Tuesday, January 06, 2004

And then there was the Ministry of Justice!

Visiting the Ministry of Justice in Iran is roughly akin to visiting the Ministry of Inter-Planetary Explorations in the Burkina-Faso, with the difference that I bet Ouagadougou would evoke more exotic images than the polluted, overcrowded Tehran. And so I wonder, always wonder how we have come to create such a monstrosity.

I tell myself in my more exuberant moments that if the Government were to limit its reach, if it were to somehow stop its extra-judicial activities, and if it were to lighten up and to re-evaluate the efficacy of its (failing) efforts to regulate what people can drink, wear, say or do, and with whom they may or may not associate and for what purpose, then perhaps, in due time, people would reciprocate by developing more of a respect for the laws and maybe, just maybe, we would then be persuaded to occasionally observe them.

In a more open and tolerant milieu, I tell myself, it might be possible to set about seriously debating the nature of the laws and of justice, and then perhaps, we might succeed in reframing them in a manner that would make our own Ministry of Justice less of an oxymoron.

But, even then, I can’t be all that optimistic. After all, rules, principles, procedures, customs and authority –these are always contestable and contested, as they should be. There would be no social progress otherwise. But it is one thing to agree to the need to follow them while attempting to institute change—regardless of how loudly, acrimoniously, and disorderedly we set about our task, and it is quite another to never like or follow that which remotely resembles a “rule.”

And that, my friends, is the paradox of living in a society that attempts to regulate conduct on way too many fronts. It creates the illusion that an individual is right and courageous every time he decides to break the laws and to defy the authorities. Is there a single traffic ordinance that is not broken a million times a day here? And I suppose, traffic laws too are corrupt and corrupting!

And more sadly, such a society-- a society that tries to subsume what should by all accounts be simple private moments-- creates the fantasy that one is gallant putting a handful of goop in his hair, or that he is audacity embodied playing the latest techno song loudly, and obnoxiously in his car as he drives passed other people’s houses way after midnight.

An authoritarian society allows us to play “revolutionary” by ignoring regulations and by cheating “the central power” each time we encounter a code of conduct not to our liking, and it permits us to ultimately bribe, and to corrupt the enforcers of the codes—be they municipal workers, police officers, judges or teachers-- the irony being we conduct our affairs consistently pretending to be the aggrieved party without so much as a blink.

Ultimately though, our closed society allows us to always, always feel self-righteous in the pursuit of all insignificant, petty desires and wants without the slightest degree of self-reflection and with no consideration whatsoever for any of the social obligations and duties inherent in the concept citizenship.

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