An Unabashed Defense of Thugs
By Hosein Ghazian, Sociologist
(Commentary) What does it mean to defend something “unabashedly”? The use of the word “unabashed” here might mean that we have received a “shameful” proposal. In such cases, we usually mean that someone suggested something ugly to us without shame, whereas we feel he should have been more remorseful. What lies behind our expectation of shame is our perception of a moral failing. Accordingly, if someone wishes to defend thugs and gangsters, it would seem that person should be ashamed of it, as if he or she is violating a moral rule assumed too obvious to allow for a defense of thugs. Even so, is it possible to unabashedly—without any shame—defend those whom the police has called thugs and gangsters?
It is possible, and in fact it has been done, because these days there is an increasing trend, especially in virtual space, encouraging us to defend ideas, actions, or individuals most people would consider indefensible, in order to appear very modern, progressive, different, liberal, rebellious, intellectual, and so forth. In recent years when thugs and gangsters have been attacked by the police, taken about town with toilet cans hanging from their necks, or put on donkeys, beaten, and insulted, defending thugs has been added to the list of this modern defense trend. And as the police engaging in this conduct is the police of a hated political regime, the defense has also assumed the characteristics of progressivism and political opposition, earning additional points for the defenders, points that could complete one’s progressivism collection.
But such defense is still regarded as “unabashed.” The adjective “unabashed” is usually used to suggest some negative or unfavorable behavior by those who oppose something. They believe that defenders of the thugs have forgotten all shame and unabashedly and shamelessly defend these individuals and their actions. This is why we hear their frequent question: If “the devoted defenders” were to fall victim to the robbery of these thug gentlemen, would they still say the same things? Such reactions indicate that they are not convinced. The defense of thugs and gangsters does not make a big difference in the opposing group’s opinions, but can lead to social and political entrenchment, because this type of defense is usually accompanied by emotions and frenzy and assumes less of an analytical shape. Consequently, everyone will entrench themselves in their position before giving the dialogue a chance. Under such circumstances, all dialogue is abandoned and everyone takes sides. Everyone has to submit to positions that have not come about as a result of debate, dialogue, reasoning, and satisfaction, and therefore can only lead to fanaticism and dogmatism. In this situation, the dogmatism and the nonnegotiable fanaticism will divide people into two main groups. One group will become staunch followers of one idea and the others will become fanatic followers of the opposing view. Such fanaticism will eventually lead to a break in the dialogue between the two groups, and the end of dialogue is the beginning of violence, even if delayed.
We must return to the first question and ask whether it is possible to unabashedly defend thugs and gangsters, in such as to not be a “shameless” defense, in such a way as to not block the road to dialogue and not add another potential act of violence to the long list of life’s actual violence. Yes, it is possible, but it is rare. It is possible and it is rare, because we have rarely agreed to logical discussions and debates, aiming to critique and evaluate the thought and social foundations with which we live. We are a people with a confused and disturbed mentality. The field for our thought products is also confused and mixed. We think some things quite obvious and assumed, without any questions. We have no patience for overhauling our issues. We are often suspicious of efforts to analyze matters. If someone tries to tear apart the different aspects of a subject in order to avoid giving a generalized conclusion, trying to ease our suspicions about whose camp the individual is in, ours or the opposition’s, we automatically assume that he or she is “tricking” us, or, put more elegantly, we say, “He is playing with words,” or “She is giving us sophistry,” or “He is justifying.” It is in the absence of such analytical dialogue, institutional arrangements, and their accompanying practical procedures that we are unable to unabashedly, without any shame, defend thugs and gangsters.
Some of the most important analytical dialogues, institutional arrangements, and accompanying practical procedures form the foundation of modern legal dialogue, criminology, and penal policies. In such dialogues, there is differentiation between the individual himself, his character, his motivations, his actions, his ideas, his reasons for his actions, and his rights. It is according to this dialogue that the concept of our police’s repeated use of the words “thugs and gangsters,” frequently blown our way, evaporates into thin air. Because “a thug and a gangster,” whatever that means, is a description for an individual or the assignment of a type of personality to an individual, and nothing else. This is why even according to the existing laws, being a villain or a thug is not a criminal act. On principle, a crime is based on action or lack thereof, not whether or not the individual has certain characteristics. Therefore, so long as an individual has not committed an act of “thuggery,” that person cannot be considered a villain (assuming that this word even means anything) or a thug, and be treated with the horrors that the Iranian police administers.
Furthermore, even if we were to assume that our country’s legislators have considered being a thug a crime, or if they do so in the future (knowing these legislators, doing such a thing would not be too farfetched), the individual who has committed “thuggery” still cannot be deprived of his rights, cannot be beaten without reason, cannot be insulted, and cannot be sent to Kahrizak Detention Center. We must not forget that Kahrizak Detention Center was first filled with these “thugs and gangsters.” First the Tehran Municipality killed all the stray dogs in the city and we never said a word to object, because they were dogs, not people. Then the “brothers” of the Intelligence Ministry threw the “thugs” into that horrible place and did whatever they wanted with those “thugs and gangsters” for years, and we never said a word to object, because we did not see them as defensible individuals. We couldn’t differentiate between their characteristics, their acts, and their rights. That piece of land only became important to us when people whose characteristics or acts we deemed defensible were sent there and murdered. As if for us, too, the individuals’ rights were inseparable from their personalities and actions.
When we are able to unabashedly defend the rights of thugs and gangsters, it will become clear that our society has acquired the ability to differentiate between its individuals, their acts, and their rights to the point where defending the rights of thugs and gangsters does not equate with defending them or their actions. Under such circumstances, defending thugs and gangsters would not be a source of shame, just as defending the rights of the two young men who recently lost their lives to the regime’s nooses for committing robbery would not be defending the act of robbery. So long as we are unable to defend the rights of individuals whose person or actions or ideas we find indefensible, we cannot claim to be on the threshold of entering a world of law and order and modern rights. It is not sufficient to live in a society were fashionable books such as translations of Nietzsche, Deleuze, and Foucault are in their umpteenth editions, and fat law books are published. It is important that the society’s thinking, or at least the thinking of its elite, is a thinking based on modern law. Until then, not only do our minds live in a world beneath modern law, in practice, too, we shall have institutions and practices that show no signs of modern rights.