Binaa: The institutionalization of discipline

Hassan Al Mustafa
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In the winter of 1990, late Syrian philosopher Mutaa’ Safadi wrote an introduction of 10 pages to the Arabic edition of ‘Discipline and Punish’ written by French philosopher Michel Foucault.

Safadi’s introduction was characterized by the density of language and meaning. He presented a little bit of Foucault’s philosophical vision and field of concern, especially in taking abstract theories to the field of practical experimentation on the ground, taking it out of its superiority, which is exactly what has been followed by archeology on the subject of ‘prison’.


Safadi, who entitled his article: “The Institution of the Disciplined Human,” sought to approach “discipline” as one of the concepts that led to modernity on the one hand and reshaped it on the other. It is dialectic of the individual as someone with rights and society as a space where individuals move and exercise their physical existence and their individual freedom.

Discipline here is a means of organizing the life of the society, as agreed upon by its members, and therefore there will be a sensory authority on the body on the one hand and in line with an invisible law on the other

Hassan Al Mustafa

Redefining discipline

Discipline here does not mean repressing an individual, depriving him of his or her personal rights, or exercising a superior parental position. It is a concept relating to the pattern of the formation of society and state. It goes back to the roots of “the transition from the nature state to the state of civilization,” according to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In the next stage, it would be ushering in modernity and complying with its laws, as theorized by the scholars of law and political sociology.

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The law, which is the constitutional reference for members of any country, is what makes them “disciplined”, living in an organized system, without it being totalitarian or suffocating freedoms. Nevertheless, it prevents the individual from violating the rights of others, from perpetrating violence, incitement, murder, crime and terrorism.

From here, Mutaa’ Safadi considers that “there are forms of symmetry between the positioning of the body/thing and the institution/function and society as a whole with the sum of its institutions. The disciplined body and the disciplined society that is synonymous with modernity.”

Discipline here is a means of organizing the life of the society, as agreed upon by its members, and therefore there will be a sensory authority on the body on the one hand and in line with an invisible law on the other.

In this regard, Safadi explains Michel Foucault’s idea of prison, stating that “prison is the ability to have a central vision and control spread around prison cells like the cells in the human body – meaning that prison is a visual system, before being a real image while the criminal law is a linguistic system”. He emphasized that: “The transition between the two systems is the great methodological difference that distinguishes between a positional thought and a conceptual thought.”

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This transition as highlighted by Foucault, is the main area that the Binaa program for detainees, at the General Intelligence Prison in the Eastern Province of the Kingdom, must operate upon because it’s the space in which it’s possible to transition from the concept of punishment as revenge to become a concept of punishment for reform.

The social and psychological concepts discussed by Binaa experts with the detainees will have the ability to redefine the concept of “discipline” and its centrality in mind to define it as a commitment to law which everyone submits to and which safeguards the rights of individuals within and outside the prison. There is a basic difference between restraints curbing rights and the restraints organizing everyone’s rights.

This article is also available in Arabic.


Hassan AlMustafa is Saudi journalist with interest in middle east and Gulf politics. His writing focuses on social media, Arab youth affairs and Middle Eastern societal matters. His twitter handle is @halmustafa.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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