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The Tortured Reasoning of Oppression

Louis Frankenthaler

Democracy activists, human rights defenders, ordinary people protesting all too
ordinary injustices face violent repression, arrests and torture, closing of offices,
threats, death and more. Last month the world marked International Day in Support of
Victims of Torture. Since 1998 the 26th of June was set aside by the UN to stand with
the tortured, to feel their pain and to work towards eradicating torture. Torture, often
excused by its perpetrators as a "necessity", is nothing more than a tool for repression
and an element of oppression. Currently, countless human rights activists throughout
the world are at immediate risk. No state is exempt: The United States Continues to
hold detainees in Guantanamo Bay, even refusing to releaseMohammed Jawad, a
young man, arrested in Afghanistan as an adolescent and tortured in order to extract a
confession. In Israel human rights activists continue to struggle against torture,
discrimination, home demolitions and settlement activity while Israel is attempting to
criminalize refugees and those who assist them. Of immediate concern, to those
involved in the global human rights struggle are the reports of arrests of Iranian
demonstrators and their 'confessions', obviously extracted through torture. It becomes
increasingly clear that the 26th of June is no less important now then at its inception
and that the struggle is daily.

That being said, it is important to remember that torture and oppression is not unique
to states that one would hesitate to recognize as democratic. And, as far as Iran is
concerned, it is not Islam, even what can be described as "radical Islam" that is the
problem. Abuse is an issue of power which penetrates secular and religious regimes
alike. It is this ideology of power and domination against which, Iranians and others all
over the world are expressing their moral, social and political outrage through active
resistance. Similarly, it is clear that these same individuals, now targeted in the streets
engage in other means to resist, negotiate and improvise their way through the maze
of power. People shape their lives, identities and their being in the political-cultural
spaces in which they live. When that space is dominated by hegemonic regimes of
oppression it is clear that they may become targets when they press for change.

The Israeli Occupation is another example of a hegemonic regime of oppression that

has produced its share of torture victims and which distorts and manipulates not only
the people under its control but also the social, political and moral spheres in which we
live and act. For example, the Occupation is an Israeli normality in which Palestinian's
are completely disregarded as moral and political agents. This is consistently
demonstrated every time an Israeli tries to normalize its absurdity by euphemizing it
with phrases like "natural growth." Each and every settlement has become melded
into Israel's consciousness and its existential ideology making them a part of Israel's
landscape of Occupation. It is for this reason that I find it useful to associate
hegemonic regimes of oppression with torture, especially in terms of its meaning for
the individual.

Torture creates a power relationship in which one side has absolute power over the
Other. The weaker side is characterized primarily as a receptacle for pain,
fundamentally without power and thus largely helpless to resist in a meaningful and
effective way the long-term brutality of oppression. The torture victim, being at the
torturer’s mercy is stripped of his sense of identity and is denied the minimum of
human dignities – control over one’s own body and being. The victim is forced to act
and to think according to the dictates of his tormentor. Pain is used as capital, an
asset for the torturer that is invested in the disruption and even destruction of the
victim's personhood.
The oppression we witness in Iran, in the Israeli Occupation and elsewhere, assumes
a similar mechanism of control. The master in the relationship is interested in
maintaining the regime as unhealthy and counterproductive as it may be. To do so
violence becomes the core of control and is seen as valid, essential and logical. Those
against whom violence is employed, (torture, the violent suppression of
demonstrations, the institutional violence of building settlements or falsifying
democracy), are seen by the regime not as victims but as criminals. Thus oppression
criminalizes that which is fundamentally just. Victims of torture and organized state
violence are more than representatives of resistance. They remind us that behind
struggles there are political and moral agents who want nothing more than to be
allowed to live. This understanding should inform our discussion and, correspondingly,
it should guide us in achieving a principled and political commitment to opposing
oppression absolutely.

Louis Frankenthaler lives in West Jerusalem with his partner and their two children. He
is a human rights worker and a doctoral student.