Friday, January 05, 2007

The bell tolls for thee

I hope I never become a politician because a stance on the death penalty will always be divisive. It’s also something I don’t think you can change your mind or the mind of anyone else about.

With the passing of Saddam Hussain and the new year sms jokes aside the more serious death penalty debate is now receiving
heightened publicity

Lawrence Douglas ,Professor of Law, Jurisprudence & Social Thought at Amherst College puts forward a good specific
article on the Saddam hanging in which he concludes.

It is only in defense of humankind that the death penalty can be justified. When it only defends the sensitivities of the group, the penalty does not purge, but only pollutes. Saddam’s execution spreads that noxious stench.

In this case it is an act of revenge and difficult to justify. The outcry over the behaviour, video-making and taunting by the guards on the basis that this somehow made the procedure undignified and inhumane is misplaced. The whole scenario is inhumane, there is no such thing as humane execution.

Where do I stand in my own country. In the same watershed speech on 2 February 1990 when FW De Klerk announced the release of Nelson Mandela, he announced a moratorium on the death penalty which later lead to its abolition. Since then there have been repeated calls for the reinstatement of the penalty for capital crimes. My view is that this would be as logical as re-imprisoning Mandela. The main argument seems to be that the death penalty will be a deterrent to crime.

I am not going to go into any heavy philosophical argument here – the debate is really a personal one – and one is bound to choose whatever thesis supports one’s personal view.

This paper by Unisa’s OS Mwimnobi is pretty solid and thorough on the South African debate. The Reasonableness Of Reinstating The Death Penalty: A Juridicophilosophical Approach.

Mwimnobi maintains “that if any form of punishment cannot be shown to affect the criminal in an educative, reformatory or encouraging fashion, i.e , if there is no positive function connected with punishment, such form of punishment should be rejected.”,and shows
“that the principles of ‘sanctity of life’ and ‘persons as moral subjects’ overrides the deterrent effect of the death penalty”.

If the death penalty is to be used as deterrent then, in my view, it should be a macabre spectacle held up to show would-be criminals what their fate could be. To be effective – it should be public, on TV. It should be as horrific as possible – “drawn and quartered” comes to mind as suitable method of execution. Not a quiet lethal injection. But that would be uncivilised wouldn’t it? And we are not uncivilised are we?

We cannot correct the inhumane by being inhumane

I leave it then to John Donne.

No man is an island, entire of itself
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main
if a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were
any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls
it tolls for thee.

No comments: