I first heard the term ‘perp-walk’ in connection with the trial of Dominic Straus-Kahn in New York. He was, you recall, charged with sexual offences against an hotel worker. The charges were later dropped. So the ‘perp-walk’ or ‘perpetrator walk’ describes the process whereby an accused (yet still innocent) person is brought into court.
There are various ways of getting into a court room. People who are on bail have to go in through the front door and run the gauntlet of press and photographers as they do so. In Australia, at least, those coming from a place of custody are brought in via a prison van, into the basement, and kept in cells below the court till their trial begins. Their ‘running the gauntlet’ is limited to what the press can photograph through the windows.
So in the case of Dominic Strauss-Kahn, he could have easily been brought to court underneath it, but instead, he was brought into court after a night in police custody, looking dishevelled, through the front door, through the barrage of press photographers and journalists. This is the deliberate act of humiliation and public shaming called the ‘perp-walk’.
All this was highlighted for me in Jerusalem as we did the ‘way of the cross’. We followed Jesus’ path from the place where it is thought that he was condemned, to the place of his crucifixion. This is the Roman Empire’s version of the ‘Perp-Walk’ over 2000 years ago! I thought “The symbolism of humiliation has not changed in that long! People who want to humiliate others know what to do! The police in New York must have invented this term, and used the practise to achieve the precise goal of humiliation of accused people. Way back then the Romans wanted to do the same thing, and they had their own version of the ‘Perp-walk’. I am amazed that something like that maintains its currency for so long.
Then, on the ‘Way of The Cross’, we came to a place near the holy sepulchre where a banner depicting the 21 Coptic Christians, who were murdered by Daesh in Lybia in February last year, was strung above the street. The captives were wearing orange jump suits. These are the same kind of jump suits worn by prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. The symbolism was not lost on me. One manner of perceived humiliation is mirrored by another group, with the same practices of humiliation. Orange jump suits are not easy to come by. Some one in Daesh in Libya must have thought of this idea and ordered the suits from some where or dyed them. I was also reminded of the humiliation of Muslim prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison with naked ‘stress positions’ and hooded men, and the ubiquitous orange jump suits. The groups change, but the rituals of humiliation don’t, and are, in fact chosen to mirror each other and to make a point about how one group feels humiliated by another.
In the 1970s the Palestinian Liberation Organisation used the weapons of terrorism to achieve its goals. Plane hijackings were common, with hostages being regularly shot and thrown out of ‘planes. I still remember the image of Leon Klinghoffer in the wheel chair, murdered and thrown from the Achille Lauro cruise ship.
Today, Israel, under the headline ‘security’, uses the power of weapons to arbitrarily prevent the movement of Palestinians from land that they live on, to land that they farm or own because the ‘separation barrier’ has been built between them. In Jewish ‘settlements’, built on the hills surrounding Palestinian towns on the West Bank, water is reticulated freely. In Palestinian areas it is pumped in once a week or ten days. It must be stored in containers on top of people’s rooves. Ritual humiliation is part of everyday life for Palestinians.
I was at one time a strong supporter of Israel. Being a Christian, I have a strong resonance with the stories that the Jews and Christians share. I believe that there should be a Jewish homeland, because anti-Semitism has meant persecution and ritual humiliation for the Jews ever since Christianity began, and the Church does not come out of this well. National Socialism has bequeathed to us both the refugee convention, and the need for a safe place for Jews to be.
But what is sad, is that the process of mirroring the methods of ritual humiliation is destroying the souls of everyone involved. Taking away some one else’s dignity has the effect of taking away your own. This is the sadness I feel about the situation of Israel/Palestine now.
I am reminded of the Psalm 115, that talks abut the living God, who ‘does whatever he wills’ in relation to the making of idols. It goes “As for their idols, they are silver and gold, the work of a man’s hand. They have mouths but speak not, they have eyes but cannot see…Those who make them shall be like them and so shall everyone who trusts in them. O Israel trust in the Lord. He is your help and your shield.”
The danger of responding to humiliation with humiliation is that both parties end up looking like each other. At some point only grief can solve the hurt of humiliation.
On the trip to the land of the Holy One, I met “Tom” (not his real name). On seeing some Israeli soldiers with rifles on guard outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem I asked him ‘Do you think that these are Kalashnikov’s? “No” he replied they are “Micro Galil” rifles. “You know a lot about this” I replied “Too much” said Tom. “How come?” I asked. “Well at one time I had a huge stash of weapons. I was in the military, and you know the Second Amendment, I thought that I could protect myself. Then I found faith, and had to ask myself the question “Where does my security really come from? Clearly it could not come from the guns, so I got rid of them all.”
There has to be a way back, toward mutual vulnerability, which represents our true state before ne another, than mutual ritual humiliation. “O Israel, and me: trust in the Lord” Lord have mercy on us and make this possible.