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The Crime of Writing

Zouhair Ghazzal

Chapter 11. Le moment de conclure

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1In one of the cases discussed earlier (C5–4), a mid‑aged man who was under investigation for drug trafficking died unexpectedly at the police station where he was brutally interrogated and tortured. What is probably left unveiled is that the police feel perfectly at home brutalizing people in popular murky neighborhoods where state control is left to rival families, as is the case in Bāb al‑Nayrab in Aleppo, where the alleged trafficker was caught and tortured, which in Ottoman times served as an economic conduit between city and countryside. It is as if police brutality comes in tandem to the violence of rival kin groups who operate in areas of the city which are problematic for the state. Police brutality, however, is not part of a concerted effort deployed by the state as a machinery to replace kin violence; it rather acts as a supplement to the latter, imposing its will not necessarily for institutional purposes, but for the personal benefit of members of the police force. In this instance, there may have been prior attempts of embezzlement at the hands of the police task force who was investigating drug trafficking in the area, allegations which were left out of the scope of the dossier under consideration; but even such possibility, which was raised in media outlets outside Syria (see supra the al‑Ḥayāt blurb in C5–4), would not show up in the (relatively) thorough investigation which limited itself to allegations of manslaughter. In other words, even when the Jināyāt would go for an unexpected vendetta against the policemen who may have contributed in an unpremeditated killing, it left out the real corruption at the heart of the police system, namely, schemes of racketeering and embezzlement common to the police force. Thus, even if such investigation of torture may have set a precedent (though no evidence would indicate that torture is being routinely investigated), notwithstanding a moral backlash with the public at large, its very purpose may well have been to cover up for what stands as systemic corruption within the police force. Such acts of torture, not to mention generalized corruption, are fairly common in many liberal democratic societies, but they do run the chance to be open to public scrutiny and investigation, thanks to the liberal mass media or to routine departmental institutional procedures. In authoritarian or totalitarian countries, the bad news achieves its mark only incrementally: torture for the sake of extracting confessions is fairly common in the Syrian police force, even tacitly admitted by the courts (inter alia, C3–1), but invariably taken as a “useful” fait accompli, hence requires no investigation of any kind; so when is it that torture finally exceeds its limits? Which benchmark should be crossed for a matter to become public?

  • 1 The photo was on the front page, among others, of an‑Nahār, Beirut, and al‑Ḥayāt, Beirut, August 1, (...)

2The venerable Bāb al‑Nayrab neighborhood came unexpectedly to the forefront of local and world news in late July 2012 when its two main rival clans, the Barrīs and the Hamidahs, which have been “sharing” it for decades, have been accused of divided loyalties towards the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which took control of parts of the city, in particular its popular south‑western and eastern neighborhoods, thanks to an influx of poorly equipped combatants from the rural areas of Aleppo and Idlib. Newspapers on August 1, 2012, globally carried on their front pages the same photograph of two “thugs” (the allegedly state‑endorsed shabbiḥa) from the Barrī clan, carried on the shoulders of rebel combatants who had beaten them up to death, with their white galabias stained in blood.1 Apparently the executions took place moments after the photo was shot by a photographer working for an international news agency, staining the credibility of the nascent and internationally‑endorsed FSA for its claims for a democratic “secular” Syria. The news reports indicated that ʿashirat Āl‑Barrī had sided with the Asad régime, providing help for the 20,000 or so special and regular armed forces that were stationed on the south‑west of the city.

  • 2 Akhbār al‑Sharq, London (online), 12 July 2004; the official news agency Sānā had reported the deat (...)

3In summer 2004 a parliamentarian by the name of Aḥmad Shaʿbān Barrī was shot to death by allegedly members of the rival Ḥamīdah clan.2 Barrī was shot at the gate of the al‑Ḥaydariyyeh mosque in the vicinity of his Bāb al‑Nayrab home, while his 16‑year old son and 50‑year old cousin were wounded and rushed to the hospital; Barrī’s body was delivered dead at the same hospital. The son was able to identify by name all seven assailants from the Ḥamīdah clan. Four years earlier members of the Barrī clan had attacked the Medical Surgical Hospital in Aleppo, firing sporadic shots all over, killing three and wounding six patients, some of which were unrelated to the longstanding feuds between the two families; one of the patients was the ex‑head of the military intelligence services in the city; the shooting was in retaliation to a previous incident years earlier. In return, members of the Ḥamīdah clan shot to death in 2002 Maḥmūd Barrī, the brother of the parliamentarian who in turn was shot to death two years later. Because Ahmad Shaʿbān Barrī was already at the time serving in parliament, the ministry of justice demanded twice that his parliamentary immunity be withdrawn amid the ongoing investigation for the attack that members of his clan had committed against a public property (al‑māl al‑ʿāmm), the state‑owned hospital; but the parliament refused to endorse the request. Barrī was never brought to trial for alleged “instigation” in the crime, successfully running for a second term in parliament; the Ḥamīdahs took therefore justice in their own hands, opting for his execution.

4We have encountered cases of this sort in chapter 7, though they lacked the luster of the politics of the Barrī–Ḥamīdah feuds. This should not deter us, however, from looking at similarities between the politicized and non‑politicized feuds, as the latter would generally serve as the bedrock to the former, providing for the logistics of retaliation and counter‑retaliation. The non‑political cases in chapter 7 point to the fact that in such retaliatory killings, the outcome of longstanding feuds that would span over several generations (hence the importance of the time factor), judges would invariably override “the institution of the feud,” which in principle has no end in sight, opting for manslaughter over first‑degree murder. Yet, if premeditation means anything in homicidal killings, then the deadly clan rivalries would be the first to fit in such categorization: everything points to a crime that was staged beforehand, with the prior knowledge of all “influential” persons, men and women (the mother could be the leading personality), which either act as “instigators” or else as “indirect participants.” As to the choice of the potential assailant, he could be either a minor (as a preemptive measure to bypass the Jināyāt in favor of a Juvenile Court) or else an adult, but in both instances, they may be unrelated not only to their victims, but even more so to the dead person whose memory they are honoring in their retaliatory act. This permeates the killing, in the very choice of the assailant, with that aura of distance and externality—group feeling primes over the individuality and responsibility of the actor. Yet, the courts have a hard time pinning down the group, even though select members may be subject to investigations and interviews, at times charged with “instigation,” opting instead for the individual actor and charging him for manslaughter if he is above eighteen, or else transferring him to a Juvenile Court if he is a minor. Clan violence, perpetrated thanks to a logic which is alien to the modern nation‑state and is located “outside” it, now has to come to terms with the juridical logic of the latter. That is to say, it all proceeds both ways: as the juridical institutions of the state have to find words and notions that would “fit” such violence within its “civil”—as opposed to ahlī—modern codes on the one hand; but the actors themselves must in turn account their violence within the narrative of the modern civil state on the other. But does such forced mariage de raison lead to an “absorption” of clan violence into the peace settlements of the state? Do the actors themselves manifest a willingness to surrender their never‑ending feuds to state authorities? Considering that the state agents themselves are your regular human beings stained with the logic of the clans and their ʿaṣabiyyas, can they write “unbiased” reports?

5When discussing the medieval Christian ordeal as a practice opposed to judicial torture, the anthropologist of religions Talal Asad reminds us of similarities between the logic of the ordeal and what anthropologists have found in feuds in stateless societies:

  • 3 Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993, 90.

Anthropologists who have analyzed the principles of feuding in so‑called stateless societies have discussed this point thoroughly, although they have not always understood that the equality was ideological and not material—that is, that it concerned the absence of a formal duty to submit to the other side and not the existence of equal resources on both sides. Nevertheless, the point to be stressed is that what anthropologists call feuds, as well as judicial combat and ordeal, are in the first place modes of regulating conflict in which the principal parts are played by the accuser and accused, according to recognized rules, and not by a judicial authority. As such it has essentially nothing to do with resolving doubt—neither accuser nor accused is in a state of doubt about the offense at issue, and the outcome of an ordeal or combat cannot therefore be said to resolve it for them. What it does is to provide rules for producing an unequivocal outcome on which a clear decision about social regulation can be made.3

6What is revealing here is that the logic of the resolution of feuds is different from, and falls outside the scope of, judicial reasoning per se. That is to say, the feud, which takes place between two or more hostile parties or clans, involves a resolution to a conflict outside the elements of proof and persuasion: there are rules to be followed in order to come to terms with an offense. As long as the rules are accepted by all sides, they are simply followed, hence no judicial demonstration is needed to resolve the ongoing conflict. Moreover, the fact that most clan disputes tend to span over generations may indicate how much conflict resolution is not linked to an event (e.g. the killing of a brother or cousin)—as such conflicts are not normally linked to events—but to permanent processes. What happens then when such killings are negotiated and adjudicated by the state? Would the logic of clan feuds submit itself to judicial reasoning?

  • 4 The Marṣad is run by Rami ʿAbdul‑Rahman who has indefatigably chronicled on a daily basis the Syria (...)
  • 5 As reported by the likes of an‑Nahār and al‑Ḥayāt on August 1, 2012, both published in Beirut.

7There is a hovering uncertainty as to what the state can do and to its willingness at containing clan violence. If the Barrī–Ḥamīdah rivalries point to anything in this regard, it is, indeed, that the state has exacerbated their violence rather than undermined it. Clan rivalries get politicized whenever members of one or more clan join as members of various state institutions. Thus, for example, the Barrīs have benefited from the Baath by becoming parliamentarians, or intelligence or army officers, scoring over their rivals, which in turn did not shy away from civil and military official positions. When the Britain‑based “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights”4 bemoaned the events that led to the execution of two of the Barrī “thugs” on July 31, 2012, at the hands of the FSA, as a desperate attempt by the Asad régime “to thrust the Arab clans into the bloody conflict,”5 such claim obfuscates the fact that such clans have “voluntarily” joined ranks with the Baathist state a long time ago, sharing the vulnerabilities of the apparatuses of the state. In such situations the state capitalizes on clan violence, turning it to its benefit whenever it can afford to. In other words, once the configuration of society is structured on the ahl components, all other economic, political, and state components are de facto infected by the latter. There is therefore more of a mujtamaʿ ahlī (clan‑based society) in conjunction with a dawla ahliyya (clan‑based state), with each one exacerbating the power of the other, than a “civil society” or a “civil state.” For that very reason the term “civil war” would be meaningless for clan‑based states and societies, as ḥarb ahliyya would be more appropriate.

  • 6 Claude Lévi‑Strauss, “Guerre et commerce chez les Indiens de l’Amérique du Sud,” Renaissance, vol. (...)

8Which raises the issue as to why clan violence persists in the modern world: What role does it serve? What is its political or economic logic, if any? In chapter 9 we debated the relationship that land ownership nurtured with crime: whenever a land conflict arises, which might lead to a criminal indictment (which could be homicidal), would that indicate that the “exchange” of goods and services failed to work properly? Is violence an inherent aspect of exchange to the point that the two would only work together? Speaking of “primitive societies,” which are organized on the one hand on an internal system of pacification through exchange (gifts, symbols, property, and women), and, on the other hand, on an external system of warfare, whereby exchange is hostile simply because it occurs with the outside of the clan, hence is exogamic, Claude Lévi‑Strauss notes that war is contingent on exchange: when the exchange is not successful, war becomes its immanent partner.6 The partnership of exchange and war is therefore necessary to “pacify” a society from the inside. In contemporary Syria clans do matter a lot, and in this book we have underscored the relationships that clans nurture with crime, for instance, when it comes to honor killings or the exchange of property, as symbols of violence and exchange, which cannot be separated. But what distinguishes, however, Lévi‑Strauss’ “primitive societies” from the ones in contemporary Syria is that while the former are endowed with an “autonomous totality” and a “homogeneous unity” within each clan formation, the latter belong to complex societies, hence are also stratified along class and ethnic antagonisms within the clans themselves. If primitive societies are based on the internal coherence of the clan, so that the division of labor and wealth would not affect their homogeneous unity, war and (unequal) exchange are the outcome of coercive relations between clans. To wit, what happens between clans in primitive societies takes place within clans in Syria: violence within clans is an outcome of unequal exchange due to class stratification and tense rural–urban relations. We encountered such scenario with the Kitkānīs (C9–4), a Kurdish clan from the northern‑central region of ʿAyn al‑ʿArab, which unlike the Kurds of ʿIfrīn are not “family” based, as it is the larger unit of the clan that stipulates the rules of exchange among families. Attempts to assassinate members of the Kitkānīs who at the time were serving as lawyers and judges in Aleppo, have pointed to abusive land conflicts—the Kitkānīs’ hegemonic status in land possession—in parallel to political rivalries between Baathist nationalists versus Kurdish nationalists; in addition to rural–urban tensions, whereby the big landowners abandoned their rural life behind in favor of lucrative liberal professions in the city: no clan would therefore afford acting as a coherent unit in a modern nation‑state.

  • 7 Pierre Clastres, Archéologie de la violence. La guerre dans les sociétés primitives, Paris: Édition (...)
  • 8 Clastres, Archéologie, 55: “l’indivision est fondamentalement politique.”
  • 9 The Concept of the Political, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
  • 10 Clastres, Archéologie, 60.
  • 11 Clastres, Archéologie, 90.

9But before we indulge further at discussing the role of the state in relation to clan violence, we need a little détour regarding primitive societies: Is violence contingent primarily on exchange? That is to say, in Lévi‑Strauss’ theoretical representation, war would be absent once exchange is successful: considering that the autarchic clan community lives in economic independency and self‑sufficiency, both exogamic exchange and war are external necessities, while the presence of war is a formula of failure of exchange. Pierre Clastres challenged precisely such assumptions.7 The crux of Clastres’ argument amounts at politicizing violence in primitive societies: joint ownership, common identity, economic autarchy, instead of acting as indicators of the non‑political nature of primitive societies, point, on the contrary, to their fundamental political formations.8 Politics within the mechanically cohesive clan means that society organizes itself on a structure of non‑domination, that is to say, on the absence of any domination, including that of the state. War is therefore only with an external clan‑enemy, which strangely overlaps with Carl Schmitt’s concept of the political (hence of the state) as one of division between an external friend–enemy di‑vision, that is, one where the nation‑state is internally cohesive thanks to an external foe, otherwise we’re into civil war.9 The logic of primitive societies is therefore one of difference, among clans who are at war with one another for no other reason but to preserve their internal ideals of harmony, while the logic of generalized exchange is one of identity among groups.10 Thus, while Lévi‑Strauss looks at violence as “failed exchange,” hence has no value in itself, Clastres politicizes war, separating it from the contingency of exchange. Which leads Clastres to a reversal of the Hobbesian Leviathan: instead of the state as the agency that monopolizes violence, hence is against war, in primitive societies war is against the state.11 That is to say, primitive societies avoid at all cost the presence of the state, as a political institution that would monopolize violence, opting instead for war among clans, preserving their internal political integration and harmony.

10Can we conceive in Syrian society the violence within and between clans, as depicted in some of the cases in this book, as a war against the state? Set within such theoretical perspective, clan violence seems like an old internal mechanism that would preserve a takeover of society by the state. The outcome is more of a double bind, which remains unresolved, one in which the state exacerbates the violence among clans, for example, by recruiting clan members into the civil and military apparatuses of the state on the one hand, and on the other hand, where groups use the state institutions, among them the court system, to externally monitor their internal violence.

11In the transformation of Europe from the classical age whereby the Sovereign’s whim was all that mattered, where public executions in all their cruelty were at the heart of Sovereign power, towards the nineteenth‑century disciplinary penitentiary, whereby punishment had to be adjusted and calculated through institutionalized legal and medical practices, torture was in principle transformed into an affair of the state for the protection of territory against its enemies, and which had to be secretly practiced, outside the public eye. Hence it had to be kept secretive, as its unwanted revelation was only a matter of embarrassment for liberal democracies. For its part, police brutality was a necessary “excess,” something that had to be acknowledged and fought on moral grounds. In the Foucauldian scheme of power that subjectivizes, invariably creating sources of normativity and resistance, the state would not act in broad concerted strokes, as it did under the ancien régime of divine power. In societies under the predominance of kin, it is the very notion of subjectivity that is at stake: as the socio‑symbolic value of kin primes over other institutions, be it justice, the law, or the state, or even the market economy, the destabilization of the old patriarchal structure brings unexpected consequences. Within such destabilization the state attempts to promote itself as the sole Master‑Signifier providing meaning for the fractured “societies” that would make the “nation” possible. In lieu of the Foucauldian scheme of power that brings forth subjectivities, only to subjugate them to the various disciplinary medical, juridical, educational, and military drill, the state in non‑disciplinary societies (still based on remnant sovereignties) does not have that kind of luxury; it rather accommodates itself by various means: public ceremonies, cult of the only leader, the colonial and imperialistic enemy, torture, recruitment of influential clan members, and police and intelligence apparatuses which suspect everyone and could potentially arrest anyone. In other words, the ideological apparatuses of the state interpellate subjects without the vernacular culture of subjectivism that would create the texture of “society” under the banner of a common nationalism.

12The wager in many of the rulings in this book 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 or her own behalf—with the interpretation of the meaning of his or her own act, which they were unable to do on their 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 that “padding” of the convict’s “consciousness” not precisely what the courts do all the time, and that our cases are no exception? As we have seen in Chapter 3, courts and judges seem to be taken aback when a 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 would only meet 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 “absorb” 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.

  • 12 Such views are handily expressed in Bruno Latour, La fabrique du droit: une ethnographie du Conseil (...)

13There are two schools of thought when it comes to law: either law stands as autonomous on its own, or else it is part of society. What does the autonomy of law mean, and is it possible to envisage law “without” society? The autonomy implies that the law as a homogeneous corpus (or at least aims at homogeneity and for being systematic) primarily purposes at maintaining its internal modus operandi in terms of the logic of its operations (validation of facts and the finding of appropriate articles and codes). Even though the construction of the narrative of the crime scene is primarily based on witnessing (without which there would be no case), which in turn is based on the common sense knowledge of witnesses, the processes that involve validating facts through witnessing and forensic evidence are internal to the law, hence independent of any societal becoming. That law is therefore primarily busy at validating itself from any external environment, be it social, economic, political or scientific constituted our point of departure for this study. It goes without saying that such a view has even more implications for contemporary Syria, a quintessentially undemocratic country with an authoritarian régime. Even under undemocratic circumstances, however, the law primarily struggles with itself, that is, it is primarily busy at finding the rules for its own validity and acceptability: how to transform the statements of witnesses into facts that could be validated; how to construct a narrative out of the facts, which would lead to the final verdict; and how to find the appropriate coded articles for the corroborated facts. Even though the legal enterprise is very much different from the scientific, what they share in common is their internal autonomy and the logic of the juristic or scientific enterprise. When it comes to law, it has a form of life of its own, which consists at constructing a “case” as an artifact, that is, as a dossier that could be objectively disseminated through the work of multiple actors, independently from one another, embedded as it is within a grand narrative based on fact with the appropriate coded articles. For that very reason, what is crucial from our perspective is how a single case unfolds, primarily in the enterprise of witnessing itself; the association of common sense statements delivered by witnesses into validated facts ready to be used in memos, reports and the final verdict; the juxtaposition of witnessing with forensic evidence, both of which end up as validated statements approved as such in the verdict; finally, the association of all those facts with the coded articles which prove more general than the case itself. Various claims of “corruption” into the Syrian judiciary, whatever their merits, would not touch upon the “integrity” of the system itself, namely, that, like any other legal system, the Syrian judiciary only survives through its internal rules of proof and persuasion, whatever the level of corruption and political pressures. Even if we know for a fact that police brutality is at times excessive, that judges are remunerated by private parties, that some of the judgments may reflect a political standoff, the autonomy of the law still holds under such circumstances. Thus, even when allegations of “corruption” circulate, the assumption of common laymen is that law and the judiciary should not be under the mercy of social and political pressures, which, in our language, raises the issue of autonomy and integrity not simply apropos possible corruptions, but more importantly, in relation to the internal logic of the decision making process. To put it bluntly, the more the researcher “socializes” the law, looking for social clues behind the drafting of codes and in judicial decision making, the less rewarding the research experience will be, as it would fail to see how internal such processes effectively are. Law is therefore autonomous the way the natural sciences are, except that in the latter the logic of verification of facts is entirely different, beginning with what constitutes a “fact” in science.12

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

14There is that lurking 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, which proves incompatible with traditional values, on the other.13 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 in favor of the traditional networks of kin and honor, while crime could 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 for integration. 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 actor would have worked out in their imaginary, and finally where the real would be what the actors experience through their body (sexuality).

15I would 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 or violent nation‑state infrastructures. 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 did such practices not fragment 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, while problems tend to erupt only when a family under financial stress is unable to maintain its supremacy through the combination of kin and honor. It is well known that under such conditions, in a monetarist economy, large families (based traditionally on landowning), tribal shaykhs, and assemblies of elders attempt to consolidate their power, while adding new functions.

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

16Where do honor strategies fall in all this? The exchanges of honor would be analyzed as strategies (or procedures or 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 deployed within two parallel registers. One that would be explicitly played 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 institutions would require a heavy investment and legitimation in honor, for instance, in strategies of gift‑exchange, even though social groups would benefit unequally.14

17As Pierre Bourdieu argued, the grammar of honor should not only be acknowledged as legitimate for its own sake, but should also be incorporated as lex inscrita in the habitus of all the subjects that form the integrated society. Which poses the following question: How much of the grammar of honor is rooted in the objective conditions of the integrated society, serving among its processes of integration in the same way that kinship rules codify the choices of marriage, and how much would be based on an internal subjectified emotion? The analyses of Bourdieu often point to the fact that actors carry in their actions the burden of public opinion, hence are pushed by external motivations with no traceable internal subjective strategies (or intimate convictions). Hence the compromising character of such honor games, which reflect an eye to public opinion, manhood, bluffing, an outward game among families and clans, and double games. Herein lies the importance of criminal dossiers, in that they could reveal more intimate convictions than the ones anthropologists trace to public opinion and custom.

18For the moment we will have to acknowledge that as far as honor and kinship go there are two levels of analysis. One that takes into account the objective externality of customary rules, and another more obscure level that would document the various strategies of individual actors. It remains unclear, however, whether economic strategies would remain dissimulated under the umbrella of kin and honor, or whether such an opposition is infertile.

  • 15 I borrow this concept from Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large. Cultural Dimensions of Globalizatio (...)

19Which amounts to the narrative approach adopted in this book. In spite of a narrative’s complexity, and its multiple locations and protagonists, the court would usually only be interested in identifying the criminal, and in determining whether the act ought to be classified as ʿamd (premeditated first‑degree murder) or qaṣd (unpremeditated manslaughter). Suffice it to say that it would be useful to organize the crime scene for analytical purposes into its smaller narrative components, which in turn would be based on location. The advantage would be to allocate a separate narrative for each episode, and document how witnesses construct—through §police and §prosecution investigationslocal criminal episodes within the context‑driven process of the production of locality.15 Through such labor, a process of intense negotiation is going on: first, between the various state agencies and the social actors on the ground, but also within each family and clan, acting as individualized collectivities, for example, in the Tirmanini land case (C9–1), between the son who killed and the father who allegedly instigated, and who initially claimed the murder on his own behalf.

  • 16 Michel de Certeau, L’invention du quotidien: 1/Arts de faire, Paris: Union Générale d’Éditions: 10/ (...)
  • 17 I borrow this notion of “context” from Appadurai, which he associates with the concrete experience (...)
  • 18 See my Grammars of Adjudication, Beirut: Institut Français du Proche–Orient, 2007, Chapter 11.

20There are two levels of power relations in each case‑file, one from the judicial apparatus, and the other from the local actors themselves, most of which act as witnesses to the crime scene. The judicial apparatus is a homogenizing force to the never‑ending project of the nation‑state, a project fraught with violence, due to the fact that the state attempts to “normalize” individuals through various educational, legal, medical, and disciplinary techniques. To do so, institutions and apparatuses are not enough per se, as the techniques of normalization must get to the bottom of individual lives. Michel de Certeau has long argued that the transformation of spaces into places requires a conscious moment.16 In other words, social actors anticipate first of all a “local knowledge” that they themselves contribute in producing, the kind of knowledge that would let them go on with their daily routinized lives, classify things, know other individuals and groups, ascribe names to people and places, all of which establish the context of a local political economy, where land would play a predominant role (Chapter 9). Such locally produced knowledge establishes itself within a contextual framework, which finds itself competing with other contexts, predominantly that of the nation‑state.17 Indeed, local actors, with their sense of an intimate place tailored to their needs—the political economy of kin, honor, and land—are increasingly challenged by the context‑producing activities of the nation‑state, which seeks for the control of the territory as a homogeneous entity, receiving its naming from bureaucrats, civil servants, and the military. When, for instance, a crime occurs, state institutions like the police and judiciary immediately intervene, and an investigation soon begins to unravel, with all kinds of local actors, situations, and places associated to it. What is at stake here is the very modernity of the nation‑state, whereby a crime becomes a “public” concern, subject to the scrutiny of the niyāba ʿāmma, or the public prosecution office, which acts like a Durkheimian “collective consciousness” to society at large. This is a far cry from the now defunct Ottoman system, whereby a crime would remain “private,” situated within the “next‑of‑kin” (walī al‑damm) domain, namely, those directly blood‑related to the victim. Even when in rare occasions the latter would opt for a court settlement, and seek the authority of a sharīʿa judge, we are stricto sensu in “private” domain, as the judge would neither push for an investigation, nor consider the dispute anything more than private.18

  • 19 Appadurai, Modernity, 189.
  • 20 Michel Foucault, Les anormaux. Cours au Collège de France, 1974–1975, Paris: Gallimard–Le Seuil, 19 (...)

21As “the nation‑state relies for its legitimacy on the intensity of its meaningful presence in a continuous body of bounded territory,”19 it establishes all kinds of techniques of power for the nationalization of space. The new penal régime, which in Syria saw its official emancipation in the 1949 code (even though the modernization efforts go back to the Ottoman Tanẓīmāt), attempts to control the lives of people through new technologies of power, in form similar to the ones that marked the transition between the old absolutist feudal régimes of old Europe towards their modern counterparts, where the power of the nation‑station does not rest anymore on the power of the sovereign. The individual lives of people—through language and discourse—become all of a sudden important: they have to be accounted for and rationalized, through a language that combines the juridical with the medical (psychiatric power). Crimes are not without reason, and they have a causality associated to them, in the sense that once motivation is explained, that of the subject who committed the act, the totality of the act becomes explainable. In what seems on the surface like a myriad of interrogation techniques, memos, court sessions, psychiatric and medical assessments, all of which aimed at discovering the true culprit, are in the final analysis no more than attempts to normalize the lives of ordinary people. In what Michel Foucault has called “la normalisation des conduites,” which in this instance unfolded in nineteenth‑century France under the industrial revolution, and which involves a “gearing” (engrenage) of various powers, in particular the juridical and psychiatric, what was indeed at stake was the “abnormal” behavior, hence all that was not normalized.20 It is as if the postcolonial state, while lacking the industrial and financial resources of its progenitor, finds it necessary the pursue similar strategies of normalization, hence the necessity to look at crime as a public concern, and the criminal as someone who acted with a motivation, and whose act needs to be understood, thoroughly analyzed, through a combination of judicial and psychiatric techniques, so that its reasons would be unveiled for the sake of the public good. Hence the new penal economy, which in the case of Greater Syria was inaugurated by the Ottoman penal code of 1858, develops a keen interest towards crime, its rationality, and the presumed reasons that make the crime intelligible, in addition to the rationality of the subject that needs to be punished for the sake of the common good—the individual “coming back” to society through punishment.

22With the luxury of individual case‑files, what we have analyzed in detail is how local terrains as individualized places are mapped in terms of habitation, production, and moral security. In this confrontation between local actors and state agents from the police and judiciary, some of which recruited from the same local environment, what gets narrated are those micro representations of space, production, kin and family relations. The inscription of locality is therefore inscribed in the body and habitus, and actors represent it in what they do and say—or the un‑said. We have tracked such representations of locality, as expressed by “witnesses” in their encounters with state authorities: how they were examined, their statements delivered, and local relations represented. Perhaps the crux of the matter comes to this: When it comes to witnessing, what is it that stands as a truthful statement or confession, and how are such decisions made by judges and magistrates?


1 The photo was on the front page, among others, of an‑Nahār, Beirut, and al‑Ḥayāt, Beirut, August 1, 2012; both newspapers did not have reporters on the ground in Aleppo, compiling instead the Syrian Revolt from newswires around the world; the reported incident took place on July 31st.

2 Akhbār al‑Sharq, London (online), 12 July 2004; the official news agency Sānā had reported the death as an “unfortunate accident” with no further details, while the state‑owned Tishrīn reported it in full.

3 Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993, 90.

4 The Marṣad is run by Rami ʿAbdul‑Rahman who has indefatigably chronicled on a daily basis the Syrian Revolt in 2011–13.

5 As reported by the likes of an‑Nahār and al‑Ḥayāt on August 1, 2012, both published in Beirut.

6 Claude Lévi‑Strauss, “Guerre et commerce chez les Indiens de l’Amérique du Sud,” Renaissance, vol. 1, New York, 1943.

7 Pierre Clastres, Archéologie de la violence. La guerre dans les sociétés primitives, Paris: Éditions de l’Aube, 1997.

8 Clastres, Archéologie, 55: “l’indivision est fondamentalement politique.”

9 The Concept of the Political, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

10 Clastres, Archéologie, 60.

11 Clastres, Archéologie, 90.

12 Such views are handily expressed in Bruno Latour, La fabrique du droit: une ethnographie du Conseil d'État, Paris: Éditions La Découverte et Syros, 2002.

13 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.

14 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.

15 I borrow this concept from Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large. Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, Minnesota University Press, 1996, Chapter 9.

16 Michel de Certeau, L’invention du quotidien: 1/Arts de faire, Paris: Union Générale d’Éditions: 10/18, 1980.

17 I borrow this notion of “context” from Appadurai, which he associates with the concrete experience of a “neighborhood,” in the sense of a living community, which produces its own local knowledge and sense of place, and whose knowledge is not limited to the textual, and where the non‑discursive would play a predominant role besides the discursive.

18 See my Grammars of Adjudication, Beirut: Institut Français du Proche–Orient, 2007, Chapter 11.

19 Appadurai, Modernity, 189.

20 Michel Foucault, Les anormaux. Cours au Collège de France, 1974–1975, Paris: Gallimard–Le Seuil, 1999, pp. 124ff.

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