Contra-Diction: notes towards speaking the truth - Lawrence Abu Hamdan

A piece of software is beginning to emerge called Layered Voice Analysis 6.50 (LVA 6.50), it is developed by an Israeli company Nemeysesco Ltd and it is currently employed as a lie detection method by the Los Angeles Police Department, Russian and Israeli governments, and insurance companies all over the world. In the United Kingdom, Harrow council and many others are using it to measure the veracity of benefit claims made by disabled citizens. Harrow council claims they have saved roughly £330,000 of benefit payouts in the first seven months of using this software. Lynn Robbins, director of the company Voice Analysis Technologies LLC, the main retailer of the software, told me in an interview that based on analysis of the body as it resonates through the voice, LVA 6.50 can not only determine whether a person is lying, but is able to deliver a whole series of verdicts—detecting, for example, embarrassment, over-emphasis, inaccuracy, voice manipulation, anxiety, and whether or not the interviewee is attempting to outsmart his/her interlocutor; in the future, I was told, it will even be able to hear sex offending tendencies. Here the physiological conditions of stress are made audible by the non-verbal elements of a voice. This technology is said to be able to determine all sorts of psychological verdicts based on jittering frequencies, glottal tension and vocal intensity, all regardless of language.

Yet when subject to these systems of voice analysis, the voice becomes divided into --- the words we say and the way we say them… When we are called to testify or placed under interrogation, this division of the voice produces two witnesses.. one witness on behalf of language, and the other witness speaks on behalf of the body. Often these two testimonies are corroborated by each other - but they can also betray one another. An internal betrayal between language and body, between subject and object, between fact and fiction exists in a single human utterance.

So what does this mean for the Freedom of Speech? Do we now have to incorporate into the concept of free speech the sonic quality of language as well? Moreover that this technology works regardless of language is to some extent a creepy radicalization of the very concept of Freedom of Speech. i.e.  its regardless of what you say, you can say whatever you like, it doesn’t matter what you say only how you say it.

 

So in the context of emerging technology that turns your speech acts against you. That produces an internal self betrayal, in which the self gives itself away. We need to search for the legal precedents that allow us to decolonize our tongues from this concept of truth. A way of derretorializing speech from biometric ears and beurocratic forms of truth production. And it was in this search for such a legal precedent that I began to explore Taqiyya  an originally Shia Islamic piece of jurisprudence. 

 

Taqiyya is not possible to translate into one word because it is in fact a concept. But a one word summary of such a concept could be Dissimulation: a legal dispensation whereby a believing individual can deny his faith or commit otherwise illegal or blasphemous acts while they are at risk of persecution or in a condition of statelessness.

In the Levantine region Taqiyya is often attributed now to the speech of the Druze community, as an esoteric sect of Islam and as a minority that live between Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan. The Druze are a distinct branch of Ismailism because of their belief in Reincarnation and their incorporation of platonic and other philosophies. For the Druze there is no coercive aspect to the religion, praying is to be done alone and there is no call to prayer. Taqiyya is a central concept of the Druze because it’s the means through which this non-coercive ideology of the faith is maintained. This understanding of Taqiyya is important as it breaks the commonly held definition that it is just about strategic speech and lying.

Understanding that misunderstanding was prevalent within of any discussion of Taqiyya, I approached a Druze theologian, who wishes to remain anonymous. His defintion of the term was as follows…

 

“In our part of the world, mothers talk to their newborn babies in a language called INGHH APOO. It is a two-syllable word composed of INGHH and APOO. It means nothing; it has no meaning. It is just two sounds – INGHH and APOO – used to communicate with the newborn child. The newborn baby perhaps does not understand, it doesn’t have any way of processing this information in its brain to really understand any meaning other than just an abstract sound of the mother’s voice. So what does the INGHH APOO communicate? What is flowing through these two syllables? It is love and care. So the child receives these two sounds that don’t make any linguistic sense but transmit the mother’s love. The language will grow with the child as the mother will raise the communication skill to a higher level. When the child has grown older, the mother will say “let’s go for breakfast”. Then when the child grows older again and goes to school, the mother will instruct “take your sandwich with you”. When the child becomes a student in the college, there is no way the mother will say to her child INGHH APOO. So Taqiyya is the means of communication that you adapt to any person, based on the amount of knowledge that s/he is capable of understanding. You speak to people on the level of the other’s readiness to listen.”

This idea of a “readiness to listen” was very inspiring for me in thinking through the political context through which our voices resound today. Under the conditions of Taqiyya in practice as is described above The Freedom of Speech is articulated way in excess of its normal rhetoric of simply speaking freely. Here I see Taqqiya as a practice that allows you to pay close attention to all the minute details of human utterance and as a way of embodying into your speech not only your self, your ego, but also the ears of that who is listening to you. Taqiyya is for me an admission that free speech is not about speaking freely, but reclaiming control over the very conditions under which one is being heard.