Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Citizenship in the Crime State

One of the features that most marks America in the age of Governing through Crime is the emergence of the crime victim as an idealized citizen subject, around whose interests and sentiments, political leaders imagine the nation's objectives (see, Governing through Crime, chapter 3; see, also David Garland, The Culture of Control, p. 11). You can see this in the unseemly rush of both presidential candidates to condemn the recent Supreme Court decision prohibiting states from extending capital punishment to the rape of a child (without a related homicide). Argument of policy and constitutional meaning took a back seat to the mandate that politicians identify uncritically by the imagined sentiments of crime victims or potential crime victims.

In other societies, citizens still imagine their relationship to the state, even on matters involving crime, very differently. Consider Israel, where considerable public agonizing is taking place of a prisoner exchange today in which the bodies of two Israeli soldiers are being repatriated in exchange for the release of Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese commando who murdered an Israeli father and his young daughter in a terrorist attack more than 30 years ago (read Dina Kraft's reporting in the NYTimes). The release is causing intense debate both because of the horror associated with the crime, and anger that the Israeli soldiers whose rescue was the cause of the 2006 Isreal-Hezbollah war, are dead. But what has not fueled the debate, but almost surely would have in this country, are angry demands by the family members of the victims for eternal vengeance (Kumar who was 16 at the time of the crime has served far longer than aggravated murderers typically do in Israel). Instead, Smadar Haran, whose husband and daughter were murdered, and who accidentally smothered to death her two year old son while hiding from the terrorists (who broke in the Harans' apartment and kidnapped the father and daughter), made the following statement:

“Samir Kuntar is not my private prisoner, and we live in a country where there is a framework for making decisions,” she said, echoing what she wrote in a letter to the prime minister and the cabinet ahead of their decision to proceed with the deal. “I asked them not to think about my personal pain and to make decisions according to the interests of the state.”

“What happened to me and my family will always be part of me, part of my personal pain, but it does not mean that I don’t see the pain of others, the Goldwasser and Regev families,” she said.

A similar statement is almost unimaginable in America, where politicians fear criticism by crime victims for prison furlough and parole release decisions made by routine procedures.

1 comment:

Itamar Mann said...

As a citizen and a legal practitioner working in the field of criminal law and specifically security related crime in Israel, I am afraid this post is extremely misleading. The figure of the crime victim and his reported or imagined interests and emotions has been playing an extremely important role in shaping the jurisprudence of Israeli courts regarding convicted "security" criminals.
The most recent example of jurisprudence forming intimate relationship with the the victim (among many) is the decision regarding the three men convicted for murdering the child Danni Katz.