A Portrait of a Syrian Torturer

The Institute of International Relations invites you to public lecture and discussion: "A Portrait of a Syrian Torturer". The event will take place on May 24, 2018 at 5 pm in the IIR building, Nerudova 3, Prague 1. How is torture possible? How does a human being know how to harm another?

24. 5. 2018 (17:00)

Large Conference Room, The Institute of International Relations, Nerudova 3, Prague 1

How is torture possible? How does a human being know how to harm another? Face-to-face, body-to-body, side-by-side, scream- to-scream, blow-to-blow? These are practical questions. And to them this lecture will offer a practical guide. Unlike the relatively ‘distant’ accounts that have come before it, the discussion will draw on a series of ethnographic interviews conducted with former Syrian perpetrators of torture in order to explore how torture emerges on the ground and at an individual level in Syria. The lecture will sketch a portrait of, and trace the relationship(s) between, three 'types' of 'torturer' in Syria: 'initiates' (soldiers, guards, etc.) who have not tortured before, 'professionals' (doctors, interrogators, etc.) whose actions undergird the possibility of torture, and 'specialists' who have tortured in Syria for many decades. This portrait suggest that torture in Syria is frequently far less 'intentional' in its emergence than previously assumed and, moreover, is relatively similar in its practical, performative, and logistical format to torture carried out by other states, including democratic states. Throughout, we will reflect on what the intellectual, ethical, political, and policy implications of working towards a deep understanding of those who ‘do evil’ might mean.

Jonathan Luke Austin is a political sociologist and Lead Researcher for the Violence Prevention (VIPRE) Initiative at the CCDP. His research explores – principally – the global ontologies of political violence, with his expertise thus focused on social theory and philosophy, the possibility and prevention of political violence, Middle Eastern politics, and related topics, as well as the roles of art and literature in world politics. He possesses over a decade of research and field experience on/in the Middle East (Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Turkey) and regularly consults for NGOs and the media on ongoing conflicts. Austin’s work has been published in leading journals including European Journal of International Relations, International Political Sociology, Security Dialogue, and beyond – as well as numerous other outlets. He is a member of the editorial team for Contexto Internacional: Journal of Global Connections, based at PUC-RIO, and is communications officer on the executive board of the Science, Technology, and Art in IR (STAIR) section of the International Studies Association.