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Living TogetherJacques Derrida's Communities of Violence and Peace$
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Elisabeth Weber

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780823249923

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823249923.001.0001

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(p.242) (p.243) Living—with—Torture—Together
Living Together

Elisabeth Weber

Fordham University Press

Derrida describes compassion as a “fundamental mode of living together”. In this essay it is contrasted with “stealth torture”, which leaves no visible traces and succeeds in systematically undermining compassion with the victim, in both the community of the perpetrator and of the victim. In Derrida's text, the Hebrew concept of Rachamim plays a decisive role in combination with “perhaps”. On the one hand “rachamim”, “compassion”, forms the plural of “rechem”, “womb”, while being attributed to male figures (including in Judaism and Islam, to God himself); on the other, the word “perhaps” determines Derrida's thought of the future. Torture assaults the “strangeness to oneself” that the “self” is by forcing the victim to betray what could be called compassion for oneself. Derrida's argument resonates with a powerful voice against torture of the early Enlightenment, Christian Thomasius, who identifies such self-betrayal as constitutive of torture. With the iconic image from Abu Ghraib which in intelligence circles is called “crucifixion”, we might be facing a return of the repressed foundation of the United States in a symbol of which a key aspect has been forgotten: That crucifixion was abhorred by the peoples of Antiquity and by Islam as the worst of executions.

Keywords:   Abu Ghraib, Elaine Scarry, Christian Thomasius, compassion, torture, bestiality, humiliation, Islam, Judaism

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