By Darius M. Rejali
What does the practice of torture presuppose about human beings and human society? How does one explain a society in which institutional torture persists despite massive changes in government and class structure? What, indeed, are the social foundations of modern torture? In Culture and Modernity, Darius M. Rejali investigates torture in Iran in order to understand and critically reconsider the politics and psychology of modern torture. In a world in which one out of every three governments uses torture, Rejali points to a common past, one shared by Iranians and non-Iranians alike, that supports this practice."My aim," Rejali writes, "is to use the study of torture, and of punishment more generally, to unearth deep and important assumptions about society, history, politics, and the good life' that I believe underpin the life of a torturer."Exploring the four principle explanations of modern torture- those offered by human rights activists, modernization theorists, state terrorist theorists such as Noam Chomsky, and post-structuralists, especially Michel Foucault- Rejali asks, "Do the accounts of political violence that we have developed over the past century have any real explanatory or even moral significance in today's world, or are they just consolations in the face of events we cannot fully understand?" His answers lead him to reconsider how Middle Eastern and European history are written and move him to question cherished assumptions about state formation, modernization, and postmodernism. Torture and Modernity is a deeply unsettling book- it contains not only graphic verbal passages, but an extensive photographic essay- yet it is intended to serve as a guide to rethinking current attitudes and reshaping political policies. How people are punished necessarily invokes conceptions of what human beings are and what they might become. A work such as this offers an understanding of what it means to "become modern," and it is only when this notion of modernity is made manifest and analyzed that one can firmly grasp the prospects for a world without torture.