Tuesday, June 12, 2007

West Bank Defenestration

This news article passed my desk today:

Palestinian forces clashed in Gaza on Sunday, killing two militants by throwing them out of high-rise buildings.

Hamas militants kidnapped an officer in a Fatah-linked security force, took him to the roof of a 15-story apartment building and threw him off. Mohammed Sweirki, 25, from the Presidential Guard of President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, was killed in the plunge.

This news piece struck me because this poor man's death is the latest usage of an age-old method of summary execution. In fact, it is so common that it even has a name: defenestration.

I love this word. It derives from the Latin de, meaning "out of", and fenestra, meaning "window"—thus, to defenestrate means to literally expel something or someone out of a window. How can anyone not love such fitting etymology?

My fascination with this particular word began when I learned the French word for "window" was fenêtre. The circumflex accent above the e represents the former use of an s. Ironically, some English words, like hotel, are actually derivatives of French words with their circumflexes removed: hostel —> hôtel —> hotel.

[My wife tells me that, in med-speak, fenestrated is a medical term, too. Merriam-Webster lists its definition as "having one or more openings or pores" as in "fenestrated blood capillaries".]

Defenestration dates back at least as far as the Italian Renaissance, and probably even as far as Ancient Greece and before. Wherever a higher place existed far enough off the ground, be it a cliff, a man-made structure, or even a plane, it is certainly the most bloodless method to end a person's life. There are no sharp knifes, no loud guns, no hot pokers, and no unwieldy billy jacks. You just push somebody out a window. Anyone can do it.

Historically, defenestration has been most used as a tool of political dissent. From the defenestration wiki:
  • It has been suggested... that King John killed his nephew, Arthur of Brittany, by throwing him from a window in the castle at Rouen, France, in 1203.

  • In 1383, Bishop Dom Martinho was defenestrated by the citizens of Lisbon, having been suspected of conspiring with the enemy when Lisbon was besieged by the Castilians.

  • On April 26, 1478, after the failure of the "Pazzi conspiracy" to murder the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de' Medici, Jacopo de' Pazzi was defenestrated.

  • In 1572, French King Charles IX's friend, the Huguenot leader Gaspard de Coligny was killed in accordance with the wishes of Charles' mother, Catherine de Medici. Charles had allegedly said "then kill them all that no man be left to reproach me." Thousands of Protestants were killed in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre after soldiers attacked Coligny in his house, stabbed him, and threw him out the window.

  • On the morning of December 1, 1640, a group of noblemen who wanted to restore full independence to Portugal started a revolution, immediately supported by the people. They found Miguel de Vasconcelos, the hated Secretary of State, hidden in a closet, killed him and defenestrated him. His corpse was left to the public outrage.

  • The Revolutions of 1848 in France led to a period of unrest in Germany. When an agitated crowd forced their way into the town hall in Cologne on March 3, two city councillors panicked and jumped out of the window; one of them broke both his legs. The event went down in the city’s history as the "Cologne Defenestration".

  • In 1941, Mafia informant Abe "Kid Twist" Reles fell to his death from a window on the sixth floor of the Half Moon Hotel on Coney Island, on the eve of his scheduled testimony. The angle of trajectory suggests that he was defenestrated rather than trying to flee.

  • On March 2, 2007 Russian investigative journalist Ivan Safronov, who was researching the Kremlin's covert arms deals, fell to his death from a fifth floor window. Friends and colleagues discount suicide as a reason and an investigation was opened looking into possible "incitement to suicide".

I always thought it would be cool to have a movie villain with a defining characteristic of only killing his victims by dragging them up skyscrapers to hurl them off. His nickname? The Defenestrator.

No comments: