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The Crime of Writing

Zouhair Ghazzal

Chapter 2. What would stand as enough evidence?

Testo integrale

1An Idlib judge, prior to drafting an indictment for a homicide (C5–5) in which a young school teacher was accused of killing her husband, problematized “confession” into six broad categories:

  1. A judicial confession must be descriptive, personal, frank, and emanating from a free will, while at the same time in accordance with reality.
  2. When there is a denial to the original avowal, as was the case here with both prime suspects having denied, in the presence of a military prosecutor, most of what they had stated earlier, the earlier confession could still stand as valid, in particular if the denial would create an implausible reality, that is, a “view contrary to the accepted reality (khilāf li‑l‑ḥaqīqa al‑rāsikha).” In our case here, it would have been implausible that the victim would have died either in an act of suicide or targeted by assassins other than the two suspects.
  3. An avowal must be devoid of confusions, ambiguities, contradictions, and in no need of manipulated interpretations to become intelligible down to its finest particulars (juzʾiyyāt).
  4. An avowal could also be implicit (iʿtirāf ḍimnī) in the sense that the suspect avoided any direct acknowledgment of a truth, but nevertheless her statements, when interpreted in conjunction with other statements, either by the same suspect or by another witness, could bear the light of a hidden acknowledgment.
  5. In all the above instances, it would be up to the judge to decipher a genuine confession from a faked one, or perceive an acknowledgment in the process of an interview or a police report. However, and contrary to what the defense attorney in our case here had repeatedly stated, denying an avowal1 (rujūʿ ʿan iʿtirāf) is not enough for the judge to drop the confession in question, as the denial itself could be devoid of any truth.
  6. Finally, the aim of all this tedious but essential work in sorting out confessions and acknowledgments would be to determine for each homicidal case “the cause of the killing (al‑bāʿith fi‑l‑qatl),” considering that “each criminal act is in need of a motive (dāfiʿ).”
  • 2 . Gregory M. Matoesian, Law and the Language of Identity. Discourse in the William Kennedy Smith Ra (...)

2In contrast to the Anglo–American systems, labeled as adversarial, an inquisitorial civil‑law system like the Syrian is mostly based on a textual construction of evidence by lawyers and judges. What is meant by the textuality of the case is that from day one, from the time the police takes hold of the case and interrogates suspects and witnesses, each police memo is drafted with an eye on the court work which is to follow. The original oral utterances, uttered in colloquial Arabic, are de facto transformed into written accounts, or at best into mini‑narratives, ready to be disseminated into the paperwork that needs to be completed between the investigating judge, the referral judge, and the upper courts. In other words, there is a process of textualization of the case‑file at work from the very beginning, which de facto gives importance not to what was originally uttered at the police station, or in the privacy of a judge’s office, or to courtroom performance, but to how all such performances have been drafted in writing. This may seem odd, in particular from the perspective of the exuberant performances in American courtrooms, where interactionist strategies between defendants, witnesses, and lawyers, is what jurors and the broader public would remember most, and would serve as the basis for their closed‑door deliberations, which are generally devoid of any textual material. In fact, the rules of evidence, developed over hundreds of years of American jurisprudence, are there to ensure that the facts that go before a jury have been subjected to scrutiny and challenge from both sides. All of that would be lost if the jurors were to go out on their own, do their own research at home or in libraries, googling facts and evidence online, or emailing and discussing evidence with people outside the courtroom. In all their work jurors are therefore not required to thoroughly examine any textual evidence while deliberating. It is indeed ironic that the American court system, which has the most comprehensive techniques for transcribing verbatim all of what has been uttered in the space of a courtroom, in particular the cross‑examination of suspects and witnesses, costing taxpayers hundreds of dollars per hour for courtroom work, leaves all such textual material out of the reach of juries. That’s why the sociology of the U.S. courtroom has taken a turn towards interactive situationism, as best evidenced in the work of Gregory Matoesian, which overtly looks at cross‑examinations as situated encounters where linguistic and bodily performance are paramount elements of the trial scene.2

  • 3 . In the Sabiha Dalʿun case, C5–5.

3The Syrian system goes in a different direction. In the six rules established above by the referral judge while trimming evidence to the needs of the Jināyāt court, what is taken for granted is that in the absence of verbatim statements by all participants in the case‑file, what remains are edited accounts or mini‑narratives that lawyers and judges would disseminate while constructing evidence. That is to say, such accounts are already embedded within the scope of an interpretive work which goes unnoticed. When the said judge notes in his first rule of evidence that a “a judicial confession must be descriptive, personal, frank, and emanating from a free will, while at the same time in accordance with reality,” he avoids the crucial issue regarding how such elements of “frankness” and “honesty” would be “revealed” to the judge. Considering that the chief judge, for the sole purpose of drafting his final verdict, would only have at his disposal the totality of memos and reports, his decision to consider a statement as “frank” or “reliable” must be an exercise of personal hubris. In practice, however, “frankness” and “reliability” become routinized attributes to all kinds of statements which are simply approved without much explanation. Moreover, the identification of statements in their totality as having been an outcome of a witness’ “willingness to cooperate, and deliver her testimony freely and without constraints,” often comes identified as such in an indictment without further vindication. Thus, police reports, among others, are drafted as if every word is reliable, and could be reliably disseminated in other reports and memos, not to mention in verdicts. There is thus a self‑referentiality in the assessment of statements delivered by witnesses, usually in the form of self‑contained assertions that alert the “reader” (primarily lawyers and judges) that what has been delivered is perfectly safe and reliable, providing the prosecution with the “direct” evidence that it needs. For its own sake, the defense can only play the dubious game of giving prime importance to later denials, which at times pushes police and investigators, in a preemptive gesture, to pressure suspects to deliver statements that would openly state that they have not been subjected to any physical or psychological duress. Thus, for example, at the end of a long interview that a certain Ahmad had been subjected to,3 the judge preemptively asked him, “Did you deliver those statements to us because you’ve been beaten up or tortured?,” to which the defendant replied, “No, I’ve only stated what happened in reality (dhakartu al‑wāqiʿ). The military intelligence folks had beaten me up twice or three times with a khayzaran stick, so I told them, Don’t beat me up, I’ll tell you everything you need to know. So they gave me time to rest, which helped me recuperate a great deal of my freedom. Even if I were subjected to some beating and torture at the intelligence unit, I nevertheless enjoyed my complete freedom during my investigation.” And the final question was also related to torture: “Are there any traces of beating on your body?” “There’s a small trace on the bottom of my left foot and the right one too.” “The defendant took off his socks, and there were slight traces of bruising on the bottom of his feet.” The cruel irony of such statements is that in order to deny that his statements were furnished under torture (or its equivalent), the defendant had to state that, even though he was subject to some torture, he nevertheless managed to deliver his statements in total freedom. As he bluntly said, he had “stated reality,” no less no more.

4What is it that lawyers and judges openly challenge in police reports and examinations conducted by judges? Certainly not the mode of transmission of the content itself, which remains caught in its self‑veracity and its inability to see that the questions themselves, the setting, the situated encounter, and the transcription on paper of oral utterances, all of which provide large areas of uncertainties which ought to be carefully examined. Leaving such uncertainties aside, lawyers and judges generally operate through cut‑and‑paste techniques of the transcribed content. Herein lies the importance of allegations of torture as a tool to deny the veracity of statements attributed to a suspect: it is the last resort left in the hands of suspects, witnesses, and their attorneys to deny in toto the validity of statements (inter alia, C4–1, C5–5). Since the process of content transmission is generally left in the dark and not challenged, torture becomes the route to escape the scrutiny of the process of accumulating evidence. As no one seems to be bothered in the techniques of transmission and transcription of utterances from the oral to the written text, torture seems the way out to deny the totality of the transmission in question. But as the referral judge has stated in his six rules of thumb above, a statement that was later denied should not be totally dropped because of allegations of torture or similar claims. There is that “reality principle” that lurks behind all confessions, acknowledgments and denials: What is it that makes more sense, statement X or its denial, non‑X? Judges, we are told, have to operate through a reality principle, and such a principle, we should add, from the perspective that we have defended in this study, is more “textual” than “real,” in the sense that what judges are looking for are textual consistencies or inconsistencies while sorting out various statements uttered by different actors under various circumstances. The sorting out process remains by and large the most invisible part of adjudication, and for that matter its least challenged and most ambiguous aspect.

5The system of collecting evidence, interrogating suspects and witnesses, rests therefore on the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. In other words, the system operates within that broad presupposition that policemen, prosecutors, judges, doctors and psychiatrists are all experts whose area of expertise cannot be challenged in terms of its content and practices. For instance, a policeman would know how to interrogate a suspect, and therefore the officer can neither be challenged on the practice of interrogation itself, nor on the transcription of oral evidence into a written text, ready for use by lawyers, judges, and other court experts, as if that was a taboo practice.

What is enough evidence?

6 [C2–1] The couple in question had divorced and remarried twice amid allegations of spousal abuse and battering. In the aftermath of their second unhappy wedding, the husband had allegedly burned his wife to death on 17 October 1993 in a popular Aleppo neighborhood. The victim woke her husband that morning so that he would buy some bread. The distressed husband, who disliked being disturbed in his sleep, addressed his wife with insulting remarks, which soon metamorphosed into a major fight, until he urged her to drop her dowry rights (a financial bargain that would pave the way for a second divorce), but she refused. While she went out to clean the dooryard, her husband went after her, full of anger, insulting her parents. He then allegedly sprayed her with kerosene and burned her dress. As her body was caught with flames she repeatedly begged him to quench the flames. But he turned away while she kept begging him, and when he left the house, she followed him, but he rejected her plea, until two passersby extinguished the fire that was eating her body. Her brother rushed her to the hospital where she died few days later.

7In the referral judge report signed on July 1994, sixteen items of evidence were listed.

  1. Initial police report on 17 October 1993 from the neighborhood station.
  2. Police memo of the station of Muslimin on 22 October 1993 which reported the victim’s death.
  3. Autopsy of the victim’s body on 22 October 1993 confirming that the death occurred as a result of the burned body.
  4. The investigation of the peace judge in the region of Jabal Samʿān regarding the couple’s marital life before they moved to the city.
  5. Statements of the accused husband on 7 December 1993 to the investigating judge: “I did not burn my wife; the day of the incident I woke up from my sleep at the hearing of screams, and saw that there was a fire in the house. I tried to extinguish the fire but did not succeed, which caused few burns in my body. I rushed out of the house and informed her brother, while in the meantime some persons helped me and my wife to extinguish the fires over our bodies.”
  6. Statements of the witness Ahmad al‑Hasan (victim’s brother) to the investigating judge on 23 November 1993 in which he stated that his little daughter came to him and said that she saw her aunt on fire (the two houses were close enough). “When I rushed to my sister’s home they had her in a car, while her husband was in the street. She told me that her husband had burned her, so I went and told the police. She died as the result of that, and I’m aware of conflicts between my sister and her husband on family matters.”
  7. Statements of the witness Zakariyya to the same judge on 29 November 1993: “I saw a fire inside one of the homes, and with the help of another person we managed to extinguish the fire. I saw a woman who had escaped to the street, and helped her to the hospital. I don’t know whether the fire was caused by fate alone or someone’s act, but did notice that she was screaming: ‘burn me!’”4
  8. Statements of the witness Muhammad to the same judge on 7 December 1993 regarding a visit he had made to the victim at the hospital, when her brother, mother, and aunt were present, and in which she informed him that “my husband burned me from behind.”
  9. Statements of the witness Muhammad Salim to the same judge on 7 December 1993, who had also visited the victim at the Kindi hospital, that he heard her say to a person that came to receive her approval to appoint a lawyer for her lawsuit, that her husband was the one who was responsible for burning her and damaging her body.
  10. Statements by the witness Sarah to the same judge on 12 December 1993 that she saw the victim and her husband rushing from their home towards the street and both of them with flames over their bodies. She had learned that the victim had attempted to burn herself before.
  11. Statements of the witness Fatima on 9 December 1993: “I knew the victim and she was a nervous person, as she attempted fourteen years ago to burn herself, and I’ve also heard that she had attempted to commit suicide in Lebanon, and that in the last incident she attempted to kill herself.”
  12. Statements of the victim’s mother on 16 January 1994 in which she confirmed that her daughter had informed her of conflicts with her husband, who had demanded that she drops her dowry rights (both the muqaddam and muʾakhkhar). While cleaning the doorway her daughter had felt that flames were burning her dress from behind, and that her daughter’s husband received some burns while his wife was attempting to get hold of him.
  13. Statements of the witness Yusuf on 3 February 1994 also confirming the conflict between husband and wife, the nervousness of the victim, who once attempted to burn herself with kerosene. The witness did not eye‑witness that event but was reported to him by his wife.
  14. Another witness, the mukhtār of the neighborhood, confirmed the conflicting nature of the relationship, the divorce and remarriage. When the victim’s father and brother came to his office for a death certificate, he asked them whether they were of the opinion that it was the husband who did it. “They heard prior to her death that it was the husband who burned her, but for their part they did not believe that such was the case.”
  15. The person who visited the victim at the hospital in order to work out a wakāla (act of representation) for her confirmed to the judge on 6 February 1994 that she had told him that it was her husband who burned her.
  16. Finally, the witness Wardah, who was the victim’s neighbor, stated on 16 April 1994 that, contrary to what the defense had claimed, he never talked to the victim when he visited her at the hospital, and that she did not inform him that she had attempted to burn herself.

8After the above list of depositions and statements from various witnesses, the judge recommended in July 1994 that the higher Jināyāt court to condemn the defendant Mustafa Ahmad (b. 1959) for manslaughter (qaṣd) pursuant to article 533 of the penal code, avoiding a premeditated indictment (ʿamd) that could have meant permanent incarceration or even the death penalty.

9How did the judge proceed with his qaṣd opinion? A preliminary analysis of the sixteen items above reveals that the first four—police reports, investigations, and autopsy—remain inconclusive, as they are neither in favor of the plaintiff nor the defendant. The fifth item comes from the defendant himself, in which he denied all allegations of murder. The remaining items (6–16), which are statements by various witnesses, either confirm that the wife was burned to death by her husband, or else deny such wrongdoing and focus instead either on the victim’s instability, her previously (unconfirmed) suicidal attempts, or else on accounts of hers in which she had allegedly “confessed” a final suicidal note that eventually placed her at the Kindi hospital for the few days before she died. The problem, however, is that most facts were not based on prime witnessing, but only on statements either from the victim herself or her close family. The victim seems to have confessed to some that her husband threw kerosene at her, while other alleged statements place the responsibility squarely upon her. The lack of any prime evidence places an even harder bargain on the chief judge, as he would need to question those witnesses very thoroughly simply to go beyond their initial declarations and to make sure that their accounts are not imagined or based on hearsay. Thus item 6 goes in favor of the plaintiff since the witness Ahmad stated that the victim had herself told him, while on her way to the hospital suffering from her burns, that it was indeed her husband who had attempted to burn her. Items 8, 9, 12, 15 and 16 all lead to similar conclusions. On the other hand, items 5, 7, 10, 11, 13 and 14 do not provide any conclusive certainty that it was the husband who did it: they rather point to previous suicidal attempts, and to statements allegedly uttered by the victim herself on her deathbed confessing a self‑inflicted damage. If such statements are not fully in favor of the plaintiff, they should at least throw some confusion at the prospect that only the husband must have done it. In sum, a preliminary assessment would reveal that there is nothing conclusive, and that the two parties and their witnesses should have ended with a match nul, or six items for each.

10When in the early phases of the investigation the referral judge, in his preliminary synthesis of the case, recommended for a deliberate but non‑premeditated killing, he was into a situation where he could neither declare the husband guilty of premeditation, nor that he was innocent, what would have been a square admittance that the wife did commit suicide, as some of the witnesses alleged. He therefore opted for a commonsensical middle ground, where with the clause of extenuating circumstances the husband would get just what he needs: a 6–7 year sentence. This comes in conjunction with the fact that forensic evidence plays no role, as no lab test was conducted that would have tipped the balance in one direction or another: homicide or suicide. In other words, what the judge was saying in his assessment is that “even though I do not have hard evidence, the deliberate killing seems the most ‘reasonable’ to me.” All this suggests a motif that we will encounter in the majority of cases in this study, namely, that in the absence of hard forensics, the statements of witnesses tend to become primordial, but only in the way that they are edited, selected, disseminated, and contextualized in various reports—more of a cut‑and‑paste operation than one of careful hermeneutics—which places witnessing at the forefront of the court system.

The aura of witnessing

11In the same way that Max Weber valued “charisma” as an essential trait to political leadership, eye‑witnessing would have no value without that “aura” that comes with the persona of the witness and the mystery that surrounds it. It is indeed the eye‑witness that must tell the truth, because no one else has witnessed the event. Without that witness there would be no “case” per se, as no narrative would be viable enough to sustain it. But witnesses are ordinary men and women, and hence unreliable, as no two witnesses account for the same event in the same way. Moreover, since witnessing is an institution constructed on narrative work, hence based on the aura of the eye‑witness, a speaker’s utterances to police and judicial authorities is obviously of prime importance—but only in conjunction to the hearer’s interpretation. That aura is even more pronounced when the surviving victim turns out in person as the main—if not only—witness, as if having survived manslaughter and its repercussion, the victim metamorphoses into an eye‑witness‑victim. In this instance, the style of narration—or accounting—receives its urgency from the “being‑there‑on‑my‑own.” Whenever the victim did not survive the assault, the attention is tuned towards that “only” eye‑witness who simply happened to be there at the right moment; or else that “only” witness may not have been that lonely after all, and someone else is ready to furnish evidence. Sometimes, as evidenced in the case of the schoolteacher accused of killing her husband (C5–5), the only witnesses were the perpetrators themselves, which in itself presents an embarrassment to the authorities: constructing a case from the vantage viewpoint of the murderers themselves! In this instance, the external gaze is totally absent, and the court finds itself at the mercy of the killer‑witness who will tell the truth—from his or her standpoint. All such witnessing—the eye‑witness‑victim, the eye‑witness‑killer, the only‑eye‑witness, and the other‑eye‑witness—overlap within the institution of eye‑witnessing, even though the nuances are important to detect within the language games of the participants. In effect, between what witnesses furnish first to the police, the investigating judge and prosecution in closed interviews, and to the courts in public hearings, in all such instances the modes of investigation and delivery are obviously very different, even though the memos manage to portray the uttered statements (accounts) as if they have no relation to the situated encounter that created them in the first place. We therefore need to proceed in the other direction, that of contextualizing each account relative to its situated encounter.

  • 5 . Except under exceptional circumstances, for instance, when a suspect dies under torture (C5–4).

12Whatever significance is accorded to forensic evidence, which is fairly primitive in Syria, the institution of witnessing is what makes a case possible. To begin with, forensic evidence, even if it is an outcome of proficient lab‑work, is itself a form of witnessing; the language of science, which translates in the binary code of true/false, is parallel to the binary legal/illegal of law communication. Hence the scientific language of forensic evidence cannot all by itself account for the factualities of the case, as it must be integrated with other accounts to make sense. In short, forensic evidence is itself a form of witnessing, albeit a very special one, with its own language, which derives its aura from the enterprise of science, and which under specific circumstances could outweigh other forms of witnessing. For that very reason, there is no level of witnessing that on its own is more “truthful” than the others. What lawyers and judges do as second‑level observers to the system is proceed through a juxtaposition of testimonies: compare and contrast, check utterances to detect an “acknowledgment” here, a “confession” there, and a “fabrication” of facts at the other end. Thus, even when, as is often the case, suspects, defendants, and witnesses (and at times even plaintiffs!) allege that they have been abused of or tortured by police, whilst officially requesting through their counsels that their original statements to police and/or prosecution be revoked by the higher court, there would nevertheless be no investigations open for that purpose,5 as if allegations and denials, like acknowledgments, are all weighted and assessed against one another through a careful process of narrative evaluation: witnessing is all about language games. One could argue that even had there been investigations to pursue the matter of torture further such investigations would anyhow trigger an additional layer of witnessing, which must be assessed and evaluated against other layers of truth, as nothing stands out on its own as “the” level of “truth.”

Memory, time, and forgetting

13The eye‑witness is “rescued” by his or her own memory. Since the eye‑witness is the only one to have memory of the event, his or her aura comes not only from being a unique witness, but also as a link of the present to the past: in other words, he or she is privileged precisely because of his or her memory of the past.

14The eye‑witness is therefore the one who—literally—makes the case‑file possible, as without him or her there would be nothing to account for. A crime without a witness is even worse than an unsolved crime. Even more problematic is when the suspect turns out to be the only eye‑witness available. In the case of the schoolteacher accused of killing her husband (with the possible assistance of a brother and a nephew, C5–5), a homicide for which there was no witness but the perpetrators themselves, the “aura” of witnessing is here shattered by the mere existence of only one account of the crime scene from no one else but the culprit herself. It could well be that the “embarrassment” of the court for its sole reliance on “narratives of murderers” was what delayed the case for eleven years until the 1994 verdict, and for an additional ten years until the execution of the death penalty.

Between performance and morality: why direct interrogation is all that matters

  • 6 . Introduction to the Problems of Legal Theory, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.
  • 7 . Über die drei Arten des rechtswissenschaftlichen Denkens, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot; Les trois ty (...)

15Since oral proceedings are generally the norm for presenting and obtaining evidence, the interrogation of witnesses plays a key role in the construction of the totality of the case. In Syria, witnesses in a criminal case are first interrogated by the police within the shortest delays possible (either a day or two after the crime); an investigating judge at the palace of justice would within one week pick up the interviewing process; the floor would be open, once the case receives its preliminary wrap up by a referral judge, for the courts to pursue their own investigations, in public view of a courtroom. Direct interrogation of witnesses is therefore an aspect of the law of evidence closely connected with oral proceedings. Generally, in most countries under civil code, witnesses are interrogated by judges who decide the verdict. Under both the inquisitorial and the accusatorial (Anglo–American) systems, the principle of direct interrogation is of special importance in the free consideration of evidence. In common‑law countries the function performed by the judge in this regard is handled by attorneys on behalf of prosecution or defense, with the judge’s role restricted almost entirely to overseeing the questioning. But the notion of cross‑examination per se, however, is what distinguishes the inquisitorial from the accusatorial system. To wit, if we understand by cross‑examination the practice of interviewing a witness simultaneously examined by the opposing side, then such practice hardly exists in inquisitorial proceedings. Moreover, and considering that the public prosecution office already “represents” the victim (while the victim’s relatives do so on a private basis), the construction of evidence on both sides is more in tune with a direct examination of facts; but considering the legendary weakness and sloppiness of Syrian forensics, it is indeed upon the examination of the witnesses’ utterances that each case hinges. Hence the importance of both performance and morality: if witnesses’ utterances prove crucial, they are evaluated both on the actors’ performance and their moral stance. Assuming that it is how actors say something rather than what they say is what determines the performative side of utterances, each statement could equally carry a moral stance within it, whose relevance would be assessed in conjunction with the actor’s performance. Moral values are in this regard like the rules of law, which do not have an existence for their own sake, and whose value comes into being in the uses that actors make of such normative values. To elaborate, actors document what happened at a crime scene, and while doing so, they develop a method for narrating and organizing events, while keeping an eye on what binds a community to the rules of law, not to mention their “own” moral stance. Thus, the rules—whether the rules of law or moral norms—would receive their meaning from witnessing rather than from the rules themselves. Whether our view of the norms is close to a Hans Kelsen6—a formal approach to law, where one rule leads to and receives its legitimacy from another rule; the degree of (Weberian) rationality of a system would be determined by its systemic character—or to a Carl Schmitt,7 where the normative rules are in essence indeterminate, in need of the (arbitrary) power of the sovereign (the state of exception) to be enforced—in either stance, however, the norms would become “something else” once a case is documented and indexed on legal and moral values.

  • 8 . In his majestic study of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, the philosopher Jean‑Luc Nancy, L’Évi (...)

16One major influence that has shaped the law of evidence has been the jury system, and the law of evidence is sometimes thought of as the child of the jury. Oral proceedings, direct interrogation, and the public trial are much less problematic under the Anglo–American system than under the civil‑law system to the extent that evidence is heard before the jury. But this system has spawned a large number of regulations for the admissibility of evidence in order to guarantee the due process and fair procedure and to protect the jury from being misled. The initiative of the parties determines the handling of these regulations, for they must raise objections if, in their opinion, any exclusionary rules are being violated. The judge rules then on the objection. By the complex working of this arrangement, the Anglo–American system has become more formalistic in many respects than the continental European system.8

17This brief comparison between Mediterranean–Continental and Anglo–American systems suggests that, despite all dissimilarities, both emphasize an oral examination of witnesses. As the written proceedings favored in the Middle Ages have been abolished, the parties can nevertheless prepare their lawsuits through briefs, while some of the preliminary proceedings can be handled in writing. The interrogation of witnesses, however, stubbornly remains oral. Most civil‑law countries would not permit any exceptions, while other countries, such as Germany, permit written statements by witnesses in special cases and with the consent of the parties. In common‑law countries an exception is made to the principle of oral proceedings for certain types of affidavits, and, particularly in civil cases, the practice has steadily gained in importance. The narrowing of testimony to its oral aspect in the majority of systems suggests that there is a consensus that a witness would be more “truthful” when witnessing “live” in the presence of a judge, prosecutor, or court or TV audience, than privately in writing in the form of an affidavit or any written statement. For one thing, the authorship of a document is always at stake, since it may have been “signed” by a witness, while drafted, either partially or totally, by someone else. Documents could be forged, their authorship denied, their time framework problematic, as the inscribed date (in conjunction with the signature) is no proof that the statements were delivered at that specific date. Oral proceedings would therefore solve the authorship and time framework conundrum by having the witness directly interviewed without intermediaries. Oral proceedings, however, share their own sets of problems, which are by and large quite known, in particular when it comes to police brutality and torture, or corrupt investigating judges, who in their oral face‑to‑face encounters with witnesses, would provide incorrect written statements, only to be ultimately challenged by counsels. Most systems, however, bypass such difficulties through a proviso that whatever a witness may have stated under oath to the police or investigating judge, such statements would stand null and void unless reiterated at the court that would deliver the final ruling.

  • 9 . Renaud Dulong and Jean‑Marie Marandin, “Analyse des dimensions constitutives de l’aveu en réponse (...)
  • 10 . See, Chapter 6.

18Renaud Dulong and Jean‑Marie Marandin have proposed to distinguish between avowal and confession.9 Following their logic, the avowal must always be linked to an offence (délit): something was stolen or a body was found, and an investigation was open; at a certain juncture of the investigation, a relationship finds its way between the statements of one or more witnesses (or suspects) and the facts of the crime scene, which would be based on a process of constructing evidence, and the interpretation of statements. If, therefore, an avowal (iqrār as acknowledgment) may not be separated from an accusation, it is, according to Dulong and Marandin, a distinct phenomenon from confession (iʿtirāf): the police would often know the existence of a crime only through the culprit’s confession, while the judge would have to discern an avowal through the careful reading of an interview transcript. In other words, avowals are harder to discern than direct confessions, being invariably a matter of interpretation. In Syrian criminology, for instance, honor killings perpetrated against women, which are classified by the courts as “killings for honorable purposes (qatl bi‑dāfiʿ sharīf),” are as a rule identified as such through the eyes of the assailant’s confession to the police: the “early confession,” prior to the police’s acknowledgment of the crime, indicates in itself that the crime was no ordinary one, whilst the culprit should therefore be accorded special privileges (usually a reduced prison sentence).10 The avowal, on the other hand, is a different matter: an offence was committed, and an investigation was open; and in the process of verbal exchange between prosecutors, magistrates, suspects and witnesses, a sequence of a colloquy—or a multitude of juxtaposed sequences—are identified as avowals and linked to the crime scene as such. Our two authors sum up their problematics with the following pertinent question: How do we know in a dialogued sequence that someone has avowed something? Which in itself already links avowals to interrogations and dialogues: the avowal is nothing but an “échange dialogique.” As the cases in this book show, judges would compile, for the sake of their final rulings, sequences of dialogues, which in turn would be interpreted, once placed in conjunction with one another in a particular order, as an indictment against the suspect, which is precisely what the judge did with the alleged arsonist above (C2–1). The dialogic sequences of interrogations must therefore be tackled at two levels: How do interrogations proceed on a one‑to‑one basis? And how are they used when juxtaposed to one another for the sake of preparing an accusation? Separating the two levels would, in effect, rob us from understanding how accusations are constructed, considering that when judges examine witnesses and suspects individually, they are thinking less in what the examination in question has to offer, and more in terms of the avowals that would be extricated once an interview is placed in conjunction with interrogations by other witnesses: it is as if judges proceed with the notion that an investigative sequence, conducted with a single witness, has nothing to say on its own, and would only mean something once interpreted in line with other sequences.

  • 11 . See, Chapter 4.

19Even though in colloquial Arabic confession and avowal have their own words, iʿtirāf and iqrār respectively, they tend to be used interchangeably, with no subtle distinctions between the two.11 Thus, iqrār as avowal can also be used for confession, acknowledgment, or admission (iʿtirāf or taslīm); it could equally mean a declaration, statement, or testimony (bayān or shahāda); or a ratification, confirmation, or endorsement of something (ibrām, muṣādaqa, or muwāfaqa). If, therefore, iqrār often tends to pass as iʿtirāf, and vice versa, it is presumably because confession in Arab societies would not carry the strong meaning of a confession deep inside, especially when it comes to the disclosure of troubling personal matters. Even in the Western secular tradition, which owes a great deal to Christianity, confession often stands for a written or oral statement acknowledging guilt, made by one who has been accused or charged with an offense. By contrast, and within that same tradition, avowal would stand for a frank admission or acknowledgement of something. For our purposes, however, we understand avowal as what the judge would interpret as a “frank admission” or “acknowledgment” of a witness’ statement, which in the context of Syrian criminology hinges on the two meanings of iqrār and iʿtirāf, without much of a distinction.

  • 12 . Émile Durkheim, Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, Joseph Ward Swain, trans., New York: The (...)
  • 13 . Dulong and Marandin, “Analyse,” 157: “La sacralité de la règle y est objectivée dans la volonté d (...)

20Another factor that will preoccupy us has much to do with the “context” of an oral examination, as the one carried by a magistrate or investigating judge. For those rooted in the Anglo–American or European continental traditions, the Syrian “method” of investigation would surely look unappealing: too rudimentary and brief—where in most instances a witness’ examination would seem more like a straightforward deposition, not surpassing the single page, and without much give and take. We will assume, following Émile Durkheim and Erving Goffman,12 that ordinary interactions would follow certain “rules,” which help actors find meanings in their actions; in a legal context, such guidelines would act like transcendent rules, where the sacredness of the rule transforms an ordinary interaction—for instance, an interview between judge and suspect—into a closely knit ritual.13 If, therefore, in comparison to other systems, interviews carried by Syrian prosecutors and judges do indeed seem too soft, lacking the credibility and decisiveness that would be attributed to such encounters, it is simply because both parties would approve the limit of an interrogation by accepting the language game: there are questions not to be asked, matters that are taboo, and above all, an innate “satisfaction” that the witness has just said “enough” and need not be pressed with further questions.

The unspoken honor

21In direct interviews, which may unfold in a police station or a judge’s office, then later in the space of a courtroom, a narrative might unfold, which is framed as much by the answers as the questions themselves. Not only does each question “direct” the interviewee towards a possible answer, but a question might, in the best of all circumstances, “propose” an answer, if not indirectly impose it. That is particularly true when the examiner is an authority figure—policeman, prosecutor, or judge—and the interviewee is a suspect at a murder trial. While examiners in such circumstances would do their best to “frame” their suspects, the interviewee‑suspect would in tandem be perfectly aware that any statement could be quoted by other authorities, increasing the risks of making him or her a more “serious” suspect. More important, however, is the nature of narrative that unfolds from interviewees, and how its particular structure offers an alternative to traditional narratives. The interviewee in such situations is like a student passing an oral exam, and is therefore fully subjugated to the authority of the examiner. Had the interviewee been given the opportunity to recount the incident on his or her own, a different narrative would have come to light. Such opportunities, however, are seldom provided to suspects and defendants; when, for instance, a suspect is incarcerated and drafts a memo on his or her own behalf, an opportunity that their counsel might seize by including the memo in the petitions to the court (Chapter 4). To wit, the voices of suspects and defendants, not to mention plaintiffs and witnesses, are only heard via direct interrogations (in civil‑law systems, cross‑examinations, in the sense of re‑examining a witness examined by the opposing side, are practically inexistent). There are three instances where that could happen: during police interrogations, followed by the prosecution’s own examinations, and finally the public hearings of the courts. But since police depositions do generally omit, however, the direct question‑and‑answer form, hence representing each cross‑examination as a direct narrative flow, and reconstructing each session into an official Arabic different from the oral Arabic of the direct examination, different techniques ought to be applied for such depositions. The same applies grosso modo to the courts’ hearings: since in a regular 3–4 hour session dozens of cases are heard, with close to 50 witnesses called, the fragmented interrogations of the chief judge would be transcribed into a language and structure different from the one in which they were originally uttered.

22The closest direct interrogations worthy of that name, which are recorded as such (hence not as summaries), are undeniably those of the investigating judge. But even those suffer from major handicaps. Foremost among them is the extreme formalism under which they are conducted: questions and answers tend to be formal, and rarely do they go beyond what the police reports have already stated; add to this that the style of prosecutors is seldom aggressive, unable to manifest any desire to question the veracity of police reports. Prosecution and court investigations do have something in common though: namely, that the interviewees cannot be taken seriously for claiming that they were tortured or subject to stressful conditions, while the police is routinely accused by the defendants and their counsels for physical or emotional abuse. When summoned about the low‑key approach of investigating judges towards their witnesses, lawyers and judges tend to insist that it is neither a question of strategy, nor of adequate following of procedures, but rather an outcome of laziness and the lack of resources (not enough judges). What is therefore not questioned is the strategy of avowal: What if the construction of evidence heavily relies on “avowals” that are only perceived as such by judges? In other words, since, as we have argued earlier, criminal systems implicitly operate within a loosely stated distinction between “avowal” and “confession,” the “avowal” becomes an indirect “confession” as interpreted by magistrates: put simply, a judge would pick up a witness’ statement, place it side‑by‑side with statements by other witnesses, and interpret the “whole” as evidence that, say, the suspect was indeed the wrongdoer. Each statement, selected by the judge out of a hundred others, becomes all by itself an avowal: the witness in question admits something (e.g. that he saw the suspect driving his car at a specific moment), and his statement would be interpreted as “valid” by the court—that is, as a factuality. The difference between avowal and confession has therefore two aspects: (i) Avowals are statements uttered by witnesses or suspects which are, at a later stage, interpreted by a judge as factually true. Left to themselves, those utterances are mere statements rather than acts of admission (or confession, or acknowledgment): only the judge transforms them into avowals. Avowals are therefore in their original form only ordinary and impersonal statements, which the judge interprets as and gives them the status of personalized avowals. (ii) Compared to avowals, confessions go much deeper, as they often imply, besides the revelation of a certain truth directly stated in the “I” form, of an inner feeling of guilt that would be admitted in the presence of a hearer (the interrogator in criminal cases). Confessions are therefore usually limited to suspects, while witnesses would only state factual evidence. Judges often draft their rulings as if everyone is confessing, suspects and witnesses alike, which gives statements an even more dramatic weight.

The unveiling of the mute ground of discourse

23The death penalty remains in Syria the pristine punishment, a constant fixture that nothing else supersedes, even though the annual national rate would not supersede a dozen executions (neither the yearly Statistical Abstracts nor other official or non‑official publications would reveal exact numbers, see, Chapter 5). The death penalty rests on the presumption of a premeditated killing committed by the assailant against his or her victim. In the Syrian annals of criminology, premeditation stands for ʿamd‑killing, the equivalent of first‑degree murder in Anglo‑American common‑law systems, which must have been executed with “careful planning,” “a deliberate will to harm,” and a “balanced non‑disturbed mind” at the moment of the execution. In other words, premeditation assumes that the assailant knows perfectly well what he or she is doing, hence is totally “conscious” of his or her act at the moment of the execution. Again, based on a crucial amendment that was appended in 1832 to the original French Code pénal, the claim of démence, which medically stands for dementia, insanity, madness, would render the assailant ineligible for the responsibility of his or her act. Put simply, démence operates as a force “external” to the will of the assailant in such a way that he or she would be incapable of seeing what they were doing, as if, at the last moment, they were seized by a demonic force outside they own subjective wills; hence they could not be legally held responsible. As noted in Chapter 1, Foucault perceives in the 1832 amendment an attitude of “impotence” in the very reasoning of the judiciary, which in contradistinction to the ancien régime of the classical age, must now rationalize crime, embrace it as the Other of the subject’s ego, whilst seeking help from various agencies, beginning with medical–psychiatric expertise, to no avail.

24To unlock the mysteries of the unexpected association of juridical and medical practices, Foucault opted for a discourse analysis that would trace the genealogy of practices within an historical perspective. First of all, Foucault convincingly managed to delineate the juridico–discursive model of power in all its ambiguities. Discourse analysis takes as its aim the very foundations of the socio‑symbolic order of society (law, medicine, sexuality, education, the sciences, politics, and so on), subjecting them to an approach to culture that draws attention to the specific materiality of symbolic practices. In other words, discourse analysis conceptualizes ideological and cultural connotations beyond their symbolic meanings rooted into the power‑relations that they would practice at a particular historical juncture. For example, a medical discourse that touches on démence is not solely discursive—framing the broad contours of what dementia and madness mean—but is practiced as such in the materiality of power‑relations, for instance, in the way judges would declare a person “unfit” for conviction in a court of law. At its best discourse analysis alerts us at an historical a priori of ideas, rationalities and knowledge systems which either partially or as a totality would constitute a positive unconscious of knowledge, a level that eludes consciousness and yet is part of discourse, with an implicit stratum of knowledge which materially restricts what it is possible to think in a given domain and period.

  • 14 . The ethical and moral are two different stances: the moral is situated within the socio‑symbolic (...)

25In Chapter 1, we delineated what the juridical discourse of the post‑Ottoman and post‑colonial independent Syrian nation‑state implied. By 1949, if not before, the juridical discourse strongly (if not artificially) delineated itself from its Ottoman past, to which it belonged, but rejected as non‑modern and unfit for the modern age of the nation‑state. Thus, the Ottoman centuries were, according to the nascent discourse of the nation‑state, dominated by an ideology of “sultanism,” whereby all laws were subject to the sultan’s whim, hence obsolete within a modern context that privileges individualism and individual rights of property, or the individualized responsibility of a criminal act. In other words, Syrian legislators thought the Ottoman past as obsolete for the modern period, an obsoleteness that pressed them to adopt new codes based on their French predecessors, via Egyptian interpretations of civil and penal law. Such a discourse articulates and makes visible the positive possibility of certain practices. For example, when ruling over a homicidal crime, a modern court of law is faced with premeditation, which concretely implies, using the Anglo–American jargon, deciding between manslaughter and first‑degree murder. Moreover, premeditation, as an act which has been fully thought and planned beforehand, hence not improvised in a moment of rage, assumes a positive unconscious of knowledge, a sort of historical a priori of knowledge that eludes consciousness and yet is part of discourse. In the case of premeditation, for example, the juridical discourse unconsciously assumes a Cartesian agent fully responsible of his or her actions. Such ethical and moral responsibility14 operates on the wager of an agentive causality which requires that agents are able to narrate what they did and saw from a first‑person perspective. What courts typically do is re‑construct such first‑person perspective from a myriad of narratives delivered by witnesses, police depositions, lawyers’ and medical committees’ reports. In other words, a criminal court, in order to fill that unnamable “void” of the assailant’s “consciousness,” re‑constructs its master‑narrative, upon which the verdict would be based, from a myriad of narratives, all of which based on first‑person perspectives: the latter would metamorphose into a meta‑first‑person narrative for the sake of the verdict. In some instances, the court would even openly acknowledge that the assailant left the murder scene with “no clues” “in his (her) mind” as to why he or she did what they said they did, or what other witnesses have said that they did (C6–2, 7–3). That is to say, the assailant, having failed to provide the court with an “adequate” and “convincing” narrative as to the causes of the crime, would receive help from the court in that regard: the silence of the criminal is supplemented by the talking memos of the court and its verdict.

26The cases in this book question the historical a priori of agentive causality as unconsciously adopted in the work of the courts: is the first‑person perspective, which is what we require as agents, available? Or is it pure fiction situated within the juridical discourse at a specific historical juncture? A problem that clearly emerges from our selection of cases, which judges only obliquely allude to, is the flexible and often elusive boundary between the intentional and non‑intentional. Because premeditation and first‑degree murder imply intentionality in the strong sense of the term—a deliberate will to harm and kill which has been pre‑meditated beforehand—judges tend to balk when presented with the prospect of ascribing strong intentionality to a killing. The gray borderline between intentionality and non‑intentionality is in particular visible in homicides perpetrated as a combination of righteous moral cause and last‑moment rage which could only be valued by contextualizing the crime in its unpredictable spatiotemporal underpinnings. Often the assailant finds himself or herself in a situation where he or she is there to bluff or intimidate someone with whom a love‑hate relationship has been nurtured for some time, but only at the last moment an urge to kill would manifest itself as an excess of righteousness. Even if judges would opt under such circumstances for manslaughter over first‑degree murder, they would still reason within the epistemological framework of the first‑person perspective, assuming a rational narrator objectifying the crime scene.

  • 15 . Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Oxford: Blackwell, 1958, §246:
  • 16 . Veena Das, “Language and Body: Transactions in the Construction of Pain,” Daedalus, 125(1), Winte (...)

27The unviability of the first‑person perspective becomes salient in the way witnesses testify to the police, judges and courts. Witnesses document the crime scene based on what they had “seen” and “heard.” What therefore emerges in every testimony, based on an interview, are the abstract relations among “seeing,” “hearing,” and the truth. A preferred reliable witness is one who only “says what she sees,” as the courts typically function within the priority of seeing something rather than hearing about it from someone else, which adds to the unreliability of the situation. The other alternative is for a witness to have “seen” and “heard” firsthand something at the crime scene, but even in such instances the “eye” primes the “ear.” Soon the situation complicates because the witness has not just “seen what she heard,” or she heard by seeing, or she saw only what she had heard. A witness claims not to have seen her alleged assailant, but by hearing his voice, she was able to identify him—either as a first‑name and/or last‑name—by “knowing” about him in a previous encounter: I know the offender’s first‑name by having “heard” it, but I was able to identify the last‑name through prior knowledge of kin relations in my locality (C7–3). The tragedy would here reach a new climax as the assailant had allegedly raped his witness which only “heard” him but could not “see” him because it was too dark or she was blindfolded (C6–5). The combination of seeing‑hearing matches well with the medieval Latin locution of voir‑dire: to tell the truth by seeing, or to hear the truth. The “voice” therefore appears as an autonomous partial object which affects our entire perception of the body to which it belongs. Or, to paraphrase the early Wittgenstein of the Tractatus: what cannot be said must only be pointed at; which raises the question, Why are there things that cannot be said? Which things (phenomena) cannot be formulated in words? Think, for example, of that obscene Thing called rape or incest. Alleged victims of either one (C6–5) or both (C6–4) would typically shun any formulation of the obscene incident itself, whether real or imaginary, preferring instead to simply repeat the statement “I’ve been raped!,” which as an expression is akin to the (second) Wittgenstein of “I’m in pain”—the kind of statement that neither describes pain as such (a virtual impossibility) nor communicates pain. What it rather does is simply to trigger a feeling of sympathy and “understanding” between speaker and hearer, as the former’s intention is precisely to “reach out” to the latter. Wittgenstein argues that the “I’m in pain” is not a descriptive statement, as it does not describe a situation that could be accurately communicated and validated as such. It could be looked upon as a performative statement, but only in the sense that it is intended as an utterance to provoke a reaction from speaker to hearer, for instance, in provoking the recipient to feel compassion for the speaker who claims to be suffering.15 At best, the recipient would “understand” what the speaker has just uttered, without “knowing” what the pain is really about, and how it is felt. It is at the same time an utterance whose expression by me constitutes my acknowledgment of the fact it expresses. To elaborate, my acknowledgment is my presentation or handling of the pain. You are accordingly not at liberty to believe or disbelieve what it says—that is, the one who says it—at your leisure. You are forced to respond, either to acknowledge it in return or to avoid it; the future between us is at stake, and the lack of response to the claim is a silence that perpetrates the violence of pain itself.16

28It is as if when processing their cases, the criminal courts have learned Wittgenstein’s lesson: whenever faced with that unnamable obscene Thing which cannot be formulated but only pointed at, the courts would use their symbolic juridical power by creating linguistic expressions that would “fill” such void. That is why it is important, as we will do in the cases analyzed in this book, to look at statements uttered by suspects and witnesses en détail rather than en masse. This concern with detail over a massive operation of hermeneutics that would study each aspect of the case‑file is necessitated by a (psychoanalytic) interpretive framework: one that would avoid looking at the organic Whole of the dossier, or the criminal as person, but instead to interpret the true meaning of the Whole itself through that detail that sticks out, which cannot be symbolized to fit in the socio‑symbolic order of language and speech.

  • 17 . Pierre Bourdieu, Le sens commun, Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1980.

29To come back to the Foucauldian discursive (and non‑discursive) practices: those are at heart socio‑symbolic formations formulated in language and speech. Both Wittgenstein and Foucault developed an inquisitive line of thinking that questions the legitimacy of the socio‑symbolic formations and the way “we”—as subjects of power‑relations—accept them for what they are, taking them for granted as if our lives are invested into them, and as if there is nothing “outside” them. Notice here that the emphasis is placed on the how over the why: How is it that we take for granted the medical world and its discursive practices which materialize in a hospital, asylum, clinic, laboratory, or a courtroom? How is it that we take for granted our educational institutions, the school, the college, the university, the exam system? Both Wittgenstein and Foucault (and the Pierre Bourdieu of the Kabyles of northern Algeria)17 delineate in their own way the customary logic of common sense whereby, as subjects of power‑relations, we mechanically “participate” and reproduce the socio‑symbolic world around us without much thought and fanfare. All such authors have successfully tackled, using different routes of research, the historical a priori of ideas, rationalities, knowledge systems, and the daily practices to which we stubbornly stick and which make our lives possible, by tackling their mute ground, that is to say, their unconscious condition of possibility.

30As this book demonstrates, however, such unveiling of the mute ground of discourse and the socio‑symbolic order within their historical a priori is not enough to understand the rationality of a criminal assailant as an individual action. That is to say, once we are into the discursive, which rationalizes the practices of the courts and other professional institutions (juridical and medical), we realize that the individual action of the criminal offender cannot be attributed to discourse alone. An alternative mode of thinking is therefore badly needed.

  • 18 . Jack Katz, Seductions of Crime: Moral and Sensual Attractions in Doing Evil, New York: Basic Book (...)
  • 19 . At the time, the multi‑volumes of the posthumously published “lectures” since the 1990s as Cours (...)
  • 20 . Katz, Seductions, 35.
  • 21 . Katz, Seductions, 310.

31In his pioneering work on crime, Seductions of Crime, which three decades after its publication still stands out as the reference work in American criminology for understanding the motives of offenders, Jack Katz formulated the current deadlock in the studies of criminology as follows: “What is at stake in everyday contemporary violence is not a king’s divine right but the sacred core of respectability that the assailant is defending and defining through his violence.”18 What Katz is hinting at in the “king’s divine right” was the eighteenth‑century public “barbaric” torture of convicts: for days and nights they had to be tortured and humiliated so that “the punishment would fit the crime.” Addressing the Foucault of Surveiller et punir, which is the work that made him popular in the U.S. and worldwide,19 Katz argues that in the “classical age” that preceded modernization, “the object [of public executions] was to construct the truth of the crime.”20 The purpose was to sustain that gaze of the sovereign’s will to punish. But, in our modern world of just and calculated punishment, are we done once and for all with ancient traditions of sacrifice? Katz’s “sacred core of respectability” pleads that we are not: whenever an assailant unconsciously opts at the last moment, in a moment of fury, to slaughter his victim, he is already locked within the triadic structure of humiliation, rage, and righteous slaughter. Addressing this time Foucault’s Moi, Pierre §Rivière…, Katz, while acknowledging the benefits of the theoretical endeavors of a team working for a maître à penser, nevertheless felt uncomfortable in Pierre Rivière’s written account, which Foucault’s team managed to obfuscate: Rivière, having slaughtered his mother, sister and brother (excluding his father, whom he had spared as a posthumous Third Gaze witness‑audience), “gave no specific significance to the aim or the force of the blows he struck with an axlike farm implement (he destroyed the vertebrae that had connected the head of his mother from her body, and he separated brain from skull, converting bone and muscle to mush); to the multiplicity of the blows, which extended far beyond what was necessary to accomplish death; to his mother’s advanced state of pregnancy; or to details of the violence suffered by his brother and sister. Instead, he focused exclusively on the background of his family biography.”21

  • 22 . An‑Nahār, Beirut, 29 July 2012, p. 13.
  • 23 . Luke Mogelson, “Letter from Aleppo: The River Martyrs,” The New Yorker, April 29, 2013, 40–49.
  • 24 . David Garland, Punishment and Modern Society, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990.

32To be sure, we will encounter such dilemmas, between background and foreground, for example, in the case of the daughter who savagely killed her mother with a kitchen hammer and knife when she was in deep sleep (C8–1). The court, in a typical motion which is to remind us of Foucault’s team gesture, favored the background information of family biography over foreground (the savagery of the killing and how the mother was executed). Allow me to open a parenthesis to episodes of mass slaughter in the “Syrian Revolt” in 2011–13 and later, which as of this writing, when Damascus and Aleppo began their painful decent into chaos at the hands of rebel militias since July–August 2012, Syria had already witnessed dozens of collective massacres, which for the “opposition” were a product of no one else but the venerable and much loathed shabbiḥa, the allegedly state‑employed “thugs” (the origin of the term is that of shabaḥ, a phantom like individual who unexpectedly visits a community for the joy of plundering it).22 Some of the massacres were not only repelling but showed excessive unheeded violence, as if the message, if there was one, was lost in the way it was delivered, such as in the mass killings perpetrated on 25 May 2012 in al‑Ḥūla (province of Ḥimṣ), where 108 were killed in one evening, half of them children, some with their hands tied behind their back, shot point‑blank; or barely two weeks later on 5–6 June, in the farm of al‑Qubayr in the vicinity of Ḥamā, when 78 were killed, 12 of which had their bodies burned postmodo, after the executions. Or the killings that became known as the River Massacre in Aleppo at the end of January 2013, when a 110 murdered men and boys were fished out and laid out on a concrete bank, their hands bound behind their backs, their skulls broken by bullets.23 Needless to say, commentators and pundits worldwide commented on such atrocities by underscoring the ruthless nature of the Asad régime and its military machinery of armed “thugs” who would do whatever it takes to keep the state apparatuses effective in their “political” domination over a helpless “civil society.” In other words, the “ruthless” nature of such atrocities was only comprehended as a murderous tool for perpetrating the political machinery on the top. But whether we are faced with individual acts of killing, as in many cases in this book, or with collective massacres, it is important to be attentive to the method of killing, that is to say, how the perpetrator(s) committed their acts; how it all happened; the tools that were used; the degree of savagery, or the “niceness” and “friendliness” that the perpetrator(s) may have manifested towards their victims in the seconds and moments preceding the killings. When assailants in a collective massacre, which prima facie seems perpetrated with “political” motivations in mind, opt to tie up kids and women, only to shoot them point‑blank, then burn their bodies in an act of blunt desecration to the sanctity of human life, what such perpetrators are doing is sending messages to that outside Third Gaze “audience” regarding the motives of their savage acts. More importantly, they de facto unconsciously legitimize the acts of killing so that they become bearable for their own consciousness. To wit, we must admit that even the most heartless of all killers need that process of internal legitimization, which discourse analysis, and various sociological theories,24 based for the most part on a Marxist class analysis, symbolic interactionism, or ethnomethodology, fail to address, simply because they are all immersed in the production of the socio‑symbolic norms, while obfuscating the generative principle of such formations—that elusive zone of a killer’s consciousness which eludes the socio‑symbolic order.

  • 25 . Katz, Seductions, 18.
  • 26 . Katz, Seductions, 19.

33Jack Katz’s Seductions of Crime addresses precisely this obscure Thing of “what’s going on inside the mind of an assailant” at the very moment he or she is committing the killing. The time framework proves of crucial importance; not so much the chronology of the events, as much as its non‑premeditated ethos; or, more precisely, the impossibility to premeditate under such circumstances of rage and humiliation. As “The victim’s death is neither a necessary nor a sufficient element of the assailant’s animating project,”25 Katz proposes that homicides generally operate under the triad of humiliation, rage, and righteous slaughter (killing in defense of the Good), which in combination would trigger that aura of “seduction” in the act of killing. Drawing from significant criminological data from U.S. cities in the 1950s and 1960s, Katz hypothesizes that “Several patterns in homicide situations indicate that the killers develop a righteous passion against the background of taking a last stand in defense of respectability.”26 The core emotion here is that of humiliation which is slowly nurtured in the assailant’s psyche over a long period of time through his family and work relations. A person feels humiliation at home from parents, spouses, friends, or children; or at work, another network of power‑relations that deepens the humiliation, triggering feelings of resentment towards bosses and fellow coworkers. There are “intermediary” spaces of leisure, such as parks, pubs, bistros, or cafés where we anonymously drop by to alleviate the humiliation at home or at work; we hope in such spaces of recreation to communicate either anonymously (no one knows who we are) or among buddies, people who accept us as we are, outside the routinized and formalized performances of home or work, in nonpredatory casual encounters.

  • 27 . Katz, Seductions, 27.

Humiliation drives you down; in humiliation, you feel suddenly made small, so small that everyone seems to look down on you. Humiliation often moves through the body by warming the top of the head; then moving to the face, where its acknowledgment may create the blush of shame; and when working itself through the self, ultimately to envelope it from top to bottom. Etymologically, humiliation shares roots with ‘humble.’ All manner of degrading, debasing, deflating attacks may produce humiliation.27

  • 28 . Hence the all too familiar crimes across cultures of killings originating in a feeling of total l (...)
  • 29 . Katz, Seductions, 29.

34The key point here is that humiliation is a deep internal emotion, which, if externalized, is an attempt to better swallow that uncanny attitude of losing face, of being a loser in front of family, friends, or coworkers. One can add that in today’s representations of gender, humiliation is associated with feminine connotations, that of impotent men which perform poorly socially and sexually,28 while rage is masculine and oriented to the outside: “In some social circles, an erection is an ‘angry’ penis. Today, impotence is so fundamentally linked that in virtually all modern languages the terms for describing impotence are reliable means of effecting ridicule. If rage is red, hot, and explosive, it is like a penis threatening to ejaculate and it is also like the screaming, red‑faced birth of a self. Whichever of these metaphors might be more relevant to a given individual, the language and the symbolic structure of the experience of humiliation is metaphorically the perfect opposite: a return to the womb. The etymology of humiliation points to the centrality of the metaphor of the womb through humus—wet, fertile soil enriched by decayed vegetable matter—that is the most natural source of all terrestrial life: Gaea, ‘Mother Earth.’”29

35Rage by contrast is masculine and oriented to the outside, and unlike humiliation which is internalized and deeply seated in a multi‑layered self, rage is the product of its moment, as it erupts all of a sudden in an unexpected and unpredictable ways. For that reason, premeditation rarely makes sense when associated with rage. As some cases in this book would attest (inter alia, C5–3 and C5–5), premeditation, in the Syrian annals of criminology (which borrows heavily from its Egyptian counterpart), is portrayed as a homicidal act perpetrated with “a calm and determined mind,” which is hardly the case. Premeditation is therefore in principle a rare bird, even though the courts would hasten towards premeditation for no other reason but as an unconscious counter‑reaction to the atrocity of the perpetrated homicide: it was so gross that it must have been premeditated. However, the “must” here is only wishful thinking, hardly based on any factual evidence that would have pointed to a last minute improvisation with no previous planning in sight. Moreover, rage, once it actualizes into a homicidal act, metamorphoses into “transcendent rage,” once it becomes associated in the consciousness of the killer with humiliation and righteousness. The bedrock of rage is therefore that deeply felt and deeply seated emotion of humiliation, which remains internal until that malicious Thing that turns it into a killing Event.

  • 30 . Luc Boltanski, Énigmes et complots. Une enquête à propos d’enquêtes, Paris: Gallimard, 2012, 22.
  • 31 . Boltanski, Énigmes, 31–32.

36In a recent work, the French sociologist Luc Boltanski, in his analysis of the genres of crime and spy novels, which became predominant in the European landscape of fiction in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, differentiates between “world” (monde) and “reality” (réalité).30 World means (paraphrasing Wittgenstein) “everything that happens,” which implies an impossible totality, or to use the Lacanian jargon, a non‑all Totality. By contrast a reality denotes the pre‑established formats of shared meanings, protected by institutions and juridical frameworks, at least in developed European societies. Indeed, it is that kind of reality that we have denoted as the socio‑symbolic order, which establishes a certain relational space between causal events, intrigues, and plots, which otherwise would have remained incomprehensibly dispersed: ordinary events would become in the narration of the crime novel unordinary, achieving a meaning that would have been senseless without the causal links of “reality.” Here reality achieves a more specific meaning, that of social reality, the fact that such narratives are situated within a social configuration composed of social classes, antagonisms, localities (villages, small towns, big cities), among individuals dispersed in space (nobility, small bourgeoisie, popular classes, proletarians).31

37Even though there is a big difference between a crime novel and a real crime case which has been processed by a court of law (the former has a single author, contains a cohesiveness that the latter obviously lacks), the concept of social reality is a notion worth considering for our crime cases. To begin with, each one of our criminal protagonists and witnesses is an individual dispersed in a social space, which in turn is located within an antagonistic class and ethnic structure which must be accounted for. For example, in Chapter 9 which relates crime to land conflicts, it is impossible to understand the nature of such conflicts without taking into consideration at the same time class‑ethnic antagonisms (between landlords and tenant farmers; peasants and tribesmen) and kin networks structured on symbolisms of male honor and shame. To elaborate, such crimes must be contextualized within the framework of the social reality that made them possible, even though the killings or attempted killings tend to be—though not always—last minute improvisations of righteous slaughter as elaborated by Katz.

  • 32 . Boltanski, Énigmes, 38–39.
  • 33 . Jürgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democrac (...)

38But what is of special importance for our purposes is what Boltanski dubs as “reality and the nation‑state.” In nineteenth‑century France, for example, “the question of the state” has become that of “the state and reality.”32 When it comes to crime, the state is faced with the reality of individuals situated within “civil society” but whose social reality is recontextualized in relation to the crime scene; lives are at stake which were unrelated to one another, which all of a sudden find themselves probed in the very intimacy of their private lives, while becoming suspects. Such aggressive intrusion in the lives of private individuals for the sake of solving the mystery of a crime scene takes place at the hands of public officials and administrators, probing the very relations between (a Habermasian) “public sphere”33 and the private. An indistinct zone takes shape that blurs the delicate lines between the private and the public which the criminal novel charmingly capitalizes on. The French expression for criminal novel, roman policier, significantly places public action on policing, a civil executive force of anonymous administrators but whose public function mixes with private lives, those of suspects, and their own as well. Thus, in both British and French criminal and spy novels, the private idiosyncrasies of the main protagonist devoted to detective work are now center stage, forming the essential thread that would reveal the happy ending, that of the unraveling of all mysteries. Hence a double reality unravels: first the reality of fragmented lives which only receives the attention of state administrators once they become crime suspects; and a reality that takes shape in the midst of a totalized reality, one which the nineteenth‑century European state has successfully systematized in procedures, rules, laws and regulations, population censuses, and discursive and non‑discursive practices that touch on law, medicine, and education.

  • 34 . Boltanski, Énigmes, 39.

39What is therefore at stake here is the very existence of the nation‑state, two terms which in principle are alien to one another (the state preexists the nation), and which by the nineteenth century are united together under “that hyphen which clusters all the significance of the project”—that of a utopian political project aiming at homogenizing the lives of individuals under the rubric of the “nation.”34 A coupure épistémologique comes into being in the European political space which institutes a break between the ancien régime of the monarchical “sovereign state” and the nation‑state which systematizes the integration of private citizens. Boltanski indulges here in a comparative analysis between two alternative modes of integration of the nation‑state, the British and the French, regrettably leaving aside more problematic modes of integration, such as the Germanic or Italian (quintessential examples of “late” state formations). In the British model, inherited from the days of the Glorious Revolution, there is a direct incorporation of the dominant economic classes of capitalist landowners, industrialists, financiers and merchants, on the one hand, and the state which is controlled by those same classes through the Parliament on the other. Such vertical integration, structured on a class hegemony in a capitalist economy, leaves civil society at bay between those who are situated within the dominant hegemonic group, on one hand, and those outside it on the other (popular classes, proletarians, but also middle class professionals). Criminal and spy novels à la Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, and Graham Green, capture well that spirit of protagonists who do not fit well within the hegemonic economic and political stratification, but nevertheless feel torn for their loyalty to their nation in spite of their despise of their leadership. On the other side of the Continent, the French model of nation‑state follows a different logic. Ever since the Revolution, the French nation‑state could not integrate civil society into a vertical economic and political hegemony. Here the state is an administrative unit of middle class professionals of sorts which have been recruited for their professionalism and loyalty to the state. They therefore operate in an atmosphere of class fracture, namely, the impossibility of a class stratification based on the British model of subservience to a hegemonic capitalism. In sum, if the British model is historically based on an alignment of economic and political forces between the Parliament, the dominant economic classes, and a capitalism protected by the state, such an arrangement is absent in the French state. Moreover, whereas British crime novels tend to portray the “societies” that fall outside the hegemonic alignment (popular classes, criminals, bandits, Mafiosi, transgressors), in the French model civil society is portrayed as more heterogeneous, unable to align itself along well defined hegemonic groups, as it remains populated by individuals or groups that would be unable on their own to form a society without the intervention of the state.

40What is of interest to us is the articulation between the private and the public, civil society and the nation‑state, and the way the violence of murder would expose private lives to the external world—that of the arbitrary power of the state—in a country like Syria. Does the Syrian state aim towards practices of integration in the first place? Does the state assume a coherent nation? What about the pretention to control a territory and safeguard its population? How does the state address the issue of kin‑based groups that seem to fall outside its control? How does the political fiction of the nation‑state work in a country like Syria?

  • 35 . Barrington Moore, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of (...)

41The Syrian state is a byproduct of Ottoman rule and French colonial practices. In Ottoman times landowners were the dominant class, but without the political prerogatives that would have established them as a gentrified aristocracy integrated within a statist configuration. Instead, as a prebendal patrimonial landowning group holding its stipends from state‑owned mīrī lands, a situation that would persevere until the dawn of the French mandate, they were kept at bay from the political decision‑making process of the centralized Ottoman state; as to their regional role, they were granted limited bureaucratic powers in particular in the aftermath of the Tanẓīmāt reforms. Under the French mandate, the landowning aristocracy, now a class of rentiers whose lands have been legally acknowledged as “private” (milk), would fail on their own to launch a hegemonic class configuration under their tutelage. To wit, the integration of the nascent Syrian nation‑state and the eastern Mediterranean at large into Western capitalism would render such a class of rentiers economically obsolete. Having inherited limited political experience under the Ottomans, their economic obsoleteness under the mandate—as a class of rentiers—would force them into a politicized entente with the urban manufacturing and commercial classes. As Barrington Moore has pointed out, such a configuration of obsolete rentiers with new but weak urban classes of capitalist entrepreneurs should in principle have been a recipe for disaster of an authoritarian state.35 What prevented such a reactionary state, however, was nothing but the politics of the mandate itself, which permitted such an anomalous alignment between a class of old rentiers with manufacturers and merchants (the nascent middle class professional bourgeoisie) to act as vanguard of Syrian politics until the late 1940s. Such political configuration of the “first republic” was stable enough to persevere until the 1950s in spite of the coup d’états that pushed army officers at the forefront of Syrian politics. It was indeed the anomaly of military rule that would bring Syria to its modern post‑Ottoman civil, penal, and personal status codes. As it turned out the political stability of the anomalous combination of landowners and entrepreneurs would only be shaken in the aftermath of the Union with Egypt in 1958, and obviously with the coming of the Baath to power in 1963—the “second republic.” The nationalization of the resources of leading entrepreneurial families in conjunction with the agrarian reforms which reduced the size of large properties and redistributed agrarian properties to small and medium farmers, has irreversibly transformed the nature of the Syrian state and society. From now on the Syrian state would cease to protect the traditional alignment of landowners and urban entrepreneurs, which since the 1960s would give way to bureaucrats of various social origins: heirs of small rural landowners, out of which grew the military ruling class, beginning with the ʿAlawi Asad clan; outclassed middle class professionals who were alienated within the dominant old configuration of landowners and capitalist entrepreneurs, and which found a leeway in the “socialist” configuration of the Baath to enhance their status; and popular class unskilled laborers. An often overlooked accomplishment of the long rule of Ḥāfiẓ al‑Asad from 1970–2000 was the routinization of mundane bureaucratic tasks, so that every small transaction (muʿāmala) would receive its due attention in its smallest minute details. To elaborate, an Asad bureaucratic “reality” of sorts emerges in the 1970s, which by and large is still there, and which consists at cataloguing, classifying, categorizing, and labeling, in a bold attempt to control the national territory through routinization and the bureaucratic integration of disparate ethnicities and classes across regions. Compared to the class and administrative configurations elaborated by Boltanski, the Syrian case sets an example of a nascent nation‑state attempting to bureaucratically control the nation without the British prerogatives of an alignment of the economically influential classes with the state, or the French Administrative model of a bureaucracy mediating among social classes. In Syria the state is attempting a total reconfiguration of class and ethnic alignments, rooted in the power of kin and clan.

42How would the bureaucratic reality “handle” a criminal event? The political fiction of the nation‑state produces the myth of a homogenized nation—as an “imagined community”—one in which classes and ethnicities would live harmoniously together and in their relation to the state. But in the Syrian case, however, there are neither specific class alignments, nor ethnic alignments with the state, nor a bureaucracy recruited on professionalism and merit. The bureaucracy of the Baathist state, which investigates crime, is a cohort of individuals recruited from all over the place—classes, clans, regions, ethnicities—in a bold attempt to integrate them into a cohesive “society.” What investigators of a crime scene uncover, however, are societies, norms, and forms of living which need not the agency of the state to survive. The burning question, therefore, is whether state intervention would shape them into a cohesive society, or whether the clumsy state bureaucracy would exacerbate even further clan and societal divisions of sorts. All the criminal cases in this book raise the fundamental issue of how much the routinized Baathist state could afford leaving outside its reach “societies” which have been poorly integrated into the mythical framework of the reality of the nation‑state—that of a nation that must be brought together in all its class and ethnic antagonisms.

Wither Oedipus?

  • 36 . Boltanski, Énigmes, “Le locus du pouvoir,” 197–199.
  • 37 . Michel Foucault, Le gouvernement de soi et des autres. Cours au Collège de France, 1982–1983, Par (...)
  • 38 . Michel Foucault, Sécurité, territoire, population. Cours au Collège de France, 1977–1978, Paris: (...)
  • 39 . Boltanski, Énigmes, 198.

43So far we have attempted to bridge together several methodological frameworks which prima facie may seem incompatible: discourse analysis; the triadic internal motivations of an assailant: humiliation, rage, and righteous slaughter; and the “bureaucratic reality” of the Baathist state. While discourse analysis would help us trace the genealogy of the juridical and medical discourses which serve as an a priori unconscious historical matrix for the practices of the criminal courts, the triad of humiliation, rage, and righteous slaughter by contrast places the burden on what the assailant is doing at the very moment of committing his or her killing, a level of analysis which is anathema to discourse analysis. By the same token, Boltanski’s bureaucratic reality is another methodological component in our three‑pronged approach that would account for that evasive “locus of power” that haunts the political fiction of the nation‑state.36 Foucault (at least the early Foucault of Discipline and §Punish, prior to his turn to the concept of “governmentality”)37 memorably addressed the issue of the localization of power, the dissemination of micro‑power‑relations across the societal body like an “invisible hand” without a real “center,”38 hence denying the existence of a “legitimate authority” that would run the show in advanced capitalist societies. For Boltanski such dissemination would not spare us from asking the all too obvious questions: Which individuals, or a fortiori collectivities, can be susceptible to provide meaning to a cohort of historical and social events, while subjecting them to a causal interpretation? Who makes contemporary history? The state, the hegemonic factions, the ruling class, the capitalists, the financiers, the military, the ʿAlawi Asad clan? What is the role of those who are governed? What about all those who are not within the dominating groups, the popular classes, the marginals and unemployed? In other words, notwithstanding the dissemination of power à la Foucault across social formations, what are the real links between the state, the nation, the people, and the territory of all those who are subjected to the power of the ruling classes? Questions which at the same time are very abstract, yet puzzling by their concreteness and urgency. Indeed, it all seems, from a populist perspective, as if it is a one man show pulling the strings.39 In the same way that such questions probe the popular imagination and sustain another invisible narrative in the crime or spy novels, they do withstand a similar probing in criminal cases in general, which is of interest to us, in particular in the queries raised by counsels acting on behalf of plaintiffs, defendants, or suspects. Representations of society invariably come in broad variations: the haves and have‑not; men and women; the powerful and the powerless; the upper middle classes and the popular ones; the Western model of justice versus the Oriental; the state and society. What all such popular representations raise is precisely the issue of the locus of power and its effect on justice and the rule‑of‑law.

  • 40 . Slavoj Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, London: Verso, 1999.

44Notwithstanding the sophistication of all such approaches, which are of great help to us in understanding criminality, there is still that lingering issue of what Slavoj Žižek has dubbed “the ticklish subject.”40 What we mean by this is that there is always a “subject” behind an act, be it a simple emotion, gesture, decision, desire, lust, or a criminal act. When a court is, for example, inquiring about the possibility of a first‑degree murder, it is overtly addressing the lingering issue of premeditation, which in turn assumes a “subject” “acting freely with his or her own Will.” Article 535 of the Syrian penal code addresses premeditation in one word: ʿamd, which is the only civil nonpolitical crime subject to the death penalty. The code therefore does not even bother to define premeditation, as if the very notion of ʿamd is indefinable; as if the symbolisms of the word itself are enough to connote its meaning. So how can a court decide if a killing was premeditated or not? As some cases in this book show, ʿamd is documented based on the circumstances of the case at hand. Not that each case operates with a distinct definition of ʿamd, but rather that it requires a documentation specific to the events of the case, which are unique to it, even though they may achieve a generic status, metamorphosing as precedent. Thus, even witnesses, acting on behalf of the plaintiff or defendant, seem to be implicitly aware that describing a crime scene would entail repercussions on the labeling of the crime as premeditated or non‑premeditated: for example, describing a suspect at the moment of the killing as acting with a “quiet demeanor,” as if totally “conscious” of his action, is already an indication of premeditation, at least as interpreted by a court of law. In short, the penal code leaves it to the actors to define premeditation from their experience, as they see best within the confines of the law, which implies assuming that indefinable “subject” which acts at will.

  • 41 . Robert Pippin, Hegel on Self‑Consciousness: Desire and Death in the Phenomenology of Spirit, Prin (...)
  • 42 . Slavoj Žižek, Less Than Nothing: §Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism, London: Verso, (...)

45When we look more closely at such attempts, however, we soon realize that they largely assume a first‑person perspective of the events. At best, such first‑person perspectives would metamorphose into multi‑person narratives, thanks to the labor of lawyers and judges who must “edit” all statements into a comprehensive whole: what matters under such circumstances is not so much the perspective of one witness, but of all witnesses combined. Still, such comprehensive whole, as witnessed in the verdict, relies at its core on first‑person narratives. To wit, it is not enough to understand what goes on in a criminal mind—or any consciousness for that matter—based on first‑person perspectives. A subject is more complicated than that. A subject understands itself, its actions, its Being, what he or she is doing only through an external third‑party gaze (the “audience”). To understand such a shift in perspective, from the commonsense first‑person to one which conceptualizes the “subject” or “person” or “self” through a consciousness which is structured via an external gaze, I propose a détour through the work of Robert Pippin on Kant and Hegel which led him to a reevaluation of American Western and film noir in a unique perspective;41 and, along similar lines, of Slavoj Žižek’s comprehensive work on Hegel, Freud, and Lacan, not to mention his interest in film, ideology, and popular culture.42

46Let us begin our demonstration with Kant and his antinomies of pure reason. Kant uproots the Cartesian cogito which at the same time poses itself as subject and object of contemplation, a subject that can objectify itself in the act of thinking. Thus, not only does the “I” understand the process of thinking by objectifying it, but it does so because it can grasp the reality “outside.” In other words, even though the cogito doubts and errs in the path to knowledge, it can still posit itself as a coherent whole, understanding itself and the world outside; even God can be exposed to a proof of existence by the cogito. The core of the Kantian subject by contrast is an undermining of such possibility of knowledge of the self and the other as objects of experience, as they are both limited by what they can understand and do. Such a limitation is due to the fact that as subjects‑of‑knowledge we are only exposed to the phenomena of nature, not the things‑in‑themselves, the noumenal entities outside our grasp. In other words, we only know a thing as it is knowable by the senses through phenomenal attributes; the noumenal thing‑in‑itself remains inaccessible to us. The antinomy—or parallax—consists in admitting the contradiction between two beliefs or conclusions that are in themselves reasonable: that of a subject that knows the phenomena of nature, and that of the same subject limited to those same phenomena; which places the subject in a paradox: that of a transcendental subject which accesses itself and the world at large only through the phenomenal. Antinomies are therefore an indication of the inability of our finite reason to grasp noumenal reality—the ontological incompleteness of reality itself.

  • 43 . G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1967, Chapter IV: “Self‑Con (...)
  • 44 . Robert Pippin, Fatalism, introduction.
  • 45 . Which is not to be confounded with the “eye.”
  • 46 . Hegel, Phenomenology, 218.
  • 47 . In The End of History and the Last Man, New York: HarperCollins, 2002 (1992), “The Struggle for R (...)
  • 48 . Hegel, Phenomenology, 220.
  • 49 . In the Syrian Revolt in 2011–13 it became fashionable in the popular “street” opinion to represen (...)

47In Hegel’s reinterpretation of the Kantian analysis of experience, “consciousness of self” is the basis of the consciousness of anything whatsoever. In Hegel’s development of self‑consciousness—the consciousness of self in relation to nature—what is relevant is when the self is aware of itself in relation to another self.43 Put simply, self‑consciousness is the self‑consciousness of the Other, which implies that I only understand myself—who I am as a self, as a person—through the self‑consciousness of the Other. Self‑consciousness is desire itself, as it attains “satisfaction” only in another self‑consciousness.44 It is understandable why such dictum would become the core of Lacanian psychoanalysis in its various tenets of “consciousness,” “desire,” and the big Other as “gaze.”45 If self‑consciousness is the self‑consciousness of the Other, then I am only aware of myself through the desire and gaze of the Other. If agency entails some sort of responsibility (as courts of law normally assume), achievement, the ability to desire, lust, feel pain, trust, and so on, then achievement relies as much on self‑knowledge as it does on the knowledge of others, their motivations, feelings, and their knowledge of us as persons endowed with agency. With that in mind, the first‑person perspective is a myth which cannot possibly stand the complexity of reality. First of all, there is no clear (Cartesian) boundary between Self and Other, or between the intentional and nonintentional, or between my responsibility and the responsibility of the Other. Because my self‑consciousness is the self‑consciousness of the Other, the Other is always intruding, probing my very existence, hence shaping my consciousness, making me aware of my‑self‑as‑person: I cannot know who I am without that consciousness of the Other and its gaze. For Hegel, therefore, consciousness is in‑itself and for‑another; it is, indeed, that Otherness which posits consciousness‑in‑itself qua object‑for‑another.46 As self‑consciousness, it is movement, since it receives temporary satisfaction from the recognition of the Other.47 In sum, self‑consciousness is the state of Desire in general, where I desire the Other for desiring me as self‑consciousness.48 For Lacan and Žižek, both of which are situated within the Freudian psychoanalytic tradition with a Hegelian twist, the consciousness of the Other takes various intruding formula, broadly designated as the big Other as representative of the social and symbolic order, which could be anything from a parental figure (real or imaginary), a lover, a teacher, Law, an invisible audience, a state apparatus, or a figure of God as a kind of guarantee of global meaning, all of which interpellate us in the very intimacy of our own Being.49 To elaborate, the big Other acts as if there is a meaningful order “out there,” which interpellates me, intrudes in me, via my self‑consciousness of the Other.

48Which leads us to the main endeavor of this book, namely, that a criminal enterprise, whether premeditated or not, cannot be solely understood as a dual structure between an assailant who whished harm to his or her victim, and a victim who fell prey to an assailant, which she may or may not have known. Like any individual agency, the agency of a criminal would not stand on its own as an autonomous Will, capable of narrating the crime scene from a first‑person perspective. There are too many outside intrusions in an individual consciousness for “it” to be fully conscious of what it is doing. The way to go is to assume beforehand that between assailant and victim lies a Third Party, which we will interchangeably designate as “audience,” big Other, addressee, or recipient. Such an assumption would make a difference when interpreting a crime scene, and the way it is narrated by witnesses, suspects, experts of sorts, and the judicial authorities. Thus the criminal is not “on his own” when committing his crime, but always in the presence of the big Other; even the Jināyāt court, which will issue the verdict, would act as that posthumous third‑party audience of sorts, interpreting the crime in its juridical language of the state‑law. For our part, we will also act as a third‑party audience, forging our own interpretive methods, which, needless to say, may differ from the Jināyāt’s representation of the crime scene.

  • 50 . Fethi Benslama, Psychoanalysis and the Challenge of Islam, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota P (...)

49For each crime, we are challenged with three narrative levels, which are not reducible to one another, and which are not to be reduced to “discourses.” First of all, the narratives of witnesses, suspects, lawyers and judges. Even though subjected to “authorial editing” of sorts (by policemen, prosecutors, lawyers and judges), such narratives stand on their own as the raw material of the case‑file, which is what is accessible to us, as external observers, of the crime scene in the mode of writing. Second, such narratives would be incomprehensible without their contextualization as statements delivered under various circumstances and in different situated encounters. For example, there is a big difference between a statement delivered in the aftermath of the crime, within the first 24–48 hours, at a police station, when policemen are acting like “thugs” to get their job done, and a similar statement uttered in the sanctity of a judge’s office or a courtroom under different conditions. Witnesses tend to play down such differences by reversing previous alleged statements, attributing them to police brutality or their sheer ignorance of the law: “I did not know what I was doing back then, but I now understand the consequences.” Finally, a third level imposes itself, that of interpreting the first two levels of narratives, which we will designate as psychoanalytic analysis. At this level, various psychoanalytic concepts are at stake: the Oedipus complex, the dream‑work, the (moral) superego and the big Other, the socio‑symbolic order, desire and the death drive, and the gaze, all of which assume a dialectic between desire and the desire of the Other, or between the narcissistic self and its “externalized” construction as the desire/gaze of the Other.50 Psychoanalytic analysis does not limit itself to the linearity of narratives, but it is also fundamentally atemporal, as it assumes that the traumatic experience of the crime masks the repetition of the death drive.

  • 51 . Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, trans. James Strachey, in The Standard Edition of th (...)
  • 52 . Todd McGowan, Out of Time. Desire in Atemporal Cinema, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (...)

50What proves of particular significance for the analysis of crime narratives is Freud’s notion of dream‑work, understood as that mental labor that insinuates itself between the content of the dream as such and its manifest representation—what the analysand remembers of the dream, which is transferred back to the psychoanalyst. In his discussion of dream interpretation, Freud contends, “There is at least one spot in every dream at which it is unplumbable—a navel, as it were, that is its point of contact with the unknown.”51 The dream’s navel is the center around which the logic of the dream turns; it provides the basis for the dream’s sense without itself being comprehensible. Every crime possesses a similar navel, though different crimes emphasize this to a greater or lesser extent. One can interpret a structure of signification—a dream or a film or a crime or any text—but one cannot interpret every element within that structure.52

  • 53 . Claude Lévi‑Strauss, Le cru et le cuit, Paris: Plon, 1964, “Ouverture.”
  • 54 . As the great majority of policemen, investigators, and judges in Syria are males, hence the choic (...)

51Which, in the final analysis, conceptualizes the dream‑work (or a crime or any text) as a process between form and content, a distinction that Claude Lévi‑Strauss places on hold for his analyses of Amazonian mythologiques.53 The wager here concerns the impasses of content—the deadlock in societal (class) antagonisms and sexual difference—which cannot be expressed solely in words, remain in the unconscious un‑said, thus “rescued” by the narrative form. For example, when a woman is narrating a rape scene to a male investigator,54 placed as she was in the position of the victim, there is a deadlock when it comes to narrating “what happened to me” and “what I saw and experienced,” hence the narration would rapidly hinge towards an indescribable impasse, which only the form of enunciation, as “edited” by the interviewer, would rescue. The rape scene would then metamorphose into something juridically “comprehensible”—as a criminal event to be processed in a court of law—where the un‑said was that in‑visible of the edited text (inter alia, C6–4 and 6–5). This first narrative register, that of witnesses and suspects documenting the crime scene, only exists for the sake of the second level of narration, that of the case being constructed as a file to be disseminated among members of the judicial authority. In effect, it is the second narrative register which constructs the first, to such a point that it does not exist for its own sake. Such a reality is even reinforced further by the fact that in Syrian criminology the original utterances of witnesses, suspects, and convicts, are not recorded verbatim; in their stead, the disseminated case‑file would only carry procès‑verbaux, edited reports based on the original invisible utterances. Put simply, the first narrative level does not exist, as we can only assume its existence—nothing more. By contrast the second narrative level is alive and kicking, whose logic of construction hovers around several possible narratives, which only the meta‑narrative of the verdict, as approved or revoked by the Damascus Naqḍ, arbitrarily seals to an end.

52We are using narrative as a linguistic tool different from discourse, as introduced earlier, namely, as a set of statements that would uncover the historical a priori topoi of a given period. For example, a medical discourse on madness and insanity reveals that unconscious (hidden) aspect of practice which is needed to treat démence as a pathological illness. The juridical discourse would in turn assume such a medical discourse on démence while incorporating it within its own sets of historical a priori (crime as detrimental to society; an insane cannot be attributed legal personality; property theft is criminal). That is to say: discourse is more structured and operates at a more abstract level than narrative structure; it also needs a broader time framework to develop and mature (a medical discourse on démence is there to stay). In sum, narratives, like the one contained in the case‑file, may assume the existence of abstract discursive formations, even though they are not reducible to the latter.

53For this very reason, an alternate narrative register is badly needed, one that would explore the first–second registers (which in fact are one and the same, due to the absence of verbatim transcripts or audio–video recordings) within a fresh perspective, which at the same time is distinct, simultaneous, and antagonistic to the first two. I am proposing in this book a psychoanalytic logic for some of the criminal cases; even though no case could be reduced to its psychoanalytic structure, hence each case is up for grabs for other potential registers. Analyzing crime from a psychoanalytic perspective implies adding a third‑party‑audience to the duo of assailant and victim: by simply adding that third component, the whole perspective shifts in another direction, adding a new paradox, simply because the “criminal mind” is no more solely hooked to the presumed relation of assailant and victim: set in Hegelian philosophy, the criminal consciousness is “responding” to a call from the otherness of the other, to which the crime is dedicated. Approaches to law and crime conducted under the banner of “the social construction of law” or “the social construction of gender,” useful as they may be, are still, at their very best, operating on the presumption of the first–second narrative registers, as they are situated within narratives and discourses which cannot account for the contingency of the real criminal subject: How does this “normal” subject all of a sudden erupt into a criminal person?

  • 55 . Jacques Lacan, “Prémisses à tout développement possible de la criminologie,” in Autres écrits, Pa (...)

54But is the criminal a person who simply denies prima facie the values of society, property, or human life? In his “premises for a development of criminology,” Jacques Lacan notes that “human reality is not only a matter of social organization”: there is always that “subjective relation” which, pace Hegel, dialectically opens the particular to the universal, whose ground is a profound alienation of the individual vis‑à‑vis other humans, opening the possibility for violent action.55 For Lacan “social organization” is linguistically structured around the socio‑symbolic order towards which the ego‑subject surrenders from birth while feeling profound alienation. The ego‑as‑body lives in a state of mutilation–castration when confronted with the demands of the symbolic order; the latter structuring the ego’s requirements of speech and language. It is at the level of the symbolic that Law inscribes itself both as normativity (the Kantian categorical imperative) and contingency (positive law). From a Lacanian perspective, responsibility is a strong term which implies that an ego‑subject is recognized as such by fellow ego‑subjects; recognition by the Other makes them fully responsible for their own actions, both in the moral sense—the symbolic values collectively endorsed by society as Law or customs or linguistic norms—and in their ethical stance, as value that the ego‑subject has consciously chosen from his or her own Will (Kant’s categorical imperative). When the moral primes the ethical (for example, when the subject integrates in a work environment simply “to do well,” without any further motivation or internal mission), the ego‑subject may soon manifest an unconscious symptomatic behavior of non‑integration (small gestures that would point to colleagues at work that “I’m not at home with you”).

55Lacan was well aware of the problem faced by psychoanalysis in a capitalist world dominated by science and technology, which in the case of Law, translates into a “scientific” juridical discourse which perceives the ego‑subject as a morally responsible non‑subject; or when it comes to criminological studies, which Lacan associates with the discourse of the University (an additional “scientific” claim), it is the socio‑symbolic order which prevails over the vulnerable subjectivity of the criminal. The Law therefore punishes—through incarceration and isolation—an assailant for having committed a hideous act against another human being without, however, acknowledging his or her subjectivity. From the viewpoint of the Law, therefore, responsibility implies being responsible towards the socio‑symbolic order, which means accepting it at face value as it is. That is to say, what is precisely denied of the ego‑subject is that impossible deadlock to totally identify with the socio‑symbolic order. The ego‑subject is always caught in a subjectivity which is never fully recognized as such by the Other, hence invariably traumatized by a lack of the Other, and vulnerable in its interactions with others.

  • 56 . Lacan, “Prémisses,” 122.
  • 57 . Lacan, “Prémisses,” 123: “d’où résulte non moins logiquement cette reconnaissance du droit de l’a (...)

56To understand the nature of crime we must therefore acknowledge that the criminal is caught in a closed structure of subjectivity of his or her own making; a structure that leaves out the subject outside the authentic recognition of the Other and social communication.56 When the criminal subject is summoned by a court of law to acknowledge the morbidity of his crime, the court is doing so without acknowledging the hiatus that separates the subjectivity of the criminal and the socio‑symbolic order under which the Law operates. The culprit is therefore left to his “moral consciousness” which psychoanalysis identifies as the super‑ego. When a court of law summons the accused to acknowledge a wrongful act amid the verdict, there is that “logical acknowledgment of the right of the accused to lie, which is named as respect for individual consciousness.”57 It is indeed such a hiatus that constitutes our main preoccupation for the crimes in this book.

57Lacan formulates the gap between the socio‑symbolic order to which the individual surrenders and desire as the inaccessible objet petit a:

  • 58 . Todd McGowan, The Impossible David Lynch, New York: Columbia University Press, 2007, 51.

Lacan distinguishes between the actual object of desire and the object‑cause of desire, which he calls the objet petit a. Unlike objects of desire, which we access all the time, the objet petit a remains fundamentally inaccessible. It has no actual existence but nonetheless serves to trigger the desire of the subject. It is the inflection that transforms the everyday object into an object of desire, thereby eroticizing the visual field. The subject doesn’t see the objet petit a, but its absence from the visual field is what makes the subject desire to look.58

58The elusive objet petit a is best exemplified in honor killings (Chapter 6). The assailant, usually a young male closely knit to the female victim (as father, fiancé, husband or ex‑husband, brother or cousin) assails her because she has become an ostracized member of the family amid an alleged promiscuous liaison. The repulsiveness that the female body engenders in the male gaze in no way disqualifies it from playing the role of the objet petit a, because this object is constitutively absent and cannot become present. What is present, however, is the female body as the actual object of desire, even though the object‑cause of desire, the objet petit a, which triggered the honor killing, remains inaccessible. The intense enjoyment (jouissance) that the assailant must have felt in committing his “honorable killing” (in the language of the law) stems from such elusiveness, namely, that female jouissance cannot be possibly located, hence the physical elimination of the body in a killing ceremony that would become publicly acknowledged.

  • 59 . Ernesto Laclau, On Populist Reason, London: Verso, 2005.
  • 60 . Slavoj Žižek, “The Fear of Four Words: A Modest Plea for the Hegelian Reading of Christianity,” i (...)
  • 61 . Žižek, “The Fear of Four Words,” 44. The reference of “property is theft” goes back to Pierre Jos (...)

59Lacan’s staunch refusal to reduce the criminal act to the socio‑symbolic order of the Law comes in parallel to favoring sexual difference, the unbridgeable sexual hiatus between the sexuality of women and men, over the “gendered social construction of reality,” which like Law, is inscribed in the socio‑symbolic order. Hence both “the social construction of gender/sexuality” and the “social construction of law” fail to account for the ego‑subject as a traumatized and mutilated subjectivity “inaccessible” to the socio‑symbolic. Looked at in Marxist terms, the law can neither transcend itself in its inner contradictions, nor transcend hegemonic class antagonisms. As such, it is an empty universal signifier59 which receives its meaningful content from the contingencies of contract and crime. That is to say, since contract is by definition the protection of private property, understood as a domain that is inviolable by others except by the possessor himself (similar in that respect to a sacred object), theft becomes an act of transgression against property qua property, in its very sacredness as an inalienable Thing. But is the criminal challenging the very concept of property as an inalienable Thing, or its unjust allocation to certain individuals and groups over others? In his debate with Catholic British theologian John Milbank, Slavoj Žižek pushes that line of Marxist interpretation to its extreme: “universal(ized) crime is no longer a crime—it sublates (negates/overcomes) itself as crime and turns from transgression into a new order.”60 What is the difference between the order of the law and that of the criminal act? If the order of the law is contingent on the existence of a hegemonic class antagonism, then the criminal is transgressing this order by creating a new one, one that would challenge the possession of property to a hegemonic group. In other words, the criminal is saying, “I believe in the moral order of property as much as you do, but I want to reorganize it on my own behalf!” As the moral order of Law is itself criminal, the criminal act would only sublate it to a new order, this time from the viewpoint of the dispossessed, who in turn believe in property as sacrosanct: “the way morality (in the case of theft, property) asserts itself a crime—‘property is theft,’ as they used to say in the nineteenth century.”61


1 . On the difference between “avowal” and “acknowledgment,” see below, and Chapter 3.

2 . Gregory M. Matoesian, Law and the Language of Identity. Discourse in the William Kennedy Smith Rape Trial, New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

3 . In the Sabiha Dalʿun case, C5–5.

4 . In all quoted texts from the Jināyāt courts, emphasis in bold characters (and at times in italics) has been added to the original to underscore a pattern of speech and a motif in syntax.

5 . Except under exceptional circumstances, for instance, when a suspect dies under torture (C5–4).

6 . Introduction to the Problems of Legal Theory, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.

7 . Über die drei Arten des rechtswissenschaftlichen Denkens, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot; Les trois types de pensée juridique, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1995.

8 . In his majestic study of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, the philosopher Jean‑Luc Nancy, L’Évidence du film, Brussels: Yves Gevaert Éditeur, 2001, reminds us of the Latin origin of “evidence” as “Evidentia: it is the character of what is seen from afar (giving a passive turn to the active meaning of video, ‘I see’). The distance implied by evidence gives both the measure of its spatial removal and the measure of its power. Something is seen distinctly from far away because it detaches itself, it separates…Something strikes with distinction: always, a picture is also that which subtracts itself from a context and stands out, clear‑cut, against a background. Always, there is a cut, a framing.” (42)

9 . Renaud Dulong and Jean‑Marie Marandin, “Analyse des dimensions constitutives de l’aveu en réponse à une accusation,” in L’aveu. Histoire, sociologie, philosophie, edited by Renaud Dulong (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2001), 135–179.

10 . See, Chapter 6.

11 . See, Chapter 4.

12 . Émile Durkheim, Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, Joseph Ward Swain, trans., New York: The Macmillan Co., 1926; Erving Goffman, Relations in Public: Microstudies of the Public Order, Basic Books, 1971.

13 . Dulong and Marandin, “Analyse,” 157: “La sacralité de la règle y est objectivée dans la volonté divine, et l’exigence de réparation revêt la forme d’un rituel, par exemple d’un sacrifice, dont l’accomplissement engage autant le groupe social que le coupable ou son clan.”

14 . The ethical and moral are two different stances: the moral is situated within the socio‑symbolic order, as expressed in language, hence reflects the norms of society at large; for example, a prohibition to consume alcohol either in toto or during specific days/hours of the week, or for certain age categories (below 21), may reflect a moral and/or religious stance (that alcoholic beverages are “bad” for the body and mind; one needs to be “mature” enough to consume them without harm). An ethical stance by contrast places moral law at the heart of subjectivity: the decision to consume alcohol or not is solely mine; to use Kantian language, such an ethical decision, which may be contrary to the socio‑symbolic norms of society as expressed in its moral laws, is situated within the categorical Will of the individual, hence autonomous from the moral norms of society.

15 . Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Oxford: Blackwell, 1958, §246:

“In what sense are my sensations private?—Well, only I can know whether I am really in pain; another person can only surmise it.—In one way this is wrong, and in another nonsense. If we are using the word ‘to know’ as it is normally used (and how else are we to use it?), then other people very often know when I am in pain.—Yes, but all the same not with the certainty with which I know it myself!—It can’t be said of me at all (except perhaps as a joke) that I know I am in pain. What is it supposed to mean—except perhaps that I am in pain?

Other people cannot be said to learn of my sensations only from my behavior,—for I cannot be said to learn of them. I have them.

The truth is: it makes sense to say about other people that they doubt whether I am in pain; but not to say it about myself.”

16 . Veena Das, “Language and Body: Transactions in the Construction of Pain,” Daedalus, 125(1), Winter 1996, 67–91.

17 . Pierre Bourdieu, Le sens commun, Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1980.

18 . Jack Katz, Seductions of Crime: Moral and Sensual Attractions in Doing Evil, New York: Basic Books, 1988, 35.

19 . At the time, the multi‑volumes of the posthumously published “lectures” since the 1990s as Cours au Collège de France were not yet available.

20 . Katz, Seductions, 35.

21 . Katz, Seductions, 310.

22 . An‑Nahār, Beirut, 29 July 2012, p. 13.

23 . Luke Mogelson, “Letter from Aleppo: The River Martyrs,” The New Yorker, April 29, 2013, 40–49.

24 . David Garland, Punishment and Modern Society, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990.

25 . Katz, Seductions, 18.

26 . Katz, Seductions, 19.

27 . Katz, Seductions, 27.

28 . Hence the all too familiar crimes across cultures of killings originating in a feeling of total loss and impotence: for example, a man failing to erect in a sexual encounter, while being subject to casual humiliation by his partner.

29 . Katz, Seductions, 29.

30 . Luc Boltanski, Énigmes et complots. Une enquête à propos d’enquêtes, Paris: Gallimard, 2012, 22.

31 . Boltanski, Énigmes, 31–32.

32 . Boltanski, Énigmes, 38–39.

33 . Jürgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, translated by William Rehg, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1996.

34 . Boltanski, Énigmes, 39.

35 . Barrington Moore, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World, Boston: Beacon Press, 1993 (reprint).

36 . Boltanski, Énigmes, “Le locus du pouvoir,” 197–199.

37 . Michel Foucault, Le gouvernement de soi et des autres. Cours au Collège de France, 1982–1983, Paris: Hautes Études–Gallimard–Seuil, 2008.

38 . Michel Foucault, Sécurité, territoire, population. Cours au Collège de France, 1977–1978, Paris: Hautes Études–Gallimard–Seuil, 2004.

39 . Boltanski, Énigmes, 198.

40 . Slavoj Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, London: Verso, 1999.

41 . Robert Pippin, Hegel on Self‑Consciousness: Desire and Death in the Phenomenology of Spirit, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010; Fatalism in American Film Noir: Some Cinematic Philosophy, University of Virginia Press, 2012.

42 . Slavoj Žižek, Less Than Nothing: §Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism, London: Verso, 2012.

43 . G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1967, Chapter IV: “Self‑Consciousness.”

44 . Robert Pippin, Fatalism, introduction.

45 . Which is not to be confounded with the “eye.”

46 . Hegel, Phenomenology, 218.

47 . In The End of History and the Last Man, New York: HarperCollins, 2002 (1992), “The Struggle for Recognition,” 143–210, Francis Fukuyama argues that “recognition” is an essential trait for the apprehension of history‑as‑totality, that is, for what has already been achieved in the past, as a virtual totality, where liberal capitalism came triumphant, making all other political and economic systems (modes of production) “obsolete”; and for what is yet to be done, that is to say, the “assimilation” of non‑Western societies and civilization into modernity through a universally acknowledged liberal capitalism.

48 . Hegel, Phenomenology, 220.

49 . In the Syrian Revolt in 2011–13 it became fashionable in the popular “street” opinion to represent “the Americans,” conceived as a generic term of international evil and imperialism, as “pulling the strings” behind the chaotic and uncontrollable events on the ground, hence there would be nothing “final” prior to the November 2012 U.S. presidential election: that is, president Obama would become “decisive” on Syria only once reelected. Those who started the show of violence, in order to ensure a better control of regional politics, are the only ones capable of terminating such anomaly. In the meantime, the Syrians, and the region at large, would have to endure U.S. “indecisiveness” as a fatality. By the same token, the Russian staunch support of the Asad régime is only a puppet‑show staged between Americans and Russians until the presidential elections: in the final analysis, only what “the Americans” want matters. Needless to say, such political representations manifest the big Other at works, pulling the strings and creating an order out of the uncontrollable, which is precisely the symbolic role of the big Other: to provide meaning where there is none. In short, the big Other undermines the possibility of causal social analysis, one that is based on class antagonisms, ethnicities, religious and ideological symbolisms.

50 . Fethi Benslama, Psychoanalysis and the Challenge of Islam, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

51 . Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, trans. James Strachey, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 4, London: Hogarth Press, 1953, 111.

52 . Todd McGowan, Out of Time. Desire in Atemporal Cinema, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011, 139.

53 . Claude Lévi‑Strauss, Le cru et le cuit, Paris: Plon, 1964, “Ouverture.”

54 . As the great majority of policemen, investigators, and judges in Syria are males, hence the choice here was not deliberate, but even a female investigator would not have faired better with the victim, as the impossibility to express in words what happened was not necessarily caused by a male presence on the other side. It is rather the association of pleasure with its opposite, pain, in a violent sexual act which makes it indescribable.

55 . Jacques Lacan, “Prémisses à tout développement possible de la criminologie,” in Autres écrits, Paris: Seuil, 2001, 121–125; “Introduction théorique aux fonctions de la psychanalyse en criminologie,” in Écrits, Paris: Seuil, 1966, 125–149.

56 . Lacan, “Prémisses,” 122.

57 . Lacan, “Prémisses,” 123: “d’où résulte non moins logiquement cette reconnaissance du droit de l’accusé au mensonge, que l’on dénomme respect de la conscience individuelle.”

58 . Todd McGowan, The Impossible David Lynch, New York: Columbia University Press, 2007, 51.

59 . Ernesto Laclau, On Populist Reason, London: Verso, 2005.

60 . Slavoj Žižek, “The Fear of Four Words: A Modest Plea for the Hegelian Reading of Christianity,” in The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic?, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2009, 24–109, p. 44 for the citation.

61 . Žižek, “The Fear of Four Words,” 44. The reference of “property is theft” goes back to Pierre Joseph Proudhon in 1840.

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