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Sunday, January 23, 2005



Having spent some time in places where rule of law is a vague notion, I have become, if not an advocate of vigilante justice, a sympathizer of folks who, lacking any other recourse, take the law into their own hands.

This afternoon, for example, I was cleaning up dog shit from our front yard, a chore I undertake every six months whether it needs it or not. Some skeezy Azeri guy whom I didn't recognize but of whom I was immediately suspicious, walked up and exposed himself to me. A number of my young fans were hanging around the courtyard, hitting each other with sticks. They came running after I yelled at the guy and he ran off.

Maybe I should have used more tact when describing to the kids what the guy did, but apparently certain hand gestures are universally recognized, even by 10 year old Azeris. "Maniac!" they yelled. "Maniac!"

The wheels of justice began to turn.

Word travelled like wildfire. Within minutes, a crowd of women and girls -- most of whom I'd never seen before -- came out of apartments to discuss the incident with me. Fortunately, since I've been studying Azeri, I was able to describe what he was wearing, but that was about the extent of my participation in the conversation.

"Policia!" they insisted. I declined to get the police involved. I still had a lot of dog shit to clean up and dealing with the police (again) was just more hassle than I wanted to deal with on a Sunday afternoon. Besides, what were the police going to do about it?

I stayed outside for another half hour or so. I noticed that many of the male residents appeared in the courtyard to smoke cigarettes or putter around their cars. When I went inside, they did too.

I have no doubt that had the Maniac reappeared, punishment would have been immediate. I think "vigilantism" may overstate the dynamic. "Community justice" may be a more accurate term. The idea of an Azeri male exposing himself to an Azeri woman is almost unthinkable. The reaction of the woman's brothers or cousins or father would be swift and possibly violent. Though foreign women enjoy few of the "protections" enjoyed by Azeri women, there's no question that, as a temporary member of the courtyard community, I fell under its protection.

That's more reassuring than relying on the police.

What truly annoyed me about the whole situation, however, was the fact that some skeezy Maniac believed the proper response a western woman cleaning up dog shit in her front yard on a Sunday afternoon is exposure of his genitals. That impulse is much harder to understand.

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