversibly damaged: “When we were asked to act as witnesses, we refused, because we did not see a thing.” At the very least, therefore, Tirmanini’s behavior (which, based on witness accounts, was across the board, hence not limited to that fateful day only) belonged to two worlds: one that is bourgeois and impersonal, where people behave as if they don’t know one another, and where in case of a grievance the matter would be expedited to the official institutions (e.g. the courts) rather than personally handled; and on the other, as if to add insult to injury, he decides to deliver the injunction in person, pick up his “own” “witnesses,” both of which, it seems, belong to rival clans to the perpetrators. Conscious of all the honor codes, Tirmanini therefore opts for breaking them one by one: first, instead of personally handling matters of property with his tenant‑farmers, he opts for the impersonality of the courts, a step that in itself breaks all honor codes: “I will not confront you directly, because you are not worth it (you are unworthy of such gesture); I will therefore leave it to the state courts.” Besides breaking the traditional honor codes, the big shift here was not only from personal to anonymous, but more importantly, from personal (family) to state. Second, and in spite of the big shift—depersonalization—Tirmanini insisted on a mark of personalization: he wanted to hand‑deliver the injunction; pick himself the policeman who would deliver it—and the two “witnesses” who would witness on his behalf the delivery event—all of which betray the conventions of bourgeois impersonal behavior. Even his choice of two “witnesses” from a clan rival to the Rahhals seems a bit odd: Did he really think that they would take the risk, certify that Rahhal did receive the injunction (and that they saw him with their own eyes tearing it and refusing to admit it), without the fear of retaliation and counter‑retaliation? In sum, in such milieu, the whole idea of “solving” a conflict through the official institution of the judiciary seems out of place; it was as if Tirmanini, himself no stranger from the locale, lost touch with his own background; or else it could well be that with the nation‑state attempting its hegemony over rural areas, beginning with the land reforms of the 1960s, it became normative to let (the impersonal) state institutions mediate conflicts. But does the mediation of state institutions imply impersonality and fairness?

23On Rahhal’s side, his overall behavior reflected that the sense of honor must be publicly displayed to receive recognition. It was not simply a question of retaliating against Tirmanini, but rather of building a public consensus against his misdeeds, his mistreatment of the peasantry, and his usurpation of their lands and sharecropping rights. Rahhal therefore vaunts that he would take care of all that, even though he will not be able to do it on his own, first due to his age, his piety as a pilgrim, and because he has two sons who should be entitled for the task. His alleged boasting, publicly at a wedding, that “his girls” would do it (the claim was allegedly made on two separate occasions), because the males are not real men and are not up to the task, is a further indication that honor needs to be displayed through well articulated strategies: Rahhal had to find an excuse why the retaliation against Tirmanini had to be constantly “delayed” and kept on the margins with all the setbacks that he had suffered with his two sons (all three were repeatedly imprisoned for usurpation of property, their pick‑up truck seized, and their control over “their” properties was scaled down in the aftermath of failed lawsuits). When Tirmanini’s killing was finally over, Rahhal acknowledges it immediately, first by giving himself up to the police, and then, upon his son’s arrest and confession in Aleppo, by admitting that it was indeed his son who did it: honor killings must be acknowledged by the protagonists themselves in order to be “honored” from non‑honor killings. As to Rahhal’s son, having seen his father pledging a public persona against Tirmanini, he was left but with that one option to act in the way he did that fateful day—the way his father nurtured him to act as a man; otherwise, he would have dishonored himself. When the symbolic ideological order fails to provide that veneer of a façade to deeply entrenched social hierarchies, murder as an imaginary act temporarily restitutes that order.

The mantle of the father

  • 8 Based on an Idlib Jināyāt file 18/1990, Jināyāt ruling 70 on 1 December 1990, and the Naqḍ ruling w (...)

24[C9–2] Violence in such societies does not come all too unexpectedly. In our second case, both assailant and victim were well armed and ready for a fight, but neither one would have known beforehand who specifically his opponent would be.8 The assailant’s family had allegedly suspected that one or more persons were stealing green plum (janirek) from their lands located between Idlib and Armanāz. On a Friday night 6 May 1988, after the Ramadan supper, the assailant decided to check up on his own the veracity of such allegations. He said he drove alone that night towards his family’s properties, and turned off his lousy motorcycle prior to reaching destination. He even took his shoes off to make less noise. There he saw, still according to his own story, an unidentifiable person collecting plums from one of their properties. As soon as he hid in an adjacent land to observe the scene, he shouted towards the unidentified person “Who are you?,” to which the other replied with gunshots. When he realized that his opponent was armed, he in turn shot a couple of times “up in the air” as a warning sign. But when nothing came from the other side, he panicked and left, returned home and informed his parents. He then went back to the scene with family members and flashlights, and when they all saw the dead body (there was confusion as to whether the victim was identified prior to the coming of the police), he decided, accompanied by his father, to inform the Armanāz police. He was arrested and taken to court for voluntary (qaṣd) homicide. An Idlib court ruling surprisingly cleared him from any wrongdoing, a sentencing that was later revoked by the Damascus Naqḍ, only for procedural matters.

25The defense lawyer Michel Ghannūm noted on behalf of his client Fasih b. Tawfiq Jummo (b. 1966), that “the defendant is not one of those who seek harm or even quarrel with people, since he is a student at Aleppo University, and fateful contingencies had him shoot critically someone he did not even know, without intention, while attempting to defend himself in the first place, and protecting his belongings (māl).” The defense’s modus operandi was already set within a three‑pronged démarche that would develop throughout the trial:

26(i) The defendant was a young university student in his early twenties, with no criminal background. His college education was also underscored by the prosecution judge who had trusted him for drawing a map in lieu of an on‑scene reenactment of the murder. College education is therefore paramount to trust.

27The prosecution judge who was investigating the murder in 1988 in the Armanāz region, part of the county of Idlib, gave further credibility to the education thesis. Keep in mind that the crime occurred in labored terrains outside Armanāz, and that the area is mostly composed of small towns and villages with strong kin bonds. The judge at Kafartkharim, fully aware of the geography of the area and the importance of kin and family in such a milieu, overtly stated that it would be unsafe for the presumed defendant, who had fully confessed his crime from day one, to perform an on‑the‑scene reenactment of his “murder.” In the handwritten examination log with the defendant, the judge notes that,

I demanded from the defendant to draw an explanatory map (mukhaṭṭaṭ tawḍiḥī) of the event (ḥādith), because in the examination dated 7 May 1988 [a day after the murder], he manifested his readiness to reenact the murder. But considering the necessity of safety (ḍarūrat al‑amn), and to keep the defendant [safe] from the parents [ahl] of the victim, in addition to the inability to go to Armanāz [where the crime occurred a couple of days earlier], we have therefore summoned the defendant to draw an explanatory map of the event, considering that he is a mid‑level college student. He also felt that he should draw such a map, and spontaneously noted that my average is 42 out of 50 in drawing at the college. He went on and produced an explanatory map of the event, then signed it in our presence.

28The judge also noted that during the investigation screaming noises were heard from the outside, whose source could either have been an adjacent room or the garden, and to which the defendant overreacted by standing up, quickly peeping through the window, and then hiding himself behind the wall: “I am afraid for myself,” he said to the judge who was puzzled by his behavior. If by their own admittance neither police nor prosecution felt safe enough to accompany the defendant to the murder scene, fearing the pernicious effect of the victim’s kin, in an operation that should have been pure routine, they must have also felt pressured all along their investigation for the kind of “truth” that was to emerge. And so was probably the Jināyāt throughout its hearings. Everyone knew that the murder had to be reenacted, that an on‑scene visit was necessary and could provide essential clues, yet everyone was simultaneously aware of risks and perils. What the judge cautiously dubbed as “the necessity for the safety” of law and order, all of which implying a community regulated by “amn,” are in effect normative values that are self‑regulated by community bonds. Such communities, composed of ahl groupings, have self‑regulated their modes of violence through shame and honor.

29(ii) Victim and assailant did not know one another, hence, neither one could possibly have developed a personal grudge against the other. Consequently, the defendant could not have premeditatedly shot someone he did not know, and whose identity he could not detect in the dark.

30(iii) The maximum punishment for a non‑premeditated killing (qaṣd) should be no more than 15 years. The defense would play with that maximum and then argue from there that even a qaṣd killing would be too much a punishment, considering that the defendant was in a position of pure self‑defense.

31(iv) Having committed neither a ʿamd (premeditated) nor qaṣd (manslaughter) killing, the defendant should not therefore be convicted of voluntary manslaughter and freed immediately. In sum, the defense’s strategy did pay well, as the Idlib Jināyāt vindicated the defendant of any wrongdoing on December 1990, a year and a half after the killing.

32The defense would proceed through a juxtaposition of several elements in the Penal Code, to which were added a line of interpretations from major Egyptian, Lebanese, and Syrian scholars and jurists. Article 187 is a classical beginning for lawyers as it defines “intention (niyya)”: “Intention is the will (irāda) for committing a crime as defined by the law.” The key term of irāda should be taken strongly here as “will” or “volition,” rather than simply “wish” or “desire.” In effect, the section on “niyya” is part of the second chapter on “the moral element of crime (ʿunṣur al‑jarīma al‑maʿnawī),” and hence the interest here is in the moral, incorporeal, or immaterial and abstract elements in crime. In other words, following a long European tradition, crime ought to be looked upon in terms of its various “causes.” Article 188 identifies an “intended crime (jarīma maqṣūda)” as an act that the doer intended, in the sense that “in case the doer had anticipated its happening, he assumed the risk.” Even though the penal code proceeds at explicating in several subsequent sections the implications of qaṣd, those articles remain among the most controversial and have been subject since the code’s inception in 1949 to numerous professional and scholarly interpretations. The defense quotes several Lebanese and Egyptian authorities, among them Hammud Najib Husni’s Sharḥ of the Lebanese Penal Code, which differentiates between a “general motive (qaṣd ʿāmm),” where the “material” (external) conditions would be accounted for, in conjunction with the “private (internal) motive (qaṣd khāṣṣ),” which must focus on “the will to kill the victim.” A similar argument is articulated in the more authoritative five‑volume Mawsūʿa Jināʾiyya of the Egyptian Jundi Abdel‑Malek: “a private intentional killing implies the will of the assailant to kill his victim and finish off his soul.” (5:697) In the defense’s bold strategy the original argument was that the defendant could not have developed such a “will” towards someone he had never met, and whom he did not even see while firing his precautionary shots. The defense therefore urged that his client be exonerated under article 536: “A person who is responsible for the death of another without an intent to kill, either through hitting, or the use of violence or force, or any other act that is intended, should be punished with forced labor for a minimum of five years.”

33Interestingly, the plaintiff’s advocate, representing the victim’s son, not only argued that the killing was a premeditated ʿamd, hence subject to the death penalty, but, in a surprising move, he broadened the list of accused to nine, all of them from the Jummo family, including the defendant’s own mother. The strategy aimed at pointing out that even if the main defendant may have acted solo, he nevertheless came back to the murder scene in the company of relatives for no other purpose but to tamper with evidence. The plaintiff’s argument therefore aimed at a general accusation: that the murder was planned beforehand by the Jummos, executed by the assailant, finally the Jummos went to the murder scene in a final gesture of support towards their assailant‑savior, and tampered with evidence in order to make it look as if the victim was hiding his alleged theft. Even though the plaintiff’s reframing of the case would only encounter deaf ears at the Jināyāt, the tribal (ʿashāyir) ethos that the plaintiff attempted to inject merits closer inspection. Even if the plaintiff’s advocate strategy was to reverse that of the defense and show how each one of the nine “accused” were implicated in one way or another, the arguments, at least for our purposes here, are not that crucial. In fact, whether we follow the prosecution strategy, and argue that the victim (a retired policeman) only went hunting that night, after his Ramadan supper, or go for the alternative defense’s view, that the retired policeman went to steal green plums from the defendant’s property, what is important is to see how one such view, that of the prosecution, framed the conflict as a “family dispute,” while the alternative view placed it as one between two individuals, where a banal theft led to a bona fide shooting: had the victim properly identified himself in good faith, the shooting would had been averted.

  • 9 Thus, for example, in a late afternoon fight (mushājara) on 13 May 1998 in the village of Umm al‑Ka (...)

34But even if the prosecution’s arguments did not stand up to the scrutiny of the Jināyāt, they still do have that merit, however, at pointing to the concealed inter‑family feuds, which are not only characteristic of the rural regions and small townships, but of the peripheral neighborhoods in major cities like Aleppo and Damascus as well, which act as de facto intermediary between city and countryside. In such conditions, the judiciary would act preemptively, attempting to limit the number of defendants as much as possible; the larger the number of defendants, the harder for the case to come to a close.9

  • 10 René Girard, Le Bouc émissaire, Paris: Le Livre de Poche, 1986.
  • 11 Foucault’s idea apropos Pierre Rivière that the latter had to commit patricide first in order to th (...)
  • 12 The current revolts in 2011–13 have originated and maintained a strong presence in peripheral rural (...)

35In this instance, the Jināyāt shunned the dubious cycle of multiple defendants, limiting its strategy to two individuals, one on each side, as the allegation that the defendant’s family may have tampered with the murder scene only few hours after the assailant shot his victim, were deemed unfounded. The defendant, who at the time was a student at Aleppo University, and who came over the weekends (from Thursday evening to Saturday morning) to visit his family in Armanāz, was notified by family members that an incognito person, maybe more than one, was (were) stealing fruits from their lands. Even though the defendant only visited over the weekends, he immediately decided to take action. One would suspect that the Jummo family knew their opponents (the Dasuqi clan) all too well, nurtured suspicions towards them, identified possible “thieves,” but no one in Armanāz dared for that extra mile. (It remains unknown whether the two families, Dasuqi and Jummo, had previous feuds on record, and whether the killing was part of an ongoing feud. A Dasuqi witness, upon his interrogation, pointed to at least one inter‑marriage between the two families.) As with our previous case, it was up to the son to take over his father’s mantle, choosing to test his opponents by upping the ante. It was, indeed, a classical rivalry between father and son, what René Girard10 has labeled as a “crise XE "crime:crise mimÈtique" mimétique,” where the son knew all too well that there is a price to be paid to assume his father’s role. Thus, even though the defendant had several brothers (possibly four, though it is unclear who was the oldest), he was the one, for reasons that remain unclear, to assume the fate of a family rivalry that would soon end in violence. But if the father’s mantle was adopted in a violent murderous act,11 the son had claimed for himself a different path than his father. First, at least in the eyes of the state, he has been labeled as suspect and then as murderer, even though the charges against him were minimal. Second, the young generation, which opts for the city to find work, enroll in college, or simply to live there, is less subject to their parents’ gaze than even those of the same age category, but already living with their parents in the city. We have already seen how in the case of another college graduate, Sabiha Dalʿun, the movement from a rural milieu to the city and back has also triggered a murderous desire—to get rid of a husband she found too provincial—even though in her case the verdict was no less than the death penalty. However, what the two Jummo and Dalʿun cases have in common is that parallelism of the “crise XE "crime:crise mimÈtique" mimétique,” namely that both had to commit a murder to assume first the father’s or mother’s mantle—that is, to accept their elders’ gaze first—then go through the process of punishment by means of the state’s judiciary, and in the case of Jummo, who survived the ordeal, the mimetic act enables him to assume his father’s mantle—but with a difference: the norms are different, and the society that he is into now is much more differentiated and stratified as an outcome of its integration within a broader (capitalist) economy. That is to say, Jummo is into a much more individualized and privatized society, where the one‑party system and the authoritarian state only keep a formal lock on the process of differentiation, hence the norms of honor and kin are at least partially obsolete.12 In the case of Sabiha Dalʿun she “came back to society” through the death penalty (C5–5). In both instances, therefore, the acceptance of a new normative order comes through murder and the mediation of a third party—the state.

36Fasih came to Armanāz on a Thursday evening, just in time for the Ramadan supper with his family, and the following day, right after the nightly Tarāwīḥ Ramadan prayers (a point underscored more than once by the defense as an indication of the defendant’s taqwa), he picked up a gun (an unauthorized 7mm) from his family’s home and drove on a motorcycle towards their properties. (In subsequent versions the defendant corrected picking up the motorcycle from his parents’ home, claiming that he found it on another location while heading towards his family’s lands.) All along he had that hunch that someone would be there calmly stealing the plums from their own lands. He expected that person to be armed, so he too brought a gun, and prior to reaching his final destination, it crossed his mind that, with the motorcycle’s odd noise, the thief might hear him coming. So he turned off his noisy bike, and did the last few meters barefooted. In a way he was lucky, since he found what he had already suspected: someone was stealing their plums. He hid and summoned the other to identify himself. But as soon as the unidentified other started shooting, he swiftly replied, specifying to the investigative judge at Kafartkharim a day after the incident, that he did so by “shooting with my right hand up in the air while lying on the floor.” He intended it only as a warning sign, but as he realized when revisiting the crime scene a couple of hours later with his family, the “thief” was dead. Again, the defendant straddled over several versions. In his first deposition he claimed that he fired his shots up in the air, left the place immediately with no knowledge as to what happened to the other person, went home, and his family summoned him to immediately give himself up, which he did. But when interrogated by an investigative judge a couple of days later, he recreated the whole episode of family members accompanying him to the incident scene, where, using flashlights, they all realized that the other person was lying dead. But he fell short of specifying to the judge whether he or his entourage were able to identify the body, and strangely, the judge did not press him on that issue either. (The judge did not press him either as to whether anyone among his family members encouraged him for his tough stance.) In his earlier shorter version, he claimed that after firing in the air, he panicked and ran away, not knowing whether the other person was dead or alive, or whether he was “a foreigner (outsider) or someone close (gharīb am qarīb).” But surely the identity of the victim must have been the most crucial issue to have preoccupied the defendant and his family. Had the victim been an “outsider,” meaning someone poorly integrated into the local community and with no strong kin bonds, the defendant would have surely felt much safer. The defense, however, kept playing on the notion that the identity of the victim remained unknown to the defendant, which helped at underscoring that right from the beginning there was nothing premeditated. There was therefore a division of labor operating between the young Jummo and his family: he commits the murder, but they all come together for the body’s identification—for the certainty of death. The pieces of the puzzle now come together like this: (1) The young Jummo committed the act, but without knowledge as to who “the stranger” on the other side might be; there is that uncanny uncertainty as to whether he was coached by his family to do what he did; (2) The death of “the stranger”—if not his identity—was confirmed in the presence of members of the Jummo family; (3) Which amounts to a crime for which the young Jummo was not fully “responsible,” looks like a shared experience, and where the main protagonist is redeemed while taking over his father’s mantle; (4) Such a takeover is, however, more a sign of independence than subjection to family values, as the cultural norms of society are shifting in another direction: that of anonymous individualism, of a bourgeois society integrated into a global market economy, and a universal legal and political order which buffers the deep economic inequalities.

37In his final revised version, which the Jināyāt seems to have endorsed, the defendant claimed that, accompanied by his father, he gave himself up to the Armanāz police. In all the detailed accounts to the police, prosecution, investigating judge, defense, and finally the Jināyāt, it remains a mystery how much of the young man’s decisions were his own and which ones were collectively decided. Did he decide “on his own” to pick up a fight with the “thieves” next door? Did he decide “on his own” to give himself up? Interestingly, the investigative judge quoted him as saying, “my father took me to the police station in Armanāz at night with my gun, and I told the police what happened.” “My father took me,” which stands in sharp contrast to the “I,” could be literally taken as implying an action summoned (or at the very least proposed) by the father, to which the son finally dutifully caved. In any case, that “spontaneous surrender,” as soon as the victim had been identified, de facto transformed the murder into a quasi‑honor‑killing. For one thing, the purpose was to show that there was no malicious intent, but only a rightful self‑defense. For another, in a way similar to an honor‑killing, the real purpose was to craft an action that would save the family from the shame imposed by an opposing clan. The defendant seems to have deployed his best efforts to underscore the fact that there was neither a premeditated crime (total lack of knowledge of his opponent), nor did he (or his relatives) fool around with evidence at the scene of the incident. And as the investigating judge noted, he even came to the interview barefooted with only his socks on, claiming that “he took his shoes off so that they would not make any sound at the contact of the earth, and left them over there.” There could not be better evidence in support of the defense’s claim that “as soon as the defendant fired his shots, he ran away without ever coming near or approaching one step towards the thief.” He could have added that “the defendant had even no time to pick up his shoes.”

38The Jināyāt therefore opted not to endorse the prosecution (which urged the Naqḍ to revoke the Jināyāt’s ruling), clearing the defendant of any wrongdoing based on article 209 of the penal code: “No one shall be punished unless he performed his act consciously and willfully.” (We need not go here into the technical details regarding the two guns, how they were used, and the kinds of shots that experts thought were fired based on the empty bullets.) In an ironic twist, the original conflict, which was between the two patriarchs of the respective families, soon got transferred—through the killing of the opposing family’s head—to their sons: one of them was the assailant–defendant, while the other metamorphosed into plaintiff. In other words, the young men, who were anxiously awaiting for their lifetime chance to hold the mantle of their elders, did so thanks to a non‑premeditated killing. Men have to display a sense of worthiness towards their elders to indicate to their kin that they are into the honor game, which might often entail, like in youth gangs, a recourse to violence—even if that implies only symbolic violence. In effect, violence is often ritualized, invoking a rite of passage from youth to manhood. So that, as in our case here, when the symbolic violence self‑exceeds into a real killing, the judiciary steps in and does no more than reallocate social actors to their previous status in an effort to reduce further escalations of an unwanted violence. By the time of the defendant’s vindication, however, the two young men had already established themselves as their families’ new patriarchs.

  • 13 Follow up to Naqḍ ruling unavailable.

39Under such circumstances, police, prosecution, and Jināyāt, all share a delicate task of social engineering, whereby ongoing negotiations between social actors have to be readjusted and brought back to their pre‑violence status. That is why investigations have to be thorough and fair enough—at least in the eyes of their beholders—which partly explains why in small communities the judiciary has more work to do than in a big agglomeration like Aleppo. Interestingly, even though the Damascus Naqḍ revoked the ruling of the Idlib Jināyāt on March 1992, it did so only based on procedural matters: two of the three judges on the panel at the moment of the sentencing were not present throughout the trial and hearings. The Naqḍ noted that when two or more of the judges on the panel have changed, the procedures must begin all over again. The Naqḍ thus did not touch upon the core content of the Jināyāt ruling.13 Considering the number of years over which cases typically drag (two in this case, plus two more years for the Naqḍ ruling), it is not that uncommon for panel judges to be dropped from a case, and move to another, which creates the problem of judges approving a sentencing without having had the opportunity to listen to witnesses.


  • 14 Aleppo Jināyāt case file 217/2/1994.

40[C9–3] A crime took place on 18 March 1990 in the village of Qadiran, part of the Bāb district of the Aleppo province.14 At eight in the evening that day some of the accused in addition to other witnesses furnished their first depositions at the Bāb police station. The police claimed that they received a phone call from a nearby hospital informing them that a person by the name of ʿAbdul‑Munʿim Muhammad Qasim with two gunshot wounds was being hospitalized. The report added that a couple of persons had been accused for the crime from the same village as the victim: ʿUmar Mahmud Qasim (b. 1963) and his brothers Jamal (b. 1960) and ʿAbdul‑Salam (b. 1961), all of which were the victim’s nephews. It does seem, however, that it was the hospitalized victim that provided the police with their names. As soon as the police headed to the village, they contacted its mukhtar who accompanied them to the home of the accused, but found no one there. In their search for the alleged culprits, they realized that a certain ʿAqil al‑Saʿdu possessed the weapon of the crime.

41Since the location of the accused was unknown, the first witness to deliver a deposition was the aforementioned ʿAqil al‑Saʿdu (b. 1955) who introduced himself as a peasant and head of the village organization. He claimed that at five, the same day he was interrogated, and while he was plowing his land, which was adjacent to that of the plaintiff, the latter attempted to cross over with his sheep the land of his brother Mahmud al‑Qasim, the father of the accused. The accused ʿUmar and his two brothers Jamal and ʿAbdul‑Salam came by and began antagonizing their uncle (the plaintiff). The witness further claimed that he then attempted, together with another uncle of the accused, ʿAbdul‑Jawad al‑Qasim, to mediate between the two parties, to no avail. ʿAbdul‑Jawad even proposed to his brother that he uses his own land if he wishes to do so, and promised him to open a passage to him once the current season was over. But the plaintiff insisted upon crossing over his brother’s property: “They have been crossing over my land, and I will do the same with theirs.” That was followed by verbal insults between the two parties, which evolved into a fight. Suddenly the accused ʿUmar (and nephew to the plaintiff) allegedly brandished a gun and shot his uncle twice. ʿAqil then claimed to have been able to dispossess ʿUmar of his gun, which he had kept for a couple of hours until the police came by. The other two brothers did not have guns, according to the witness, nor did the plaintiff have any. Once ʿUmar fired his shots they all ran away in an unknown direction, but ʿAqil refrained from following them because he was busy whisking the plaintiff to the hospital. He then suggested to the police a couple of possible hideouts in nearby villages where the accused might have sought refuge. The police appended, however, in their report that they were able by nine that same night to catch all three of the accused and brought them for interrogation at the police station.

42The details of the case look simple enough so as to promise an early deliberation. In effect, neither the victim was killed, nor was there any suspicion that the crime might have been a premeditated ʿamd. So why did the case drag on for over six years? Was it because of the bodily injuries of the plaintiff that had to be assessed by medical teams over the years? Or was it because of the number of people involved?

43Even the earliest assessment of the case by the third investigating judge came no less than a year after the crime on November 1991. The judge, who did not add much to the known facts, besides underscoring that the intent was to kill, recommended to pursue the accused ʿUmar in court and charge him with attempted deliberate qaṣd murder based on article 533/200 of the penal code. The judge noted that ʿUmar was arrested the night of the crime on 18 March 1990, and then released five months later on August 23 (possibly on bail). His two brothers, Jamal and ʿAbdul‑Salam, even though present on the crime scene, did not participate in the shooting, and should therefore be vindicated.

44But considering that ʿUmar was a runaway since his early release on August 23 (unclear circumstances), all subsequent Jināyāt rulings were conducted in absentia, and that was probably the main reason why the case dragged on for six long years. While deliberating on the nature of the punishment in two different rulings, the Jināyāt had to clarify a couple of issues. First, even though it had been ruled out from the beginning that the crime had been premeditated (ʿamd), it had nevertheless to be decided whether there was any legitimate self‑defense in ʿUmar’s behavior. The Jināyāt prima facie ruled out such possibility, noting in its final ruling that by picking up a motorbike, then going home to fetch his gun, ʿUmar had plenty of time to rethink his behavior, and had a clear intention to hurt his uncle, if not kill him. But the Jināyāt also ruled out the killing possibility, noting that after hitting his uncle twice on the shoulder and leg, and once his uncle fell on the ground, he refrained from doing more. The prosecution for its part noted that it was thanks to the brother‑in‑law ʿAqil, who grabbed ʿUmar and dispossessed him of his gun, which in the final analysis prevented the killing. That alternative, however, was not approved by the Jināyāt, which simultaneously ruled out self‑defense, since the plaintiff’s brandishing a hatchet while several meters from ʿUmar did not constitute enough of a physical threat to the latter. To the Jināyāt, therefore, ʿUmar was not acting in self‑defense; nor did he have any intent to kill, but only intimidate, hoping probably that his uncle will not trespass in the future.

45The first Jināyāt ruling, which goes back to July 1994, summoned, based on article 533/200 of the penal code, that the accused be incarcerated for seven years with forced labor. Since the ruling relies extensively on previous recommendations and reports, it did not add anything new either in terms of factual evidence or judicial reasoning. Moreover, having been conducted in absentia, the accused ʿUmar was not cross‑examined by the court, hence he gave no new deposition since his release back in August 1990.

46It was only in the third hearing session in February 1996 that something new finally surfaced. The accused was asked whether he was willing to compensate for the expenses of his victim’s medical checkup. In case he would answer positively, he would cover the 3,000 liras ($60) bills of the medical preliminary expenses. But if he refrains from doing so, the court would request a reevaluation of the official medical report that was released back on June 1990, so that the “ambiguity” (ghumūḍ) surrounding the status of the victim be clarified: did the wounds leave permanent damage or not? The defendant opted for the first alternative, and the amount of 3,000 liras was deposited via his lawyer.

47But even though a new medical report had been completed by March 1996 by a team of experts, the Jināyāt in its final ruling the following month did not give much weight to the medical issue: “the penal question (al‑masʾala al‑jazāʾiyya) should be concerned only with the act itself (al‑fiʿl) and its outcome, even if there has been several wounds. We therefore disagree with the way the accused and public prosecution office framed the issue.” In other words, the Jināyāt was not motivated in going through the medical history of the plaintiff to assess the damage to his body, because the court should only be concerned with the act of shooting and its general outcome: Was there, for instance, an intent to simply harm, intimidate, or kill, or to do more than what had been done? The court, in short, was only concerned with motive: “When the purpose of a crime (al‑qaṣd al‑ijrāmī) remains unclear for the accused, it is up to the court to interpret it (tastakhliṣu‑hu) based on the settings of the events (ẓurūf al‑ḥādith) and the way things were handled.” In that respect the court revoked its previous in absentia ruling, agreeing to convict the accused for three years, to be reduced to one only, with forced labor. It therefore did not propose any compensation for the plaintiff.

48The wager in this last ruling is that it was, indeed, the external gaze of the big Other (the Jināyāt) which did the final work of interpretation, that of telling the assailant, who was “unclear”—clueless—on “the purpose of his crime,” what the essence of his criminal act meant. That is to say, it was the Jināyāt court which “supplemented” the convict—acting on his own behalf—with the interpretation of the meaning of his own act, which he was unable to do on his own. The convict‑as‑subject is therefore that void‑of‑nothingness, incapable on his own to be self‑transparent, and whose self‑reflexivity must be supplemented by the work of the big Other, a myriad of juristic and medical discourses. But is not that “padding” of the convict’s “consciousness” precisely what the courts do all the time, and that this case is no exception? As we have seen in numerous other cases (Chapter 3), courts and judges seem to be taken aback when the convict has “nothing to say” on his or her crime; medical committees are therefore dispatched with the hope that they would fill that unbearable void in the convict’s “consciousness” to establish his or her “legal responsibility”: are they “fit” to stand trial? Are they morally responsible? But whether doctors or psychiatrists come at the rescue of clueless judges or not, the court rulings must fill that void, which is invariably done through the all too familiar arcane juridical language which places its wager on form over content. Hence the deadlock that courts encounter when attempting to formulate the meaning of an action is rescued, in the final instance, by wrapping it up in a language that only satisfies the basic juridical requirements. Such requirements, however, are not to be limited to the verdict, as they show up in every memo, report or interview. When, for example, a woman who was allegedly raped would not indulge at describing that hideous Thing she had been subjected to, the unnamable is obfuscated by a judge’s memo (or a doctor, or a court expert) that would “assimilate” the woman’s “voice” on her own behalf, “saying” in writing what she did not dare “say.” More generally, deadlocks encountered in the lived experience of witnesses and convicts, which manifest themselves in an inability to “say” what happened, or to “say” what they have “heard” or “seen,” are “sublated” in the formal language of the law, a formalization which enables to juristically formulate the unnamable.

Typology of a police report regarding the relatedness of the assailants: how local relations of power are interpreted and processed

49The trespassing event unfolded in two parallel directions. The first would indicate how kin members relate to land, while the second would point at how kin members relate to one another through the process of possessing land and maintaining that possession. Identities are created not only through naming, marriage, household, custom, and habit, but also through a process of identification to the land, and representations of property. Those two processes could be detected singlehandedly in the police report, which as usual inaugurates the case‑file, beginning with ʿAqil’s deposition, the first witness, which had bluntly stated, “We are all connected because we are all cousins.” As with the two cases above, the direct emphasis on kin by the actors themselves implies a de facto recognition of all honor codes in relation to violence and land. In this instance, economic inequalities were situated amongst family members, with brothers and their sons and cousins, hence honor symbolisms must create that veneer of an appearance of “equality”; violence come at the rescue whenever such appearances miserably fail.

50It was late at night that same day when the police caught the alleged assailant ʿUmar together with his brothers. (Compare below with the investigating judge’s interview of the same ʿUmar.)

I testify that this evening around 5:00 I was at home when my younger brother dropped by and informed us that our uncle ʿAbdul‑Munʿim had trespassed over our land with his sheep. I therefore headed towards the land with my brother ʿAbdul‑Salam where I found my uncle and his son ʿAdnan, with many others from the village. A verbal exchange was going on when my second uncle ʿAbdul‑Jawad dropped by. The latter attempted to convince the former not to trespass over our land, to no avail. All we got back were insults, and people separated us. I noticed a motorbike that is owned by ʿAqil, who happens to be my sister’s husband. I picked the bike and drove to the village with no direction in particular in order not to give the impression that I would be heading home to fetch my gun, but I finally reached home where I found my brother Jamal. I took the gun from him, and having informed him of the incident, I went back driving the same bike, while my brother followed me with another bike belonging to a neighbor. When we got there our uncle was holding a hatchet in his hand, attempting at one point to hit me. I shot twice with the gun in his direction and hit him on the shoulder and leg, and he fell on the ground. I did it in self‑defense, because I was afraid that he would harm me. Yes, I did shoot him from my own 10.5‑mm gun. During the first fight, I had a 9‑mm gun, which was taken from me by ʿAqil, known as Abu Ziyad. I therefore drove the motorbike that was there towards the village, went to his home, and picked up his 10.5‑mm gun, already knowing where it was located. I then came back to the fight for a second time, and when my uncle attempted to harm me with his hatchet, I shot him twice with ʿAqil’s 10.5‑mm pistol, then ran away on foot towards a friend’s home, where I was finally caught. I do not know why ʿAqil handed in to you only my 9‑mm gun, and not his own 10.5‑mm, which I had used at the shooting. I regret what I did, and I am not complaining against anyone. The whole event was an outcome of nervousness and tension. My brothers do not own guns.

51A note in the report clarifies that the incompatible views of ʿUmar and his brother‑in‑law ʿAqil were confronted to one another. Thus, while ʿUmar insisted that he used ʿAqil’s 10.5‑mm gun, ʿAqil for his part alleged that only one gun was used: ʿUmar’s 9‑mm, the same one that he seized from the offender and surrendered to the police.

52The police report then moves to ʿUmar’s brothers, as each one who was thought to have been related to the crime scene—even remotely—was interrogated. A typology that relates individuals to space configurations and corresponding power relations begins to unravel.

  1. Kin relations receive their “connecting points” through a police investigation over a crime that was allegedly committed by at least one kin member.
  2. The typology of kin relations is mapped through the power relations laid out within the crime investigation: the crime itself brings together and re‑maps kin relations.
  3. Kin relations are mapped through the documentation that the participant “informers” would provide of the crime scene.
  4. In many ways the judiciary apparatus is alien to kin relations, its strategies, and languages, as it comes with its own modes of reasoning, strategies, and discourses. The two may overlap though, in particular in small communities where the police and judiciary would not dissociate themselves from local actors.
  5. There is therefore an entire pedagogical process of justification that is deployed, and an intermingling of cultures, with appropriations that would go both ways.
  6. The judiciary apparatus could not be looked upon singlehandedly, with one strategy and discourse. However, the “uniformity” of the system makes sense and is not totally inappropriate as a notion. For instance, in the way the reports, beginning with the referral report, provide a matrix to force uniformity among all forthcoming reports.

Keying into the kinship database

53When the police report moves from one brother/cousin to the next, or from one kin member or witness to another, a process whereby the kin members “recognize” one another through a documentation of the crime scene, relations would soon begin to unravel. What is here “recognized” is not simply the allegiance (or lack thereof) towards family, clan, or tribe—the traditional social order that members of the community are accustomed to—but also to space‑time typologies and topographies (not to mention thematic “tropes” of all kinds): things and beings that would normally receive consensual recognition are incessantly redefined and constructed in order to be consensually recognized. Since the police delivers the transcripts of its interrogation sessions fully “edited,” processes of “keying” and “recognizing” happen both ways: that is, not only do the kin members themselves and “their” witnesses have to go through this pedagogical process, but also police, judges, lawyers, and medical and legal experts.

Mitigated (cross‑)examinations

54If interrogations look very much like they are well staged, leaving little room for the witnesses’ own voice, it is because from day one the investigation has been geared towards a set of parameters that would serve as clues for police, investigators, and judges:

  1. I was at home, not knowing what was going on outside when I was informed that our uncle trespassed and a fight ensued.
  2. I was taking care of our sheep or I was on my way for a visit when I noticed a gathering, and decided to inquire all by myself.
  3. I saw my uncle and brothers fighting.
  4. ʿUmar pulled his gun and shot towards our uncle.
  5. Number of shots: one, two, or more?
  6. The gun of the crime: 9‑ or 10.5‑mm? Possibility of two guns.
  7. Did ʿUmar use a gun he already had, or did he run home on a motorbike to fetch a gun that could have been his, or possibly was someone’s else?
  8. Who else had a pistol?
  9. How did ʿAqil get hold of the gun used by ʿUmar? Was it ʿAqil’s or ʿUmar’s gun?
  10. What happened after the uncle was shot? Why and where did they all run away?
  11. Relationships of people to the crime scene, whether kin or otherwise.

55There is no need to go through all the testimonies as they are all variations on the above points, and on the early ones by ʿAqil and ʿUmar. It is worth noting, however, ʿUmar’s second deposition that same night in which he reworked out his story so as to fit with the one‑gun theory:

I must confess here for the second time, because earlier I freaked out when I had stated that the gun that I had used when shooting at my uncle was a 10.5‑mm belonging to ʿAqil, but that’s incorrect, as there is no such gun. The truth is that the gun in your custody is mine and was the only one used when I shot my uncle. It is a 9‑mm Browning that I had myself purchased when I was serving in the army over three years ago. I took it from home, and as soon as I reached our land my uncle attacked me with a hatchet, so I reacted solely in self‑defense. I shot him only twice until he fell on the ground. The named ʿAqil was the one who pulled the gun out of my hands, and that is the same gun that is now under your custody. None of my brothers, uncles, cousins, nor ʿAqil, have guns in their possession. I do not intend to press for a lawsuit against anyone.

56Whether it is a testimony—some of which are interpreted by judges and magistrates as “confessions” (iʿtirāf)—or an interview—such forms of witnessing are not clearly delineated due to the weakness of (cross‑)examination in civil‑law systems—what is at stake are the assertions emanating from witnesses. The complexity of witnessing, a quintessentially total social fact, which cannot be reduced to juridical rules, becomes limited to a small répertoire of events, that is, to a bulleted list of events, like the one above, that investigators and judges keep close at hand in order not to lose track of what is at stake at the crime scene. It is therefore such extreme reductionism that establishes the power relation between the local actors sense of place as something that they inhabit, and the homogenizing power of the judiciary. Consider, for instance, how the alleged main culprit was examined soon after his arrest, and how the question‑and‑answer format would not necessarily lead to a more elaborate form of investigation than the more straightforward testimonies above. The defendant was then interrogated by an investigating judge in Aleppo on 24 March 1990 :

Q1. You have been accused of an attempt to kill someone?

  • 15 Non‑consciousness implies non‑responsibility.

A1. The day of the incident that led to this lawsuit I went to our agricultural land where I found my younger brothers ʿAbdul‑Munʿim and ʿAbdul‑Wahab. I was told that my uncle ʿAbdul‑Munʿim had trespassed with his sheep over our land cultivated with wheat, barley, and beans, even though he could have avoided the situation through a slightly longer détour. A verbal exchange ensued between him and me, but he soon threatened me with a hatchet that was on his side. People from the village started gathering such as x, y, and z, and I attempted to escape the situation by moving towards the water well, but my uncle followed me with his axe and verbal insults. I took my 9‑mm gun and shot once up in the air, but he kept following me, until the distance that separated us was no more than 30 meters, which forced me to go for another shot. I then ran away walking as fast as I could. My brothers Jamal and ʿAbdul‑Salam dropped by only when it was all over. I have no idea which parts of my uncle’s body were hurt as a result of the [second] shot, because I was in a state of non‑consciousness [ḥālat lā‑waʿī].15

  • 16 Going back to the village implies a more deliberate process of harm, which also defies claims of no (...)

Q2. You mentioned in your statements to the police upon your arrest that you first used your 9‑mm gun, then went back to the village16 and brought with you a 10.5‑mm pistol that belonged to your brother Jamal?

  • 17 Allegations of violence by the police are quite frequent, providing witnesses with that unique oppo (...)

A2. I do not know what the policemen who interrogated me had written down in their memos, because they had beaten me up.17 What I know is that I only used a 9‑mm, which the witness ʿAqil had eventually taken from me. I was subject to beating from the police and a doctor examined me and wrote a report on this.

Q3. How many bullets were there in your gun prior to shooting at your uncle ʿAbdul‑Munʿim?

A3. There were only three bullets. I shot one in the air, and two at my uncle ʿAbdul‑Munʿim after having warned him not to get close to me.

Q4. You mentioned earlier that you had shot once in the air and once in the direction of your uncle, and now you are telling us that you shot once in the air and twice in the direction of your uncle—a total of three shots—so which version is the right one?

A4. I shot once in the air as a warning, and then twice in the direction of my uncle.

57This follows a classic question‑and‑answer format that very much seems perfectly staged, so as to give both sides the opportunity to frame their views in relation to the other in the shortest space possible. That is why such formats do not constitute genuine (cross‑) examinations, where the defendant would be cornered with an aggressive line of questioning. What it amounts to is maintaining that façade of appearances, which surreptitiously moves from the lifeworld of the actors to the domain of the judiciary. Thus, while the prosecution marshals the possibility of killing, the back‑and‑forth on a motorbike between the village and its periphery (which may indicate a thoughtful action), and the two‑gun theory, ʿUmar rebuffs such claims with an emphasis on self‑defense, that he was effectively threatened, that he did issue warnings to avoid catastrophe, and that he was for a while in a state of non‑consciousness.

58Following the two earlier cases, where in both the protagonists took over their father’s mantle, salvaging a de facto leadership of their family, the protagonists in this case, ʿUmar and his brothers, were operating within a similar mindset, even though the target here was set within the family rather than from a rival clan. ʿUmar directly challenges his uncle, in response to the latter’s trespassing, in an act that was intended to harm rather than kill. ʿUmar’s action was therefore situated on a couple of encounters: first, he acted on behalf of his own father, who was unable to directly confront his brother; second, his action was intergenerational: his own generation versus that of his father and uncles; third, it was also inter‑clan: his father–brothers faction versus his uncle–cousins. His violent action reinstituted the symbolic equilibrium in his favor: he was done with the elderly generation of father–uncle, and among his own generation, he established himself as the badass to be reckoned with—until someone else takes the helm.

The political economy of land and crime

  • 18 Aleppo’s Jināyāt, case 320/1994, had previous numbers since the inauguration of the case in 1990; f (...)

59[C9–4] In the morning of 9 July 1990 the lawyer ʿAdil Kitkānī (b. 1951) left his home located in the Sabil neighborhood in Aleppo, and headed towards his nearby parked car. As he would normally do every morning, he was preparing himself for a 20–30 minute ride that would had taken him to the Palace of Justice, where he was serving as an attorney on civil matters. But as soon as he reached his car that morning, two young men, speeding on their scooter, approached him, stood on the pavement, and shot him a couple of times. Even though he fell bleeding, he felt strong enough to point his gun towards his assailants, injuring one as his pal pushed him on the back seat of the scooter before running away.18

60That a young lawyer would be (legally) carrying a gun while on his way to work, a gun that presumably saved his life from the assault of two anonymous gunmen, may seem awkward, in particular in a city where lawyers and judges are pretty safe and are not harassed by gangs or unruly mafias. The truth of the matter is that ʿAdil was expecting something, an assault on his life, like the ones that were conducted several months earlier against his father and cousin—both survived. Apparently, someone had come to him days earlier, and told him, “Be careful, ʿAdil, you know what happened to your father and cousin.” Cases of assaults on judges and lawyers, not to mention state officials, are well known in the likes of Italy and Latin American countries. But those tend to be related to judicial matters, as the aim would be to intimidate the judiciary for its actions against mafias, gangs, and drug lords. In the Kitkānī case, however, the authorities were persuaded right from the start that the crime was “private,” in the sense that its aim would not touch upon the judicial apparatus per se, or any other governmental agency for that matter. Nor was it related to ʿAdil’s work as an attorney, nor to any of the cases he was handling at the time. At least those were some of the persuasions of the investigating and referral judges: to them, the matter was prima facie related to ʿAdil’s Kurdish kin alliances, even though, at face value, they had no desire to highlight “the Kurdish matter.”

  • 19 For the most part Kurdish “nationalists” (or “separatists”) have failed to develop their own “Syria (...)

61ʿAdil was born and raised in the northern‑central region of ʿAyn al‑ʿArab, a mixed area shared between Arabs and Kurds, where the latter have for some time constituted a hefty majority, and where kin alliances matter even more than other Kurdish areas. In contradistinction to the other big Kurdish region of ʿIfrīn, located in Syria’s north–west along the Turkish border, composed of 366 towns and villages, structured along family groupings (ʿiyal) rather than the traditional clans (ʿashāyir), in ʿAyn al‑ʿArab the predominance goes to the ʿashāyir, whether Arab or Kurdish. Thus, even though, in his depositions to police and prosecution, ʿAdil introduced himself as “an Arab Syrian,” which is what he ought to do legally—since the Syrian state classifies all its citizens as “Arab Syrians”—the Kurds generally do not perceive themselves that way, and prefer the epithet of “Kurdish” to “Arab.” In the riots that broke in March 2004, and which originated in an insane football match that went wrong in Qāmishlī (Qamishlo, to the Kurds), the ʿAyn al‑ʿArab region shared its own toll of the events, as schools and official buildings were looted, damaged, or burned; so did Aleppo’s northern Kurdish neighborhoods. The riots were widely perceived—at least by various Kurdish websites operating from Turkey and Europe—as signaling a Kurdish reawakening on their rights, language, and heritage. But, the Kurdish–Arab tensions notwithstanding, what the riots have also pointed at are the Kurdish internal rivalries, structured for the most part along clan and regional alliances on one hand, and their corresponding political innuendoes on the other. The Kitkānī case points at such divided loyalties. Thus, while the plaintiff himself claimed that his assailants were “Kurdish separatists”19 who were affiliated to unauthorized parties disloyal to the state, he reminded the police and prosecution that for a long time he held membership at the Baath party, making him a target from his own clan. But while ʿAdil politicized his case right from the beginning, and offered the prosecution a list of possible suspects, all of which Kurdish and clan related, one of the defendants saw otherwise. Claiming that plaintiff and defendants were from the same clan (ʿashīra) of Kitkān, even though from different villages miles away, the defendant in question alleged that there was a conflict between the plaintiff’s father and his own family over a land, whose size was 12 million square meters, in the village of Kirdah. But police and prosecution seemed, however, less concerned about either land or political issues, and more about the ever growing number of defendants: once we are into tribal territory, the number of defendants could rapidly swell; and by the time we reexamined the case‑file in 2004, it was not yet fully closed, as it was still a work‑in‑progress. One of the Jināyāt’s employees, weary of the ups and downs of the Kitkānī case, told me that “such cases keep growing and growing, simply because every time one of the runaways suddenly shows up, we will have to append more papers to a folder that is already big.”

  • 20 Aleppo Jināyāt 300/1992.
  • 21 Aleppo Jināyāt 191/1992.

62A couple of months before the stab on ʿAdil’s own life outside his Aleppo home on April 1990, there was an attempt on the life of the plaintiff’s cousin, judge Fathi Kitkānī, and head of the appellate court in Aleppo, upon which a case‑file was opened at the Aleppo Jināyāt.20 Then three days later, there was another hit, this time on the plaintiff’s father, with another case still under investigation back then.21 Both attempts took place in the plaintiff’s home region of ʿAyn al‑ʿArab. Considering that the assault on ʿAdil was the third in a row, it must have all been more than a personal matter. Inter‑clan feuds obviously come to mind first, and most defendants and witnesses documented the case to the prosecution as long‑standing feuds straddling between the realities of clan and land ownership (more specifically, usurpation), even though the plaintiff himself had underscored the political overtones of all three attempts:

The conflict between our family, the Kitkānīs, and those of our defendants, the Shaykhos, Lalos, Shaykhs, and their associates, is due to the fact that we are not exclusively committed to the Kurdish parties, and in effect we do not even relate to them—and that is precisely what was at the root of the attempt against the life of my cousin Fathi Kitkānī, and the one against me.

63The plaintiff neither mentioned in this deposition to the prosecution the attempt against his own father, nor any possible land disputes. It remains unclear, however, whether he ruled out the land problem altogether.

64The Kitkānīs were therefore a Kurdish family of big landowners, whose expertise in law affiliated them to the state judiciary, and, at least to some, made them politically close to the “national” and pan‑Arab Baath rather than the ethnically oriented (and illegal) Kurdish parties whether Syrian (extremely rare), Iraqi, or Turkish (the majority). In the preliminary assessments between plaintiff, defendants, and their witnesses, the claims have grosso modo centered on three levels whose links remain rather loose: (i) the political rifts between the Kitkānīs (Baath) and their clan foes (Kurdish nationalists); (ii) land disputes between the two parties; and (iii) more broadly, clan and kin rivalries, which might have affected both (i) and (ii). Obviously, since the judiciary’s main concern was to find the assailant(s), going through tribal and clan divisions and their politics and land feuds was not, stricto sensu, its business. Moreover, Syrian governmental institutions would typically avoid mentioning nationalist aspirations of some ethnic groups by name—in particular the Kurds. For such reasons, the memos, reports, and rulings, only contain scant evidence to the clan‑political‑land background, which comes to evidence only sporadically through the utterances of some disputants and their witnesses. In sum, even the referral judge recommendations and Jināyāt ruling do not attempt a synthesis based on various social backgrounds, limiting themselves instead to the logic of sentencing.

65From the very beginning the defendants were numerous. To begin with, the plaintiff, while still in treatment in his hospital bed, named the two persons who had pointed their guns at him, claiming that there were additional ones standing by, not to mention three others from the Shaykh family who had been following the assassination attempt from a nearby parked car, and against which he had alleged that they were the masterminds. A couple of months later, on November 1990 when the general prosecution office had made known its list of suspects, it already had sixteen: only three participated directly in the failed attempt, while the others were either only “involved” or “participated” from a distance, or else were carrying guns without permits. In a memo addressed to the investigative judge by the plaintiff’s attorneys the following year on 25 May 1991, the latter had limited their suspects to ten only, and were more precise in their claims. Reminding the judge that their client survived even though he had received eight bullets in his body, the two attorneys acting on behalf of the claimant managed to identify the first two assailants on the scooter; an additional two who apparently stepped up from a car that was parked nearby; a fifth person who was allegedly protecting from a distance; and three others which allegedly played the role of instigators (muḥarriḍ‑un) by accompanying all assailants to Aleppo, and by being present at the scene watching from a distance; finally, the remaining ones had allegedly beaten up the plaintiff after he was hit by gunshots from the first two assailants. One has only to wonder, with all those people around, how Kitkānī managed to survive with after being shot eight times. Direct witnesses all confirmed the two‑assailant on a scooter story; most noticed that one of them was shot, but he did run away bleeding, amid ʿAdil Kitkānī’s aggressive stance; but no one noticed anything beyond those two assailants.

66In his first police deposition, while still in his hospital bed recovering from his wounds, ʿAdil was quick to identify and name his two assailants, in addition to three others whom he claimed were overseeing the shootings sitting in a taxi. But even though he named all five, he fell short—at least based on the police summary of his statements—at explicating his relationship to them, how he got to know them, and possible motivations. He finally narrowed it down to political motivations. The police, even though could not arrest any of the alleged five assailants, checked their names up and found that all of them came from villages in the ʿAyn al‑ʿArab region, ages 25 to 60, all kin related. The police in that region, however, found three of the five identified by Kitkānī, among eight men and women it suspected of “participation.” They were therefore all arrested “customarily” (ʿurf‑iyyan) since there is no evidence yet to support any of the claims against them.

67The three that were allegedly in a taxicab at the moment of the incident were interrogated, and all were from the same family. The first one (b. 1922), while reminding of his kin affiliation to the Kitkānīs, denied any participation and claimed to have heard of the shooting incident while in his village. He nonetheless acknowledged a land dispute with the plaintiff’s father. The second (b. 1927) also denied any participation, and he alleged to have been in his village all day when the plaintiff was shot: “for three months now, elements that keep order (ʿanāṣir ḥifẓ al‑niẓām) have been present in our area, and they would surely witness that I was there all day long.” Those “elements,” however, whose presence had been noted by other suspects and witnesses, had neither been defined, nor their role identified for that matter: was their presence related in any way to previous assassination attempts against the Kitkānīs? The third one, of a much younger generation (b. 1974), also denied any participation, and claimed not to know ʿAdil Kitkānī or any of his relatives. The other ones that were also detained, most of them land laborers or owners from various generations, but which were not named by the plaintiff in his first deposition, all denied any wrongdoing, and prima facie there did not seem anything against them beyond the fact that they were from a rival kin branch to the Kitkānīs. One of them, a shepherd (b. 1972), alleged never to have visited Aleppo in his lifetime.

68The following month (August 1990) the alleged assailants were all arrested in Aleppo, and since some of them were serving in the army, a parallel army tribunal, whose findings were included in the case’s dossier, performed its own examinations of the suspects. The first suspect (b. 1956) claimed that he was arrested as soon as he came to visit a relative of his in the main Aleppo jailhouse at Muslimiyyah. The convict was his uncle who was arrested in relation to Kitkānī’s incident. A 7mm gun was found with the visitor‑suspect, whom he alleged he had been carrying around for some time “because of feuds (ʿadāwa) between us [the Shaykhos] and the Kitkānīs.” His brother was the first to have informed him of the assassination attempt, and suspected that two of their cousins might be directly involved. He further denied being himself involved in any way, since, having been in the army for three years, he did not have much chance to see his relatives. The other suspect (b. 1957) was arrested under similar conditions, and he too denied any participation, claimed to have heard of the crime while in his village at ʿAyn al‑ʿArab.

69By the time the referral judge drafted his report on March 1993, which is usually the first piece of synthesis to come with a preliminary overview and a set of recommendations, and which is generally adopted without much fuss by the Jināyāt, the number of accused had now shrunk to three, while the judge recommended that the remaining eleven suspects be set free for lack of evidence. The overall problem, however, was that even for the three accused, which the referral judge thought could be nailed down on firm grounds, evidence remained very much circumstantial, and with the lack of blood and fingerprints tests, even the material basis of the investigation was kept on hold. One of the witnesses, for instance, whose shop was located right where Kitkānī had dropped wounded, alleged that one of the assailants, who was shot by Kitkānī, left a trail of blood on the pavement where the shop was located. But, to my knowledge, no tests were concluded—at least the dossier that I examined contained none. The only report that was available of the crime scene had a detailed description of the guns that were allegedly used, in addition to photographs of Kitkānī’s car and the pavement where the shooting took place. Such mishaps are, to be sure, quite common during investigations, and they reflect at the same time poor technical standards, lack of adequate equipment and training, and no sense of professional consciousness. With no firm material evidence, and with no thorough examinations conducted at any level (police, prosecution, and Jināyāt), not to mention allegations of torture that kept surfacing from the defendants and witnesses, the referral judge was left with scant and unreliable evidence. That did not prevent him, however, from recommending that the three defendants be accused of a premeditated attempt to kill (ʿamd), which could be punishable either by death penalty or life incarceration. In the report’s section citing evidence, the judge detailed eleven pieces of evidence, which for the most part consisted of statements uttered by the accused and witnesses. Considering that whenever anyone of the accused who may have “confessed” any wrongdoing when interrogated by the police at ʿAyn al‑ʿArab and/or Aleppo, and then would have denied few weeks later all those statements in the presence of an Aleppo prosecution judge, with an allegation of torture, there was not any single suspect—whether the three core ones, or their eleven pals—that did effectively and openly confess. As to the witnesses, none of them was able to identify any of the suspects, so that the latter were only identified by no one else but the plaintiff.

70By 1994 the number of defendants was reduced to three only, while the other eleven were set free. At the end the year, just before the holidays’ break, the defendants’ council drafted a nineteen‑page memo to the Jināyāt, attempting to point how little reliable evidence the prosecution was able to collect against his three clients. Consider, for instance, the deposition of one of the accused (b. 1958), as recorded by the ʿAyn al‑ʿArab police on 29 September 1991.

There has been problems between our family and the Kitkānīs once they were able to usurp (istīlāʾ) some of our agricultural lands at the village of Saftak. We have been through lawsuits which in the final analysis led nowhere. During that period, I was surprised with the rest of my kin when policemen came to our village, once I realized that unknown people had attempted to kill judge Fathi Kitkānī. My mother and the mother of [my cousin] Fawzi Ahmad Shaykho had accused us of being involved in the XE "Index:assassinations" assassination plot, which got us arrested and imprisoned at the ʿAyn al‑ʿArab prison. With all such pressures, I left roughly a month after the assassination attempt and lived in Aleppo in the [predominantly Kurdish] Shaykh Saʿid neighborhood. My brother Nayif used to drop by frequently, expressing his outrage towards the Fathi kin. He soon began to plan an assassination against the lawyer ʿAdil who is considered a cousin to judge Fathi. Nayif then set up a date to kill. I did my best to stop him, to no avail. He did demand that I participate, but after some hesitation I accepted. That was a day before the assassination attempt, when we agreed that I would wait for him at the al‑Hajj bridge, so that he would show up at 7:00 a.m. the day of the execution; he would then give me a ride to the place of the execution where the house of the lawyer was located. I had a 9mm Browning, and headed to the location we agreed upon. My brother Nayif came with his Honda black scooter to pick me up. We reached the aforementioned house in the neighborhood where the lawyer lived. We saw the lawyer’s car in front the entrance of the building. I saw there Ahmad Muhammad Hasan, Amin Lalo b. Khalil, and Khidr Shaykh Daban. My brother Nayif was holding his gun, and my job was to cover up the killing. When my brother got wounded, I hurried to save him, and it was at this point that my gun dropped…

71As is common to many suspects, this preliminary deposition was denied in toto in the presence of an Aleppo investigating judge barely a week later:

What was attributed to me in my statements to the police is completely false, because they were the outcome of beating and torture. I am not aware what the policemen had drafted on my behalf during my interrogation at ʿAyn al‑ʿArab. The father of the lawyer ʿAdil Kitkānī was dictating to them [such statements]. I do not know anything about the incident.

72What is unusual here is the mother accusing her son of wrongdoing, which could be attributed to the mother’s allegiance to the rival Kitkānī clan, hence her loyalties were for her own rather than her husband’s clan.

They had abused of their relationship to society

73The referral judge narrowed down the number of defendants from a dozen to three.

74In spite of repeated commands from the upper courts in Damascus not to take for granted original statements, criminal courts would generally stick with what a suspect, defendant, or witness had originally stated no matter how many times they and their counsels denied it later. Consider for instance what the alleged main culprit, Husayn Shaykho (b. 1958), had originally stated to the ʿAyn al‑ʿArab police as soon as he was arrested on September 1990.

  • 22 The “who is considered” gives the impression that the “paternal cousin” (ibn al‑ʿamm) relationship (...)

When I was living in Aleppo in the neighborhood of Shaykh Saʿid, my brother Nayif used to drop by at home and relieve his hatred (ḥiqd) towards the relatives (aqārib) of [judge] Fathi [Kitkānī]. He soon started to plan for the killing of the lawyer ʿAdil [Kitkānī], who is considered the paternal cousin of judge Fathi,22 until Nayif had set a date. I attempted to stop him, to no avail. He then urged me to participate, and after some hesitation I accepted. That was a day before the attempt. We agreed to meet at the al‑Hajj bridge around 7:00 a.m., where he would pick me up and take me to ʿAdil Kitkānī’s home. I had a 9‑mm Browning in my possession, and as promised he showed up and picked me up. When we were by Kitkānī’s home my brother Nayif came by on his black Honda motorbike, but I am uncertain as to the name of the neighborhood we have set into. I there saw Kitkānī’s car parked at his home’s entrance, and met Ahmad b. Muhammad Hasan (mother Khudah, twenty years old), Amin Lalo b. Khalil (mother Amina), and Khodr Shaykh b. Daban (mother Halima). While my brother Nayif was carrying a gun, my role was to insure the protection for the killing, together with Amin Lalo and Khodr, so that Nayif and Ahmad would begin the assault. Soon after, I saw the lawyer leaving his apartment building, heading towards his car. As soon as he entered his car, Nayif and Ahmad began shooting at him, and the lawyer responded soon afterward. The lawyer was hurt, placated himself between two cars, and was shooting towards us. As my brother received a direct shot, I immediately went to help him, but Ahmad already had him on the motorbike. It was then that my gun was dropped, while my brother lost his close to the lawyer’s car. I withdrew with Amin and Khodr and each one of us went in a separate direction and we never met. I consider that the crimes committed against the aforementioned [Fathi and ʿAdil Kitkānī] were an outcome of direct instigation (taḥrīḍ) from Amin Hasan. As to Daban b. Muhammad he was the indirect instigator (muḥarriḍ), having summoned us to regain our rights through all the available means, including the legal. I was not hit during the operation, and the suspicious marks on my knee were the outcome of my regular day work. I regret what I did.

The same suspect was a year later examined by an investigating judge, where he totally denied his earlier statements.

Q1. You have been accused of premeditated killing.

A1. There is no truth in what has been attributed to me, which was an outcome of beating, violence, and humiliation. I do not know what the policemen had noted down regarding my oral statements. I should mention that during the investigation at the ʿAyn al‑ʿArab police department [September 1990] the father of the lawyer ʿAdil Kitkānī was present all the time and was dictating his orders to the police.

Q2. You had stated that you and your brother Nayif headed on a motorbike the day the crime towards the home of the lawyer ʿAdil Kitkānī, and there you met with Ahmad b. Muhammad Hasan, Amin Lalo, and Khodr Daban. Your role with Amin Lalo was to cover up on the killing, when your brother Nayif and Ahmad b. Hasan attacked the lawyer. When your brother was shot you helped him escape on a motorbike, and in the meantime you dropped your 9‑mm Browning.

A2. The truth is that I have not seen my brother Nayif for two years because he was escaping from his military service.

75The second suspect to have been interrogated by the ʿAyn al‑ʿArab police was Muhammad Amin Lalo b. Khalil and Amina.

I testify that there were agricultural conflicts (khilāfāt zirāʿiyya) between us and the clan of Adel Kitkānī. Members of his family or relatives (aqārib) were able to trespass over our lands and to usurp (ightiṣāb) other parts of those lands—a total of 20 hectares. We have attempted to get back what we have lost, to no avail. The lawsuits between us are still in process. After the attempted assassination of Judge Fathi Kitkānī in Aleppo, I was told that Barkal ʿUsso was responsible, but I know nothing of his partners, not to mention that my brothers Murad and Ahmad are both suspects.

As to the attempted killing of the lawyer ʿAdil Kitkānī the deal was sealed between Nayif Shaykho and Ahmad b. Muhammad Hasan to kill the lawyer ʿAdil. I have refused to go through this, but the mounting pressures pushed me to participate by simply being present close to the home of ʿAdil Kitkānī with Khodr and Waban, while Nayif and Ahmad did the shooting. I had no gun and did not shoot at anyone.

76The third suspect was Murad Lalo b. Khalil to the same ʿAyn al‑ʿArab police.

I testify that there were conflicts between us and the clan of Judge Fathi Kitkānī who had abused of their relationship to society, pushing them to usurp part of our agricultural lands. Faced with such conditions I went with Amin ʿIso, his brothers Barkal and Bakri, Ismail Shaykho b. Fawzi, and my brother Ahmad Lalo, to the home of Fathi Kitkānī in Aleppo to force him towards an agreement. When we were a hundred meters from the house, Barkal went to Fathi’s home to forge an understanding (tafāhum), as we stood by the bridge waiting. I was not armed, and as I was standing by I heard gunshots and saw Barkal running, and then realized that he had stabbed Fathi without even our knowledge of it: we did not know whether he was dead or alive. The problem behind such conflict was the usurpation (ightiṣāb) of our lands. As to the defendant Daban, there are ongoing conflicts between him and the Kitkānīs—which is looked upon as familial. I think all this was behind the attempts against Judge Fathi and the lawyer Adel Kitkānī. I personally do not own a gun. …

77The attorney on behalf of the plaintiff Adel Kitkānī argued that the “commencement in killing (al‑shurūʿ bi‑l‑qatl)” ought to be punishable under article 535 of the penal code on the same level as a premeditated act. In his view, knowledge (ʿilm) and will (irādah) are the main factors that would determine the intentionality of the act: whether the victim was effectively killed or simply managed the assault does not matter, because what matters is criminal intentionality per se (al‑qaṣd al‑jināʾī). Moreover, and considering that there were several accomplices and partners in this attempted killing, the lawyer urged to reconsider the notion of “partnership”: “as there was no simple intervention (tadakhkhul) in premeditated killing (al‑qatl al‑ʿamd), all participants are partners (shurakāʾ).” For his part, the referral judge argued that “the defendants did all what they could within their material disposal to murder the lawyer Adel Kitkānī, but due to circumstances outside their will the death did not occur, which renders the acts of all defendants guilty for commencing an act of killing based on premeditated planning and execution which ought to be punishable under article 535 of the penal code.” Three of the accused were sentenced in 1998 for 15 years with a million liras as compensation for the victim: Husayn Shaykho, Muhammad Amin Lalo, and Muhammad Shaykh Muhammad.

Murder always implies a third party

  • 23 Slavoj Žižek, Looking Awry. An Introduction to Jacques XE "Index:Lacan, Jacques" Lacan through Pop (...)
  • 24 Slavoj Žižek, Looking Awry. An Introduction to Jacques XE "Index:Lacan, Jacques" Lacan through Pop (...)

78The fact that “murder always implies a third party,” hence a reference to a third person‑audience,23 goes well with the four cases in this Chapter. That the murderer would kill for the sake of a third person, whether real or imaginary; that his or her act is inscribed in the framework of a symbolic exchange with the addressee‑audience; that by means of this act, the murderer realizes his or her repressed desires, can be variously detected in each one of the cases. When Rahhal’s son murdered Tirmanini, he did it for his father, to the point that the father was the one to declare full responsibility first—before his son got caught and confessed. When Fasih Jummo (unintentionally) killed his incognito opponent‑victim on a dark night (hence he was unable to see what he did), it was in the company of his father that he later discovered the dead body, and possibly the identity of his opponent: in that very act, he took over his father’s mantle. In our third case, the battle was at the same time generational and inter‑generational. When the main protagonist ʿUmar purposely injured his paternal uncle, he did it on behalf of his father, precisely because the latter would not do it (Rahhal was in the same situation vis‑à‑vis Tirmanini: he was unable to do it). Finally, the clan rivalries in ʿAyn al‑ʿArab, where the Kitkānīs as landowners maintained a statutory role, pushed the three defendants to act on behalf of their own clans, hence the clans acted as addressees to the murder. For this reason, the third person acting as audience would find themselves implicated in guilt, and generally neither know how they were implicated nor acknowledge the implication for that matter. But what marks our cases as unique for their own sake was the milieu itself, which was very much kin and clan oriented, hence the third persons or groups were all kin symbolized, acting as that uncanny big Other Third Gaze of patrimonial norms. In other words, the murders were interconnected in that they all involved, between murderer, victim, and third‑party‑audience, a murderous triad where kin symbolizations did compete for a paramount role. This is true of closely knit societies where “the elementary forms of kinship” (in homage to Claude Lévi‑Strauss)—that is, noneconomic relations—structure the economic, inscribing them into a murderous triad within the cycle of symbolic exchange. Slavoj Žižek, who strongly argued in favor of a third‑party addressee in murder, argues that “the third person himself [is] charged with guilt, although he does not know anything or, more precisely, refuses to know anything of the way he is implicated in the affair.”24 We should cautiously add here that this is true as long as the three parties—murderer, victim, and audience—are not kin related, that is, are autonomous, on their own, and differentiated as such as bourgeois anonymous characters. In fact, once we are into a rural milieu where kin plays a preponderant role, it is impossible for the third‑person addressee to act as an anonymous entity not knowing what was at stake, or to think that they were not implicated. On the contrary, the kin–clan setting considerably modifies the dynamics of crime. What transforms the dynamics is the fact that the three parties are kin related, either as partners or foes; hence the third party, which acts as recipient to the murder, must know that he is implicated, and even act—towards police and judges—that he is aware and implicated. (Is it always men who are implicated rather than women?) In other words, with the kin–clan setting, which centers a land crime on a murder triangle between assailant, victim, and addressee, the real relationship is between assailant and addressee, which, in such setting, are always kin related within the symbolized norms of the community. This goes hand‑in‑hand with our earlier interpretation that the assailant has a repressed desire in him to take over his father’s mantle, which he must actualize in murder (or as in case 2, what comes close to it). Even our fourth case would fit within that scenario, since the assailants in the failed killing of Kitkānī were from rival clans which had to act symbolically, through murder, to “adjust” themselves to the Kitkānīs land domination. Once the murder comes through (or the failed murder), the two parties, that of the offender and his victim, would follow étiquette rules and condemn the killing; but all stakes are with that “invisible addressee,” whose implication in the act cannot even be addressed by the juridical process. Indeed, while the investigation must center on the duo assailant–victim, and on possible instigators and participants, it misses the third party as the real addressee. That is to say, it misses the gaze—that invisible eye, which looks at the crime scene from an invisible location, and which does not want to see itself as implicated, aborting feelings of guilt and redemption.

79Among the four cases pursued in this chapter, the second one is the closest to a pure prototype for our analysis of murder as a triadic structure between perpetrator, victim, and addressee‑as‑audience. The addressee here was Fasih’s father, who accompanied his son to the murder scene and the police station, as if the act of acknowledgment of the killing had to come jointly from father and son. The father‑as‑third‑person was obviously preoccupied with guilt, not because he did anything wrong to his son (at least there was no evidence of that in the dossier), but for the sheer burden of recognizing the Other. We should in effect think of such guilt in terms of the son wanting recognition from his father, hence targeted him as the third‑party addressee, while the second party—the murdered victim—did not count much, and in this instance, he was allegedly neither seen nor known by the perpetrator—the perfect murder triangle. As pointed earlier, the third party, even though charged with guilt, refuses to know anything of the way he is implicated in the affair; but in communities where kinship heavily matters, the third party cannot act as if he is not implicated, at least not in the way an addressee would have behaved in a bourgeois society of strangers. The gesture of Fasih’s father the night of the murder must therefore be reread as one of deep feeling of guilt and involvement in what just happened: the father must have felt that the criminal act did all of a sudden reverse the generational order, with his son taking over the family’s helm. From Fasih’s perspective, it was a violent gesture which at the same time gave him self‑recognition through the Other and inaugurated the much needed distance between himself and his family—a distance that Fasih had already nurtured by becoming a student at Aleppo University. Modernity and the politics of the nation‑state, and the violence that they both entail, give the youth more opportunities to distance themselves from their elders. Besides school and college education, which have become a requirement for all classes, the nation‑state, in its desire to rule through homogenization, provides a plethora of institutions, from its civil and military bureaucracies, to the one and only Party, cooperatives, and intelligence services, which are joined by the youth, and which constitute conduits for the young to become independent. Thus, with the nation‑state, its schools and educational programs, labor market, bureaucracy, military and intelligence apparatuses, growth of the city, and internal and external immigration, there is room for the mobility of the youth, even if they find themselves under tight resources. Such mobility produces intergenerational distance that needs to be acknowledged: the youth seek recognition rather than abandonment.

80To come back to our second case, which acts as an ideal‑type to all four, Fasih had his father as addressee, had left the small rural community for the big city and college life, but nevertheless was seeking recognition from the very family he had left behind and abandoned, by honoring them in what they honor most—their landed properties. It was, indeed, the crime itself which connected the dots together: to receive that recognition from the family he had left behind, he had to act as protector towards their properties, hence the act of killing an alleged trespasser, which he was not even interested at meeting in person. The murderous act itself has less to do with Fasih’s psychic interior (the possibility of a troubled psyche), and more with the unexpected changes in the symbolic texture of intersubjective relations: for example, the intergenerational changes produced by education, the labor market, and city life, in which the subject may lose his place—or lose face—in the socio‑symbolic order, as maintained by the rules of honor and kin.

81The other murder (Tirmanini), the assault on the uncle by his nephew, and Kitkānī’s attempted murder, only represent variations of the ideal type. The first one is the closest in this respect, due to the fact that the addressee‑audience, which happened to be the father, gave himself up to the police, declaring himself the “true” murderer, which was a genuine acceptance of guilt, as if he could not bear “it” anymore and wanted to be punished for “it”—that unnamable Thing. But even though in this instance the victim Tirmanini was well “known” (as an adversarial landlord from a rival clan) by both father and son, having nurtured against him a long relation of hatred, he represented only a bouc émissaire for the father–son relationship. In other words, the son found himself in a world whose symbolic order, which managed the façade of politeness between landlords and their laborers, all of a sudden broken thanks to Tirmanini’s harsh manners and his use of the courts—a world outside the norms of kin and honor—and which he could only restitute by murdering Tirmanini. There is even evidence in the dossier of the crime that Rahhal kept coaching his son to go down that murderous route, on the wrong side of the law, hence the feeling of guilt. In other words, rather than solely look for the deep motivations in the murderer’s psyche (which courts often indulge into by appointing medical committees that would assess the culprit’s “sanity”), our attention should also concentrate on the external network of intersubjective relations which provides a symbolic texture for communal norms.

82By the same token, the addressee in the third case was also the father, even though he was totally absent from the events. To take his father’s mantle, ʿUmar accuses his uncle of trespassing, and harms him in an act that may or may not look like an attempt to kill. Finally, in our fourth case, which involved collectivities, the symbolic order was broken, as in the first case, once the Kitkānīs pushed too far their loyalty to state institutions (over Kurdish nationalism), whilst abusing of their dominance as landowners. Thus, the three successive attempted murders, which spanned over several months, did not have as goal to physically eliminate three obtrusive and influential Kitkānīs, but to restitute the symbolic order of intersubjective relations through a murderous act. In such communities, land itself is part of this external network of symbolic order, hence less of an economic asset per se, than a noneconomic symbol that makes economic relations possible.

  • 25 Marshall Sahlins, Stone Age Economics, New York: Aldine Publishing Company, 1972, Chapter 1: “The O (...)

83It is generally assumed that land and labor are part of the infrastructure of an economy, while the legal (or legalized) aspects of contracts and exchange are epiphenomenal. That is to say, the legal is, in the last instance, subjected to the infrastructural power of the economy. There are realities imposed by land and labor which by definition only the law regulates: primarily when it comes to contracts and obligations. In other words, the law is set within the symbolic, while its use value is the imaginary, and its exchange value is inscribed within the realities of the market. In the symbolic world of the law, law is part of the broader culture, and is fully inscribed within the normative values of society. As such it is determined by cultural values: not only codes and procedures, but as we have repeatedly argued, an institution like witnessing cannot be grasped without the norms that bind individuals together. In societies where kin is strong, and where the sense of honor is no less strong, kin and honor are inscribed, like law itself, within the networks of symbolic exchange. That is to say, unlike the reality of the economy of the market, kin, honor and law, are all within symbolic exchange, and even though they may “regulate” the market, they nonetheless act autonomously on their own. We can integrate here the argument of Marshall Sahlins apropos “primitive societies,” namely, that in such societies where kin and honor matter, and where, as far as the “economy” goes, gift primes the process of exchange, “the noneconomic conditions are the very organization of the economy.”25 What here stands as the noneconomic conditions includes gift exchange, kin and honor, law and crime, all of which help the organization of the economy.


1 Timothy Mitchell, Rule of Experts, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002, raises such questions for contemporary rural Egypt: “The failure to examine the question of political violence against the poor in American academic writing on rural Egypt was not merely one of oversight or neglect. Rather,…the literature generally constructed its object of study in such a way that any evidence of such violence, given its elusive nature, was inevitably discounted, or translated into something else.” (161) Typically, Mitchell argues, the peasant personality is portrayed in psychological traits as an unstable mixture of violence and submissiveness, which the American visitor experiences as the peasant’s “excessive” politeness and generosity. State bureaucrats, therefore, construct their mobilization schemes on the peasant’s inbred desire for authority, who expects the superior to be strict and firm. In pre‑1952 Egypt, the much venerated class of “feudalists” abused of its authority vis‑à‑vis a depoliticized peasantry that lacked representation and protection at a national level. In revolutionary Nasserite Egypt, with the impossibility to find a replacement for the defunct “feudal” class, the state took over the abusive role towards the peasantry. The political mobilization was therefore not overtly intended of “freeing” the peasantry from abuse, but to monopolize power relations at a national level, at a time when the power local base of the feudalists had collapsed, only to be replaced by a new landowning class that lacked the moral cachet of the previous one (the limits imposed on property size by various agrarian reforms were quickly circumvented in various ways, as would be expected).

2 By maintaining the old Ottoman category of milk, which in Ottoman centuries simply delineated the majority of the Empire’s agrarian lands as state owned, the French mandate has maintained a confusion, which unfortunately is very active today, which could have been avoided. Thus, a typical contemporary ṭābū cadastral register would classify a mīrī property as al‑milk li‑l‑mālik wa‑l‑ghirās li‑l‑mustaʾjir, “the ownership is for the owner‑landlord, and the plantations go for the tenant,” a statement which is to be found in many of the Ḥanafī classical fiqh texts, but within a totally different context, which in contemporary modern terms—that of the Syrian nation‑state—is stricto sensu meaningless, bringing much confusion if taken literally. The reason is that mīrī today is simply a private property in the full sense of the term, that is, milk, but whose rules of inheritance would not abide to the precepts of the sharīʿa (the woman would inherit half of the male’s share). In today’s mīrī, the woman inherits an equal share. To elaborate, the French mandate, and the Syrian legislators working under its auspices, in their eagerness to “subtract” agrarian properties from the common fate of sharīʿa law, kept the old moribund connotation of mīrī alive, only to subvert it to a totally different meaning. The alternative would have been to simply classify mīrī as “public” property, whenever the property was state‑owned, or as “private” if owned by an individual or family.

3 Such criticism has been addressed to the “Algerian” work of Pierre Bourdieu by Enrique Martin–Criado, Les deux Algéries de Pierre Bourdieu, Éditions du Croquant, 2008.

4 On the difficulties of writing a history and sociology of land and labor for a region like Akkar, located in the north of Lebanon and bordering Syria, see Michael Gilsenan, “A Modern Feudality? Land and Labour in North Lebanon, 1858–1950,” in Tarif Khalidi, ed., Land Tenure and Social Transformation in the Middle East, Beirut: American University of Beirut, 1984, 449–463.

5 Timur Kuran, The Long Divergence. How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011, 79, notes that “In contrast to Europe, no aristocracy developed in Turkey, or the Arab world, or Iran. Although the prevailing inheritance system was not the only factor at work—expropriations and opportunistic taxation played important roles—what matters is that it contributed to wealth fragmentation.” In contrast to Greater Syria, and the bulk of the empire, Lebanon did, however, develop an aristocracy, thanks to a multitude of social and political conditions, hence the thesis, propounded by some historians (e.g. Iliya Harik), on Lebanon’s presumed “feudalism,” which at its core assumes the existence of an aristocratic group.

6 The following account is solely based on the report drafted by the referral judge in Aleppo in 1996 (case 478/1/1996), when the investigation was in its early stages, and on an incomplete file, which lacks subsequent developments, including the final ruling.

7 Emphasis is mine.

8 Based on an Idlib Jināyāt file 18/1990, Jināyāt ruling 70 on 1 December 1990, and the Naqḍ ruling which revoked that of the Jināyāt, 78/96/1992 dated 3 March 1992; follow up to the Naqḍ ruling unavailable; the defense lawyer died in 2001, and according to his assistant their office dropped the case by then, before the Jināyāt may have revised its ruling.

9 Thus, for example, in a late afternoon fight (mushājara) on 13 May 1998 in the village of Umm al‑Karamil, in Jabal Samʿān, between the tribes (ʿashāyir) of al‑Turshan and al‑Khawalidah, machine guns and automatic firearms were used, which led to “more than one person intentionally killed.” A case was finally opened in Aleppo in 2002 (346/1) with no less than 81 defendants, and obviously it would be long before it ever comes to an end (assuming there is an end in sight). It is important to note that the Jināyāt cannot try its 81 defendants all in one row in a quasi‑class‑action lawsuit, but only individually as part of a single prosecution case. It therefore begins to define its case as follows: “The crime is one of intentional killing (qaṣd) for more than two persons, with no knowledge of the individual doer (maʿ jahhālat al‑fāʿil al‑mustaqill).” And its adds by way of clarification: “The case is one of total participation in intentional killing (qaṣd) involving more than one person, as part of a collective fight (mushājara jamāʿiyya), in which they participated.” The most obscure part is the expression “with no knowledge of the individual doer,” which could either mean that those who participated in the fight and killings did not target anyone specifically, but shot on the basis of harming the opposing clan as‑a‑whole, or else, that the prosecution has been unable—or is unwilling—to identify individual killers, because it is faced with a clan‑like group killings, where even participation (mushāraka) in the fight counts.

10 René Girard, Le Bouc émissaire, Paris: Le Livre de Poche, 1986.

11 Foucault’s idea apropos Pierre Rivière that the latter had to commit patricide first in order to then perform the act of writing—the crime of writing—where he would in all safety—and from the distance of his prison cell—document his parricidal act. Which in itself is a Hegelian–Lacanian idea on language as the death representation of the real, which in its essence is limitless. Every word is like a coffin on reality.

12 The current revolts in 2011–13 have originated and maintained a strong presence in peripheral rural areas and their affiliated cities (Darʿā, Ḥimṣ, Ḥamā and Idlib), which may indicate that the youth in those regions, trailing behind in individualization, have to revolt first—against the state as an anonymous third‑party (the big Other)—to accept the normative changes in their society by negating them through violence. Hence, en dernière instance, the revolts are set against the socio‑symbolic normative order of their elders rather than against the state per se.

13 Follow up to Naqḍ ruling unavailable.

14 Aleppo Jināyāt case file 217/2/1994.

15 Non‑consciousness implies non‑responsibility.

16 Going back to the village implies a more deliberate process of harm, which also defies claims of non‑consciousness and non‑responsibility.

17 Allegations of violence by the police are quite frequent, providing witnesses with that unique opportunity to demarcate their current statements to the investigative judge from the earlier ones to the police, just few days before, as they were stated in writing in the police reports, which transforms the question‑and‑answer format of the investigative judge into a rite‑of‑passage denial, even though the upper courts would seldom request an investigation that would question the allegedly brutal police behavior towards suspects and witnesses, unless of course the brutality would have led to the death of a suspect or witness. The upper courts would generally handle such statements of denial quite “textually,” that is, judges would simply compare and contrast various contradictory statements, arguing which ones would make “more sense” under certain conditions. In sum, cross‑examinations by investigative judges would typically help the witness–suspect–defendant downplay earlier statements attributed to them by the police report, which inaugurates the case‑file.

18 Aleppo’s Jināyāt, case 320/1994, had previous numbers since the inauguration of the case in 1990; final ruling missing.

19 For the most part Kurdish “nationalists” (or “separatists”) have failed to develop their own “Syrian” parties, opting instead, in terms of political alliances, either for the predominant “Turkish” PKK, which operates under the imprisoned Abdullah Öcalan, or else for the “Iraqi” Ṭālbānī versus Bārzānī split.

20 Aleppo Jināyāt 300/1992.

21 Aleppo Jināyāt 191/1992.

22 The “who is considered” gives the impression that the “paternal cousin” (ibn al‑ʿamm) relationship is only “imaginary,” which may not be the case here.

23 Slavoj Žižek, Looking Awry. An Introduction to Jacques XE "Index:Lacan, Jacques" Lacan through Popular Culture, Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1991, 74.

24 Slavoj Žižek, Looking Awry. An Introduction to Jacques XE "Index:Lacan, Jacques" Lacan through Popular Culture, Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1991, 74.

25 Marshall Sahlins, Stone Age Economics, New York: Aldine Publishing Company, 1972, Chapter 1: “The Original Affluent Society.”

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