My writings seek to deconstruct the narration of current affairs as distributed to the public. By taking a linguistic hermeneutic path I attempt to reveal the rhetorical devices grounded within the techno-scientific calculative culture that is characteristic of liberal democracies. I relate particularly to the self-contradictions in the Zionist discourse regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its mutual interaction with world politics.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

AN EYE FOR AN EYE, or, an eye for an "I": authors and executioners.

By Ariella Atzmon©

“An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind” (Mahatma Gandhi)

‘An eye for an eye’ as a doctrine of punishment appears in ancient systems of law. We can find it in the Old Testament, in the jurisprudence of Babylon and in Islamic law. In Rome it was known as the "Lex Talionis” code of justice. Some relevant implications for contemporary politics and rhetorical conduct of deterrence can be revealed by deconstructing the meaning of the 'EYE FOR AN EYE' precept.
We have always been taught that the old biblical verse “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” presents a primordial mode of punishment which is endorsed and carried out by the most reactionary regimes. Oddly, the primordial 'eye for an eye' mode of punishment no longer is applied by non-western peoples, but rather has become the typical style of retaliation in societies which are considered to be neo-liberal democracies. The question to be asked is how it came about that this ancient imperative has been transformed into daily conduct for those who consider themselves liberal, enlightened, high-cultured and democratic regimes. What are the rhetorical mechanisms that disguise the 'eye for an eye' retaliatory policy under propagandistic declarations such as the 'liberation' of the oppressed people of Iraq, or democratizing those who are 'abused' by theocratic fundamentalist regimes? Since we are conditioned to praise any occurrence and all policy in the course of democracy as right, while whatever is related to non-democratic regimes as totally evil, critical self-reflection on the scene of retaliation is needed. Given that speculations regarding overt political affairs remain locked in the shadow of a 'Black Box', the entire commitment to progress and rationality, as related to legal doctrines for punishment, should be critically analyzed.
In a short essay, "An Eye for an Eye,"[1] Immanuel Levinas the 'prophet of ethics' condemns Christian piety, magnifying non-resistance to evil. "Ah! The lex talionis, an eye for an eye. How much pious anger you generate in a world ruled only by kindness and love". In the name of Jewish wisdom Levinas attacks the exaltation of a superhuman and heroic life from which heart and pity must be banished. He locates this kind of inspiration in pagan traditions, in Machiavelli, or in Nietzsche. By tracing a message of universalism that describes the unity of mankind, Levinas expounds "one law for all is the latent wisdom that is hidden in the mysterious words." As violence calls for more violence, it is the mission of humanized justice to put a stop to what "once the evil has been committed." But how should this mission become real? And here comes Levinas with a twist that sounds odd and bizarre! In the name of the doctors of Talmud he blames western justice, based on 'peace and kindness' for the biased privileging of the rich! "It advantages those who can easily pay for the broken teeth, the gouged–out eyes and the fractured limbs..." He condemns the way fracture and outrage are "taken on a market value and are given a price" and thus "the world remains a comfortable place for the strong." Without blinking he reminds us about the biblical spirit of kindness, declaring that "if money or excuses could repair everything and leave us with a free conscience, the movement would be given a misinterpretation. Yes! eye for eye …… nor all the money in the world can heal outrage done to man… It is a disfigurement or wound that bleeds for all time as though it required a parallel suffering to staunch this eternal haemorrhage". By listening to the phrase "What appears to be cruel, seeks only justice" we may well wonder, was it enunciated by Levinas or by Shylock?[2]
Relying on the doctors of Talmud, Levinas places himself in the webs of Rabbinic tradition and Halachah law, grounded in the old Pharisee school. It is the version of Judaism where social justice and personal morality are equated. There is no conception of 'virtue' or 'duty' and no need for rational morality. There is only the fear of God as the patron of justice. So in favor of false Talmudic righteousness, Levinas closes his eyes to ethical judgment, as shuttered within a Black Box. By praising the rabbinic tradition that confuses morality with legalistic law, Levinas betrays humanism and exposes his behaviorist position.
When the eye for an eye is understood and materialized in concrete figurative terms, it implies a behaviorist positivist epistemology. The measure for measure mode of retaliation is a by-product of the correspondence theory of truth, namely, associating a name to a sensory data. The correspondence theory of truth dictates a clear-cut demarcation of the observational from the theoretical, and the behaviorist stance determines the superfluous status of theoretical speculations. Skinner, the originator of the behaviorist argument, refers to any theoretical outlook as sealed in a ‘BLACK BOX’. According to this view, since inventive interpretations are impenetrable to snooping, inquisitive investigation, any entity that can not be linked with sense data is doomed to be thrown out to the non-sense bin. The behaviorist argument asserts that if A leads to B and B leads to C, then A indirectly determines C and we can eliminate B. Therefore, if an explanatory theoretical terminology C link between initial input observables A and output factual data B, it is possible to skip C, as represented by a ‘Black Box’ and treat reality by exclusively using observable entities. Thus, when reality is supervised merely by evidential reports, the 'reporter' is released from referring to contextual notions of meanings in use. In a scene of retaliation, when there is a sequence of violent events which follow one after another, bypassing the stage of reflexive thought in the attempt to reveal the underlying linkage between the mutually destructive acts conforms with behaviorism. When a martyrdom act in Jerusalem is avenged by demolishing the family house, village or town of the perpetrator, skipping a phase of self-reflection regarding the original sins that lead up to the act, we are faced with crude behaviorism. Such devastating modes of retaliation are backed up by behaviorist propaganda that hinders people from interpreting the chain of events. All the input/output conditioning apparatus operated by the worst styles of brainwashing propaganda are grounded in behaviorism, namely: disclosing factual evidence and sealing theoretical speculation within a Black Box. We can scarcely find people who question the reasons why and how things started to deteriorate. After the 7/7 London blasts, things are referred back to 9/11. Yet forms of political and economic control "terrorized nations and obliterate their power… "[3] had been in practice long before the 1993 World Trade Center attack. The nonchalant brainwashed mindset regarding the robbery of Third World people of their natural resources is symptomatic to behaviorist blindness. The corruption of believers’ lives by authoritarian secularism was going on long before the Twin Towers were crushed to dust.
The more we are flooded by facts and evidential reports, the more the Black Box shuts down. Since liberal democracy is conditioned to place its trust in scientific thought, the way to keep people in step with the system is to submerge them in streams of reports, surveys and poll results. The scientific envelope guarantees, in advance, the status of addressed messages, as if statements can be validated by correspondence only. Although justification by a coherent inference is closer to the nature of science, it is disregarded. And so, since science is presented as a perfect model for unbiased rational thinking, with the aim of protecting the social order, liberal education fixes the rules for how science should be presented to the public. Students are instructed to construct reality in terms of their own experience; it insists upon bridging the observational reports to empty abstract statements first, and to skip the notions given to words later. The distortion of peoples' minds towards facts is the great deceit of liberal education.
People were against the war on Iraq since there was no factual evidence regarding the existence of WMDs. But, even if some WMDs would have been found, was it still justified to impose democracy on people who had not asked for it? Are only 'responsible' western democratized states allowed to develop WMDs? Do Dresden and Coventry present us with evidential proof of responsible retaliatory conduct? But questioning the implications of the eye for an eye imperative as related to ethics is not a matter of concern for the westerners. In the legalistic public debate it is considered irrelevant.
The ambiguous double meaning of the 'Black Box' can be viewed as another deceptive rhetorical device. It is when besides the praise for rational scientific thought; obscure messages meant to implant fear from the shadowy Al Qaeda are disseminated. It is a double bind message that in the name of individual freedom of choice facilitates manipulation and control.
Surprising? It is precisely in western regimes, where the political leader controls the 'Black Box' that we face distorted evidence and forged documents. The coalition had to invent the Iraq conflict “because Iraq was a test case…if we had backed away from that, we would never have been able to confront the threat in other countries where it exists,” Blair's speech to the British troops in Basra 4/1/04. Blair admits that the war against Iraq was just a warning. The crucial attempt, according to Blair, is “to get on top of the security situation”. Blair, Bush and Sharon start counting from the stage of being attacked, failing to recall their own offences. They punctuate starting points without responsibility for catastrophic endpoints. Ironically, this behaviorist epistemology also liberates their critics from digging into the Pandora's Box.
On the same day that Blair delivered his speech, Bin Laden, in an audiotape broadcast, declared the causes for past, present and future attacks on American, British or Israeli targets. “My message is to incite you against the conspiracies especially those uncovered by the occupation of the crusaders in Baghdad under the pretext of weapons of Mass Destruction, and also the situation in Jerusalem under the deception of the road map and the Geneva initiative.” According to the speaker, Middle Eastern issues are part of a religious and economic war in which the “Big Powers” are trying to control the region for its oil. Clearly we can point out who is talking in causal terms?
In the Judeo-Muslim world where democracy is rejected, the rhetorical game of persuasion is unnecessary. Therefore the ‘eye for an eye’ precept of retaliation is modified into an obscure mode of leaving the enemy blinded. The unidentified terrorists of Sept 11th, those who committed the massacre in Bali or Madrid, did not leave behind any clear explanation, written or broadcast. The vague messages distributed on the internet after the London bombs were another obscure reminder of Anglo-American and Zionist imperialism. Bin Laden, who is considered the one who arranged the Sept 11 attack, never openly admitted the attacks. The intelligence agencies are still shooting in the dark. The minute we acknowledge that all assaults on western trade and tourism sites were led by unknown groups in the name of ideas, then the way to deal with this trend of events is to start reflecting on the matter philosophically. It means paying attention to the obscure style of the delivered announcements; trying to infer why and how they cynically utilize western technology for their own means. The quality of the filming and sound, which are extremely poor, tell us how much they disregard the technology of photography. It is just the contrary to the thinking behind the London Metropolitan Police who appeal for mobile camera photos and other kinds of filming taken around the time of the blasts – in the attempt to solve the mystery. In the course of calculative investigation it is possible to identify those who carried out the attacks, while the detection of their sender continues to be a mission impossible. The disclosure of reasons and cause for the blasts remain enigmatic. I argue that the obscurity of the messages is a message in itself. It is a self-referential message! Since filming is not a reproduction of reality but rather a simulated invention of the event, the videos do not pretend to bring out a clear documentary eligible for western analysts. It is an illustration of how the mode of delivering a message can be seen as a warning message to step back from behaviorist modes of thought, to revert and start searching into the 'Black Box'. Opacity stimulates fear of the unknown which is much more powerful than the pseudo-transparent messages declaring fortitude and self-determination. Instead of being trapped again and again in a behaviorist chain of retaliation it should raise an awareness regarding the impossibility of representation. It is more than reasonable that the efforts of western intelligence agencies are still concentrated, around the clock, on identifying those responsible for the 9/11 event. But it is the philosophers' task to reflect upon the messages hidden in those left-behind video cassettes, the writers' duty to raise public awareness of the polyphony of meanings. It is difficult to articulate the attackers' intention in plain words. We can only guess!
We may say that there is nothing wrong with techno-scientific thought. The problem is its arrogance which perceives all non-calculative modes of reasoning as inferior. Disabling the poetic aspect of the human brain, letting free only the digital façade, is the moment where humanism is totally subjugated to brutality.
Conforming with calculative thought, western rhetoric makes it imperative that only what is visible has an impact on the public. Since in democratic societies the next election is always just around the corner, any victory or failure has to be attached to immediate tangible proof. In cultures that are not obsessed by elections, maintained by rationality and freedom of choice, there is no pressure for a permanent supply of successful maneuvers. People accustomed to contemplative thought are not free of hatred, and yearning for vengeance. But the search for revenge can wait till another epoch in time. The verse “Haste comes from the devil” portrays a different rhythm, not predisposed to calculative punctuation.
Contrary to western democracies where the ruler is entitled to provide retaliation in the time-range between two subsequent elections, people led by divine eternal power are never restrained by the limited human lifetime. In contrast to democratic rulers who strive against time to produce successful results, religious pundits guided by God’s will do not have to justify their deeds in reference to results but according to intentions. Digitalized western people who are unable to internalize a non-punctuated mental state, when defeated, crave for an 'eye for an eye' revenge. They can not delay their need for gratification. But philosophy, as the realm where human deeds should be ethically judged, should remove itself from actuality, keeping remote from that deceitful game.
To agree with Levinas on the point that the ‘eye for an eye’ phrase should be understood as the search for proportional justice, the questions to be asked are: How did it happen that the Anglo-Americans dumped the enlightened spirit of the Lex Talionis in favor of the 'Talmudic - Behaviorist wisdom' of interpreting the 'eye for an eye' precept literally? How did the biblical modes of Jewish retaliatory and deterrent conduct, which contradict the nature of justice, became the hallmark of western policy? How long can western rulers stay remote from the ethical aspect of the Lex Talionis - the principle of proportional justice, that the punishment should fit the crime no more, no less? How many eyes should be sacrificed for the one I?

[1] Emanuel Levinas (1990), Difficult freedom, Essays on Judaism, (London: THE ATHLONE PRESS)
[2]In their own way, Zionist follow the meandering treatise of Levinas thoroughly. But while Levinas insists on the Talmudic concrete 'measure for measure' mode of punishment, Zionist Jews are engaged in an endless search for documentary proof aimed at bringing the wrong into the marketplace, putting a price tag on executed parents, wives, husbands and children. Actually, Jews who are used to grounding their supreme identity in the wisdom of Talmudic scholarship substitute a monetary fine for suffering. Remember that the Zionists twice refuted Talmudic wisdom: first in the transfer agreements in 1933 legitimizing Hitler's regime, and later in legitimizing the new Germany in 1953, by signing the compensation agreement. Contrary to the old Jewish declaration "to blot out the name of Amalek", recalling God's war against those who symbolize the eternal enemy, from generation to generation, they keep on begging for financial compensation without quitting the urge for revenge.
[3] Mahmud Abouhalima in an interview with M Juergensmeyer in: M. Juergensmeyer, (2000), Terror in the Mind of God, University of California Press. P.60-9

This paper was presented at the "New Europe at the Crossroads" conference (sponsored by Loyola College). Poznan, summer 2005.