Sympathy and Suspicion: Torture, Asylum and Humanity

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Abstract

This article examines the assessment of claims about torture in the British asylum process. It is compassion in the face of suffering that underlies much of the ethical objection to torture. Yet, at the same time, torture survivors, as with asylum seekers more broadly, are subjected to widespread suspicions about the genuineness of their claims. This article argues that the very process of imagined identification found in compassion can lie behind suspicion. Anthropology has largely treated otherness as a cause of fear and suspicion. However, the denial of another's suffering is not always about a failure to recognize mutual humanity. It can also be a product of a sense of fundamental similarity, based on assumptions about the mutual capacity to dissimulate. Ultimately, though, scepticism is on just as shaky ground as belief, as it is filtered through the lens of imagined identification. Denial is just as vicarious as acknowledgement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)753-768
JournalJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Volume18
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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