A daughter's unusual revenge
A desire to confront her father's shooter yields a look at how different cultures view an ugly idea.
Laura Blumenfeld knows all about revenge. It has occupied her thoughts and rolled off her tongue for years. And now it's the subject of her provocative first book, "Revenge: A Story of Hope," in which she explains how she carried the idea out herself.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Americans don't talk much about revenge, let alone admit to the desire publicly. It's a taboo, a concept that brings with it an unsettling sense of fear, anger, and lack of control.
That's something Ms. Blumenfeld noticed when she first started telling people she was researching and even pursuing revenge. They would become tense, often taking a step back and furrowing their brows. Even now, conducting a phone interview while standing in line at an airport, she makes those around her uncomfortable.
"People are staring at me," says the Washington Post reporter with a laugh, "I'm sitting here going on and on about revenge at a security check."
The irony of the situation is not lost on the author, whose book is being published less than a year after Sept. 11, a date that changed the way Americans look at getting even. Her book isn't so much about the nation's recent wounds, but the motivation for revenge in everything from the Middle East conflict to fights on the playground and her own quest to avenge an attack on her father. It presents an opportunity to bring a taboo out into the light and see how it is intersecting with culture today.
Revenge and its effects are rarely far from thought, even if they're little discussed. The more extreme cases school shootings, terrorism end up on CNN. The milder forms take place in offices everywhere, through badmouthing or freezing out offending associates.
The idea of revenge originated with the creation of man, according to some beliefs. As one story goes, Satan was angry with God for kicking him out of heaven, so he introduced Adam and his kin to sin. There's been score-settling ever since motivated by things like shame, family honor, or a desire for justice. Much of the language about responding to revenge is from biblical times an eye for an eye, from the Old Testament; turning the other cheek, from the New.
The language of retribution is perpetuated in modern times in everything from Hamlet to Harry Potter. Sometimes real revenge goes no further than victims' fantasizing, but its presence in society is palpable enough. Frederic Luskin, the project director of the Stanford (University) Forgiveness Project quips, "More people practice revenge than practice forgiveness."
At Georgetown University, Robert Bies has been looking at revenge in the workplace for the past seven years. His research suggests that "revenge is part of the everyday fabric of all organizations," he says.
As a journalist, Blumenfeld says she saw it everywhere in the partisan payback on Capitol Hill, the bloody tit for tat in Northern Ireland, and the callousness at recess.
But as the daughter of a rabbi who was shot by a Palestinian gunman in Jerusalem in 1986, she was interested for a different reason. Her father, a tourist, survived the bullet it only grazed his scalp. But "the shooter," as she calls him, had denied her father's humanity by making him a military target, "as if my father were some kind of radar station, and not even a human being," she explains. She wanted to restore that humanity for the shooter to know her father as a man.
Her journey takes her to the scene of the crime, and also around the world. She interviews folk experts in Albania and ayatollahs in Iran to ask about revenge practices and what rights a daughter has to avenge her father. She learns about the power of revenge in Mafia-influenced Sicily. "In Sicily, symmetry would demand that I shoot the shooter, or maybe his father. But I had to find another way, my way," she writes.