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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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73 Responses

  1. karak
    karak December 15, 2008 at 12:56 am |

    Humans only have rights as long as they don’t violate the rights of others. When you openly disregard the other rights of humans–when you decide to openly degrade another person simply because you can– you lose the privilege of being considered a human being.

    This is justice, and without a doubt, it might keep a few other men from dashing acid into a woman’s face. It’s worth it.

  2. shah8
    shah8 December 15, 2008 at 1:02 am |

    I think the severity of the eye-for-an-eyeness has to do with local custom that is horrified at the idea that acid-slinging might become a trend in Iran. This is traditionally a South Asia problem, and not a general Islamic issue.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean Iranians would treat homosexuals much better (at least the rubric of the state does the deed following *some* kind of legal custom)

  3. Tom
    Tom December 15, 2008 at 1:03 am |

    While I don’t exactly condone this, it seems that the sentence was arrived at by a formal legal process and will be done under the aegis of the state and their interpretation of Islamic law. Assuming that this isn’t just a “one-off” sort of a thing, in which they’re punishing one symbolic defendant egregiously as a scapegoat and will subsequently allow others to escape, the only possible issue here is the punishment itself, which is just culturally dependent. Our prison-industrial complex, death penalty, and other features of our system are our way, and could come in for criticism too. In this country, at least in California, this guy could (conceivably) get life without parole. (P.C. § 205 Aggravated Mayhem) Whose to say that their way doesn’t have something to be said for it? It does have sort of a nice symmetry to it, if nothing else. It’s cheaper than life in prison. And if they made it public, or publicized pictures of the defendant afterward, it might have a very positive and viscerally powerful deterrent effect.

  4. Ouyang Dan
    Ouyang Dan December 15, 2008 at 1:28 am |

    Well said Jill.

    Anything else undermines the feminist cause as a whole, IMNSFHO.

    I feel for her, as these acid splashing stories horrify me, but you are absolutely right.

  5. Tara
    Tara December 15, 2008 at 1:54 am |

    It’s not a fair critique coming from our system where we we act as though prison is justice. We’re just less forthright about the whole point being to inflict suffering that makes us feel better about crimes and injuries that of course can’t ever really be repaired.

  6. chels
    chels December 15, 2008 at 3:56 am |

    Well said, thank you.

  7. AndersH
    AndersH December 15, 2008 at 4:23 am |

    karak, do you really think that a society that can decide which people are so horrible as to lose their human rights will always use that power “correctly” so that no innocent will be convicted, or won’t be used in a way that is targeted against one particular part of the population?
    Because if such a society ever uses this power against an innocent person, that is, if you use this power against someone who is considered a human being, then what do we call such a society?

    Of course, that’s mostly a mechanical objection, and isn’t the first one that comes to mind for me. The way I see it, you can’t lose human rights, because, you see, they’re human. And people remain human whatever they do. There are no monsters, whom we can furiously hate. There are only our fellow humans, and to do to them what they have done to others is only to become the same monster that you hate in them.

    So then “openly disregarding the rights of other humans” would be what we, as a society, would do, if we tolerated these punishments, or, for me, the death penalty, or unacceptably long or tortuous prison stays.
    That is not the kind of society I want, and it’s not the kind of society I would call a democracy.

    I find Nils Christie’s book A Suitable Amount of Crime to be an interesting (and quite short) book on this topic, though I some of his proposals in that book sound quite horrific to me.
    Nils Christie is a Norwegian criminologist, by the way, who has spent all his adult life interviewing murderers, concentration camp guards and so on and so forth, and he has, in his own words, never met a monster.
    To quote him:
    “Distance makes killing and torture possible. This is one of the major findings from studies of extermination camps as well as from psychological experiments. Distance makes it possible to loose sight of the victim as an ordinary human being. But the same mechanism is of course at play when we pay back with punishment. Distance, as when we see criminals as monsters – makes the most severe punishments possible. “

  8. What does it mean for justice to be served? « Blunt Object

    [...] An eye for an eye (Feministe via memeorandum) Dripping acid into someone’s eyes is not a “justice” system by any stretch. So while I’m glad this crime is being taken seriously and that the woman has had a chance to speak out against the man who attacked her, I am horrified that the punishment may be torture. [...]

  9. Ens
    Ens December 15, 2008 at 5:21 am |

    karak — dehumanizing people is never a good step. There are very few absolutes that I will say, and it’s one of them. Dehumanizing humans, particularly in terms of legal justice, is never a good step. The criminal is astonishingly evil and we should deal with him and prevent him from hurting anybody ever again, not torture him from retributive bloodlust. Was he even sentenced to jail time or “just” to acid in the eyes?

    I can’t believe that anybody would support dripping (strong) acid into a person’s eyes. For any reason. It’s barbaric, and I say so despite being perfectly aware that I’m in a distant and foreign culture and etc. etc., this one I’m not going to let up on.

    Even if you want a purely practical argument, there is one: this guy thought it was okay in some circumstances to toss acid into somebody’s face. To teach people that it’s never okay to toss acid into somebody’s face, we will…toss acid into somebody’s face?

    This may be “justice” in a certain sense of the term, but that version of justice is not a good and ethical thing. It doesn’t do us any good to torture somebody for shits & giggles, even if he’s an asshole.

    To be fair, I’m not particularly happy about the current state of prison systems in Western countries either. We don’t typically splash acid into the faces of dickheads, but it’s culturally expected of us that we cheer when prisoners are raped by other prisoners, which is still somewhat less than spectacular, all things considered.

  10. transgenmom
    transgenmom December 15, 2008 at 7:55 am |

    We don’t drip acid into people’s eyes because we don’t know whether or not they are innocent and you can’t appeal acid dripped into your eyes.

    Prison or blindness. We house people in prisons because we have the money for expensive prisons. I doubt the iranians have that kind of money especially with oil prices cratering.

  11. Personal Failure
    Personal Failure December 15, 2008 at 8:55 am |

    There is no justice anywhere. Our prison system is no better, unless you think that the appropriate punishment for theft is being beaten and raped. (One can make the argument that this is not the fault of the criminial justice system, but since we all know what happens in prison, it is disingenuous at best to pretend that beatings and rapes are not part of the punishment we are meting out.)

    That being said, torturing someone as punishment for torturing someone else just isn’t right. It might dissuade someone else from similar actions, but the death penalty doesn’t really dissuade people determined to murder, or from acting in the heat of the moment.

  12. Rachel
    Rachel December 15, 2008 at 8:58 am |

    Ens made the argument I was going to – I have worked hard to teach my six-year-old that hitting is wrong. I have had many people try to talk me into spanking as discipline, and my response has always been, “How can I teach him that hitting is not good by hitting him?”

    Granted what happened here is far worse than a scuffle between two grumpy kids on a school playground. But I have never understood the concept of revenge punishment, and I am nauseated by the prospect of using torture to nullify torture.

  13. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan December 15, 2008 at 9:18 am |

    Wasn’t the “eye for an eye” thing originally to prevent *worse* punishments? Like, a family for an eye? I don’t know what the alternative punishments might have been, but I don’t get the impression that women’s rights are taking precedent over human rights here; they’re just protecting the one right instead of ignoring both rights. (*Ideally* our justice system has moved on beyond the necessity of the eye-for-an-eye way of thinking, and do something more sophisticated and just, but then again I don’t think that as long as there’s the death penalty in the US we (Americans) have too much room to talk about revenge being bad.)

  14. marilove
    marilove December 15, 2008 at 9:43 am |

    Somehow, I don’t care. Toss acid in his face. He fucking deserves it.

  15. Matthew
    Matthew December 15, 2008 at 9:54 am |

    Karak, Tom & Tara:

    In what sense does recognizing the abusive nature of our own system of justice require one to choke back their revulsion at the type of cruelty Jill describes? Humility, self-reflection, the willingness to critique one’s own institutions… these are important habits. But no moral reflex serves the causes of human dignity more than moral sensitivity – spontaneous empathy and the courage to disregard the justifications that powerful offer to defend their treatment of the weak. And certainly, our own system should not be immune to criticisms born of that reflex. But to insist that we refrain from speaking out against atrocities like this? Cultural sensitivity and self-criticism should serve the cause of human solidarity; they should not be turned against it. It’s a bizarre sort of selfishness that allows one to employ cultural awareness and self-criticism as excuses for their own moral paralysis.

  16. little light
    little light December 15, 2008 at 9:59 am |

    Yeah, I gotta say, folks–this guy deserves something, but I will never be comfortable with a legal system that allows a governing body the authority to maim a human being.
    Criminals, even violent ones, are people with human rights. Our prison system is broken for not treating them as human. The legal system that allowed this man to be maimed for a crime is broken, too.

    What he did was horrific. Granting government the right to do the same when they judge appropriate is possibly even more horrific.

  17. Josh Jasper
    Josh Jasper December 15, 2008 at 10:00 am |

    Bagelsan – Wasn’t the “eye for an eye” thing originally to prevent *worse* punishments?

    It was a means of society enacting revenge for a victim. A justice system, no matter what it does, is there to prevent personal revenge by enacting some sort of state sanctioned penalty, presumably with some concept of evidence and fairness. So it’s there to prevent escalation. In that sense, you’re spot on right.

    —————

    On a separate note –

    Despite questions of what about how bad the US justice system is, (and it’s really awful), what this comes down to is asking, “Is revenge something you want to accept as morally justified”. We can deal with under what circumstances it’s acceptable later.

    Ducking this question is going to hurt feminism (or any human rights movement) more than addressing it will.

    I don’t accept it as morally justified under any circumstances. If an individual does me an unjustifiable wrong, I don’t want to do them a wrong in return, and I don’t want the state to do it for me. If it’s a reparable wrong, I want that person to make reparations so that the wrong is fixed, not as a means of revenge. I also want that person to be put in a position where they can’t do that to other people, and for the state to at least try to show them why what they did was wrong.

  18. Thomas
    Thomas December 15, 2008 at 10:07 am |

    On the one hand, like many folks I find this shocking and inhumane — and only partly because it is unappealable and irreversible. Mostly, it seems like the torments European states used in the middle ages.

    But folks then say that our prison system isn’t just. I agree, but that’s not the whole of the critique. Lots of folks on the left think that a prison system is unjust; that a system of policing is unjust in any capitalist system.

    It seems to me that this has to resolve into one of two things:
    (1) that, whatever the mechanisms, an unjust society will not produce a just criminal justice system (I agree with that); or
    (2) that no criminal justice system can be just (but then, I would argue that every society, however small, has one, so what’s the alternative?)

  19. Thomas
    Thomas December 15, 2008 at 10:10 am |

    left a tag open. Sorry.

  20. William
    William December 15, 2008 at 11:09 am |

    Laws exist to protect the rights of individuals, and states exist to enforce those laws. You need states to enforce laws effectively because they create some semblance of balance and fairness. If a community pools it’s resources (becomes a state) it becomes extremely difficult for an individual to simply violate the rights of others because he/she is more powerful and thus immune to the revenge sought by those whose rights were violated. On the other side the state exists to ensure than punishments and compensations extracted from guilty parties are proportionate to the violation committed. That was (more or less) Locke’s conception of why the state punishes.

    The idea that punishment exists to teach is not only a fairly recent concept, but it is also a fairly western and dishonest concept. Punishments levied for crimes are, first and foremost, designed to take revenge and extract just compensation. The power wielded by the state is almost always a violation of human rights. In the west we hide these violations from view, we make them abstract, we keep our minds off them, we allow ourselves to be distanced from the ugly realities of our system of revenge while still reaping the satisfaction of punishment.

    This case in Iran makes us uncomfortable because of how it reflects back upon us. It takes the system of law and revenge and makes it brutally honest. A man blinds a woman with acid, the community blinds him back in the same manner. Its horrifying to us, but how much of that horror is the act and how much is the indecency of the Iranian courts to make us look at it. In the US we concentrate our prisoners in prisons designed to break their wills and dehumanize them, where they are likely to be beaten and raped, where they will have third rate food and health care, where they have essentially none of the rights we pride ourselves on. The only real difference between the punishments for crimes in the US is measured by how long we put people in dehumanizing confinement, there is no connection between the nature or character of the crime and the punishment extracted for it. The only exception is the death penalty (interestingly enough), and even that is slowly being phased out of western society.

    I’m uncomfortable with the idea of the state having the power to abrogate human rights, but its intellectually dishonest to imply that somehow they’re doing something we aren’t, or doing it to a more terrible degree. I’m almost tempted to argue that they’re less terrible than the west because they at least have the fortitude to admit what it is they’re doing rather than hide it from view and pretend they’re trying to rehabilitate.

  21. William
    William December 15, 2008 at 11:21 am |

    The fact that we don’t have a very good system doesn’t change the fact that this particular punishment is very bad.

    With all due respect, Jill, I feel thats minimizing. The implication there is that somehow our way of torturing prisoners is not “very good” (which almost leaves the sense that it could very well be good, average, below average, or merely bad) but that theirs is “very bad” (leaving very little ambiguity). You also worded it in such a way as to make the problems with our system passive/negative (“we don’t have…“), while making the problems with the Iranian system active/positive. In other words, the west is trying but for whatever reason has not found success whereas Iran is actively transgressing.

  22. Shinobi42
    Shinobi42 December 15, 2008 at 11:27 am |

    The idea of burning someone with acid on purpose completely squicks me out. However the other punishment option, from my understanding, was that he pay the victim a sum of money. (cnn I think)

    The victim didn’t want money, she wanted revenge.

    And the courts probably saw an opportunity to create an effective deterrent. Clear message, you burn women with acid, we burn you with acid.

  23. William
    William December 15, 2008 at 11:30 am |

    I didn’t bring up the U.S. system. I didn’t compare them. I didn’t say that our system is the ideal. I didn’t imply that.

    No, you didn’t, I was responding more to others in the thread who had. I’ve been here long enough to understand that you don’t view the US justice system through an idealized lens. I apologize.

    I’m talking about “justice” from the perspective of a human rights and social justice advocate

    As was I. But justice is neither an objective standard nor a static concept. It is culturally bound and widely open to interpretation. If we’re going to talk about it its worth considering what exactly we’re talking about, as the posts in this thread alone would seem to suggest a range of standards and definitions even within this relatively narrow discussion in a relatively homogeneous community.

    I think we can critique certain conceptions of “justice” without having to always compare other systems to ours. And I’m finding it really frustrating that again, we write about an issue abroad and everyone is obsessed with bringing it all back to the U.S.

    Unfortunately, the tendency when we see stories like this (even here on Feministe, as I’ve seen the word “barbaric” tossed around) is to use them in a particular way. While talking about these stories abroad we subtly put ourselves on higher ground, we pass judgment, we look down on the “savages”, and we feel better about ourselves. YOU might not have been actively doing that, but there are some in this thread who were. I was trying to respond to a broad discussion about justice while also objecting to some of the othering and cultural superiority that was going on around it.

  24. The Raving Atheist
    The Raving Atheist December 15, 2008 at 11:57 am |

    Another problem with the punishment is that if the two eventually get married, like Burt Pugach and Linda Riss, it will be more difficult for him to take care of her.

  25. SarahMC
    SarahMC December 15, 2008 at 11:58 am |

    While I don’t think the state should be in the torturing business, and I recognize that the purpose of the justice system is not to enact revenge against monsters like him, I can’t say I’m the least bit upset that the guy’s eyes were doused with acid.

  26. Angela
    Angela December 15, 2008 at 12:03 pm |

    While I agree this is a sad story (to say the least), none of us should lose sight of the fact that Iran’s laws are governed by their culture and it’s interpretation of the Koran. If anything, everyone on this thread should feel a great deal of gratitude that you do not live in place where human rights are severely curtailed (from our perspective), especially for women.

  27. sly civilian
    sly civilian December 15, 2008 at 12:12 pm |

    “It’s not a fair critique coming from our system where we we act as though prison is justice. ”

    Especially when one of the first jokes that gets made about people going to prison is about rape.

    That said, I can’t imagine this kind of directly retributive justice being effective or right. It’s not conscionable to me to condone such a punishment, no matter how horrific the original crime.

    I think one could start talking about harm reduction concerning a prison-industrial complex like America’s. I don’t know that the same discussion could be had for intentionally blinding someone. Our hands are certainly not clean, but we can address the relative justice of different options. And of the biggest criteria ought to be effectiveness. (It’s not the only criteria, but a good one to start with.)

    The roots of the original problem, misogynistic acid attacks, are far too deep to be controlled with fear alone.

  28. Thomas
    Thomas December 15, 2008 at 12:30 pm |

    William, do you have an alternative to a state with the power to punish? Or are you just arguing that as long as one is necessary it’s better to be honest about the blood on our hands?

  29. weejit
    weejit December 15, 2008 at 12:31 pm |

    “Humans only have rights as long as they don’t violate the rights of others.”

    This is patently false. Ask any queer in America right now. From my POV, rights are arbitrary.

    But that’s a drift.

    I am repulsed that a court would even suggest such a punitive measure as acid in the eyes. That’s more indicative of the court’s refusal to acknowledge that the problem of misogyny is systemic, not individual. Furthermore, even if some of them believe this is a true eye-for-an-eye, they are deluding themselves. Without being able to translate a lifetyime of misogyny onto this man’s existence, without being able to make him second guess his base instincts and actions, his social and public freedoms, etc, this is merely a show of court sanctioned retaliation. It would be a much more total and effective eye-for-an-eye to threaten him with acid, tell him it will happen, but not tell him when, or why, just tell him it’s based on public presence as a male, and if he happens to be able to minimize his presence in public as a male, if he can reduce his maleness, make it subserviant, docile, pleasing, fuckable, etc., then he *might* be able, as long as the political climate doesn’t become more fundamentalist, to live without having the acid appplied to his eyes.

  30. weejit
    weejit December 15, 2008 at 12:45 pm |

    “If anything, everyone on this thread should feel a great deal of gratitude that you do not live in place where human rights are severely curtailed (from our perspective), especially for women.”

    Again, don’t pat yourself on the back too quickly about the state of “our” rights. The US does currently restrict rights, especially for women (ie, trans and lesbians).

  31. Matthew
    Matthew December 15, 2008 at 12:45 pm |

    I’m still troubled by William’s critique, which seems to presume that “othering and cultural superiority” are the worst things people do. I do not believe this is the case; I think cruelty is far worse. It’s good to be wary of cultural chauvinism because it often props up cruel offenses against members of other cultures. But the notion that all moral convictions are relative shouldn’t lead us to cede immunity to deliberate savagery. I do not believe that America’s system of justice, or “Western” jurisprudence writ large, has perfected itself, nor do I believe that the failings thereof are trivial. But I see nothing objectionable in the notion that cruelty is wrong and that cultures improve themselves when they do it less. We have to make moral judgments, even if they are inescapably relative and imperfect. And cultural politics should not dissuade us from sometimes reaching the conclusion that the practices of some “other” may be morally objectionable. Feelings of revulsion and self-confidence have led to wrongs enough, but they are not sins in themselves. They are necessary components of a strenuous response to suffering.

  32. shah8
    shah8 December 15, 2008 at 1:25 pm |

    People are not noted for a general respect for the abstract notions of justice. Thus “justice” around the world generally tends to be state-sactioned retaliation, and retaliation is a privilege retained by the state to preserve its monopoly on violence.

    Reading that article? It reminds me profoundly of The Merchant of Venice, and the reasons why I dislike it so much now… The underlying theme of cheating someone and then mocking that person for being a victim. When that victim knows that any penalty paid in gold is but a pittiance to the aggressor and thus reaches for an accepted legal remedy that *does* mean something to the aggressor. In the end, he was cheated out of even that, and society rings out with the jingle “Oh, you silly wabbit, Justice is for kidz!”

    Though I dislike William, I can’t help but think that he is a little bit more right and Jill is a little more wrong (in her last paragraph of the comment). At least Jill didn’t give a mercy speech!

    Sharia law isn’t necessarily the most unjust system. The problems with it are related to archaic provisions and attitudes. In its time, it was *the* major system of law over much of the trading ports of the Old World, and accepted in places that aren’t muslim because it was modern and the *least* barbaric system. It does have provisions like what the woman is asking for precisely because of the situation the woman is in–with unrepentant and egregious aggressors who has the ability to ignore the calumny of traditional penalties.

    Lastly, not everyone can build lots of jails as part of its prison-industrial complex, exile can be a problem to arraign, and financial penalties are notoriously ineffective as a deterrent. To condemn the procedure as eye for an eye is…somewhat obtuse. The sentiment is fine. We shouldn’t maim people. Fine, but what would you do to deter what is a horrific crime that many lower-class men are tempted to do? They’re crimes of passion by deeply narcissic and or sociopathic people. How would you stop acid throwing as a social phenomenon?

  33. Tara
    Tara December 15, 2008 at 1:35 pm |

    Why bother punishing him at all?

    To restore some sense of order to the world, where intentionally causing pain isn’t permitted to pass as though it were normal?

    To offer the victim a sense that society considers her life and experience and pain equally precious as the perpetrator?

    To deter crime?

    I think this punishment suits all three causes. And if this man decided that throwing acid in someone’s eyes was acceptable human behavior, then no, he doesn’t have a leg to stand on to say that it’s not acceptable when done to him.

    What’s horrifying about this type of punishment is the possibility that it will be practiced by unjust legal systems. That’s a valid argument.

    I doubt we’re so eager to teach our children that completely taking another person’s life into your power, restricting their movements, freedoms, and basic choices for years or decades is acceptable. (That is also a ‘violation’ of human rights).

    From the way you phrased this post (and your responses), I definitely got the impression that you find the American method of punishment superior. That was implied and not stated. I think you did implicate America even if you didn’t state it, so I don’t think it was some kind of diversion to bring it up.

  34. weejit
    weejit December 15, 2008 at 1:50 pm |

    “How would you stop acid throwing as a social phenomenon?”

    Eradicate the concept of marriage as it is known worldwide.

  35. Angela
    Angela December 15, 2008 at 1:52 pm |

    Jill, I wasn’t defending Joe Arapaio. He’s bombastic. I said the board members of Maricopa county need to come up with better alternatives to what the Sheriff is offerening. (Wasn’t there someone who ran against him and lost?)

    Anyway, you know as well as I do, he plays on the fears of the masses, especially those who have been victimes of crime. As long as the people see him as their “savior”, the voters won’t get rid of him.

  36. shah8
    shah8 December 15, 2008 at 1:59 pm |

    Eradicating marriage as we know it is almost irrelevant in this case. Guy would have slung acid, marriage or no.

    But what interests me…how would you eradicate marriage as we know it? That’s properly ambitious!

    One further item as per the thread…just about all means of effective nonviolent restraint assumes a level of control of society and its members that most of us would find unacceptable, eg, Jeremy Bentham’s idea of a Panopticon.

  37. AndersH
    AndersH December 15, 2008 at 2:14 pm |

    To restore some sense of order to the world, where intentionally causing pain isn’t permitted to pass as though it were normal?

    So as someone above said, as did I: if we normalize tormenting punishments, what does that say about us?

    I think this punishment suits all three causes. And if this man decided that throwing acid in someone’s eyes was acceptable human behavior, then no, he doesn’t have a leg to stand on to say that it’s not acceptable when done to him.

    Luckily we don’t generally turn to people who throw acid in other people’s faces for our moral scholarship (these days), and so, his objections or acceptance of such a punishment doesn’t really matter to me. I say it’s not acceptable to do it to him, because then we are monsters. Just as, for the record, the death penalty, or inhumane prisons, does.

    What’s horrifying about this type of punishment is the possibility that it will be practiced by unjust legal systems. That’s a valid argument.

    That is a valid argument, as we can’t make a perfect legal system. There are also many other valid arguments, starting with the fact that it is to dehumanize a person and do monstrous things to him. To imprison someone is quite dreadful enough, in my view, and should only be done with the utmost care and reluctance.

  38. weejit
    weejit December 15, 2008 at 2:33 pm |

    So, Shah8, you didn’t bother reading the linked article, did you? Great. Nice job, dude.

    Marriage is ENTIRELY relevant to what happened to this woman. Fuck. It nauseates me that you can’t grasp that.

  39. shah8
    shah8 December 15, 2008 at 2:56 pm |

    I did read the article.

    My attitude was that the concept of marriage had ultimately little to do with what happened.

    As in that dude was cracked. He wasn’t respecting patriarchal norms of marriage or any other norms. That he wanted her to marry him had little to do with how he regarded her personhood. He would have done the same in a world where free love reigned and she turned him down for sex one night. This crap happens *here*, for fuck’s sake. It happens in hippy communes. It happens in matriarchal societies, what few of them there are.

    He was a dangerous, narcissic sociopath. She could have just ordered tea at a tea shop that he worked at or fequented and still might have wound up in his fucked-up worldspace. Lord knows that has happened too, if thankfully rarely.

  40. jj
    jj December 15, 2008 at 3:11 pm |

    While I don’t condone this punishment, I can’t condemn it either. I can’t think of a better, more just, and more preventative punishment that could be obtained in the existing justice system than this one. For all those who condemn this punishment, what do you think should have been done? I’m not asking this to be obnoxious, I truely am interested in knowing what people think would be a better punishment and what the justice system should look like. Again, I really don’t condone this punishment, it is appalling. But I do think it would serve as possibly preventative of future acid attacks, and is the most just punishment that can presently be obtained in Iran. A fine is much too lenient. Just because the justice system is fundamentally flawed doesn’t mean someone should then go without punishment. I’d rather he be punished severely than not at all.

  41. Now this is torture I can support. - U.S. Politics Online: A Political Discussion Forum

    [...] – wait for it, take notes, this is a little difficult – not deliberately burning people with acid. Feministe » An Eye for an Eye I liked this comment: [...]

  42. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan December 15, 2008 at 4:10 pm |

    Bagelsan – Wasn’t the “eye for an eye” thing originally to prevent *worse* punishments?

    It was a means of society enacting revenge for a victim. A justice system, no matter what it does, is there to prevent personal revenge by enacting some sort of state sanctioned penalty, presumably with some concept of evidence and fairness. So it’s there to prevent escalation. In that sense, you’re spot on right.

    Yes, I wasn’t very clear. I definitely meant that the eye-for-an-eye punishment is determined by an outside source (God, the state, what have you) to replace the whims of the injured party, who might take things much further.

    As for this punishment compared to long-term imprisonment, this might actually be better. In this case he might have *more* of a chance to get on with his life than if he were stuck in prison, albeit he’d have to get on with his life with a very permanent reminder of what he did to his victim. (Paying a fine is ridiculous, and I don’t even consider it a punishment; call me barbaric, but that’s not painful enough for what this guy did.)

  43. William
    William December 15, 2008 at 4:34 pm |

    William, do you have an alternative to a state with the power to punish? Or are you just arguing that as long as one is necessary it’s better to be honest about the blood on our hands?

    I wish there was an alternative to state power, but one of the things my life has taught me is that as bad as the state is, other people are worse. For me its a necessary evil that ought to be subjected to the strictest possible scrutiny by loud, free, well educated citizens. At the same time, yeah, I think its always best when we cut the bullshit and admit what it is we do in our justice system.

    I’m still troubled by William’s critique, which seems to presume that “othering and cultural superiority” are the worst things people do. I do not believe this is the case; I think cruelty is far worse.

    Cruelty is certainly worse, but pretending that the cruelty is contained (or somehow amplified) by some discrete group of others disrespects the principles that cause us to object to human rights violations in the first place.

    ut the notion that all moral convictions are relative shouldn’t lead us to cede immunity to deliberate savagery

    Thats the whole problem with your argument, you are defining the actions of another culture as “savage” with all the garbage that goes with such a word. Islam has had a relatively stable code of laws for far longer than any of the existing western traditions, and Iran was civilized and urbane long before Islam existed. Moral convictions are relative, but thats not the point I’m making. The point I’m making is that when you call cruelty savagery you separate yourself from the offense. Violations of human rights are nearly universal, it is a human problem. By calling it savagery you get to criticize it without criticizing the underlying causes that rot your culture in the same way they rot Iran.

    But I see nothing objectionable in the notion that cruelty is wrong and that cultures improve themselves when they do it less. We have to make moral judgments, even if they are inescapably relative and imperfect. And cultural politics should not dissuade us from sometimes reaching the conclusion that the practices of some “other” may be morally objectionable. Feelings of revulsion and self-confidence have led to wrongs enough, but they are not sins in themselves. They are necessary components of a strenuous response to suffering.

    I agree that moral stances must be taken to get through the day. My problem isn’t so much with moral judgments being made but the basis for those judgments. The only reason we’re talking about this case is because it is unusual to hear of a court sentencing someone to be blinded with acid. We respond with revulsion because this is a terrible thing, something we don’t believe should happen to anyone, but the thought tends to end there. The problem for many people is that throwing acid in someone’s eyes is too grotesque, too visceral, too vengeful. I’m questioning if the objection is coming from the horror of the violation, or from how we feel about that particular violation, what it means to us, what it says to us, what it reminds us of. My guess is that this literal punishment of an eye for an eye looks a bit too much like revenge to many people. Its like someone who loves to eat steak they bought under cellophane but thinks hunting is barbaric: they’re fine deriving pleasure from the suffering of others so long as they don’t have to feel like an active participant. You can deny prison rape and beatings, you can pretend they don’t exist or assume they’re an exaggeration, but you cannot hide from your society throwing acid in the face of a person who did that to another.

    One further item as per the thread…just about all means of effective nonviolent restraint assumes a level of control of society and its members that most of us would find unacceptable, eg, Jeremy Bentham’s idea of a Panopticon.

    Glad to see I’m not the only person nerdy enough to be reading Foucault.

  44. Matthew
    Matthew December 15, 2008 at 6:38 pm |

    William,

    To say that you level your critique at the basis of the condemnations that people like Jill and myself are making presumes that you understand the basis. Neither of us has stated that no excess cruelty takes places in the US system. We have simply stated that this type of torture is intolerable. Nothing in that implies that there are no intolerable practices contained within our own system. The basis of judgment which you claim to be impugning is entirely constructed from words which you have put into our mouths, or the assumptions of your armchair sociology. I don’t prefer hidden cruelties to overt ones – (apropos of your examples I am a vegetarian and I support prison reform) – and I am unsure why you believe that is a fair assumption to make about your interlocutors. You have decided that my judgment is hypocritical without bothering to ask after the convictions by which I support it.

    Now as to your other points:

    Nothing in my argument says that cruelty is the exclusive province of others. To wit, I’ll quote the very post to which you are responding: “I do not believe that America’s system of justice, or “Western” jurisprudence writ large, has perfected itself, nor do I believe that the failings thereof are trivial.” My argument is that cruelty is wrong, is, in fact, the worst thing humans do, and that we ought to oppose it. This is true of cruelties committed by Americans and by Iranians. But it does not presume that only certain sorts of people commit cruelties, and I do not understand why you continue to insist that such a notion must be part of my judgment.

    Your historical points about Iranian and Islamic law do not change this matter either. I do not think that civilization lies in codes of law or the construction of institutions. The only flower of civilization that interests me is the one whereby we become more averse to cruelty and more sensitive to the pain of others. That which encourages this I call civilized, all else is savagery.

  45. William
    William December 15, 2008 at 7:15 pm |

    We have simply stated that this type of torture is intolerable.

    There is absolutely nothing simple about it. The privilege you wield as a white, educated, wealthy (in comparison to much of the world’s population), westerner means that no judgment you levy against another will every be simple. What you’re doing is rationalizing cultural imperialism. It doesn’t matter if you pay lip service to the abuses in your own system because you set the ideals of your system as the gold standard for justice, and decry those who deviate from them as savages. I don’t need to know you, personally, to recognize the thought process. I’ve seen it many times in others, I’ve struggled with it myself, I’ve butted heads with it more than once. The bottom line of your argument is that your values either are or ought to be treated as ascendant Truth and that the only legitimate end of civilization is to further your view of what is good in the world. You said it yourself:

    The only flower of civilization that interests me is the one whereby we become more averse to cruelty and more sensitive to the pain of others. That which encourages this I call civilized, all else is savagery.

    Notice the way you constructed that? You talk about the only value which interests you in a civilization, you take a moral stance as to what the right side of the argument is (one which is wholly rooted in your culture, context, and privilege), and then you dehumanize those who disagree. And yes, dehumanize is the right word to use here because you chose to use the word savage for a reason. That word has all sorts of history and connotation and it is all tied up in the excuses whites made up for treating non-whites (or women, or poor whites, or whites of the wrong religion, etc.) as less than human, for stripping them of their agency, and in many cases for stripping them of their humanity.

    It doesn’t matter if you’re a vegetarian with a passion for prison reform, it doesn’t matter if your money is where your mouth is, you still need to be aware of what it is you’re saying and the words and arguments you have chosen tell me you are not. Perhaps a translation would help illuminate my thinking:

    We have to make moral judgments, even if they are inescapably relative and imperfect.

    Here you say, quite unambiguously, that moral judgments are a necessity even if they are imperfect and “inescapably relative.” That sounds an awful lot like an obfuscatory means of saying arbitrary and culturally bound.

    And cultural politics should not dissuade us from sometimes reaching the conclusion that the practices of some “other” may be morally objectionable.

    What you seem to be saying here is that cultural politics or sensitivity should not stand in the way of the application of the arbitrary and culturally bound standards of morality and civilization you advocate.

    Feelings of revulsion and self-confidence have led to wrongs enough, but they are not sins in themselves. They are necessary components of a strenuous response to suffering.

    Here you make the reasonable statement that feelings of revulsion are a natural response to suffering, which is something I can certainly agree with. The problem is that you tie that idea together with the idea that self-confidence (Pride, superiority) is a co-occurring feeling. What you seem to be saying is that things which offend our arbitrary moral judgments (which elicit revulsion) ought to be responded to (without being bound by diversity concerns) by people who are sure of themselves and their convictions.

    While I disagree with this line of reasoning, I can see the motivations and thoughts behind it. What I find troubling is that you don’t seem to have any awareness, regard for, or sensitivity to what that exact same line of reasoning has historically meant. Thats the same line of thought that every conquering power uses to justify it’s behavior: we’re better and more human and this is for the good of all. It doesn’t matter if you, personally, would never want to oppress someone else. It doesn’t matter if you, personally, would apply the same criticisms to your own culture. All that matters is that you’re supporting a dominant way of viewing the world which has in itself justified some of the most terrible abuses of human rights in the modern age.

  46. Phrone
    Phrone December 15, 2008 at 9:05 pm |

    This may be a misguided comment, but how is this different from the death penalty for murderers? Both punishments are completely irreversible and operate on the same idea of “you do this, we’ll do that back to you.”

  47. GallingGalla
    GallingGalla December 16, 2008 at 6:46 pm |

    Fine, but what would you do to deter what is a horrific crime that many lower-class men are tempted to do?

    shah8, WTF kind of classism is this?

    oh, right, I forgot, “upper”-class men “merely” destroy the retirements of thousands of “lower”-class” line employees (as in Enron).

    Hmm. “Lower”-class folks get their eyes put out. “Upper”-class folks go to cushy country club “prisons” where they can play tennis.

    /sarcasm

  48. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan December 16, 2008 at 7:37 pm |

    Galling: Psh, don’t tell me you forgot that only “lower-class” brown men stalk and hurt women! You almost make it sound like *rich* white people do bad stuff too! You’re so silly!

  49. William
    William December 16, 2008 at 8:05 pm |

    Bagelsan: Everyone knows that Science™ has conclusively linked criminal and antisocial behavior to certain cranial shapes and contours seen only in certain lower races and classes. God, haven’t they phrenology in your backwoods hippy commune?

  50. shah8
    shah8 December 16, 2008 at 9:25 pm |

    GallingGalla

    You might want to care about what is real, as well as your ideology. You only look stupid when ideology informs events instead of events forming ideology. You also might want to stay on topic, so it’s easier for me to take you as a serious critic of what I had to say.

    I mean, the fact that I’m capable of showing concern about the phenomenon of the (mostly)rural poor men with easy access to farming materials throwing acid on (uppity)women they don’t like AND concern about the fact that prison policy in the US is often a matter of race and class policy than justice doesn’t mean that I have to write sprawling posts on everything under the sun–anymore than I already do.

    Cheap identity politics is still cheap if you’re spoiling for a fight.

    Oh, and Bagelsan? Tone matters for sarcasm. Sometimes people don’t pick it up. Other times, well…lay it on too thick in the wrong areas, and you just sound like a lame, passive-agressive commenter who type because the beer is free…

    I’m just truly tired of the stupid and the back-biters. I know I take stuff too seriously, but acid attacks are a prominent and growing form of acceptable low-grade domestic terror, much in the way of rape or culture–only worse, more like lynch culture. So I give a shit about that, just like I give a shit about many things.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acid_attack

  51. William
    William December 16, 2008 at 9:41 pm |

    Shah, I know you and I don’t agree on much of anything, and I can see that this seems to have triggered you somehow, but for a moment please consider what you are doing. The crack about lower class served no purpose, in that way it was much like the othering that you and I were calling some of the posters out on: it serves to distance the horror of the crime. Maybe thats what you need to get through the night, I can sure as hell understand that, but that doesn’t give you leave to make aggressive personal attacks on people who called you out. You don’t get to call others stupid, you don’t get to dictate the terms under which someone will be taken seriously, you don’t get to insult. Of course you still can, and the mods seem to have decided that it serves enough of a purpose to let it through the cue, but honestly I expected better from you.

  52. Muntadar al-Zaidi and the cowardly american media — get angry WITH me!

    [...] here’s what we tell him: iraq remains commited to the concept of an eye for an eye; just recently, a man who threw acid on the woman who wouldn’t marry him, blinding her for [...]

  53. Sailorman
    Sailorman December 17, 2008 at 11:33 am |

    If the sentence was death by lethal injection, would we be protesting? Or would we feel that it was too harsh, but still within the bounds of an acceptable punishment, given the horrific act of the perpetrator?

    I am having trouble resolving my internal conflict about that hypothetical.

  54. Sailorman
    Sailorman December 17, 2008 at 1:52 pm |

    …by which I mean that I am not so sure that I would be as distraught about the death penalty as I am about the acid-in-eyes thing.

    Which makes no sense. Right? Death is worse than blinding, i assume.

    And I am not sure that I would be alone in this. I mean, do you think that we would be writing about the injustice of the “savage” sentence of death?

    I don’t think we would. I think it would still squick me out (I don’t like the death penalty, either) but for some reason it would squick me out LESS.

  55. Kristin
    Kristin December 17, 2008 at 8:47 pm |

    *applauds GallingGalla and Bagalsan*

  56. Kristin
    Kristin December 17, 2008 at 8:48 pm |

    Also, good post, Jill. Thanks for this.

    And sorry for misspelling your handle, Bagelsan.

  57. shah8
    shah8 December 17, 2008 at 10:20 pm |

    Well, William, the main reason I’m not a big fan of you is because you tend to tell me I’m wrong when I’m right, and easily provable with a wiki or google-slap or two.

    I mean… you thought I was “making a crack about lower class”. So I go up and try to find where I made a crack about lower class. I am forced to assume that:
    “Fine, but what would you do to deter what is a horrific crime that many lower-class men are tempted to do?”

    was the phrase you meant. How in god’s name is that a “crack”, or “joke”, or in any way a humorous statement? I certainly don’t understand. That’s why I don’t like you. Would you still think that way if I was talking about deterring crack use?

    I also feel that I have a right to be upset because I felt GallingGalla was true to her name, and I didn’t think her comment had much to do with anything I said. I concluded that it was mostly a comment made with some spite.

    Acid-throwing is very much a class as well as a gender action. Just because I didn’t talk about Enron or creepy japanese gropers doesn’t mean my response was at all classist in assumptions. Most of the stories that I read about acid-throwing–actually, *all* of them, has class as a nucleating factor. Acid attacks have been a key means of attacking women that are thought of as “better” than the attacker. She has an education, she has a business, she acts outside of the house, like being a shopowner or teacher. Intersectionality isn’t just about women and race. It’s about *everything*, including women and class. Of course rich people, white people also assault women of all stripes. However acid-throwing itself is a cultural phenomenon of poor people being vicious to other poor people, some of them, slightly better off. Not any different than the wave of rat poison attacks that swept through China for a time. We still have to talk about class if we are going to talk on *this* topic. On another topic, that may not be the case.

    Here’s another article for those who want to know. There’s plenty more just like it if you google acid attack class poverty. I just thoroughly resent abuse for saying true things.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/3097469.stm

  58. John Cain
    John Cain December 18, 2008 at 12:32 pm |

    @karak:

    Do you perchance work for the Bush administration? Because it sure sounds like you do.

  59. William
    William December 18, 2008 at 1:43 pm |

    Shah8: I can’t really speak for anyone else, but the reason the comment about class got to me was because it was irrelevant, and irrelevant statements tell you a great deal about the person issuing them. The original post here was about blinding a man with acid for having thrown acid in a woman’s face, yes, but I doubt many people would argue that the discussion was really about acid throwing. Acid throwing was the object of the discussion, not the subject. As Jill made abundantly clear in her post, she was responding to what she perceived as torture, to what she saw as an unacceptable abuse of human rights. The last line of her post (“Women’s rights cannot be severed from human rights. Women’s rights at the expense of human rights are no rights at all.”) is what got the discussion rolling.

    Everyone here thinks acid throwing is a terrible crime, but it is important not just because throwing acid in people’s faces is wrong but because it is a form of violent domination directed at women. Jill was arguing that the state using it’s power to torture someone, even someone who had imposed a similar torture on another, was wrong. Whether there is some correlation between class and acid throwing is simply not relevant to any of the discussions that were going on because fundamentally this was a discussion about what kinds of social revenge cross the line. Men of all classes abuse women of all classes in a depressingly diverse array of ways; the discussion was primarily about how closely their offenses can match the punishments meted out for them.

    Making a comment about class and acid throwing was out of place, and a statement that out of place had implications which offended at least several people here. When they called you out on it, you decided to call them stupid and accuse them of backbiting. You decided to make a discussion on the internet personal, to attack people because they disagreed with your or took offense at something you said. You chose to forgo any understanding that might have been gained (even if you ultimately disagreed) for schoolyard name calling.

  60. On Human Rights Violations And Punishing Criminals « Our Descent Into Madness

    [...] 18, 2008 at 12:43 pm (injustice) I’m been reading some posts about a disturbing recent incident. In Iran, a woman was attacked by her scorned suitor [...]

  61. Ursula L
    Ursula L December 18, 2008 at 2:26 pm |

    I think there is a problem of victim-blaming and gender expectations in saying the woman in this case was looking for “revenge.”

    What she asked for was justice, in the way that the courts in her community dispense justice.

    This doesn’t make her any more vengeful or bloodthirsty than anyone else in that community who turns to the courts after being assaulted.

    Framing the issue as if she was somehow unusually bent on revenge seems to suggest that, as a woman, she should be more forgiving than a man who was similarly assaulted. And that it is somehow unusully vengeful and inappropriate for a woman who has been assaulted by a man romantically interested in her to demand that the courts treat the assault as they would any other assault.

    She’s a woman who demanded that the courts of her community treat an assult against her the way they would treat a simlar assult against a man. If the punishment is vengeful and barbaric, it is because the courts are vengeful and barbaric, not because she is somehow a vengeful monster for wanting a gender-based crime against her to be taken as seriously as any other crime in her community.

  62. shah8
    shah8 December 18, 2008 at 4:10 pm |

    Class determines justice.

    Madoff gets justice of house arrest.

    Some nobody who shoplifts a pizza slice gets a third strike and gets hard time.

    What little I objected to of Jill’s post is entirely by implication–as some here have stated. I know Jill said nothing about justice here or anywhere else, and I know she was talking explicitly about cruelty.

    However, she spoke in terms *loaded* in norms that reflects our legal and cultural norms–without really clarifying what they are. That ambiguity, such as “punish in a fair and humane way” is utterly oxymoronic, given that punishment is inherently directed cruelty, unless we accept the premise (guided by norms of her supposed audience) that says that prison is not cruel, whereas acid in the eyes are.

    That bugged me, so I replied in terms of accepted practices, asking for alternatives, and trying to increase the awareness of the situation. Look, acid-throwing is a hate crime. It’s meant to be a symbol that represses other women’s freedom. It’s meant to be a fate worse than death–where once you were pretty, now you are repulsive. Where you once had resources to family and friends, you are reduced to begging for the pity of strangers. All the time you are alive as a monster, you live in a dim and blind world wracked by pain. That was the intent, freely confessed, of the man who threw that acid on the woman in the story. To deter this monstrosity, we should know all about it. Moreover, we *must* respond in a signal appreciable by those tempted to such an action.

    Doing that means knowing that this is a crime mostly committed by lower-class men, often for non-financial reasons. It means that we are aware that the traditional legal penalties of fines are unlikely to be effective. Sharia law has a provision for these circumstances, and like the cruelty or not, this was a evolved response to what are, for all intents and purposes, a symbolic hate crime which didn’t just start happening in the 20th century US South. It has evolved as a clear way to standardize responses in rural areas. Most other responses that we in the west would consider “humane” asks that the local authority (in nearly lawless areas) seek creative ways to exert authority. That risks greater injustice. Simple and clear ways helps the community buy into idea of justice. When one is poor, one recieves poor justice, but it is better than none!

    I do not like cruelty, because I believe it is addictive. Still, the real world doesn’t permit us not to be cruel. We eat plants and animals. We exert social norms. A byproduct of these things is the death and suffering of others. This is unavoidable. Thus, what matters is that there is a system, and that it is *responsive*. That both the rich and poor, not to mention people of all types, has procedures that aren’t ad-hoc, and are fair.

  63. shah8
    shah8 December 18, 2008 at 4:17 pm |

    Justice is not something pulled from the realms of abstract platonic tradition.

    It must both satisfy and teach in a dialogue with the community, lawgiver, and transgressor. It has to be pulled into being from ethical traditions, social mores, and the feelings of the people involved in the circumstances.

  64. William
    William December 18, 2008 at 6:11 pm |

    There is no such thing as Justice, just violence and vengeance. The law exists to help enforce the state’s monopoly on violence in the hope that it will be equally and fairly administered according to generally accepted cultural norms. That doesn’t make it justice, it just means that someone else metes out the beating so you don’t go too far in the heat of passion or not far enough due to being less physically or social strong. Justice is what we call our sufficiently alienated practice of making examples of individuals who’s transgressions have lost them the right society normally opts to protect.

  65. Friday Links — December 19, 2008 « Muslimah Media Watch

    [...] The Washington Post has more on the Iranian woman who has condemned her attacker to blinding by acid. Via Jezebel. More from Feministe. [...]

  66. Gyasi
    Gyasi February 1, 2009 at 10:06 pm |

    I am writing a persuasive paper on why it is wrong to go by the rule of ” an eye for an eye”. Your comments have helped me out a lot. Some particular comments are a bit disturbin and seem quite ludacris but I appreciate each and everyone of your opinions.
    : )

  67. Roy Thomas
    Roy Thomas February 19, 2009 at 9:43 am |

    More power to her! The punishment is both legal and just under the legal system under which she lives. I would go further… much further… than she is entitled, or apparently willing, to go. Bleeding hearts? Weep for the innocent victim, and allow the perpetrator to reap the rewards of his obsession.

  68. Div
    Div February 26, 2009 at 1:20 pm |

    We cannot forget that his actions were taken under a certain legal system (while questionable at times for us) and he MUST have been aware of the possible repercussions.

    Personally, being outside of the entire context and situation can easily say that I agree with this punishment. Perhaps that makes me a cruel person, but having actually come from a country where these attacks happen makes me feel a little more justified in feeling that way.

    There is no way that he could be surprised with the sentence (other than that he must have been expecting to get away with it) because it is not necessarily abnormal in that culture in the context of eye-for-an-eye. His actions were taken in a certain context, and so his sentence must also be taken in a certain context.

    That, and men have gotten away with a lot in such countries, and have in some ways been supported by the law. While it’s not exactly what I would call progressive, at least there is some kind of movement towards justice for women.

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