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.
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Remembering Yitzhak Rabin: A Peacemaker Shot Down

November 4, 1995.

Tel Aviv, Israel. A peace rally was held in the Kings of Israel Square of the Israeli city to support the recent Oslo accords with the Palestinian leadership. Yitzhak Rabin, the Prime Minister of Israel at the time and the central figure in making peace with the Palestinians was the most important figure attending the rally. While the participants of the rally, along with Rabin, Foreign Minister and party rival Shimon Peres and singer Miri Aloni were singing the “Song for Peace“, some people present at the rally had completely different plans.

Shalom, Salaam, Peace

The Oslo Peace Accord was led by Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat had successfully agreed on a “Land for Peace” deal during the Oslo Accords in 1993, which involved Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank territory. The world witnessed the amazing sight of Yitzhak Rabin shaking hands with Yasser Arafat at the White House on September 13, 1993, with President Bill Clinton standing along side the two leaders.

The Israeli right wing was furious, as is the norm for the right wing anywhere, over the Oslo Accords, maintaining their point that Rabin’s steps has taken Israel away from the Jewish values. He was criticized by Likud opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu for taking the peace steps. Netanyahu is currently the Prime Minister of Israel on the date of publishing of this post.

While Rabin was returning from the rally, a right wing extremist Yigal Amir was waiting for Rabin, who amazingly managed to by-pass the security for the rally and reportedly shot Rabin three times. Rabin was  rushed to the Ichilov Hospital of Tel Aviv and lost his life during the operation, while Amir was arrested a bit too late by Rabin’s bodyguard. Amir is serving life imprisonment for his crime while the world lost a very good opportunity towards a peaceful solution to Middle East peace process, despite assurances from Shimon Peres, who shortly became Prime Minister after this tragic event, which has been the center of many conspiracy theories.

The importance of this peace deal can be realized even more today, seventeen years from the Oslo accord, when peace appears bleaker than ever between the two nations as Israel continues to build settlements in the West Bank. While Israelis are not comfortable about the security of their country, the Palestinian people are struggling even to make a decent living. The truth is that everyone knows that they have to depend on the State of Israel for their lives and that they are a people without a country.

This post is not to illustrate that Rabin’s murder has led to the failure of the Middle East peace process, nor that Rabin had a completely uncontroversial record as a peacemaker, but that this is the way the world treats the peacemakers. It also illustrate how dangerous and damaging right wing extremism can be. He was not the first man in history who talked about peace and was shot dead. There are many examples, like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lennon. Rabin and his administration were the peacemakers of their time and I salute Rabin for his courage and initiative towards peace.

Military cemeteries in every corner of the world are silent testimony to the failure of national leaders to sanctify human life.

– Yitzhak Rabin

What started as the Oslo Peace Accord was a hope for a Two-State Solution for Israel and Palestine. Both the people deserve peace and to live their lives in harmony and prosperity, but it is not possible without the creation of a Palestinian State. Muslim countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan should step up to recognize the right of the Israelis to live as free people and Israel, the United States and the EU should step up to recognize that Palestinian people have an equal right to live in freedom and peace, and that Israel should not be permitted to do whatever they like to them, like the manslaughter in Gaza in the late 2007 and 2008.

It is up to the current Israeli leadership to realize the importance of making peace in the Middle East, if not for themselves, for their children.

It is a choice between peace and harmony and bloodbath and manslaughter. Those responsible should think about it.

On Rabin’s funeral, President Bill Clinton concluded his eulogy with two words in Hebrew in his honor. But it was as if he was talking to peace in the Middle East.

 

Shalom, Haver.

Goodbye, Friend.