Posted by Jay Livingston
UPDATE, June 21: The Gay Girl in Damascus turns out to be a straight man in Scotland – one Tom MacMaster, age 40, married, American, living in Edinburgh. I’m not sure how that information affects the more general ideas in the post below. After all, I am certainly not the first sociologist to use a piece of fiction to illustrate sociological principles. Most of the others have done so knowing that their source material was fiction. (Gawker story is here.)
Two thugs from Syria’s security services knock on the door in the middle of the night. They have come for Amina, who blogs as A Gay Girl in Damascus. The goons in their leather jackets are like bullies everywhere – in the name of patriotism or some noble idea, they brutalize the weak.
Amina’s father goes to the door, and by the time she has thrown on some clothes and come to the door, her father is talking with the thugs. Her blog post describing the encounter offers a wealth of topics – Syrian political and religious conflict, fathers and daughters, and more. But what struck me was that the encounter is a good example of values in use.
In the unit on culture, I try to get across the idea of values as legitimations. I give the standard definition of values as shared ideas about what is right or good. So if you want to discover a culture’s values, you can look at what people do (people using values as guides to action). The trouble is that people do a lot of things that seem to ignore or contradict cultural values.
But if you think of values as legitimations, you listen to what people say about what they do, for when people need justify what they’ve done, they have to invoke assumptions about what is right and good, assumptions that anyone else in the culture would share (people using values to win arguments).
Amina describes the entire conversation, and we can see her father using values and ideas that sound quite familiar to us. Rationality and self-interest to be sure (your Assad won’t live forever, and you’ll need all the friends you can get). And logic (how could she be in league with the sectarian plotters when she rejects their sectarianism, their sex codes, their dress codes).
But his argument also plays on a theme that to my American ears has a distinct foreign accent. He invokes particularistic knowledge, ascribed status (family), and tradition.
“What are your names?”Read the entire post (here). I’m surprised it hasn’t gotten more attention.
They tell him. He nods
“Your father,” he says to the one who threatened to rape me, “does he know this is how you act? He was an officer, yes? And he served in ...” (he mentions exactly and then turns to the other) “and your mother? Wasn't she the daughter of ...?”
They are both wide-eyed, yes, that is right,
“What would they think if they heard how you act? And my daughter? Let me tell you this about her; she has done many things that, if I had been her, I would not have done. But she has never once stopped being my daughter and I will never once let you do any harm to her. You will not take her from here. And, if you try, know that generations of her ancestors are looking down on you. Do you know what is our family name? You do? Then you know where we stood when Muhammad, peace be upon him, went to Medina, you know who it was who liberated al Quds, you know too, maybe, that my father fought to save this country from the foreigners and who he was, know who my uncles and my brothers were ... and if that doesn't shame you enough, you know my cousins and you will leave here. . . . .
And time froze when he stopped speaking. Now, they would either smack him down and beat him, rape me, and take us both away ... or ...