Wednesday, 29 November 2017

What Golriz Ghahraman should have said

Golriz Ghahraman says she’s “not ashamed” about her role as a legal representative of war criminals. So why was she sheepish about including the details of this on her profile?

I know a lawyer who worked on the Sudan partition. He had to deal with genocidal maniacs just like Ms Ghahraman did, and not in a court of law situation either. He doesn’t think he was a "good person," a humanitarian or a bad person. It was all part of the job. Yet for whatever reason, Ms Ghahraman doesn’t seem to believe in roles, only in identity. Yes, that's going to be a problem.

She thinks being a lawyer says something about her as a person. When in reality she is neither bad nor good the moment she puts on the court dress. That’s the point of the stupid wigs. It is a visible ceremonial transformation of a person into a human representative of a social concept called “the law.”

The mistake is to assume any overlap between who you are as a person and what you become as a lawyer. A criminal can threaten, punch or even kill a lawyer, but the criminal can never attack the concept of the law.

The way I see it, Ms Ghahraman is struggling to divorce herself from her identity as a person and the roles she plays in society. She should have no problem discussing her responsibility as a representative of war criminals.

As a woman, she has done some nasty stuff, but as a lawyer, she has nothing to fear. The power of being a lawyer isn't inherent in being a lawyer, it only exists if everyone else believes you have that power. And if the other person chooses not to believe, then the lawyer doesn't have it.

More importantly, will this inability to splinter her institutional role from her identity be a problem while she’s a politician? What sort of decisions are available to a person who believes the role they are playing might reflect on them as a person? What decisions are unavailable?

This matters because politicians are always fighting to gain respect from and authority over civil servants. The civil service always pokes and prods for weakness. What if one doesn't accept his "role" as an advisor, as someone at the mercy of Ms Ghahraman's political authority? The errant advisor doesn't just not let himself be intimidated, he won’t see her as someone with significant power.

And because Ms Ghahraman's power was given to her by the parliamentary system, it is, essentially, paper mache, and since the advisor knows this, he will blow right through it because he predicts she will flinch. At that moment all he needs to do is make her doubt herself and her power, and she would respond as a powerless person. Who, then, will be in control of the department?

What she should have done when the revelations emerged is take control of the context, and retreat deeper into her previous role of an agent of the court and say: "It doesn't matter if you think I’m a terrible person. It doesn't matter if you don't recognise the impersonal strength of the court, it exists, and I used it."

In other words, take her personal weakness as a given but irrelevant point: “I was acting as part of a larger, massively powerful structure that could crush even war criminals into oblivion. And now I’m supposed to care what you think of me as a person?”

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