And Their Children’s Children: Sippenhaft, Blood Feuds, and other Political Incentives

The seemingly never-ending confrontation between the U.S. and Iran appears to bring out some of the most unpredictable and hostile behavior and some of the most painful grand-standing by pundits and politicians alike.

An Euler diagram illustrating the association fallacy. Although A is within B and is also within C, not all of B is within C.

Association Fallacy Diagram. (Source: commons.wikimedia.org)

The letter sent by 47 U.S. Senators dismissing political negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program has led some to brand the authors as traitors, others to hail them as patriots. Freshman Senator Tom Cotton (R) of Arkansas seems to have a leading role in drafting the letter. Of course this piece is not about Senator Cotton, but about the fraught political nature of blood and blood metaphors. I want to use this opportunity and consider a theme that squats underneath another text Senator Cotton drafted about Iran. This ugly and ancient political idea illustrates the strangeness of political conceptions regarding Iran.

Senator Cotton’s 2013 withdrawn amendment gives me an excuse to revisit one of the most painful political uses of blood: Sippenhaft, or kin liability.

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