A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Making justice, or setting the record straight

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 4, 2008

Living in Lebanon has made me rethink the vocabulary that media outlets use to discuss the political (and sometimes just random) violence that occurs here. For example, H and I spent some time the other day discussing what makes a “bombing” different from an “assassination”.

To me, an assassination is the targeted killing of a prominent figure, whether a business-person, a politician or a journalist. But calling the killings of Francois El Hajj and Wissam Eid (just to name the latest two) “assassinations” glosses over the deaths of those who lost their lives not because they were prominent but because they were unlucky.

Hence a number of journalists appear to have adopted the term “bombing”. It does portray the awful chaos of the explosion sites, and gives more equitable attention to all victims.

But “bombing” makes these attacks sound more random than they are, because most of the car bombings are targeting someone. The spring bombs – the ones in Verdun, Achrafieh, Dekwaneh, etc. – might be more accurately called “bombings”, since no one specific appears to have been targeted. Producing fear through their very randomness seems to have been their goal.

Except, of course, for the Eido bombing, which targeted one man and killed ten others, which brings us back to the original problem: how to account for the deaths of ordinary people while still conveying the intent behind these car bombs.

It makes me happy that I am not a journalist. Words weigh heavily on me, and I would have trouble with the responsibility of choosing one over the other.

But I have enjoyed puzzling out another Lebanese political situation word mystery.

Back in the happier (from today’s perspective) early days of Lebanon’s life with no president, there was much debate over amending the constitution to allow General Sleiman to become president. (The current constitution, which is an utter nightmare, states that “grade one” civil servants must have been out of civil service for at least two years before becoming eligible for the presidency.)

I have always understood “amend” to mean “change”. But when I saw the expression in Arabic, I realized that I had missed its deeper meaning. In Arabic the expression “constitutional amendment” is: التعديل الدستوري.

Ta3deel? I thought, perplexed, when I first saw the word on an Arabic news site. What does that mean – “making justice?”

“I3dala” is justice, and the grammatical form of ta3deel usually means to do/make the noun, and … sometimes I am just not very good at puzzling out Arabic words I do not know. I’m very logical, and I very carefully follow the lessons I learned in Arabic classes long ago, but … somehow my final translations often go awry.

When my desire to know what “ta3deel” really meant overcame my pride, I got out a dictionary and learned that it does indeed mean “amend” … which in turn got me thinking about what amend means.

“To amend” does not mean “to change” – and I have been thinking the wrong thing in English all this time. “To amend” means “to rectify”, “to remedy”, or “to repair”; and secondarily “to improve”.

So when we amend a constitution, we are not necessarily changing it, in the sense of creating a new version that is better than the old.

Linguistically, we might be improving it. But we might also be fixing it, or restoring it: bringing it back to some imagined better original state.

Etymologically, “amending” is about repairing – just as “mending” is:

c.1220, “to free from faults, rectify,” from O.Fr. amender, from L. emendare “to correct, free from fault,” from ex- “out” + menda “fault, blemish” (cognate with Skt. minda “physical blemish,” O.Ir. mennar “stain, blemish,” Welsh mann “sign, mark”).  (Source: Online Etymology Dictionary)

Restoration versus improvement: food for thought!


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