Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

Political Assassination Events as a Cross-Cultural Form of Alternative Justice

Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

Political Assassination Events as a Cross-Cultural Form of Alternative Justice

Article excerpt

In this paper I shall examine the concepts of justice and injustice vis-a-vis social control. I will argue that these concepts can be useful when applied, historically and comparatively, to political assassination events. We shall see how the rhetorical device "political assassination" is utilized within an alternative system of justice, in social systems that use this lethal act in a struggle of legitimacy and social control and in setting moral boundaries. This paper thus provides a meaningful analytical and cross-cultural agenda within which political assassinations can be interpreted and understood.

Political Assassinations - Background

With some few notable exceptions, very little research has been done on political assassinations by either criminologists or sociologists (e.g., see Turk, 1983; Wagner-Pacifici, 1986; Wilkinson, 1976). Previous works on political assassination events either focus on one particular case (e.g., the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Aldo Moro etc.) or give very brief and telegraphic information about many such cases from different cultures (e.g., Ford, 1985; Kirkham, Levy, and Crotty, 1970, pp. 301-325). Some report a good deal of information about a few cases (e.g., Havens, Leiden, and Schmitt, 1970). All these approaches are often confusing and unsatisfactory because they do not provide a firm basis for generalizations.

The study on which this report is based (Ben-Yehuda, 1993) was aimed at developing a meaningful and comparative sociological, analytical framework within which political assassinations can be interpreted and understood. The way I approached this problem was to make an in-depth inquiry into the nature of political assassinations within what may be considered a more or less integrated (albeit complex), cultural matrix and to compare the results of this study with what we know about similar phenomena in other cultures.

The specific research focused on political assassinations by Jews in Palestine-Israel between 1882 through 1988; that is, from the days of renewed Jewish national life in the Middle East. This is an interesting culture and period to focus on because during this time period, in Palestine and Israel, an attempt was made to rebuild a new Jewish culture and society. This attempt involved some profound social and political changes for Jewish collective life, as well as profound changes in the personal identity and consciousness of Jewish individuals. The main reasons for limiting the scope of this study in this way were: (a) accessibility to data; (b) an opportunity to examine in depth a particular form of deviance within what may be considered as one culture, and thus provide a firm base for both cross-cultural comparisons and a framework for future research agendas.

The nature of this research was sociohistorical, from a sociology of deviance perspective. It employed a methodology that relied on both primary and secondary sources (see Ben-Yehuda, 1990d).

Killing and Political Assassinations

Taking people's life against their wish - killing - is referred to by a variety of rhetorical devices, the most famous of which is probably "murder." Much criminological and sociological literature was written on such forms of killings as homicide, suicide, genocide as well as a few others. This paper views political assassinations as a form of deviance and, more particularly, as another form of killing.

Forms of Killing

The biblical injunction "Thou Shall Not Murder" could be interpreted to mean that taking another human being's life is a universal crime. It is not. Such an act is defined differentially in different times and/or cultures (Nettler, 1982; Lester, 1986). Killing other people is not always interpreted as a negative and stigmatized act that is criminalized - it can certainly be interpreted as positive deviance (Ben-Yehuda, 1990b).

The type of rhetorical device that will be used to describe the death of an individual will, first of all, depend on whether we view that death as natural. …

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