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The Respectable Citizen in Republic of Little Respect

The Respectable Citizen in Republic of Little Respect

Wednesday, 29 September, 2021 - 09:15

We start from Italy, with the developments that must be recalled at every conversation about judges:

When the Cold War ended and the traditional parties and their ideologies fell after successive collapses, there was also an explosion of civic ties, economic cooperatives, and non-governmental organizations. The politicians’ extreme corruption was exposed. Their parties began to pull them away from public view. Between 1992 and 1994, Rome, it seemed, was a ship in troubled waters.

The mission didn’t find its heroes amid political stagnation, and the judges known as the “clean hands” (mani pulite) took it on. They targeted politicians, businessmen, and administrators, who together made up the Tangentopoli, “city of bribes.”

The Italian ministry of finance estimated that corruption and tax fraud had cost the treasury 90 billion dollars. More dangerous is that this behavior plunged to lower political and administrative ranks, with policemen, teachers and others implicated. Society at large seemed threatened by the poison of this deadly contamination.

Adding to the abominableness of the crimes that the “clean hands” exposed is that there was the extent of the overlap between corruption and organized crime. The “repentant” among the mafia prisoners revealed, in their confessions, that the top brass of the Christian Democratic and Socialist parties had been cooperating with organized criminal networks. This entwinement gave the judges’ task sharp political, national and ethical dimensions. There emerged those who would write about that Italian moment as a transition from “a democracy of parties” to “a democracy of judges” and a necessary stop on the path to a “democracy of citizens.”

The “clean hands” cleanse implicated, among many others, politicians as prominent as Christian Democrat Giulio Andreotti, who had served as seven prime ministerial terms. His trial contributed to bringing his party, which had ruled the country since the end of World War II, to its knees. The judicial purge also implicated another former prime minister, Bettino Craxi, who fled to Tunisia, where he would die. His Socialist Party dissolved itself, and three of its parliamentarians committed suicide.

Around 6,000 politicians and administrators were summoned to the courts between 1992 and 1994, among them a quarter of the countries’ senators and, with them, parliamentarians, mayors, officers, and managers...

What happened in Italy had echoes in other countries. In the summer of 1994, for example, a French anti-corruption judge, Eric Halphen, ordered the arrest of Jean-Claude Mery, a property developer and a representative of Chirac’s Gaullist Rally for the Republic. Mery was imprisoned for a few months and was subsequently released because of heart problems and diabetes. Still, his name became synonymous with damnation, as he would go on to be threatened by the specters of bankruptcy and his wife divorcing him.

The phrase “judicial authority” is not meaningless in countries that claim that their political system has a separation of powers. However, neither in Italy nor in France is there a Hezbollah security official who threatens to “remove’’ judges or politicians who hide from the judiciary behind their sect’s top clerics. That is precisely what has happened and continues to happen to Judge Tarek Bitar in order to deter him from investigating the calamity of the port blast, whose culprits the Lebanese people are not allowed to know. It was merely fated to be.

“You don’t know who you’re talking to,” that is, in a nutshell, the “theory” being adopted by the sectarian politicians who refuse to allow any authority to rise above their own, which has prevented and continues to prevent the rise of a state, any state.

Indeed, in Lebanon, we can speak of sectarian anarchy. The anarchist position is that there is no need for a state in the first place. It is rejected by revolutionary leftist anarchists because of its capitalism and by revolutionary rightwing anarchists because it impedes and restrains capitalism. From Mikhail Bakunin on the left to radical neoliberals like Murray Rothbard and David Friedman on the right, anarchists portray the state as an enemy and an oppressor.

However, among the most prominent differences between those anarchists and the Lebanese sectarian anarchists is that the former, whether they are left- or right-wing, left behind them a library explaining their rejection of the state and putting alternative forwards. The local anarchists’ ingenuity ends with that same phrase: “You don’t know who you’re talking to.”

The inner logic behind Judge Bitar’s actions replies: “We know we are talking to you. We want to ask you about your role in the disaster that took tens of lives, displaced thousands, and destroyed a fifth of the capital.” With that, the brave judge stands in for a rotten state that even its own judges are not safe from. However, he is also standing in for a society that has had its wings clipped, especially after its revolution had been defeated and the alternatives it presented, its voice, and its impact had diminished.

How could a judge who does not come from a family of notables and is not protected by Hezbollah’s arsenal dare to challenge the notables who are protected by that arsenal? Is he daring to attempt the impossible?

Tarek Bitar, whom they want to “remove,” or replace, is the last respectable citizen in a republic that has been made to have little respect.

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