Juris - Diction - Lawrence Abu Hamdan

Three Notes towards a Contemporary Understanding of Jurisdiction and Legal Authority

If we divide the term “jurisdiction,” which connotes a territorial range over which a legal authority extends, we see that “juris” refers to a legal authority or right and “diction” refers to speech. “Diction” in linguistics is also defined as the manner of enunciating and uttering sounds and words, indicating not simply speech but the process of enunciation and amplification of words. By understanding the etymology of the term jurisdiction, we see that the law itself operates as a speech-space in which those within its range of audibility are subject to its authority. As a fundamental principle of legal governance jurisdiction reveals to us the power of sound in the construction of the space and time of the law. Much like the radio in the workplace, the audio medium affords the law a means of controlling space and interpolating its subjects while remaining predominantly out of sight. In the following examples I propose a series of videos and images that posit interesting readings of the multiple ways in which the porous speech-space of the law is transmitted, amplified and distorted. 

(photo: a loud-speaker configuration built on top of a Istanbul Riot Police van and above it a steel insignia showing both horn and sword side by side) - Lawrence Abu Hamdan) 

1. You Say Tomato

Click here to listen to: You Say Tomato ( extract from The Freedom of Speech Itself 2012 )

By 2003, the United States and the United Kingdom were entrenched on two fronts in the War on Terror. These wars forced mass migrations that became the catalyst for immigration authorities around the world to turn to forensic speech analysis to determine if the accents of asylum seekers correlated with their claimed national origins—i.e. to see whether people originated from areas which would mean that they were legitimately entitled to asylum. The protocol is as follows: a telephone interview is organized between the asylum seeker and a private company run by forensic phoneticians based in Sweden, Sprakab. Using anonymized analysts (which many claim are actually former refugees with no linguistic training) the claimant’s voice is elicited, recorded, and analyzed and subsequently a report is produced and given to the immigration authorities.  One of the main concerns of linguists is to advocate for the idea that citizenship is a bureaucratic distinction and that the voice is a socially and culturally produced artifact that cannot be tidily assimilated into the nation-state. In undertaking extensive research into this politically potent form of listening I heard many shocking accounts of vocal discrimination and wrongful deportations—none more so than that of Mohammed, a Palestinian asylum seeker who, after having the immigration authorities lose his Palestinian identity card, was forced to undergo an accent analysis to prove his origins. During his deportation hearing  he was told by the asylum tribunal that he was lying about his identity and the judges paid particular attention to the way that he pronounced the word for tomato. Instead of “bandora” he said “banadora.” This tiny “a” syllable is the sound that provides the UK border agency with the apparent certainty of Mohammed’s Syrian origin: a country only 22 kilometers away from his hometown of Jenin in Palestine. Therefore, in designating this syllable as a marker of Syrian nationality, the Border Agency implies that this vowel, used in the word tomato, is coterminous with Syria’s borders. The fact that this syllable designates citizenship above an identity card that contradicts it forces us to rethink how borders are being made perceptible and how configurations of vowels and constants are made legally accountable

.2. "Who is the Prime Minister?"

Despite the title of the video above it is not extremely funny but extremely racist and revealing. The Australian man who cannot bare that his juris-diction is breached by a an indian call centre demands to hear the name of his prime minister pronounced by his international interlocutor. In demanding his leaders name be made audible he initiates a speech/listening act which attempts to redraw the frontiers of the juris-diction in which he lives; confirming who his voice is accountable to and who it is not.    In her inability to pronounce the name of Australia's prime minister this call centre employee  proves to her idiotic interlocutor that he and she belong to different juridical authorities and that she has trespassed the borders of his jurisdiction with her voice. By subjecting her to a citizenship test of sorts he erects a sonic border, and the only way for her to pass through the border into audibility is to speak the name of the one who governs Australia's juris-diction and the chief voice of its parliament (a name taken from the French parlement from Parle to speak)


3. A Universal Juris-diction

After 4.33 of this video there are some images which you might want to avoid seeing. 

What does this confluence of a thick london accent with correct arabic elocution and islamic parlance, articulate about the current state of juris-diction in Syria? Here, the displaced phonemes  of a London accent resonating far beyond the borders it normally inhabits, describe the difference between the localised gang wars of london and the global jihad raging in Syria.  But who does this voice, speaking from outside of his own jurisdiction, speak on behalf of and speak to? The conflicted site hosts a man who makes the mix of two languages (islamic parlance and London english) speak as one, a language that is not totally understood by non-muslims and not discernible to those who don't speak English. His speech is simultaneously very local ("bruva" for brother) whilst also global in its generic rhetoric of islamic phrases, that although originally arabic, can be found in every language of the muslim world and its diaspora. Here, the lawless space of Syria allows such displaced voices to emerge; In the very absence of a single Syrian juris-diction the universal "call" to islamic jihad becomes amplified.