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The Crime of Writing

Zouhair Ghazzal

Chapter 10. Photoshopping the president: Men at work in the age of socialism

Texte intégral

A crook should know how and when to quit

1Syria has long been plagued by a rarity of commodities. When the Baath came to power in the mid‑1960s it abruptly put an end to a then nascent urban modern bourgeois culture, which, among other things, was enjoying the benefits of consumerism. The nationalization of key industrial units and banks has led to an ineffective statist economy. For one thing, the state monopoly over labor and capital has reduced competitiveness and produced shortages in commodities, even the most crucial ones, such as bread, milk, and sugar. Moreover, in order to allocate the flux of hard currencies, beginning with the dollar and the various European currencies (later the euro), the state had to considerably reduce free trade, while raising its import taxes on precious commodities like cars and electronics. On the other hand, the state banned exporting many food commodities, like olive oil, on the basis that they are locally needed. In addition to all such shortages, the freeze in salaries—or, more accurately, the fact that salaries were not routinely pegged to inflation—considerably reduced the purchasing power of consumers, most of which receive their monthly stipends from the state, as employees in the large civil bureaucracy, factories, or the army and the intelligence services. Remarkably, though, the Syrian Pound (S.P., or lira) managed from the late 1960s to the early 1980s to keep its value vis‑à‑vis the dollar at roughly SP3 for a dollar. But, with Perestroika looming in the horizon of the ex‑Soviet Union, the new leaders of the now defunct U.S.S.R. suddenly summoned their Syrian visitors to pay it all in cash, instead of the customary debt procedures that had survived for a couple decades. The Syrian state suddenly found itself in the unexpected position of losing some of its hard currencies reserves simply to keep up with its moribund bureaucracy, factories, schools, and army, to survive at their bare minimum. Such an uncomfortable situation forced the lira to lose a great deal of its value, until it was pegged in the mid‑1990s at SP50 to the dollar (the price would fluctuate by 5 percent between the winter and summer seasons). Ironically, the Syrian middle class, which had trouble in the 1970s finding on the market some of the most basic commodities (anything from food to closing and electronics), even though it could have afforded them, lost by the end of the 1980s a great deal of its bank and gold savings with the unexpected devaluation of the lira. The nationalization of banks and private financial services, not to mention that of private schools and colleges, has made Syria totally unprepared to cope with a financial crisis like the one it faced at the moment of the Soviet Perestroika. Those of the middle class that could afford, or had enough experience, opened bank accounts in Lebanon, attempting to reduce the damage that the state controlled Syrian banks were creating.

  • 1 See, Chapter 1 on the Kallās affair and its aftermath.

2In sum, the rarity of commodities had a single culprit: the total state control over production, capital, and education. The centralization of decision making has limited personal initiative and transformed any small bureaucratic paperwork into a Kafkaesque nightmare. The state monopoly creates all kinds of intermediaries, the kind of persons and institutions, some legal, others illegal, that would propose their services to circumvent bureaucratic routine, or else to receive the benevolence of high‑ranking bureaucrats and army officers. Various state “cooperatives” (taʿāwuniyyāt), particularly in housing, agriculture, and food provisioning, were created to protect low‑income people from the vagaries of the market. Small and mid‑sized supermarkets, selling all kinds of home commodities, were state subsidized. More important, however, were the state‑sponsored housing projects. Constructed for the most part on confiscated lands at the peripheries of cities, or at times, only few miles from a city’s perimeter, the housing projects were primarily aimed at the professional units that formed the core of the nation’s most trusted adherents: doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers, army, security and intelligence officers, and Baath party members—a list that combines professional skills and ideologues. Housing projects, known as jamʿiyyāt sakaniyya (housing cooperatives), were state subsidized, and their prices were set below market value; enrolling in one meant enduring that patience that would entail following the construction project over many years with no end in sight. Hence the crucial role of intermediaries who act like Shamans, healing the consumer’s traumatic experiences, posing themselves as intermediaries for all kinds of transactions with a moribund state bureaucracy. Some of those intermediaries, such as the notorious Muhammad Kallās and associates in the 1990s, provided hungry investors with all kinds of basic services, primarily financial ones, which should have been left to banks, but there were none that could properly handle them.1 In a remarkable sequence of “illegal” operations, mostly based in Aleppo, which benefited from Investment Law number 10 (1991), Kallās was able to provide much needed financial services via buggy portfolios similar to risky “hedge funds.” He and his associates would thus provide small middle class investors, who were hungry for appropriate investment channels, with financial investments with lucrative returns, averaging at times between 50 to 100 percent. The Kallās enterprises in Aleppo would thus purchase apartments and lands far above their market prices, but rather than return cash to their owners, the fictitious prices became investments in hedge funds appropriated by Kallās. But even though Kallas and associates had some capital invested in “real” production, such as textiles and jeans factories, most of the capital was pure speculation. Thousands of people had invested their life savings and properties in such fictitious funds, and when rumors spread in 1997 that there was no “real” capital to sustain such financial operations, Aleppo panicked to the point that people lined by the thousands in front of the offices of Kallās enterprises hoping for their money back. Needless to say, the capitals were not there, and Kallās had to file for bankruptcy, was jailed, and brought to trial, prior to a late controversial acquittal.

3In five decades of Baathist rule, with its socialist ideology, which initially might have had some popular appeal (including among the old Ottoman aristocracy, which had lost a great deal of its economic benefits with the emergence of a well to do middle class during the French Mandate and after), Syria landed on an economic standstill thanks to an arcane bureaucracy. A class of intermediaries therefore rose to power, whose only function was to provide services that should in principle have been those of the state bureaucracy. But with the latter’s gross inefficiency and incompetence, the intermediaries offered various services that people would receive from the state only if they had at their disposal enough time and patience. Receiving a land phone line, for instance, would require, until recently, an application whose approval might take up to five years, if it would ever get done. Many families got into the habit of applying to numerous phone lines at a time, in the name of their teenaged children, for example. But even though intermediaries would offer their services within more reasonable time limits, they would have to rely on the state bureaucracy and its infrastructure; hence all what the intermediaries create in the final analysis is a parasitic layer that parallels that of the official bureaucracy. From phone lines, their functions have considerably expanded to bill payments, to providing “family” leaves for the young men serving in the army, to selling electrical and electronic equipment unavailable in local markets, to accessing housing cooperatives (which in principle are limited to syndicates), to foreign visas (in particular Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States), college degrees, and many other services. The strategies deployed to provide such services to a hungry and weary public at reasonable cost, hinge for the most part on the borderline between the legal and illegal. It is not illegal, for instance, to help someone receiving a visa in a foreign embassy and consulate, but it is illegal, however, to bribe an embassy’s employee to facilitate that process. Other things are known to be illegal: conscripts know that they can go home for short vacations only at specific times of the year, or else for family or health emergencies; it is therefore illegal to either create false excuses or to bribe one’s supervisor for unauthorized vacations.

4The industry of intermediaries and forgers is therefore very different in authoritarian and bureaucratically dominated societies from their western liberal counterparts. There are, of course, plenty of people in the U.S. who would offer faked green cards, passports, social security numbers, résumés and driver licenses for those who are willing to take the risk and afford the price. But besides the fact that such services are normally offered to illegal aliens, the intermediaries in question are not acting as facilitators to bureaucratic paperwork: they are illegally normalizing the status of thousands of aliens. In Syria, by contrast, most intermediaries work as facilitators of bureaucratic paperwork, which in principle should not be illegal: if it takes a month of my time to register my new car, it makes sense that I relegate the work to an experienced professional who normally spends his time in such transactions; I will reward him for doing the job for me in fifteen days. The “legality” of such proxy transactions, however, could be easily trespassed into less familiar territories. Helping in car registration could soon become illegal registration of cars that did not do it through the regular channels; or helping in the purchase of a subsidized apartment in one of the housing cooperatives might soon entail giving property titles to people who in principle should not be entitled. Since state employees benefit from the services of intermediaries, the borderline between the legal and illegal is hard to draw, on one hand, and the shutdown of such an industry would draw lots of people and their families to the jobless market on the other.

5Intermediaries in Syrian society are therefore a class of their own, who are usually, though not always, remote from the clandestine networks of smugglers, forgers, and counterfeiters, in Syria and elsewhere, and who at times are respected because of alleged links to VIPs in government, the army and intelligence community, and the party. Such alleged links, which could be true or false, weak or strong, are always informal and personal; both sides benefit, however, at sharing the cash that pours in from clients who either would like to speed up their transactions, or else have no other way to legalize an illegal transaction.

6This Chapter carries two unrelated crimes, one on forged identities for the sake of positing oneself as a better intermediary in transactions with the institutions of the Baathist state, while in the other, drug possession and trafficking implied constructing a network of men‑at‑work, which is also what was implicitly at stake in the first case. Intermediaries were therefore incriminated for having trespassed their limits, hence made it to the Jināyāt, instead of going back to the comfort of their homes with their illegal practices. In the first case the accused fabricated for himself a false identity, forging in the meantime documents and seals, while providing goods and services for which he had no legal right. The fabrication of a public faked identity, as an alternate to the private, which would enable its bearer to move along into social circles and accumulate clients, wealth, prestige, and status, stands here as the crux for each of the two cases under scrutiny.

  • 2 Case 222/4/1997, Aleppo Jināyāt ruling on 26 January 1998; sustained by the Damascus Naqḍ on 17 May (...)

7[C10–1] A grotesquerie comes to light, as this case attests,2 when the “artist”‑cum‑forger in question had for all purposes faked all identities: from his public persona—claiming, among others, a “closeness” to the late Syrian president Ḥāfiẓ al‑Asad and his two sons (Basil, the accidental martyr, and Bashshār, the president‑as‑heir)—to documents, college degrees, signatures, and seals, from various ministries, governmental agencies, and syndicated cooperatives. In sum, our protagonist crafted for himself the kind of public persona that Syrian society craves for: an all‑to‑do intermediary with alleged close links at all levels of the governmental hierarchy, up to the president’s office.

8As soon as Muhammad Kāmil Kamāl (b. 1959, resident of Aleppo’s middle‑class Jamiliyyeh neighborhood) was arrested in November 1996 for forgery for creating faked official documents, out of which he had allegedly extorted lots of money from his clients (see Table 10–2 infra), his case was soon transferred to the Jināyāt a couple of months later, which prompted a memo to the court from his defense counsel.

My client the accused Muhammad Kāmil Kamāl is a talented artist in drawing, planning, coloring, and photography. He loves so much Mr. President and leader Ḥāfiẓ al‑Asad to the point of adoring him, wishing to be all the time at his side, like a son. This idea has so much taken hold of him that it made him feel that his social status would have indeed improved had he in fact been close to the president, considering that the latter is loved by the people and the symbol of its struggle.

He thus began to declare himself as an officer [attached to] the presidential palace, and that he is an important personality in the state and party. He also arranged some photographs that made him stand side‑by‑side to the president and his son the martyr Basil. He also claimed to be able to guarantee subscriptions at the party’s housing cooperative, and to help all those who wanted to find a housing at the party’s cooperative. He used to make receipts in the name of the party’s housing cooperative, passing them on to anyone who wished to subscribe. He was that way able to cheat on a number of people, pushing them to pay illusory subscriptions that have no validity in them. He was also able to delude some people into providing them with scientific certificates, using his artistic talents to prepare such receipts and certificates, stamping them with seals that were supposed to be those of the country (qiṭr) and party, while in fact they were neither identical nor a forgery of the original. As soon as he was exposed, he was arrested, and confessed for doing all that, giving the money back to its people in apology. He regretted what he did, and confessed in detail. He reiterated those confessions at every stage of the investigation. Moreover, all the tools that were used and found in his possession were drawing tools which he used when he planned the seals that he claimed were those of the party’s cooperative or presidential palace or other official directories. In reality, however, they are neither identical [to the real ones] nor an imitation to them. (Extracts from a memo addressed by the defense lawyer ʿAli Ahmad al‑Zakkur to the Jināyāt, 16 December 1997).

  • 3 On the treatment of insanity in Syrian courts, see, Chapter 3.

9With the overwhelming evidence that the accused had forged hundreds of faked documents, claiming membership to institutions for which he had no legitimate status, the defense was left with only two unrelated strategies. On the one hand, the defense advanced the claim that his client’s manifest love for the president made him fall into delusions: excessive love for a persona that everyone in the country admires and respects presumably creates in some the desire for reciprocation. Even though the defense never made the claim that his client became psychotic as an outcome of that excessive love, the allusion to insanity is nevertheless implied.3 On the other hand, the defense was adamant, at least in its initial plea to the Jināyāt, at rebuffing the prosecution’s accusations of forgery and counterfeiting. In the above passage, the defense was careful when choosing its words: for instance, “arrange” was used on several occasions instead of the verb “fake,” as there was an insistence that all seals and other materials were not identical to the originals; meaning that their incompatibility was presumably an indication that the accused was using his “artistic” talents for his own pleasure—or to feel closer to the president—with no intention to harm anyone. The two claims would thus go hand‑in‑hand only if the incompatible seals and signs were perceived as a product of the defendant’s delusions, which in turn were an outcome of excessive love. In sum, the accused had an artistic penchant for things, a love for the president and the country—qualities that were incongruent with an alleged criminal forging the emblems of the state and its institutions. According to the defense, therefore, his client had created his own “emblems,” which had nothing to do with those of the state.

In order to reply to the questions [posed by the prosecution] we need to understand the meaning of the word ‘imitation’ (taqlīd). Imitation means the creation of something false (kādhib) as identical (muṭābiq) to the original (aṣl), which is genuine (saḥīḥ) and firm (thābit). It means coming up with that genuine thing, and placing the [faked] thing in front of it, or placing its image right in front, so that people are deluded by the resemblance. If my client the accused Muhammad Kāmil Kamāl had placed the seal of the [presidential] palace and a picture (ṣūra) of it, or the seal of the party and its picture, and made similar or identical seals, then his act would have surely fallen under rule 427 of the penal code, as suggested by the referral judge and general prosecution. (Zakkur, idem.)

  • 4 A mistyping amusingly modified akhtām (seals) for aḥkām (rulings/laws), which could, of course, hav (...)

10The defense went on in its conclusion claiming that “the drawing of those seals was the product of [our client’s] ideas, which are not identical to the state’s seals4 in any way.” In sum, to the defense, the defendant did not commit a crime (jarīma), but only a felony or misdemeanor (junḥa) for having “appropriated” to his own use public documents, hence should not be tried under the harsh sections of the criminal code.

11To the prosecution, however, forgery was not merely an artistic phenomenon, since it primarily implied big money. The defendant was, among others, accused of amassing the sum of SP680,000 ($13,600) from a single plaintiff on innumerable fraudulent matters, not to mention the cash he had received from dozens of others of his “clients.” In his memo to the Aleppo prosecution judge, the plaintiff in question divided the fraudulent money into two categories. The first, amounting to SP418,000, included down payments to various housing projects in Aleppo, fees for residency permits in Saudi Arabia, subscription fees to housing compounds in Saudi Arabia, visa fees for Germany and various Schengen states (a consortium of eight European states), translation fees of certificates issued by the ministry of education, medical insurance fees for the U.S., AIDS tests, fees for requesting land phone lines, and tax‑forms fees. A second category, amounting to SP262,000, mostly involved various fees for the purchase of a car. All such documents were subsequently certified as fraudulent by the Jināyāt. In sum, the defendant was providing his clients with any kind of documentation that they wished, and apparently nothing was beyond his artistic reach. What the list of items above reflects are the typical needs of the middle class, all kinds of utilities, services, and consumers objects, which have become household necessities in most of the world, but for which the majority of Syrians have to pay dire prices—and a lot of patience. Besides the cash, time is a big social factor for such services and utilities: as waiting becomes an important tool for success, intermediaries typically intervene in offering their services to shorten the time framework as much as possible. Besides services and utilities destined for internal use, shortages within the labor market, a stagnating economy, and low salaries, have all contributed, among other social factors, at encouraging young and middle‑aged Syrians to seek external job markets. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States soon became prime targets since the 1970s, and the Syrian communities in various parts of the Arabian Peninsula grew considerably, to the point of managing their own lobby groups within the Syrian government and bureaucracy: they succeeded for instance at convincing the government to create a special badal—a $5,000 fee in lieu of military service—for the young immigrants to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, while such a badal was unavailable for immigrants to Europe and the Americas, until a presidential decree in 2001 regularized the badal across the board.

Figure 10–1. Faked document of a membership to a housing cooperative (jamʿiyyat al‑rāʾid) in Aleppo in 1996 allegedly forged—or, in the language of the defense, “artistically drawn”—by the defendant.

Figure 10–1. Faked document of a membership to a housing cooperative (jamʿiyyat al‑rāʾid) in Aleppo in 1996 allegedly forged—or, in the language of the defense, “artistically drawn”—by the defendant.

Figure 10–2. Forged law degree, allegedly prepared by the defendant in 1996, granting a diploma from Aleppo University.

Figure 10–2. Forged law degree, allegedly prepared by the defendant in 1996, granting a diploma from Aleppo University.

12What intermediaries therefore do is propose their services to users which have become impatient with bureaucratic restrictions, and which, in order to improve their status of living decided to bypass common routine. Such impatient users became the victims of intermediaries like the defendant in our case here. The original complaint against the defendant came through the secretary general of the Baath party in Aleppo who drafted a memo to the police chief on 5 November 1996. The latter in turn drafted a memo urging the Jināyāt to take action, in which he listed a total of twelve persons who allegedly had paid various cash dues to the defendant for services and fees. The fact that complaints surfaced at the party level rather than in a police station is a bit strange, but it could be an indication of the defendant’s use of various party identities while promoting himself in public. Such faked party identities notwithstanding, it remains unclear why complaints did not surface earlier, and on what basis the list of twelve was compiled: Did they come on their own, one after the other, until the party’s secretary general realized that it was getting serious? Or did they complain as a group? In any case, the initial accusations of all twelve were detailed in a handwritten twenty‑page police report on November 12, right after the accused was arrested.

13ʿAlaʾ al‑Din Hamami (b. 1964), a cabdriver from the popular Aleppo Kallaseh neighborhood, was allegedly robbed by the defendant, and as such represented a typical victim. When ʿAlaʾ had met the defendant a year earlier in a shop in the old city, the latter introduced himself as an accountant in a housing cooperative. He allegedly claimed that he would be able to guarantee a housing unit to the plaintiff, on the basis that he was a “party comrade,” and that he simultaneously maintained a position of colonel at the presidential palace. Having introduced himself as an influential person, the defendant allegedly claimed from ʿAlaʾ SP12,000 to register him in two apartments in a single housing unit:

I used to pay him gradually, and when I urged him on several occasions that we go together for a visit to the housing units and their cooperative, he declined. When asking several persons close to the party on the cooperative, I realized that it is illusory (wahmiyya) and has no reality at all. I came to the conclusion that he is a fraudulent person, and we drafted a petition to the secretary general of the party. I request that an investigation be open, and I declare myself as an individual plaintiff against MKK, requesting my money back.

14The rest of the depositions proceed the same way. The plaintiff accidentally met the defendant in a downtown shop, and the latter introduced himself as an important personality with lots of power in his hands, proposing his services in the interim. The plaintiff became a client, paid cash for faked services and utilities, prior to addressing a complaint to the party’s boss. Once we get the moral behind one story, the rest is déjà vu, and while moving from housing cooperatives, to Saudi visas, and car purchases, we are all in the same territory.

15Bashir Khawwam (b. 1966), who at the time was a textile merchant in the old city, had known MKK for a long time as a neighbor. But the latter suddenly vanished for ten years, prior to resurfacing again in 1995. MKK had allegedly initiated regular visits to Bashir’s shop, introducing himself as a colonel at the presidential palace, and a top‑ranking party member, in addition to serving in various housing projects. He even showed Bashir a facsimile of a photograph where he was standing side‑by‑side with president Asad in person. Bashir allegedly paid MKK SP41,000 in several installments for various services ranging, as usual, from housing projects, to travel visas to Saudi Arabia, and residency permits abroad. Bashir finally complained to the party when he was told that MKK was nothing but an ordinary person masquerading as someone influential.

16The other plaintiffs were no different, most of them middle‑aged men and women in their thirties and forties—of the defendant’s generation—all of which, even though doing well by middle‑class standards, were impatient with what their own society had to offer, and impatient mostly of a bureaucratic routine eaten by party affiliations. Since the defendant had already fully confessed to the investigating judge on November 26, soon after his arrest, leaving his lawyer with the only option to play with the meaning of the word “fake” and its various linguistic uses (and abuses), the Jināyāt ruling came rather rapidly, within a year of the arrest.

17In many ways, the defendant was no different from his victims. They all lived for the most part within affluent areas of Aleppo (Jamiliyyeh, Sabil, and Khaldiyyeh), and might have held similar aspirations. As members of the middle class—even though more lower than upper middle class—they all felt the economic hardships of a society where material woes could easily translate into loss of status. Being from the same generation, and having known his pals‑cum‑victims for the most part in high school, the defendant was a cloth merchant too, before his father went bankrupt and their only downtown shop was sold in public auction. Having become unemployed with some savings, he felt uneasy about his new social status, cutting himself from his old pals for ten years. But he only came back to them one‑by‑one as a fraudulent persona with claims of party membership and close links to the presidency. He quickly became acquainted with the idea of forging documents and selling faked services. He developed that expertise in less than two years, and nothing stopped him except the clumsy suspicions of his old pals, which eventually led to his arrest. Having delivered nothing but faked papers and receipts, the plaintiffs saw none of the apartments, visas, residency permits, insurances, and cars that they had been promised.

18In its final sentencing, the Jināyāt rebuffed claims by the defense that “forgery” implied a product that would be “identical” with the original, and pursuant to articles 427, 444, and 448 of the penal code, sentenced the defendant to seven years in prison with hard labor. When the case was appealed to the Damascus Naqḍ court, the appeal was overruled, and the case was finally closed.

A crook who went too far

19The protagonist unduly took himself as the son of the president. The relation father‑son emboldens a preoedipal link whereby the son finds himself at home protected in his mother’s womb, under the benevolent and affectionate father’s gaze, free to unravel his artistic creation, which amounted at fabricating relations and documents without limit. It is as if, as is common in authoritarian régimes, where the leader, as the big Other of Law and Order, achieves the cult status of a gigantic paternalistic symbolic figure, is here taken literally by becoming the (actual) father of the protagonist himself. By actualizing the president as his father, and by becoming his son, this imaginary relationship was what concretized the protagonist’s freedom towards his artistic endeavors. The protagonist was here seduced by the phallic power of the president (statutes planted all over the country have such phallic power), which by extension became his, enabling him to issue documents, subscriptions, claim a status, in‑the‑name‑of‑the‑father (Lacan’s nom‑du‑père). In the absence of the mother, the Oedipal rivalry between father and son resolves itself by the son at home into a preoedipal status: there is no rivalry with the mother over the father because the son protects himself in his mother’s womb. Empowered by his status as the father‑leader’s son, he went ahead with all the social relations that he desired. Here we need to analyze the fetishism at two interrelated levels. First, there was the fetishism of economic class struggle, whereby the protagonist found himself caught in dire economic conditions (the closing of the family shop in downtown Aleppo), which were transcended through the process of identification with the father, enabling him to do what he did. On a second level, the sexual deadlock manifested in turn a level of mythical fetishism which found its salvation through the identification of leader‑father‑son. What appeared as symptom here was the practice of forgery, which was portrayed as a derivative of the leader‑father, and which in turn was what caused the legal anomaly in question, namely, that the protagonist transgresses the Law to actualize the leader‑father relation (which should be a nightmare from the viewpoint of the authoritarian state, as it takes for granted a general attitude of cynical distance). The breaking of the (civil) Law was, however, portrayed by the protagonist’s counsel as one of pure artistic endeavor, if not love: the protagonist was, indeed, a “culprit” not for breaking the Law but only for the manifested excessive love towards the leader‑father, transmuting him as his father, while becoming his son. In other words, our protagonist was only “guilty,” assuming there was any “guilt,” for having applied the leader’s formula à la lettre, namely for actualizing deeply into himself, like a modern sufi, what was only taken at face value: that the leader is not only a political leader, but also the father of every citizen of the nation. Our protagonist was therefore guilty for having behaved like an idiot savant, that is, for having believed deeply into himself what others only take at face value. Like the medieval sufis who object to the very idea of taking God nominally at face value as an all empowering Being, they want to “feel” God deep in their own selves; hence the sufi’s “path to knowledge,” the ṭarīqa. In similar vein, our protagonist’s assimilation of the leader’s image as a father figure deeply into himself pushed him towards artistic recovery, which from the standpoint of the Law meant something else: counterfeiting documents and posing as someone else from what he really was, hence faking social relations. Our protagonist, in line with those deeply psychotic and neurotic persons that populate the case histories of psychoanalysis, constructed an image of the world, society, and his place in that order, which placed him in a unique position, having internalized the leader‑father‑son identification, of someone who could help others in society by limiting their sufferings in the routinized bureaucratic ordeals that constitute the essence of Syrian daily life.

20Even the police report, which is usually the first available document in each criminal case, is in this particular file much longer than expected: over twenty pages drafted in a tiny but legible handwriting. It all began, based on the report, when a couple of mid‑aged individuals complained against a man who promised them various services but never delivered. They paid him cash—and, occasionally, he dared demanding hefty sums—but never got anything in return. Even though the initial complaints seem to have surfaced via party officials, bureaucrats, or security agents, it was the police who finally went with the suspect’s arrest, subsequent detention, and trial. Plaintiffs came by, one after the other, detailing how the defendant’s actions were fraudulent, and how much they had to pay beyond their means, hoping to receive promised services that they never got. Here is the first account, which in some respects was quite typical and fairly representative of the rest to come.

My name is ʿAlaʾ al‑Din Hamami b. Mustafa, my mother is Balqis, and was born in 1964 in Aleppo where my personal status records number X are located. I now live in the neighborhood of Kallaseh, close to the mill known as X, and the mosque of Abu al‑Raja, in building X, etc. I am married and received education, and my job is a driver. I am an Arab Syrian.

Roughly a year ago, while I was present in the city, in Suq al‑Wazir, for reasons related to my work, I met Muhammad Kāmil Kamāl b. Bashir in the shop of Bashir Khayyam. I was told that he was working as an accountant at the Hananu building cooperative, and that he had the power to make apartments available in the party’s cooperative, since he was a party’s companion (rafīq hizbī), with everything in his hands. Moreover, he had the rank of colonel at the presidential palace. I therefore paid him the sum of SP12,000, so that he would book for me two apartments in the same building [in Hananu]. I have paid him the sum in installments, requesting in the meantime, and on several occasions, that we go together and visit the cooperative’s site and check on the building activity. But he always managed to escape my demands. When I finally inquired about the cooperative to party members, I was told that it was fictitious (wahmiyya) and had no existence, and that this person is a fraud. I did complain to the party’s officer in one of the branches. I request a full investigation on the matter, and pose myself as plaintiff against MKK, in order to receive my money back.

21The above deposition, which goes back to November 1996, was typical not only in respect to the other dozen ones to come, but more importantly, in relation to the social realities and anxieties of an entire population strata in a city like Aleppo. In a society dominated by the Party, named simply al‑ḥizb, without its Baathist qualification, as if it is not needed, and the party’s affiliates, such as the notorious cooperatives, which are supposed to serve all those disfavored among the general populace, the boundaries between what is supposed to be “legal” and the “illegal” are quite often hard to maintain. For one thing, the proliferation of all kinds of syndicated cooperatives, in particular since the “reformation” of the second Baath in the early 1970s, has led to all kinds of middlemen that would facilitate, or speed up, the process of potential beneficiaries. Suppose that a person works as a full‑time cab driver, badly needs a home for his family, and does not have enough income to buy one at a reasonable price, would he then be eligible to an apartment at a cooperative at a reduced price? Would the process ease a bit if the driver was party affiliated? Considering that drivers in general tend not to be syndicated (unlike more respected professionals like teachers, doctors, and engineers), or are at best affiliated to workers’ syndicates (naqābāt al‑ʿummāl), would they be eligible for the special state‑sponsored subvented apartments? It is indeed the ambiguity of such questions that prompts the services of all kinds of mercenaries and blurs the thin line between the legal and illegal. For instance, in the case of our first plaintiff above, his lawsuit hinges on the ambiguity of his eligibility for an apartment at the Hananu complex: if he was eligible, then why did he opt for the services of a person who posed himself as a high‑rank official at various institutions, paying him all that money, rather than go directly for the thing? Was it a question of simple bureaucratic routine? What was therefore left unquestioned in the police memo—which was more like a direct deposition rather than a thorough examination—which applies to the other plaintiffs as well—was precisely the “eligibility” of the plaintiff to go for two apartments in the Hananu compound in the first place. And even if he were (as a member, say, of “the working class”), then would he be eligible for two apartments in one acquisition? We need to look more carefully later as to why such questions were not raised, and why all plaintiffs were left without a thorough examination on such issues. In other words, we are left with that uncanny feeling as to who was “straight” in all those lawsuits: were the plaintiffs “cleaner” than their sole defendant?

22On the other hand, and when it came to our protagonist as a person, he defied the typical intermediaries of sorts, whether real of fictitious, which were needed to sort out the bureaucratic labyrinth, and whose real or fictitious statutory connections did constitute their main capital—“a party companion,” “with everything in hand,” “a rank of colonel at the presidential palace”—by forging his qualities, hence transgressing the values of “normal” intermediaries, as if willingly betraying the rules of their corporation. Since in an undemocratic society party affiliations, and links to the ruling clan, become predominant in major business circles and national and regional affairs, to be fraudulent de facto implies constructing faked links to such upper circles. It is as if there is no “successful” business but through such links to influential political circles, whether the presidency itself, the intelligence services, or the Party for that matter. MKK, therefore, assuming all allegations against him were to be true, was no more nor less guilty for illegal violations than all his plaintiffs combined. In effect, plaintiffs and defendant were all drawn together into the same circle of hell, as both sides needed one another to survive the economic hardships through illegal procedures. Such a confusing reality, however, was certainly not what did transpire fully from the documents at hand, as the plaintiffs were all portrayed as having been duped by a ruthless and greedy defendant. That may be certainly true, but a plaintiff who in the first place sought an “illegal” procedure of some sort from the defendant ought to be as much “guilty” as the defendant himself. What is therefore remarkable here is how the case was constructed in toto around a neatly cut dividing line: plaintiffs that were at the mercy of a counterfeit defendant with a faked public identity.

23Another aspect of all the scummy loans and faked identities was the financial crisis in the credit and loan system in Syria. Based for the most part on public institutions, the banking system did not aspire much trustworthiness into the general populace, due mostly to corruption, slowness in transactions, and sheer incompetence when it comes to up‑to‑date banking techniques. Thus, compared to neighboring countries, whether Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, or Israel, the banking system in Syria neither attracts enough cash reserves from individual savers, nor does it provide the necessary loans at reasonable rates to stir the economy. In effect, most loans originate in parallel banking institutions, such as the various taslīf banks (agrarian, commercial, and real estate), which, more appropriately, ought to be referred to as state‑sponsored institutions. To this shortage of credit must be added all kinds of financial hurdles that would prove frustrating to anyone with even a bare minimum of business operations. Thus, all kinds of limits have been imposed since the 1960s on various financial transactions, ranging from the illegality of foreign bank accounts, an artificial pegging of the Syrian Pound to the U.S. dollar and other major European and world currencies, which led to a simulated exchange rate and an inflated pound far beyond its real value, and finally high tariffs on imported consumer commodities, beginning with cars and electronics, not to mention a ban on specific commodities (in particular foodstuff) for export purposes. Needless to say, users in most circumstances would only bypass such hurdles through illegal transactions, hence the role of suspicious intermediaries like our defendant in this case. Which raises the crucial issue of “legality” of such matters, as legality and illegality would mix so ubiquitously that the borderline is unclear. As is the case with contractual settlements in so‑called “illicit neighborhoods,” the “illegal” contracts need the “legality” of the state courts to circulate properly, which implies that the state’s “legal” apparatus, once it becomes saturated, cannot but accept the other “illegal” procedures, while de facto endorsing them through its court system.

24Whether the issue of legality and illegality ought to be at the center of our case here is another matter. What needs to be done, however, is to see how the users themselves document the case: is the issue of legality what matters most to users? How is it portrayed? And under which circumstances?

25The second plaintiff‑witness is very similar to the first, to the point that what strikes in all those depositions is indeed their repetitive nature, as if it is repetition, rather than, say, a systematic investigation, that would bring truth to the forefront.

26Bashir Khawwam (b. 1966) sells textiles in Sūq al‑Wazīr located in downtown Aleppo.

I have known the defendant MMK very well as neighbor, but I have not seen him in 10 years. In this last year, however, he started visiting me in my shop quasi‑regularly. He told me that he was a colonel at the presidential palace, associated to the party, and responsible of housing cooperatives in Aleppo such as Hananu and Ghazali, and that it was in his power to do everything that is needed in this province (muḥāfaẓa). He then showed me several facsimiled pictures of himself standing side‑by‑side to the president [Ḥāfiẓ al‑Asad]. When I realized that he was an accountant at a housing cooperative, and considering that I badly needed an apartment, I paid him cash SP41,000 in installments. In return he gave me a receipt sealed, stamped, and signed by the president of the Hananu corporative for those working at the party. [The implication here seems to be that the Hananu housing corporative was only open—or limited—to those “working” at—or affiliated to—the party, even though it remains unclear whether the plaintiff himself was at the time a party member, which would have given him that unique privilege to apply for a housing unit—even though applying, and going through the tedious procedures, would not necessarily grant delivery of the requested unit.] He then informed me that he could facilitate a visa for and a residency permit in Saudi Arabia. But when I questioned party members about MMK’s status, they told me that he was a complete fraud (muḥtāl) and a fake (muzawwir). I therefore directly complained to the secretary‑general of the party. I request a full investigation, and pose myself plaintiff in this lawsuit. I also want my money back in full.

27As in the first testimony the epicenter of the credit‑loan system is the Party. Note that the Party itself, or its various affiliated institutions for that matter, were not the agencies that would provide grants and loans to its members, but rather some kind of “affiliation” to the party itself—or at best an “affiliation” to a “prominent” member—that would do the trick. In other words, it was indeed the ideologizing and politicization of the credit‑loan process, and the lack of transparency in banking and financial matters, that pushed users towards intermediaries and faked loan or deposit agencies. Once the credit‑loan system is patrimonially run, lacking any professional credibility in public eyes, the role of intermediary sponsors verges on the fraudulent, while users, scattered all across the social spectrum, would also be willing to sacrifice some cash for a better life through fraudulent promises.

28But that is precisely what the judicial system did not want to get into, that is, it had no intention of putting the credit‑loan system on trial. What it did best was to create, right from the first testimonies, a template through which to construct testimonies where plaintiffs and defendant were filtered as good‑evil types: a defendant which criminalized himself through faked identities, and plaintiffs who fell prey to his delusions. A first level of reading such documents reveals, therefore, that kind of good versus evil construction, and we could be satisfied at interpreting such a construction and see how it concretely operates throughout the trial. But then the whole case would be incomprehensible without its extra‑legal context, namely the fact that the credit‑loan system was segregated into exclusivist membership affiliations, and that one needs to get into such circles of hell, or close to them, or fake his belonging to them, for any chance of success.

29When analyzing the totality of the case, we therefore need to ask at every juncture whether the documents themselves prove to be self‑sufficient, or whether we re‑contextualize them within broader socio‑economic parameters. Reading a document, and subjecting it to interpretation, on one hand, while contextualizing it into broader parameters on the other, may be two different operations that would require alternative techniques of reading and contextualizing, but in the final analysis they are both part of the operation that would give meaning to a process.

30Civil‑law systems are not known for the thorough cross‑examinations to be found in their common‑law counterparts, as proceedings tend to be tightly controlled by the court and its chief judge, leaving little room for lawyers and other users to directly interact with one another. In the Syrian system, both civil and penal, such limitations are pushed to their extreme, as, in many instances, cross‑examinations would barely exist. In most instances, depositions come as quasi‑avowals, set in packs of short sentences, with no clear indication as to how they had originated: Was the utterance a response to a question? Or was it a direct statement in the form of an “avowal” or “confession”? More importantly for our purposes here, how would the orally uttered statement in colloquial Arabic “relate” to the written statement, as drafted and “edited” in the police report?

31The above two testimonies are fairly typical in that they leave little room for an even rudimentary examination. The short sentences come in the form of “avowals,” probably instigated by a question from a police officer. They were then edited and put together in official Arabic in a single paragraph that would point to a minimal “coherence”: a “coherence,” however, that seems more an outcome of the “editing” of the police report than an emanation from the speaker himself. Each testimony was therefore crafted as a direct quasi‑coherent statement, as if there is no gap between the oral utterances and the written deposition (and the issue was not even raised in the first place), as if each statement on its own did not require further examination. In sum, both statements were crafted as models of clarity and conciseness: the task was completed, and the defendant was burdened with more and more evidence set against him. In sum, it all has to do with evidence as repetition, rather than, say, an outcome of examination. It is, indeed, the repetitive nature of those evidences from one witness to the other that confirms their status as evidence. A statement X—say, on the defendant posing himself as an accountant in the Hananu corporative—establishes itself as genuine evidence through the repetition of the same from one witness to the other. Which poses the issue of content versus situated encounter: The “same” statement, with an identical content, could have been uttered in widely different circumstances, and more importantly, there is no prima facie reason to presuppose that the two statements, uttered by two persons in different situated encounters, are a priori identical—even if they say the same thing.

32For every statement that the police report claims on behalf of a witness we should therefore ask, How did it come into existence, and under which circumstances? In other words, we underscore the importance of situated encounters over pure content, or at least we bring content in relation to situated encounters. But in the absence of the original question‑and‑answer format, is it possible to question a statement in relation to its situated encounter?

Table 10–1. Sample list out of 100 illicit items found in the possession of the defendant at the moment of his arrest.

1 SP30,000 found in the defendant’s pocket at the moment of his arrest in downtown Aleppo
2 $320 in the defendant’s pocket
3 Faked ID in defendant’s name found in his apartment, identifying him as colonel in the presidential palace, with the seal and signature of president Ḥāfiẓ al‑Asad
4 Faked ID in defendant’s name, identifying him as member of the intelligence services (mukhābarāt), with all the required signatures and seals, and a serial number
5 Faked ID identifying the defendant as a member of the intelligence services at the presidential palace
6 Facsimiles (photocopie) of photos of the defendant with president Asad, and his son Bashshār (the actual president)
7 Faked driver license
8 Faked car license of a Mitsubishi
9 Faked law degree from Aleppo University in the name of one of the defendant’s clients, in addition to other forged degrees in various faculties from the same university
10 Several faked visas to Saudi Arabia in the name of some of the defendant’s clients
11 Faked visa to Germany
12 Several faked receipts from the finance ministry, one of them indicating the transfer of SP112,000
13 Several faked checks from local and regional banks, such as the British Bank of the Middle East
14 Faked documents from housing cooperatives in Aleppo showing apartment plans, projects, and various receipts in the name of the defendant’s clients
15 Various faked seals, tools, and stationeries used in the production of the forged documents

33Note that each one of the items above is provided in a detailed form with the serial number on each document, signatures, seals, and issue and expiration dates. In toto there were close to 100 items of forged IDs, university degrees, checks, visas, and documents from housing cooperatives. The defendant’s activity, in the few years prior to his arrest, was therefore massive, as it mostly targeted lower middle‑class people eager to risk some of their savings in the hope of improving their financial situation and social status.

34The list of 100 or so forged and other items were the most empirical side of the document. In their variety such items displayed what essentially amounted as the bottleneck of consumerism in Syrian society of the 1990s and later. Any society moves faster than its state, and that is even more true of Syria in the last couple decades. Having gone through the so‑called “rectification movement” of the 1970s, which de facto led to the occupation of neighboring Lebanon and its highly consumerist society (and which served as conduit to Syrian consumerism), the bulk of the middle class was eager to move forward beyond the constraints imposed by a moribund bureaucracy. Genuine reform was, however, slow to come, and the lower and upper middle classes only moved forward by bypassing all kinds of rules and regulations. This implied anything from relying on intermediaries, to bribing one’s way through the bureaucratic labyrinth. The list of fraudulent items that are listed here represent only a sample of the needed gadgetry for social success: when you cannot have such items by regular means, the alternative would be illegal transactions.

35MMK’s genius—his great talent as “artist,” according to his lawyer—resided at creating duplicates of everything at hand: a massive operation of Xeroxing and Photoshopping of the Syrian bureaucracy. He knew exactly the aspirations and frustrations of his own middle class: its desire for college degrees, visas towards the wealthy oil‑producing Arab states, the need for apartments and cars, and varied consumerist gadgetry. Most important of all, the middle class looked for status and influence, which in this case implied closing one’s ranks with influential people in the party, the parliament, the intelligence services and army, and the president’s office. MMK did well simply because he thought of wealth in conjunction with status and bureaucracy.

36The next two depositions by the Khaznah brothers would sum up well that kind of mentality.

37Muwaffaq Khaznah (b. 1962) had a small shop that sold buttons and zippers in downtown Aleppo:

I have known MMK very well and for some time for business purposes, due to the fact that he used to sell textiles with his father. But I have not seen him in the last eight years, and all of a sudden eight months ago he came to our shop, and from a discussion we had in the presence of my brother Hassan, who at present is outside the country on a business trip, he had told us that he works as accountant at the Ghazali housing cooperative, and that he had the power to enroll (tansīb) people at the corporative and allocate (takhṣīṣ) to them apartments, considering that he is important over there, as he claimed. I gave him cash SP10,400 in order to subscribe me (iktitāb) to the Hananu housing cooperative, which is exclusive to those working (ʿāmilīn) at the party, in the presence of my brother Hassan Khaznah and [my brother?] Hazim on 3/8/1996. On 3/19/1996 the sum of SP25,000 was paid to subscribe in the Rāʾid cooperative project. In his visits to our shop he informed us that he was a colonel at the presidential palace, and that his office was close to that of president Ḥāfiẓ al‑Asad. He showed me Xeroxed photos of him with the president, and another one with doctor Bashshār al‑Asad standing on an honorary podium. He then passed approval papers for the Rāʾid, Hananu, and Ghazali cooperatives. He also promised me a Mercedes via the presidential palace, in addition to a visa to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries. Of the SP140,000 that I have paid him, my brother Hassan had managed to receive back SP30,000 a month ago prior to his trip abroad. I then got back from you [the police] SP110,000, which means that we have been refunded the totality of what had been initially paid [to MKK]. This sum [SP140,000] is partly mine, while the other part is for my brothers Hassam and Hazim, and my brother‑in‑law Nizar. I request a full investigation on the matter, while posing myself plaintiff in the case.

38In addition to the already familiar tropes we have encountered earlier, what is noteworthy here are the family bonds that make such fraudulent practices even more opaque. The shop—rather than the home—was the nexus through which such operations would unfold. In effect, the shop, being a quasi‑collective family investment, was the space, however small and cranky, that would represent the business interests of the family and its affiliated members, as it would normally act as a template to the outside world. As with earlier witnesses, MMK knew the shop owners since the late 1980s, vanished all of a sudden, only to resurface with business projects and promises for a better life. The shop was therefore his golden opportunity to connect at once with the three Khaznah brothers and their brother‑in‑law, sweeping the hefty sum of SP140,000 from all three within months of his sudden return. The brothers, for their part, had suspected the fraudulent activity rather rapidly, requesting their money back.

39The two dozen or so remaining depositions were all variations on the same theme: knowledge of MMK goes back to the 1980s; the vanishing and reappearance with all kinds of business projects; positing himself as accountant in various housing cooperatives; offering apartments in those cooperatives; claiming to be a colonel at the presidential palace; showing Xeroxed pictures of himself with the president and his son; offering the sale of cars through special channels (e.g. offers to civil and army bureaucrats at lucrative prices); promoting land phone lines (which, back then, were hard to get), high‑school and college degrees, and visas to some Arab oil‑producing countries and some of the European states. In sum, MMK did manage to run a complete virtual business enterprise of sorts, completely on his own, and for a year‑long period managed to fool all his clients apropos his true identity and the fraudulent nature of his business.

Accounts, reflexivity, and indexical expressions

40When we are looking at the “black box” that constitutes the inner proceedings of the judiciary, we are de facto tempted to bypass the formal analysis of law that focuses solely on codes and procedures.

41The alternative is to look at the judiciary in terms of the multitude of discursive and non‑discursive levels that would make a “case” possible. What initially, and in the confusion of an individual act (or acts), begins as a regular felony, misdemeanor, crime, or homicide, is soon open to police investigation, prior to its transformation into an objective artifact—or a “case‑file” that could be accessed, construed, and documented by its users. It is, indeed, that kind of transformation from an initially banal and confusing act, towards which police and public prosecution office (DA) would become liable, to an objectified artifact in the form of a case‑file which in principle would be publicly not available, where lies the core of judicial labor.

  • 5 We are using “members” rather than “subjects” or “individuals,” as we want to limit our analysis to (...)

42In this—quite often, long—process, professionals in the law business (lawyers and judges) mix with ordinary laymen (plaintiffs, defendants, and their witnesses), and with other professionals as well (e.g. doctors and psychiatrists summoned to testify in court). The outcome, which constitutes the case‑file, mixes law with non‑law, professional language with vernacular jargon, professionals of sorts with laymen, and actors across the social spectrum. They are all, of course, supposed to abide by the law and respect codes and rulings, but what remains unquestioned and missing from the bulk of studies on law (even from the minority of studies on courtroom proceedings) is one of the most obscure aspects of such proceedings: namely, how the acts of such diverse group of users are “coordinated” in order to come up with a case‑file and a final verdict. In other words, how does that broad spectrum of users metamorphose into what becomes the members5 of the case‑file? Simply put, the movement from users to members of a case‑file constitutes the essential aspect of the inner workings of the judicial “black box.” Unlike, say, an orchestra where members could train on their own and then perform collectively (either for the sake of informal rehearsals or public performances), the members of a case‑file do not perform collectively, as their performances are usually limited to situated encounters with a judicial authority on a one‑to‑one basis: witness and policeman, witness and judge, and witness and the court. In other words, users perform on a one‑to‑one basis where at least one of them represents a judicial authority that should in principle be in control of the encounter.

Why is such a metamorphosis important?

43In the flux of interviews, statements, confessions, acknowledgments, refutations, denials, reports and memos, appeals and counter‑appeals, up to the verdict which seals the case, the case‑file cannot be constructed as artifact unless the movement of words, images, thoughts, and feelings are transcribed on paper, so that they could be circulated around and subjected to verification and approval.

44Let us look at the court hearings as an illustration of “artifact construction,” which amounted to no more than twelve‑page notes, spanning from March 1997 to January 1998.

45The first session was held on March 31.

Muhammad Kāmil Kamāl, who is under arrest, was brought to the criminal court in the presence of his lawyer ʿAli Zakkūr.

Plaintiff X is absent from the court.

The court has begun its public hearing.

The accused and his defense were informed of articles 279 and 280 of the penal code.

The accusations against the defendant have been made public.

The public prosecution office has expanded on the lawsuit (sharḥ al‑daʿwa), bringing forth all sustained evidence against the accused, which was originally the cause of arrest and court hearings.

[MMK is accused of the crime (jināyat) of reproducing (taṣnīʿ) the seals of the state, and the fraudulent criminal reproduction of high school college degrees.]

  • 6 Or: “Do not originate from reality,” laysa lahā aṣl fi‑l‑wāqiʿ.

When the defendant was questioned on this matter, he responded: “I repeat my previous statements, which I had stated during my interrogation on February 22, 1997, and in the original ones [to the police] on November 26, 1996. The seals (akhtām) that I was accused of reproducing (taqlīd) have no origin (aṣl) in reality,6 and whose forms (ashkāl) and signs (kitābāt) were the product of my thoughts (afkār). I did not initially intend to imitate those seals (taqlīd al‑akhtām).

The court decided unanimously to adjourn to Monday, May 19, 1997.

46Notice that the accusations were concise and limited only to the fraudulent and criminal activity of reproducing faked seals and college degrees. Maybe the other charges were dropped for the simple reason that all plaintiffs had already been refunded. The defense was then left with two options: 1. Argue that his client was an “artist” who was imagining seals and college degrees in his head rather than reproducing them from original real ones for the purpose of deceiving people and making money from fraudulent activities. 2. That whatever his client did wrong, his actions were not criminal, but ought to be considered as mere felonies.

47Regarding the court hearings per se they tend to share few common characteristics. 1. They are extremely short because no full session (on average three continuous hours, between 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.) is devoted to a single case. It is indeed common to partially “manage” on average 25 to 35 cases in a single session. Moreover, follow‑ups for a case are slow to come, and are usually paced at one‑ to three‑month intervals, as managing the appearance of witnesses in court on time turns out to be the biggest logistic hurdle. 2. Cross‑examination is limited, because everything has to go through the chief judge, and the court seldom takes an aggressive stance. 3. It is common for witnesses, plaintiffs, defendants, lawyers, and judges to refer to earlier statements that they had themselves or other users delivered on earlier occasions, in particular the police depositions and the direct‑examinations in the office of the investigative judge. Such references to earlier statements constitute the very core of the hearings, as they constantly act as barriers to a genuine and aggressive cross‑examination by indexing all actual statements to ones stated earlier under different circumstances. 4. Hearings add little to our knowledge of the case. 5. A large gap exists between the hearings themselves and the written version dictated in public in small, regular installments by the chief judge to the court scribe. 6. All of the above makes it extremely difficult for the researcher to follow a single case from beginning to end, based on the hearings themselves, in order to compare notes between the hearings and their truncated written version.

48Nearly two months would have passed by the time the case came back to the court for a second consecutive time. The session on May 19, 1997 proceeded as follows.

  • 7 Being “not kin related” could establish a status of independency.

Plaintiff X, b. 1964, was present in court, and is not kin related to the defendant.7

He said that I reiterate the statements I had made to the investigating judge on December 8, 1996. He added that I knew the accused for some time, since he had worked for us in the making of textiles, then left the job, then came back and told us that he was on a secret mission that he did not identify, and that was ordered to him by the president of the republic himself. He then proposed to enroll us in the housing corporative of the party, and took some cash. He showed us some paperwork as evidence that he had effectively enrolled us. But we then came to realize that he did not effectively do so, we complained, and we got our money back. I know nothing of the faked seals that he was accused of fabricating. That is my testimony.

The accused responded that I do not accept his statements.

Plaintiff and witness Y, b. 1929, was present in court, and after taking oath stated that I do not know anything about fraudulent official documents. I only know that the accused had mortgaged my son’s home, when we realized that it was all fraud, we demanded our money back and it was given to us.

The court unanimously decides to call the rest of the witnesses and adjourn to Monday, June 23, 1997.

49If there is so little to learn from such sessions, it is because they are mostly indexed on previous statements. Such process of indexation either operates directly—I reiterate my previous statements to the investigative judge on date X—or indirectly—the accused claimed to be on a special mission at the presidential palace. In either case, the purpose is to limit as much as possible further examination through an air of familiarity, of the kind “We know what we are talking about.” If such sessions are therefore replete with indexicals it is because their main purpose is to reiterate previous statements rather than to examine thoroughly. There is in effect that desire to lock the totality of the case within its early statements, those initially delivered by witnesses to police and investigating judge, which in turn were limited in scope to their bare minimum. Even though the use of indexicals is common to speech in general, and no communication would be possible without such implicit sets of references, the high level of indexed references could be an indication of a low degree of competitiveness among users, combined with an unwillingness to question statements and examine thoroughly. Moreover, that rigidity is even more visible in the way court hearings are transcribed, their elimination of the judge’s questions, and the way users’ utterances are transcribed as direct statements in an official Arabic that avoids repetitions, silences, ambiguities, and confusing or circular claims. Assuming there is always a gap in the texts, between that original trace, sign, sound, or utterance, and its final inscription on paper—the act of “writing”—under such conditions the gap would achieve its full paroxysm.

50The reduction of a complex embodied experience into disengaged and disembodied documents that are transmittable from one judicial instance to another takes place at three interrelated levels: 1. The police recording of the event through the viewpoints of prime witnesses, plaintiff(s) and accused, assuming the latter are available in the aftermath of the crime. 2. The investigating judge’s interviews of those same witnesses, or additional ones, if necessary. 3. The report of the referral judge which integrates statements uttered in 1. and 2., providing them with additional authority, making them available for the criminal court. 4. In their last metamorphosis, statements uttered in 1. and 2., sanctioned in 3., now receive their final benediction through the public hearings of the criminal court. As noted earlier, the process here is one of itérabilité rather than of proposing alternate interpretations of the same.

51The same statement, therefore, originally uttered by a witness in 1., is magically iterated in 1. to 4., as if iteration serves as further sanctification of the same, even though all those judicial instances, and the conditions under which statements are uttered, are all different from one another: from the noisy police station still under the shock of the incident, to the privacy of the investigating judge’s office few days or weeks later, to the referral judge who drafts the first synthesis, and the public hearings of the criminal court. One would have expected a wide array of confusing and incompatible statements, but the very opposite happens: namely, that from step 1. a method for delivering utterances and writing them down on paper is established. Sociologists see that social “facts” tend to be in their very essence chaotic, confusing, and lack the coherence and meaning of, say, a formal text. Thus, while the “facts” themselves, as engendered by users in their daily routines, lack coherence and meaning, the overall meaning of such facts typically resides, in traditional sociology, in the institutional frameworks that make their very existence possible. In short, while institutional frameworks add “structure” to “facts,” giving them the “coherence” they lack, the researcher does no more than provide a scientific metalanguage of sorts to the presumed institutional structures. What such an approach fails to perceive, however, is that the localized situated encounters themselves provide users with the “methods” they need to interact, understand, and create meaning.

52A common parallel sociological problem consists in limiting users’ utterances to their formal linguistic—semiotic—meanings. Hence a criminal or civil case would be perceived at best as a bricolage of texts out of which the researcher would create his or her own text. What such an approach misses, however, is that the stability of sense, relevance, and meaning do not arise from the forms of propositions but from the circumstances of their use. At each one of the four levels above, the same witness is uttering a similar content from one instance to the other, but under different circumstances. Ironically, the sociological–linguistic démarche which focuses solely on the meaning of statements operates within similar reductionist parameters of the courts themselves: that is, the circumstances of each utterance, in its original oral and imperfect mode, prior to its written inscription by an official authority, are bracketed off as of no use for the purposes of the trial. By limiting therefore all uttered statements to their official written inscriptions, the initial unbridgeable gap is “solved” for both the court and the researcher.

53One way to rehabilitate the circumstances of the use of utterances rather than reducing them to grammatical forms, is the tracking down of indexical expressions in the process of statement delivery. The power of indexical expressions typically resides in that ability of speaker and listener in a situated encounter to interact with that uncanny notion of “we know what we are talking about”: the “this” and “that” of encounters where what remains unnamed and taken‑for‑granted proves as the most essential aspect of speech. For each of the above four levels, statements of the like “I fully reiterate my earlier statements as delivered on date X” are your typical indexical expressions. An aggressive judge would play on such assumptions with questions of the type, “What did you effectively mean when you stated such and such in your earlier police deposition?,” or “What is that supposed to mean?.” But even under such an aggressive line of questioning, there is a moment where the “that” has simply to be referred to as “that”—and nothing more. The honor killings that we have analyzed earlier (Chapter 6) probably constitute the most blatant aspect of this process of proceeding from day one in a trial with all kinds of “this” and “that” assumptions: the victim who allegedly had “affairs,” who was “all the time out in public with boys,” and who had “dishonored” her family. Trials of honor killings proceed so smoothly thanks to such indexical expressions which are seldom questioned, if at all. One can even perceive a “borderline”—or “demarcation line”—between the courts and users (or society at large) in terms of leaving all kinds of indexical expressions taken for granted: that is, it is as if a situation of compromise is at work and constantly negotiated between the judiciary and laymen users on the status of indexical expressions—the less they are questioned, and the more they are taken for granted, the better.

54Even if we assume, however, that facts are constructed, it is essential not to reduce facts to language and discourse alone and look for the circumstances of use of propositions. That kind of approach proves essential not only for a sociology of science, laboratories, schools and education, bureaucracies and institutions, but also for the procedures of the courts as well. The object of the study of court procedures should therefore center on the discursive and interpretive practices through which “objective” accounts are produced, transmitted, and manipulated by various judicial instances. Such a discursive–analytic démarche, which assumes at its very core an actor‑network theory, should not reduce texts and utterances to their formal meanings, but rather consider the latter within their embodied situated experiences. Thus, neither semiotics nor hermeneutics prove sufficient on their own without the contextualization of texts and utterances into their embodied situated encounters. The purpose would be to conduct a philosophical investigation and an empirical field of study under the same roof, one that examine the cognitive content of texts and utterances in conjunction with their social context, as embodied in situated encounters of sorts.

55Within such a semiotic and hermeneutic enterprise, a “case” metamorphoses into a “textual signifier,” or an objective artifact that is referred to, objectified, and transmitted among users, what Lacan would call a Master‑Signifier that would give meaning out of a surplus enjoyment (jouis‑sens) to other signifiers. The apparent coherence of the case‑file masks in effect the heterogeneous network of entities and agencies. Moreover, what is important for the researcher is to upgrade the textual analysis of the case‑files—or the semiotic “actant” “case‑file”—into a substantive narrative about the judiciary’s historical actions. In other words, we are probing the trivial yet crucial question, Where does the contemporary Syrian judiciary—or its apparatus of justice—fit into the more global historical narrative of that institution? How can we read history from the case‑files themselves? How does the historical operation unfold under such circumstances? Is history important for the case‑file itself? Is there anything historical in the case‑file itself?

56“Actors” refers to both nonhuman and human entities and forces. On one hand, “actors” are those “members” conducting their affairs, producing arguments, and analyzing one another’s conduct. On the other, “actors” refer to impersonal agencies, like the equipment of a laboratory, or the warehouse of the palace of justice where case‑files are archived and accumulated for future use. Such “actors” become autonomous entities—or agencies—on their own, as they act like other actors on the scene. For instance, the warehouse of the palace of justice is that real and imaginary space which houses thousands of documents that tie together and separate the lives of millions of people. The warehouse is therefore a life‑world of practices, and the way documents are kept, taken care of, fetishized, transmitted, hidden, loaned, stolen, lost, photocopied, scanned, shredded, destroyed or sent for recycling, are all essential elements of such practices. The warehouse becomes an “actor” through which all such practices unfold, a space that other users refer to with admiration, derision, or sheer helplessness.

57In short, what we are looking at is a genealogy—or archeology—of the lebenswelt, but in lieu of a Husserilan transcendental foundation of the lived experience of the lifeworld, we are aiming at postphenomenological investigations that would focus on how “members” conduct their affairs, produce arguments, and analyze one another’s conduct—a construction built up over time in a life‑world of practices.

58The practices of the courts, and the judicial apparatus in its totality, are prototypes of local organization. The notion of local production implies the impossibility of assimilating various practices into one set of discourses, norms, rules, values, structures, or a general cultural matrix that would absorb them all and act as a global signifier. What needs to be done is to investigate a patchwork of “orderlinesses” without assuming that any single orderly arrangement reflects or exemplifies a determinate set of organizational laws, historical stages, norms, or paradigmatic orders of meaning: to investigate the varieties of the courts’ practices without linking them to one overall master plan.

59In a way similar to laboratory practices, court practices obey to a structure of accountability. Users are held accountable for—and account for—their actions. The heart of the structure of accountability is the drafting of reports and memos within the parameters of the four levels outlined above. It is indeed the report, as a written text that documents oral utterances and observations, which constitutes itself as the core of the structure of accountability. The report is what makes possible the very existence of the case‑file: as a set of documents that could be transmitted, exchanged, evaluated, and criticized; it is also the mechanism through which the case‑file is transmitted from one judicial instance to one of higher rank, and vice versa, for instance, from a local criminal or civil court to the Damascus Naqḍ court and back to its court of origin. It is therefore the written document—rather than the original oral utterances—which structures the chain of accountability. In other words, users are held accountable for what they have stated in writing—or for what was stated on their behalf in a document—rather than for what they had allegedly stated in an oral examination. Indeed, traces of the latter vanish forever in the presence of the written word.

60As in laboratory practices, the structure of accountability goes through three interrelated steps: 1. observation; 2. the report, or the adequate description of the observation process; and 3. replication—“anyone” could redo the experiments. Translated into the court procedures, replication implies that the users can reiterate statements that were originally held under circumstances and whose iterative‑ness makes the proceedings of the case. More concretely, reiteration implies in light of the four steps outlined above—from the police report to the court hearings—that the same statements are smoothly upgraded from one stage to another. It is indeed the iterative nature of statements that is at the core of accountability in court procedures. In themselves statements uttered by witnesses are in their original oral form vernacular accounts of the crime scene, which the documented text transforms into adequate vernacular accounts of legal method: they can now be endlessly quoted and accounted for in reports and memos. If in a scientific laboratory replication implies that “anyone” could redo the experiments, in the court system it is the replication of the same statement from different sources that plays the accountability trick. In Syrian courts that “sameness” of statements is played unfairly, if not a bit harshly, since the original oral utterances are not recorded, while only their manipulated alter‑statements are textualized and circulated.

61If the structure of accountability rests mainly on the transcriptions of direct‑ and cross‑examinations and observations into written documents which their bearers—and the original witnesses, even though they did not participate in the act of writing itself—are held accountable for, it is the construction of the “case” as an objectified artifact that finally sets the complex machinery of the case‑file. Where it not for that process of objectification into an artifact that serves as reference for users, there would be no “case” in the first place, but only an agglomeration of diverse “facts” without any real heart to them.

  • 8 The pioneering work of Bruno Latour for both scientific laboratory work and legal practices is uniq (...)

62An artifact is an object made up of words, images, things, gestures, feelings, and settings that is constructed for the purposes of the trial—that is, the case‑file itself. Like the graphs, descriptions, equations, equipment, and the combination of vernacular and scientific languages in a laboratory, the use of a combination of vernacular and legal languages in the space of the courtroom would lead to the construction of the case‑file as an objectified artifact over which elements of the trial would slowly crystallize, giving users that uncanny feeling of “we finally know what we are talking about.”8 Artifacts play therefore on the gap between the case‑file as a global “textual signifier” and reality itself and its messy whereabouts. As such they act as uncanny replacements to reality. It is the metamorphosis of the case‑file into an objective artifact that enables scattered users across the social spectrum to gradually become members of an investigative process that unfolds around a case, collaborating together, as professionals of law (lawyers and judges), and as common laymen, to construct a case. Since the professional language of the law cannot operate without the vernaculars of everyday life, the case‑file is constructed around acts of back‑and‑forth translations, associating one language to another.

63Since social facts are local accomplishments, they are expressed in that stable, constraining, recognizable, rational, and orderly language that would be comprehensible to users within their own local community. Such collective practices reflexively use local–historical understandings of the lifeworlds. The relevant mode of practical and local–historical “reflection” is not a matter of an individual’s insight into his or her own achievements and relationships. Rather, it has to do with how any single account, utterance, claim, or material product acquires its historical significance by being placed in a collective and potentially contentious order of accounts, claims, and products.

Table 10–2. Sample of defendant’s clients and his alleged fraudulent services.

plaintiff born residence profession cash amount (SP) services
1. ʿAlaʾ al‑Din Hamami 1964 Kallaseh, Aleppo driver 12,000 housing: 2 apartments
2. Bashir Khawwam 1966 Ismaʿiliyyah, Aleppo textile merchant, shop in the old city, Suq al‑Wazir 41,000 housing corporative; Saudi visas; Saudi residency permits.
3. Muwaffaq Khaznah 1962 Sabil, Aleppo couturier shop that sells buttons in Sabʿ Bahrat 140,00030,000 were given back from defendant to plaintiff’s brother; 110,000 given back by the police upon the defendant’s arrest. various housing cooperatives; Mercedes car; Saudi visa and visas to the Gulf
4. Hazim Khaznah 1964 Sabil, Aleppo idem idem idem
5. Nizar Amaneh 1946 Khaldiyyeh, Nil Street, Aleppo furniture store in Jabriyyeh 15,000 housing corporative
6. ʿAbdul‑Qadir Wali 1977 Bustan Al‑Qasr, Aleppo works with Bashir Khawwam (2) 15,000 housing corporative
7. Muhammad Subhi Masri 1977 Zubaydiyyah, Aleppo works with Bashir Khawwam (2) 7,000sum given back by police housing corporative
8. Ghassan Kayyali 1959 Latakia; parents live in Sabil, Aleppo itinerant clothing merchant 17,000 housing corporative
9. ʿAlaʾ Al‑Din Waʿiz 1968 Jamiliyyeh, Aleppo shop that sells beauty utilities 8,000 4 apartments in housing corporative
10. Hamid Shabariq 1962 Sayf al‑Dawla, Aleppo clothing shop, Tilal 36,000 housing cooperatives; residence permit in Saudi Arabia; car insurance
11. Mazin Shabariq 1960 Khaldiyyeh, Nil Street tricot artisan 20,000 housing cooperatives
12. Muhammad Zuhayr Shabariq 1955 Meridian, Aleppo clothing shop, Tilal 25,000 housing cooperatives; various visas
13. Mahmud Riyad Shabariq 1953 Meridian, Aleppo textile merchant 55,00033,000 returned by the police housing cooperatives; phone line
14. Waddah Shabariq 1957 Faysal Street, Aleppo surgeon 680,000 housing projects; phone lines; visas; residency permits; car
15. Rashid ʿAbdul‑Majid 1929 Tishrine Street, Aleppo real estate office, Siryan mortgaged his home to MKK for 275,000, which he annulled in order to compensate his dues for Waddah Shabariq (14)

Petty thefts and pernicious crack habits

  • 9 Aleppo Jināyāt 358/1989; general prosecution report of 17 pages missing; defense memo missing; case (...)

64 [C10–2] It all began with a banal theft investigation, but soon expanded into a drug‑trafficking and drug‑consuming “gang” of ten which were prima facie unrelated to one another, which simply happened to be sharing the same product.9 One name led to another, until the group of ten was seized; some were later released for lack of evidence. Because the case grew from a small theft into drug consumption and pederasty, the influence of social norms predominates law, with the legal language mixing with its broader social connotations.

65A memo from the police station of the predominantly Christian middle class neighborhood of ʿAziziyyeh in Aleppo in June 1989 indicated that Suhayl Antoine Birdaqji (b. 1957) was arrested for theft and for storing drugs. In the affidavit to the police upon his arrest, the suspect stated that he earned his living as a painter and was accused of and arrested in May 1989 for theft at a house in Sulaymaniyyeh he was painting. The alleged theft of jewelry at his employer’s house eventually led to nine other suspects unrelated to the theft per se, but who were all accused for consuming and/or storing narcotics. This small ring of narcotics consumers and/or dealers were allegedly all known to our protagonist, through his own confession as drug user, which, once arrested for theft, provided in his first deposition the names of the nine others. Apparently, in order to justify his theft he dropped names to whom he owed money, which led to more names, and eventually to the group of ten. Upon further investigation, however, the prosecution argued that for seven of the ten there was not enough evidence for either consuming or storing drugs, consequently demanded for their immediate release. The case brings to our attention the drug problem in Syrian society, and drug use among the popular and lower middle classes. The case shows how a group of unrelated individuals, living in different neighborhoods, from different generations, cultural and religious backgrounds and professions, nonetheless managed to connect for the sake of sharing drugs. It also professes how the workings of the group, over a period of roughly ten years, was never fully cohesive: if at times it deteriorated, at other times things looked in brighter light, the overall picture was one of piecemeal fragmentation, with new members joining in while others dropping out and suddenly vanishing. As with the above MKK case (C10–1), this one also traces a process of “men‑at‑work,” old buddies, known or unknown to one another, who joined circles to do something together. But if in the previous one MKK’s “patrons” were unaware of his fraudulent mind, the drug addicts here were perfectly conscious of what they were doing. Still, what brings the two cases together is that awareness of transgressing the law and enjoying the transgression. Thus, even in our first case, MKK’s patrons were not that innocent in their willingness to take the risk and let someone do the dirty legal‑illegal work for them; they knew all too well that they were trespassing boundaries, looking for goods and services that they could have acquired through legal means, but opted for illegality instead. If the court did not punish them, it was because MKK’s crime dwarfed their own petty crimes by a high margin: what saved them was therefore the massive machinery of someone who was willing to take all risks to reproduce the emblems of Syrian bureaucracy.

66When it comes at understanding the level of consciousness of the ten offenders in our second case, whether the three main protagonists who were penalized or those who were acquitted, what is at stake is the sprawling culture of individualism and the problem of crafting a self‑identity in an urban milieu, within a space where kin matters but at the same time has been moving in other directions, no more providing the conventional secure place for identity and cohesion. It is within such culture of kin affiliation, where actors have gained that potential to craft a (narcissistic) self‑identity, that material possessions gain importance as the façade through which actors present themselves in daily situations. Within such analytical framework it would be erroneous to simply perceive felons of burglary and drug addiction (as labeled in court and medical reports) as textbook “anomalies” of “losers” who took refuge in drugs because of personal failures. Against the temptation to see in drugs the substance that enslaves manic depressive characters in pursuit of personal salvation outside the socio‑symbolic order, the main assumption of this study is that criminal offenders ought to be placed in the context of the very act they had perpetrated: committing a criminal act represents all by itself the secret defilement of the values of a culture. Desecration touches here on the very fundamentals of material culture (Fernand Braudel’s civilisation matérielle), namely the objects of daily life, their symbolisms, the status and magic that they provide to users, and the fact that we as consumers of commodities are caught in what Marx dubbed as “the fetishism of commodities,” that is, the commodity which is not to be restricted to its use‑value but, once it circulates, is already something else, where the materiality of the object touches on the sublime.

67Consider for example theft, which inaugurates our case here. Acts of theft target “property,” perceived as the ownership of the other which is neither to be violated nor to be trespassed upon. An intruder desecrates therefore my very rights of ownership and the sanctity of that property which belongs to me, protected by law, while the criminal act of intruding constitutes for the offender an unmatched thrill, whereby the sanctity of the boundaries of privacy have been broken. When our main protagonist Suhayl “stole” the jewelry of his employer, he was probably thinking of a theft along the lines of a barter economy: “He employed me to paint his house, but never paid me my full dues as promised, I therefore felt free to compensate on my own.” What is important here, however, is that perceived air of “freedom,” which is not to be limited to an urge to acquire material possessions. Indeed, Suhayl’s persona, even through the lens of the rigid and legalistic framework of the Jināyāt, perceived both theft and drug use as trespassing over the ominous rights of others. He connected with his other pals, encountered piecemeal from one theft to another, with that kind of thrill, of individuals who were humiliated and offended by the power of others, hence they had to desecrate their properties. Everything that is unauthorized is now subject to my scrutiny! Power relations receive a dose of shakeup through burglary and drug use.

68The case was originally triggered by a theft that allegedly occurred in May 1989 at the house of the plaintiff Ilyas Jirjis Nahhas, who complained that the defendant Suhayl, whom he hired to paint his Sulaymaniyyeh house, stole in his absence a dozen jewelry items. Since upon Suhayl’s immediate arrest, some of the jewelry was recovered, the plaintiff pleaded that the police collect the remaining items, otherwise he would seek compensation in a civil lawsuit. It was upon Suhayl’s arrest for the alleged theft that half a gram of hashish was found in his pocket, which he claimed had purchased for his personal use from Ismail Maghribi, an itinerary merchant of diesel fuel. Moreover, he pointed that the stolen jewelry was sold to a jeweler in downtown Aleppo for S.P.5,110 ($102 at the time), which the police eventually managed to seize and gave back to its owner.

69In his second deposition Suhayl denied that the drug purchase was from Ismail Maghribi as he had initially stated barely a week earlier:

The truth of the matter is that I made such [false] accusation because I knew him beforehand and he does not have a known place to live, and he owes me S.P.1,600 ($32) for the price of diesel fuel, which he never refunded, nor did he give me my money back. For that reason I [falsely] declared that I bought the hashish from him, which I have been consuming, of which the ʿAziziyyeh [police] section had seized half a gram, which I had bought from Khalid ʿAttar Qushaqji from the Kallaseh neighborhood, and who works as a barber…


I had purchased from him before, roughly a month ago, fifty grams of hashish. When I gave him the money he left for a few minutes, came back with the hashish and gave it to me. I then left. I had bought that substance of hashish before from Muhammad ʿAli Muhammad from the Sukkari neighborhood. He is nicknamed as Abu ʿAli, and I had purchased from him for a period of roughly six years continuously, the last time before he was arrested a year ago. I also consumed this substance of the hashish with a drug effect with [the barber] Khalid ʿAttar Qushaqji, Ahmad Khawajiki, and Jack Hajjar. As to Muhammad ʿAli Muhammad I used to consume with and buy from him…

71At this early stage of investigation, Suhayl’s lie, falsely accusing someone for an illegal purchase that happened with someone else, matched his metaphoric view of exchange: Someone owned me money but defaulted and did not keep his promise, I therefore feel free to recuperate the owed sum on my own—which meant desecrating the property and reputation of others. By the standards of neighboring, and economically more successful, countries like Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, $32 may seem like a petty sum for such a fuss in the first place. Such a remark, however, misses the point, as it places the burden of theft on the materiality of the object, that is, its circulation value as a commodity, rather than on the symbolic value of the transaction from the viewpoint of the offender. In effect, for offenders like Suhayl it was the very mystical nature of the offense which perpetrated his network of relations not only with other offenders, but also with “normal” people. It was indeed such acts that did relieve his common burdens to another more sensual and mystical chain of events. In other words, the socio‑symbolic order of society was here transgressed through petty acts of theft and narcotics, not for their material value, but for their transgressive symbols. It is for this very reason that such transgressive acts are not necessarily bound to income, status, location or gender for that matter, even though all such variables may play a role, as in this instance, the group of ten was all male; but such restriction, however, is only formal, as women who consume drugs tend to do it more discretely, behind closed doors, using their gender status to protect themselves from public interference.

72Eventually most of those named by Suhayl were arrested: Khalid Qushaqji had in his possession 1.5 grams of hashish; Ahmad Khawajiki confessed for having purchased the drug from Hassan Shaar, who in turn was arrested with 10 grams of hashish in his possession; finally, Jack Hajjar and Muhammad ʿAli Muhammad both confessed for what was attributed to them. At this turn of the events, it was the very possession of narcotics that was looked upon as a felony, which was willy‑nilly the only offense that was maintained against the remaining protagonists within the five‑year period of brokering.

73Muhammad ʿAli Muhammad (b. 1931) was a resident of Sukkari, which is further south from Kallaseh where some of the other drug dealers were located. But while the popular Kallaseh neighborhood is a mixture of residential housing combined with small‑ to medium‑sized manufacturing (mostly textiles), Sukkari is even more popular, and more residential. In areas like Kallaseh and Sukkari, two‑ to three‑bedroom apartments would sell on average for S.P.500,000 ($10,000), which is fairly expensive considering that landlords usually receive their prices in full cash, occasionally selling homes that are not officially registered within the city’s “planned” areas, which is currently the status of at least one‑third of the built zones. Muhammad, who was a generation or two older than the others, introduced himself as an illiterate married man, and was probably more experienced than his pals when it came to drugs. He worked as a baker in Bāb Qinsrin, part of the old city, and further north from his residential area. In his deposition he confessed for having consumed hashish for twenty years, stopped a year ago, at a time when he recalled selling it to Suhayl for the last time for S.P.3,000 ($60).

74Jack Hajjar (b. 1962) lived in the lower middle class and predominantly Christian‑Armenian neighborhood of Sulaymaniyyeh, in the north‑east of Aleppo. In his deposition Jack explained how three months earlier he had met Suhayl, who in his own words was an old friend, at his Kallaseh home, where he saw some of the other accused smoking pot, was offered some, noticing afterwards how “my head turned heavy, because that [roll] had the drug‑effect of hashish. I went back home. I never had hashish before, nor did I deal with it.”

75Ahmad Khawajiki (b. 1964) also lived in the same Sulaymaniyyeh neighborhood. He began consuming hashish with the accused Suhayl a year earlier. Suhayl was the one who organized the show, offering hashish to his friends at his own home. At times he used to be paid for such services, while on other occasions he would consider it as “entertainment.” Eventually Ahmad relied more on the services of his maternal cousin Hassan Shaar who came back from Germany and was himself a drug addict. Hassan did not receive money for his services either, since he too considered it as entertainment.

76Hassan Shaar (b. 1952) used to sell sandwiches and lived in the middle class neighborhood of Jamiliyyeh. Hassan began experimenting with hashish ten years prior to his arrest at a time when he had immigrated to Germany. As soon as he came back to Syria a year before his arrest he searched for crack dealers, eventually found Muhammad Khalil Shaaban, a resident of Bustan al‑Qasr, only to purchase hashish from him on several occasions in cash. In his last visit to him, a month earlier, he paid S.P.2,100 ($42), in cash, for 300 grams of hashish, from which only 20 grams were seized upon his arrest. When the police raided Shaaban’s home, it turned out that he had been imprisoned for the past year for having participated in a “group fight.”

77Khalid ʿAttar Qushaqji (b. 1950) introduced himself as a married illiterate who worked as a hairdresser in Kallaseh. He began consuming hashish a year and a half earlier, which he had been regularly purchasing from Muhammad Jumʿa Intakli (b. 1946), an owner of a plastic shop in Kallaseh. Khalid worked as a hairdresser in a shop belonging to Muhammad’s brother, which eventually led to their common interest in crack. Khalid was the one who had sold the main defendant Suhayl drugs on several occasions, each time for 50 grams and valued at S.P.550 ($11). The 20 grams of hashish that was seized in his shop upon his arrest had been purchased from a certain Muhammad Jumʿa Intakli Hardan who since then had left to Damascus.

  • 10 In the Syrian penal code (as is common in other codes on the eastern Mediterranean), “sexual devian (...)

78Some had precedents, such as Khalid ʿAttar Qushaqji who had a record of nine felonies including theft, homosexuality, and “intercourse against nature,”10 and Muhammad ʿAli who was arrested on several occasions between 1966 and 1988 for storing and consuming drugs. (The storing of drugs becomes synonymous with dealing with it, even though in most instances the quantities were minimal at the moment of arrest, as there was no evidence that they were used for other purposes than individual consumption.) Among the six that were arrested within the first 48 hours (see infra Table 10–3, first six names) three were accused of consuming drugs while the other three were accused of storing, dealing, and consuming crack.

79All defendants denied to the investigating judge the initial allegations that were drafted in the police reports only a week earlier. They all denied selling and/or using drugs, while some demanded a doctor’s examination to sustain their claims. As to the main protagonist Suhayl, he complained for the use of the term “theft” to describe his act, claiming that, after working for a month as a painter at the house of the plaintiff Ilyas, his employer did not compensate him for his work, overtly suggesting to him to sell some of the jewelry in his possession, which was precisely what Suhayl did “on his own initiative”: “There was that quid pro quo that I will take the jewelry as a way to pay my debts [that is, his debts to me]. After Ilyas left his home, I picked up the golden jewelry and put it in my pocket, then sold it.” What is staggering here is that none of the defendants’ prosecutorial narratives even remotely matches the earlier ones drafted by the police. They simply reverse them by bringing the case right from where it started, back to square one. What is more strange, however, is that the prosecution did not press for more questions. A typical prosecution log would go on as follows:

Q: It has been attributed to you the crime of consuming and marketing drugs?

A: Such claim is invalid, I accept any evidence (dalīl) that would show any wrongdoing. Those are my statements.

They were read to him, and he confirmed, and signed. [Defendants, plaintiffs, witnesses, and others involved in the case usually use their right thumb in lieu of a signature; they seldom sign.] End of the document.

80Some had appended notices that they were tortured while interrogated, while others had requested a doctor’s examination to substantiate their non‑drug use, demands that were strangely never met, and which in the French system would have been routinely conducted within the personnalité chapter of the prosecution. But that is practically as far as prosecution can go. It is as if it is typically expected beforehand that all defendants and witnesses would deny to the prosecution what the police had already attributed to them. The prosecution seldom bothers to push its investigations further, by aggressively pounding with more questions and answers, looking for discrepancies, comparing accounts, claims and counter‑claims, pointing to inconsistencies, demanding medical tests and adequate forensic evidence. Indeed, a distribution of roles operated between police and prosecution, one that was even colored by space. The police were supposed to be dirty and brutal, a mirror image of the people it took care of. Such a myth goes almost unforeseen to the point that when defendants and witnesses deny all allegations to the prosecution, the alleged police brutality is neither questioned, nor is it shocking to learn that some defendants were brutalized. By contrast, investigating judges conduct their interviews in the palace of justice, and as judges they are supposed to be knowledgeable of the law and shrewd, but not use torture or duress. Defendants therefore routinely accuse the police of torture, while denying acts attributed to them to the prosecution, while judges remain soft in their interviews, calmly recording all the witnesses’ rebuttals, as if assuming that there must be something true in what the police stated. Such difference in style, however, is even more deeply seated, since everyone generally assumes that, in spite of all claims to the contrary, there must be something true in the police reports, maybe not the whole truth, but at least an essential aspect of it. Police reports constitute therefore in their freshness the essential guidelines to the narrative at large, the one that guides the dossier, without which judges and lawyers would be completely lost, and without which no case would unfold into a trial and come to a happy end; in spite of continuous warnings from the Damascus Naqḍ not to trust or solely rely on police records, since, the Naqḍ is adamant at reminding everyone, every statement uttered in front of the police is invalid unless repeated verbatim in the presence of a judge, and later, at a court’s public hearing. Such a disturbing reminder, however, is rarely taken into account.

81So what was it that brought all those people together? Was it social status, preoccupation, income, manhood, crack, or simply the fun of it? Notice the broad societal differences among the group of ten, which renders it far more heterogeneous and much poorer than MKK’s one hundred or so patrons in the first case above: literates and illiterates, experienced and casual crack users, manual workers and unemployed, straight men and homosexuals, Christians and Muslims; add to this the usual generational gap, the immigration experience, and the past record of convictions of some members; finally, some were convicted, while others were set free. At the very least, then, the societal ground did not matter per se, as it was transcended in the mystic experience of trespassing norms, asserting manhood, homosexuality, group fighting, and the thrill of desecrating values without being caught. There was also that shared experience, organized every once and a while in the coziness of a private home (Suhayl was good at this), for consuming crack—an “entertainment,” as one of the protagonists aptly put it. So what brought such men together was the transgression of norms, be it sexual, drug related or otherwise. The problems of self‑identity versus the socio‑symbolic order therefore asserted itself in a crafting of an identity that was transgressive of norms. Here all offenses look minimal once compared to homicides committed in the passionate spirit of righteous slaughter, but that should not deter us to go for parallelisms, namely, that urge for crossing boundaries, which in itself was the outcome of deep humiliation. The offenders created their own network, enjoying the spirit of transgression, a bond irrespective of the common marks that separate individuals into social categories.

82From there on the case did not evolve much. One would expect, upon the plaintiffs’ denials, that the investigation would resume more aggressively. Instead it died down all of a sudden, as the old facts remained unchallenged, while prosecution and judges kept rotating the same bits of data in their reports. In hindsight the framework of the case was already set in police reports, within the first forty‑eight hours. What then followed was a routinized denial of all allegations, which placed the prosecution at the level of an agency that simply collected denials rather than cared to push the investigation further. Yet, from the time the alleged theft occurred in the final days of May 1989 until the dossier was closed in May 1994, thanks to a final ruling by the Naqḍ, in all those five long years not much has been added to the file, which is the most troubling aspect of the case, even though not unique to it.

83The court hearings did not begin until mid‑December 1994. But it remains unclear why after five years of delays, the Jināyāt was suddenly ready, considering that none of the accused was present at the first hearing in December 1994, when the court scribe jotted down that Suhayl “had left to an unknown destination for over a year.” Nor was Khalid present, even though a convocation had been issued on his behalf in November 1994; nor was Hassan for that matter. Nor was anyone present for the following sessions. Only by January 1995 did Khalid show up with his lawyers, while the presence of the other two had to wait for the following month. (It could be that there were behind‑the‑scenes negotiations between prosecution and councils that the trial would open on the proviso that the defendants would show up by January in what may have been like a plea‑bargain.) By that time the defendants had apparently decided to attend the court hearings to confess their wrongdoings, which Suhayl and Hassan did in two separate affidavits to the Jināyāt, retreating previous statements to the prosecution years earlier. By then the court closed its hearings of the case on April 1995, when finally—it was about time!—it was ready to divulge its ruling. The hearings logs, being summaries dictated by judges to their scribes, are generally, like the prosecution records, disappointing: they add nothing in substance, and that was not surprising. As defendants continuously referred to previous affidavits, insisting that they had nothing to add, the court for its part kept a low profile, and did not seem interested in bringing more light to the case. It rather seemed convinced that all previous statements, by public officials and defendants alike, were enough to proceed with the sentencing. The first sentencing penalized all three to three years and S.P.5,000 ($100) each, while the second one addressed the cases of only Suhayl and Hassan. The two were charged of wrongdoings for drug use, and the former was also accused of theft. The court sentenced them both for three years of incarceration and S.P.5,000 ($100) each. The affidavits that they both had signed after the second ruling, and in which they had confessed possessing drugs for the sole purpose of consumption, apparently gives the court for more leniency towards them.

84The reason why Khalid was not included in the sentencing is that he did not make any new confessions between the two rulings. He had appealed the section in the referral judge report apropos the “enough evidence” for drug use. In May 1994 the Naqḍ overruled his appeal:

The referral judge took on the facts of this case and discussed its evidence in a legal way, based on his own internal convictions. So he ended up accusing the appellant Khalid Qushaqji for the crime of using hashish, and his decision was well grounded and based on good reasoning (istidlāl) and evaluation, and what sustains it is the file of the case, in particular the seizure of hashish.

85In five years, the only “evidence” that satisfied all judges and courts—including the Naqḍ—was the material evidence of the hashish that was seized with the defendants at the moment of their capture. Nothing in the reports, investigations, hearings, and cross‑examinations, however, even remotely points to a certainty regarding such material evidence. Even though all defendants in their statements to the prosecution rejected the accusation that they had any drugs in their possession, the question was never asked, how did the drugs get there in the first place? One would have expected the defense to ponder the police on how the drugs were seized and the possibility of planted evidence. But that did not happen.

How dangerous were they?

86In the narcotics case in this chapter, time, as in other cases, was the main factor that brought the case to a closure. It had ultimately to be nailed down to the possession of narcotics, and considering the time framework for the case to unravel, the punishments were minimal. The wager here is to ask the naïve question, why would the state bother at all in such mundane matters? After all, it was fairly obvious from the beginning that the accused were no more than a small group of consumers, which at times acted as traffickers, only to cover their own costs, and which were unrelated to one another except for the very circumstances of consuming small amounts of pot for personal gratification. They all looked and behaved like textbook examples of individuals divorced from their urban milieus, trapped into a personal crisis that pushed them to find salvation in drug use. The detention of drug users is well documented even in the most advanced liberal societies, with variations of tolerance from one country to another. The US, for example, is well known for its harsh policies on drug use and trafficking, with billions of dollars at stake simply to arrest, bring to trial, and incarcerate users in the tens of thousands, not to mention the famous drug wars across borders and within sovereign countries receiving funds and military aid from US agencies. All that said and done, it does not prevent the US from being the largest drug consumer society in the world. More importantly, nothing seems to work in that respect: while drug use has not been curtailed, the inmate population has been growing steadily, half of which is Afro‑American (even though it stands at 10 percent population wise), with a large proportion in relation to drug felonies. So why then such unwavering persistence at waging wars on drug use and trafficking, whether inside or outside the territorial borders of sovereign nations? And why other countries would follow suit, in particular ones with the lowest per‑capita incomes in the developed world?

87In both instances, between developed wealthy societies and the much less economically performative, the wager is on that notion of the “dangerous individual.” An individual would become “dangerous” if he or she turns into a sexual pervert (e.g. homosexuality), a criminal, a deviant, homeless, a drug addict, a terrorist, insane, or even one who is medically incapacitated. As Foucault and others have pointed out, such stigmatizing practices of segregation‑cum‑internment have become normative in nineteenth‑century Europe, only to be picked up by the colonial and postcolonial nation‑states in their attempt to create “societies” and “nations” of their own. In other words, what is crucial here is the very notion of “society” which at its core implies a group of well‑integrated disciplined individuals. To begin with, strategies of discipline and control come through institutionalized practices, which vary from the juridical, medical, educational, to the military and political. Even though they prove quite uneven in their efficiency, their very purpose is to interpellate individuals deep down into their inner subjectivities. It is as if an individual is subjectified once interpellated by some higher agency that would pose itself as the “big Other.”

  • 11 Jack Katz, Seductions of Crime, New York: Basic Books, 1988.
  • 12 See Chapter 1 on how in the European nineteenth‑century medical practices came to the rescue of leg (...)
  • 13 Lisa Wedeen’s work on Syria and Yemen shows a concern for the subjectivity of actors, that is, in h (...)

88Social actors are therefore caught in a web of discursive practices, so that, for example, a delinquent is not simply chastised for doing wrong, but punished within a constructed legal and medical discourse on “delinquency,” which in turn would frame the juridical and medical institutionalized practices. But then, for the researcher, knowledge of what pushed an individual subject towards a delinquent act, whether that individual was caught in a personal history of delinquency or was simply a first‑time novice, is an entirely different matter from the web of discursive practices that would set an individual as delinquent in the eyes of law or medicine. In effect, knowing “what goes on” in the mind of a delinquent, based on concrete facts of him or her, which has been the orientation of this study, proves quasi‑independent from the discursive practices that frame a delinquent act as a crime to be pursued by the legal and medical authorities. The latter démarche only proves useful at explicating the conditions that would set the process of detention in motion, but once we are into individualized acts, something that goes deep down into the interiority of a psyche, it is the phenomenology of consciousness and the struggling decentered self in their deadlock vis‑à‑vis the socio‑symbolic order which are at stake here. If the Foucauldian perspective is set within the parameters of power relations and the schemes of resistance deployed by subjects in their daily struggles, it is, indeed, the latter that prove the most problematic and obscure. What were the schemes of resistance of our main protagonist Suhayl, a petty thief and drug addict, whose sole enjoyment consisted at connecting with his other pals to gain small benefits which were more symbolic than material? This chapter, like the other ones in this book, struggled between a micro‑sociology of the acts of a small delinquent like Suhayl, on one hand, and the practices of apparatuses that had to contain his delinquency on the other. But the two levels of analysis, however, would not go hand‑in‑hand. If, as Jack Katz asserts, the “seductions of crime” are bound to “moral and sensual attractions in doing evil,”11 which imply magic and sacrifice, then the researcher’s task is to explicate that kind of “attraction” to crime, which stands as autonomous from the discourses on criminality and the judicial procedures for narrating crime, as the latter only frame “crime” as a set of deviant practices to be handled through legal and medical expertise.12 We are here into “subjectivity” proper which remains the undisclosed core in the human and social sciences.13

89Our interpretation of Suhayl’s experience nailed down how he was symbolically transcending the social reality into which he was embedded. He created a world of his own, to which he invited others, which found satisfaction in the trespassing on the properties of others, people who employed him in minor tasks, and towards which he indulged in exercises of “freedom” to get what they owed him. Such transgressions, however, had nothing grandiose about them, as they were small in scale of little material value beyond the symbolic excitement of transgressing the sanctity of the other. MKK by contrast had a much larger network of middle‑class people who were attempting to move fast in the social ladder, at least faster than what the moribund state bureaucracy would permit. Yet, what brings all those networked people together, Suhayl’s and MKK’s pals, was precisely their transgression of the law, in spite of the fact that MKK’s pals were not subject to judicial pursuit and punishment; even though everything they did and said betrayed the fundamentals of contract and property: everyone of them knew that they were in that gray area of the law where bribing, speeding up transactions, signing up for contracts in cooperatives for which they were ineligible, were stricto sensu illegal. If Suhayl and his pals found themselves in the frenzy of drug addiction and theft, MKK and his pals were caught in that virtual act of faking and borrowing, even if they were not perfectly aware of what they were doing: “taking ourselves to be X,” makes us act like X. MKK took himself to be an important member of the presidential palace, a friend of the president and his two influential sons; he imagined himself running cooperatives, car dealerships, travel agencies; and, above all, he imagined himself an artist in the role of recreating—rather than simply reproducing—the emblems of the Baathist state. In similar vein, MKK’s pals imagined themselves within a reality were bureaucratic norms could be easily bypassed. It is, indeed, such acts of the imagination, which transgress the socio‑symbolic order, which prove fundamental at depicting “the criminal mind.”

90Throughout this study, however, the discursive practices and the phenomenology of crime were not kept at bay from one another. In effect, what binds the latter to the former are the court documents that are at the core of this study. In other words, the phenomenology of crime is constructed based on an interpretation of utterances that the felons furnished to prosecutors, judges, and their own counsels. As such utterances did not necessarily catch the eye of judicial authorities, as they were looked upon as superfluous and not worth quoting, from our perspective they constituted the bedrock of the case‑files which at times were ignored. At other times, they were used towards ends that may have been incompatible with the approach defended in this book. To be sure, some may perceive the utterances of convicts delivered in the process of an investigation to state authorities as a gross limitation to the sociology of crime. Such a criticism, however, misses the purpose that we have been aiming at, namely, that convicts were caught in a double bind: a situation in which they were confronted with two irreconcilable demands, one from the judicial authorities, and another stemming from their own consciousness. It is therefore the researcher’s task to filter the two, look for discrepancies, and for opportunities to see the culprit’s mind at work between two incompatible courses of action.

Table 10–3-1. The drug ring of old pals (May–June 1989).

name born neighborhood profession felony/crime
1. Suhayl Birdaqji 1957 ʿAziziyyeh painter 1. jewelry theft from a private home;2. drug use
2. Hassan Shaar 1952 Jamiliyyeh lived in Germany as an immigrant; settled upon his return in selling sandwiches possession of drugs, 20g
3. Khalid ʿAttar Qushaqji 1950 Jamiliyyeh married illiterate who worked as a hairdresser in Kallaseh possession and use of drugs, 2g
4. Muhammad ʿAli Muhammad 1931 Sukkari illiterate married man; baker in the old city drug use
5. Jack Hajjar 1962 Sulaymaniyyeh drug use
6. Ahmad Khawajiki 1964 Sulaymaniyyeh
7. Muhammad Khalil Shaaban 1937 Sulaymaniyyeh married illiterate who worked as a hairdresser in Kallaseh drug possession and use
8. Muhammad Jumʿa Intakli 1947 Kallaseh owner of a plastic shop in Kallaseh drug use
Was in Damascus in May–June 1989; Telegram forwarded to Damascus police.
9. Mahmud Habbal purchase of stolen jewelry
The only one of the ten not to be accused of any drug felony.
10. Ismail Maghribi 1935 Drug possession and use

Table 10–3-2. The drug ring of old pals (May–June 1989).

name born precedents current status
1. Suhayl Birdaqji 1957 arrested within first 48 hours; claimed to prosecution judge that his employer did not pay him for a one‑month work painting his home, hence his excuse for stealing some of his employer’s jewelry.Was among a group of three who were found guilty until the very end (1993–5) for storing and using drugs.
2. Hassan Shaar 1952 arrested within first 48 hours; denied all charges to prosecution judge; he had been imprisoned for the past year for having participated in a “group fight.”Was among a group of three who were found guilty until the very end (1993–5) for possessing and using drugs.
3. Khalid ʿAttar Qushaqji 1950 theft, homosexuality, “intercourse against nature.” arrested within the first 48 hours; denied all allegations.Was among a group of three who were found guilty until the very end (1993–5) for storing and using drugs; had a record of nine felonies including theft, homosexuality
4. Muhammad ʿAli Muhammad 1931 several arrests from 1966 to 1988: consumption and sale of drugs. arrested within the first 48 hours; confessed for past drug use, but denied all allegations to prosecution.
5. Jack Hajjar 1962 arrested within the first 48 hours; denied any drug use, and requested a doctor’s examination that would substantiate his claims.
6. Ahmad Khawajiki 1964 arrested within the first 48 hours; denied all allegations.
7. Muhammad Khalil Shaaban 1937 already in prison for a public group fight denied all allegations to prosecution judge.
8. Muhammad Jumʿa Intakli 1947 denied all allegations to prosecution judge.
9. Mahmud Habbal
10. Ismail Maghribi 1935 denied all allegations to prosecution.


1 See, Chapter 1 on the Kallās affair and its aftermath.

2 Case 222/4/1997, Aleppo Jināyāt ruling on 26 January 1998; sustained by the Damascus Naqḍ on 17 May 1998.

3 On the treatment of insanity in Syrian courts, see, Chapter 3.

4 A mistyping amusingly modified akhtām (seals) for aḥkām (rulings/laws), which could, of course, have originally been not a typist’s error, but a Freudian slip of the tongue from the defense.

5 We are using “members” rather than “subjects” or “individuals,” as we want to limit our analysis to how individual subjects interact in the context of a specific situated encounter, which in this instance is the court system, and which in itself establishes a “membership” to a certain milieu, at least for the duration of the case‑file. Obviously, those same individuals could be members of other situated encounters, for example, the family or school, or their professional milieu. Looked at in Foucauldian terms, the apparatus of justice objectivizes itself as a dispositif, which imposes itself on the subjectivities of individuals, hence it subjectivizes in specific ways, for instance, in the experience of “witnessing,” which imposes particular ways of talking and responding to questions. Let us note here, en passant, that whereby the Foucauldian dispositif imposes itself as an outside force to the subject, de facto subjectivizing him or her, the Lacanian big Other is a creation of the subject. In other words, it is part of the complex operation of creating a super‑ego and an idealized ego, both of which are initiated by the subject rather than imposed from the outside as an alien dispositif.

6 Or: “Do not originate from reality,” laysa lahā aṣl fi‑l‑wāqiʿ.

7 Being “not kin related” could establish a status of independency.

8 The pioneering work of Bruno Latour for both scientific laboratory work and legal practices is unique at providing an in‑depth look into such heterogeneous milieus, yet at the same time operating under similar assumptions.

9 Aleppo Jināyāt 358/1989; general prosecution report of 17 pages missing; defense memo missing; case completed, with final Naqd ruling.

10 In the Syrian penal code (as is common in other codes on the eastern Mediterranean), “sexual deviancy” is generically prohibited in article 520 under the broad acronym of “intercourse against nature,” without any specific connotation, which could include, inter alia, homosexuality (male or female), sex with animals, sex with a corpse, or sex with minors.

11 Jack Katz, Seductions of Crime, New York: Basic Books, 1988.

12 See Chapter 1 on how in the European nineteenth‑century medical practices came to the rescue of legal ones, prompted by the inability of judges to reason within the juridical mode of reasoning alone.

13 Lisa Wedeen’s work on Syria and Yemen shows a concern for the subjectivity of actors, that is, in how actors integrate schemes of belief when faced with authoritarian representations of power.

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 10–1. Faked document of a membership to a housing cooperative (jamʿiyyat al‑rāʾid) in Aleppo in 1996 allegedly forged—or, in the language of the defense, “artistically drawn”—by the defendant.
Fichier image/jpeg, 836k
Titre Figure 10–2. Forged law degree, allegedly prepared by the defendant in 1996, granting a diploma from Aleppo University.
Fichier image/jpeg, 528k

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