The Convenient Positions on Death Penalty

Source: newindianexpress.com

Source: newindianexpress.com

The recent execution of convicted Indian criminal or terrorist Yakub Memon for involvement in Mumbai bombings in 1993 has ignited a bit of a debate in India about the death penalty. It is healthy to see that at least people are debating this issue in the mainstream, which itself is reflective of how democracy is at a much healthier state in India, as compared to a society such as Pakistan. However, what is alarming is that apparently most of the Indians are as keen on hangings as Pakistanis and Iranians.

But even more troubling than the vicious righteous mobs thirsting for blood as justice is the convenient positions some politicians are taking about death penalty when it suits their agenda.  Of course, it’s not Shahshi Tharoor that I am talking about, whose views on the issue I absolutely endorse and support. The very opposition to his comments is reflective of how far they need to go in terms of fighting social conservatism in India, which has worsened ever since the BJP took power.

What I am really talking about Muslim religious conservatives and Islamist leaders complaining about the death penalty. While this could apply equally to Hindu right wing social conservatives, such inconsistency is more evident among their Muslim counterparts, especially because they otherwise support the most barbaric of punishments for insignificant offenses such as adultery.

The AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi refreshingly criticized the execution of Yakub Memon, saying that capital punishment is not the answer to terrorism. It sounds pretty nice until he brings up the Babri Mosque incident and talks about how there were no hangings for the “original sin.” He probably makes a valid remark about any lack of convictions for the Mumbai riots, but it is not because he actually opposed the death penalty as a matter of principle. He was just upset because he just didn’t want Memon hanged, one of his own tribe. Obviously his stance saw retaliation by your typical idiotic BJP nationalists, the rival tribe, and one of the ministers asked the critics of death penalty to “go to Pakistan.”

This has not happened for the first time. If you recall, Bangladesh has sentenced quite a few Jamaat-e-Islami leaders to death for treason. And then the Egyptians sentenced many Muslim Brotherhood members to death, including the deposed Prime Minister Mohammed Morsi. Considering the connection between the parties, the Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan passionately protested against the harsh and cruel death sentences.

Now I totally support the right of the Jamaat-e-Islami to protest, of course as long as they behave themselves, and I agree with them on the issue, but it is interesting how they would themselves call for similar penalties, or worse Shariah sanctioned punishment, for similar and other offenses. All the Muslim Brotherhood members in Egypt and Bangladesh were tried and sentenced for anti-state activities and treason, which can be argued not to be crimes, but sadly they are considered to be. These entities themselves would support death for rebellion against religion, and would support putting apostates and blasphemers to death.

This is why supporting the abolition of capital punishment is so important.

Now secular liberals and libertarians who oppose authoritarianism and capital punishment would oppose the rulings made in Egypt and Bangladesh consistent with their ideology. They would agree with Jamaat-e-Islami on these issues, but not necessarily for the same reasons. The only converging reason could be that the charge is not worthy of such a penalty in the first place.

But the important point here is that Islamists and social conservative Muslims need to examine their political positions pertaining to the death penalty. Because their convenient positions on the issue would qualify for something they despise and often accuse their opponents of. Hypocrisy. Now, while pretty much every political entity is guilty of cherry picking and double standards in one way or another, minimizing such positions is good for their own public image. They need to embrace comprehensive rejection of death penalty.

One of the most fundamental things to understand about opposing capital punishment on the basis of morality is that you don’t want the state to commit the crime it is convicting someone for, in addition to the idea why the state should not be resorting to such extreme measures in the first place. You don’t have to turn criminals and murderers to punish them. Digging further into the debate, liberals present the argument that there is no evidence to suggest that death penalty serves as an effective deterrent to crime.

Perhaps the only solid and worthwhile, though inhuman and heartless, argument that I have heard from conservatives against the death penalty is why they should be paying to keep the convicts alive. Though then someone can argue why keep prisoners alive at all. Why not burn everyone at stake at even the most minor of offenses, just because we should not bear the burden of convicted citizens. Alright don’t burn at stake, just shoot them, or the lethal injection would do.

Many of the liberals who have evolved their position on death penalty must have started from supporting capital punishment. Similarly, many liberals change their minds and end up supporting the capital punishment as they grow old as well.

What the critics of the opponents of death penalty need to understand is that the state does not set a good example when it resorts to the very actions that it is condemning its citizens for. Furthermore, putting someone to death does not necessarily help achieve the abstract state of “justice.” It does, however, fulfill the thirst for vengeance.

The post was originally published in the Nation blogs.

Triumph to Egypt! Triumph to the Truth!

It started on January 25, the National Police Day in 2011, only days after the rioting Tunisian people had forced their dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country after his oppressive reign, millions took to the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and all major cities of Egypt with a single demand:

Step Down Hosni Mobarak.

Source: alsiasi.com

Hosni Mobarak became the President of Egypt only eight days after President Anwer El Sadat was assassinated by a fundamentalist soldier, most probably due to the Camp David Peace Accords with Israel. Mobarak had been ruling as a dictator for about 30 years when these protests began, and had also enforced emergency in the country for several years, strangling freedom of speech in the country.

On February 11, 2011, this historic day on which this post is being published, Hosni Mobarak has succumbed to the pressure of the masses and has stepped down after just a struggle of 18 days. The world has just witnessed the fall of tyranny spanning over 3 decades, crumbling to dust in less than 3 weeks. The scenes of jubilation in the Tahrir Square, also dubbed the Liberation Square, would never be forgotten in many years to come. The ecstatic crowd dancing and chanting, celebrating the victory of the Truth and the rightful.

 

Source: Patrick Baz (AFP/Getty)

This was no ordinary uprising. Neither was the one in Tunisia. It was the voice of longing for liberal freedom of expression and the world protested with the Egyptians. The images were broadcasted to all corners of the world and the media around the world approved of and supported the struggle of the Egyptian people against tyranny, with Al-Jazeera playing a phenomenal journalistic role.  It was the greatest sign for those who doubt the fact that the world has indeed become a global village.

Even the Western leaders, particularly those of the United States, had to recognize the rights of the Egyptian people and opted to show their support for the protesters instead of Mobarak, who had been their main negotiating contact for diplomacy and peace process in the Middle East, especially in relation to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Only Israel and Saudi Arabia expressively voiced support for Mobarak, and for obvious reasons.

Many attribute these protests to the revelations made by the WikiLeaks and the fact that despite all the checks and controls on freedom of speech, the people in these countries were able to use the internet to rally and campaign to oust their respective dictators. People used social media like facebook and twitter to gather support for their cause, and bloggers and activists like Wael Ghonim played a key role in the uprising. Even the Egyptian regime of Mobarak was forced to suspend internet services in the entire country for a few days during the uprising.

But what do we learn from this? Were Egyptians so naïve that they did not bother to raise their voices for democracy, and more importantly, for freedom of speech? I am sure that is not the case. Egyptians have proved to the world how resilient, strong and determined they are. But they could never have achieved it had there not been an overwhelming unity of opinion and action among the protesters.

Many around the world feared the uprising in Egypt at the same time, and understandably so, especially Israel, who have a lot at stake in their relations with Egypt. Many feared that Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen or the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned religious political party and Islamic movement, which has been considered fundamentalist due to their opposition of Egypt’s peace process with Israel, will rise to power in Egypt.

This organization has been active in the social sphere and charity for a number of years and has also been in the center of anti-Mobarak protests. They have also been one of the main opposition groups  A lot of people are even skeptical about the path that Egypt has chosen of letting the military control the hold of the government. Many are fearing a change for the worse. Especially, when it comes to relations with Israel.

 

Source: Getty Images

While some around the world watch in doubt and fear, while others in jubilation and solidarity, you do not need arguments to convince Egyptians that they have done the right thing, which maybe they should have done years ago. They have complete trust in the military, as Ghonim, a prominent spokesperson of the people expressed in an interview to CNN, that it will not remain in power for long and will move to hold elections.

Whatever be the outcome, let us hope that Egypt moves on to a better future and that they uphold their peace agreement with Israel, while also not abandoning the Palestinian people, especially the ones in Gaza Strip. Let us hope life becomes a little more bearable for them. I hope that Egyptians will be responsible enough to take care of their own lives and of the peace in the region. If people like Mohammed El Baradei and Amr Moussa succeed Mobarak, then it can confidently be said that the peace in the Middle East will not be disturbed.

One of my twitter friends Purnima Rao tweeted:

To those who link violence & Islam, some of the most groundbreaking non-violent protests in the last 2 yrs have been in Muslim countries.

How true is that. The protesters remained non-violent and peaceful till the end and all the violence that occured was initiated by the police, the Presidential guards and the authorities in guise of pro-Mubarak supporters. It is a shame that Mobarak’s forces directly or indirectly caused the death of 297 people and injured thousands during the protests, according to Human Rights Watch, resisting the inevitable that he would have to step down eventually.

It would also be wrong to judge that the Egyptian people were the ones behind the looting and damaging the artifacts in the National Museum in Cairo, as the youth had formed a human chain around this building holding the treasures of nation along with the army to help prevent any more miscreants from entering it. A number of artifacts have been recovered and the damaged ones are expected to be repaired.

Whether you fear another military dictatorship, loss of American and Israeli interests in the region, or religious extremists overtaking the country, there is only one chant echoing in the streets and squares of Cairo.

Egypt is Liberated.

To many, this is just the beginning of a new Middle East.