Monday, March 20, 2006

On the death penalty

From the age when I started to think about these things (around 10 or so) I have always been vehemently against the death penalty. As a vegan, I remain staunch and committed. But the story of the murder of Mary-Ann Leneghan, how she was drugged, tortured, raped and then shot dead puts my faith in this principle of the importance of preserving life to the extreme test. Calling these six individuals animals is an insult to the animal kingdom. It is hard to avoid the language of evil when trying to articulate what was done. As with Rwanda, the Holocaust and other gross tragedies, it is extremely difficult to hold onto the value of keeping the perpetrators within the realm of the living spirit, when a lethal injection is just a syringe away.

But then, perhaps this is the greatest lesson the philosopher Derrida has to teach us. Forgiveness is forgiveness of what is impossible to forgive. It is impossible to forgive Adrian Thomas, Indirit Krasniqi, Jamaile Morally, Joshua Morally, Llewellyn Adams and Michael Johnson for what they did. We must therefore forgive them.


Anonymous,  8:48 pm  

Jeremy, it's always a pleasure to read you on ethics.

Yes, we must forgive precisely because this is the difficult (or impossible) thing to do.

Christians (the enlightened ones) sometimes say that prayer is not intended to change God, it's intended to change us.

In the same way, one might say that forgiveness is not supposed to redeem the offender, but rather the one who has been hurt.

A horrible case like this one is a good litmus test. Another is George W.'s scandalous use of office.


Akin 9:12 pm  

Forgive indeed we must because it allows the people affected to draw strength to move on rather than be consumed with the bitterness of loss and the burning acid of revenge and vengefulness.

Nowhere was the power of forgiveness better expressed but by Anthony Walker's mother.

He was hacked in the head by 2 racists who were hardly 20 and it took a while for people to come forward.

Her statement on TV was so powerful it was disarmingly effective towards finding the killers and being a Christian witness.

However, the question just I had myself asking just this weekend is what is happening to society?

How do those bouncing bundles of joy born less than 20 years ago turn into the most evil instruments of utter misery?

That is the challenge of our society and I hear no solutions, yet.

Alaye Scoro 1:03 am  

I've read Jeremy's post and those of the 2 commentators thus far and whilst I thoroughly appreciate the articulate and logical tone with which you've all expressed your anti-death penalty stance, I must say that I find the philosophy of forgiving the impossible ABSOLUTE TOSH.

I am definitely pro-death penalty and tragic cases like that of Mary-Ann only serve to reinforce my opinion. I’ve tried not to pay attention to the details of this particular case and whilst I appreciate that executing these men will not bring her back to life, I sincerely believe that in a world of over 6 billion people we can afford to get rid of those who show scant regard for the sanctity of human life especially in clear cut cases like this. Say what you want about the death penalty not being a proven deterrent against murder, the risk of irreversible miscarriages of justice or a criminals right to life, but I am of the opinion that when there is no doubt whatsoever that premeditated murder of this utterly grotesque form is willingly carried out by those who appear to be compos mentis (save for the murderous act they committed), that they have indeed forfeited their right to life.

This world would be better (if only slightly) without them and I would willingly stick the needle in them myself than advocate for them to be kept incarcerated at Her Majesty's Pleasure.
I don’t feel inclined to force my feelings on this issue on others hence why I’m not out actively campaigning for the death penalty to be reintroduced in the UK. As a Nigerian though, I think it’s wrong that Nigeria puts juveniles to death and as I must also allow for the fact that our legal system may have certain shortcomings I would accept that there is scope for a more judicious use of the death penalty in Nigeria.

Personally, I cannot even begin to imagine what the victims families must be going through. I remember feeling the same way about the Soham murders. Whilst I’m obviously thankful that I have thus far never been in their position I do feel that should they demand capital punishment for their relative’s killer that they should get it, if only to help them achieve closure. Oh and whilst we’re at it, none of those US style stay of execution nonsense. Kill them quick and let God decide what happens to their souls. Or for the atheists out there, send them to the after life quick ;-). As for us here on earth, let’s turn our attention to more just causes like curing HIV/AIDS.

Anonymous,  8:06 am  

death penalty has never giving closure to the victims' families simply because it doesn't bring them back. It merely creates another round of violence. Yes, we can argue that one form of violence is more justified than another, but violence it is all the same.

Alaye, I do understand the place you're coming from and osciliate between your position, jeremy's, duduyemi and Akin. But ultimately, I think violence for violence is never the answer and it will never be the answer. We must continue to find ways to create a sane and healthy society where violence will ceases to be norm.


Nkem 9:43 am  

I'm against the death penalty, not for reasons of ethics, but for reasons of legality. The state cannot declare that it is illegal to murder someone, and then itself carry out a murder of a citizen. If murder is illegal, it is illegal. There cannot be any special circumstances where something illegal is declared legal, so as to satisfy the bloodlust of some. And if you think proponents of the death penalty don't have some perhaps subconscious bloodlust, look at comments surrounding the execution of Crips gang founder Stanley "Tookie" Williams. Look at the execution of Clarence Ray Allen, a 76-year-old mad who'd suffered a heart just four months before his execution, but the state of California saw it as its duty to speed his departure to the hereafter. More evidence of bloodlust as a prime reason for support of capital punishment? When the military government executed armed robbers by firing squad in the eighties, apart from graphic news reports on NTA midday news, people used to gather round Kirikiri jail hours before execution. They'd sing victory songs, one I remember distinctly being "satan don fall for gutter". Such is the vinidictive nature of state sanctioned killing of your fellow citizens.

That said, Nigeria despite all its sins has not executed anyone since the return to civilian rule in 1999. And it has a smaller jail population than the UK.

I'm not bothered about forgiveness, victims will be faced with that dilemma whether the perpetrator is executed or not. To quote Rev Hale in Arthur Miller's The Crucible, "life is God's most precious gift; no principle, however glorious, may justify the taking of it."

Anonymous,  10:24 am  

We must always forgive, but never forget. It is in the constance reminder of the presence of evil that we remember to act before it is too late. We are yet to be convinced of the deterrence effect of the death penalty - all it does is perpetuate a culture of violence. We must approach these issues with a cool head and clear mind. Why does this sort of crime happen? What motivated these young men to do it? What do we do about it?

Duduyemi is spot on in suggesting that George W's abuse of office is just as much of a litmus test. Providing tacit encouragement to India in its development of nuclear technology while, at the same time castigating Iran, makes the lesson clear: personal interest must always override moral principle; the ends must always justify the means; the perpetration of evil acts is sometimes justifiable if I feel that it is; mess with me and you're toast. This neocon gobbleygook is, unfortunately, where we are.

We forgive because we must take the higher ground. We forgive because to take revenge is to play into the hands of the spindoctors of personal interest. We forgive because we must move on, learn the lessons and not forget that we do what we do because we genuinely believe that things will get better.

Anonymous,  3:06 pm  

Then again, there is the very real and, to me, curiously troubling issue that life in prison is a life of torture.

Why lock a man up for sixty years, seventy years, with no possibility of parole. Wouldn't it be more ethical to just kill him? You go in at twenty, you die of cancer at eighty. That's your whole life you've just spent- doing what? Enduring what?

I always used to think life in prison was better to being hanged, but now I'm not so sure. If you've seen what life is like in American, or Nigerian, or Brazilian facilities, you can imagine that the prospect of spending every waking moment behind bars, in squalor and with the aggresive sexuality of your co-prisoners is not a pleasant one.

So, the question is: is condemning someone to life in prison unethical? What makes it different from outright torture?

Is there an ethics of killing that can originate out of mercy (the "putting down" of injured pets is a good analogy)? Well, that's a pretty unpalatable prospect, giving mercy killings over into the hands of the government.

Or do we need to revise our sentencing in such a way that there is always hope: e.g. no one can be sent away for more than forty years? British sentencing is much more reasonable. American sentencing is brutal, with long years behind bars even for drug possession.

The first thing is to separate out the vindictiveness in our human nature from whatever it is we mean by the word "justice."

I'm just thinking out loud here. And certainly not denigrating the pain of victims in any way.


Styl Council 7:24 pm  

Jeremy, duduyemi et al...this whole forgiveness thing is the most unrealistic and unemphatic notion that i have ever read on thsi blog! Forgive what!!!!??? Forgive people who have no remorse or more to the point who have no respect for neither human nor animal (as you care about animals so much) existence. And where the hell does this notion that one must forgive the perpetrator before healing oneself of a heavy and un-consolable pain!!! Complete and utter codswallop!! Th implications of such a theory is to hand over more power to the offender, not the victim. As worst it could even lead to mental damage to the victim as the pressure to forgive in the desperation of healing the pain, become greater! The death of this girl is has become part of the atrocities that we are now used to hearing almost on a daily basis on the British news. However, as this was a gangland killing, I put it to you that forgiveing the perpoertatoir of her death could be possible as one begins to read more into her life (that's not to imply that she deserved to die in anyway), If i may put a more emotionally provoking case to you, which i dare anyone to forgive so easily. Not so,long ago, 2 baby-sisters (girlfirend and biyfirednd) were convicted of raping and killing a 3 month old baby. The boyfiend was quoted as saying that he knew what he was doing was wrong; but he could not stop himself as he was enjoying it so much!!!! So tell me, do you advice the mother of the child to forgive them for they know not what they do!!! If so, then apply it to your self, and see if you don't start shedding blood instead of tears! Like we say in Yoruba...'Oju ni malu ra, obe o da lo run!'

grace,  10:56 am  

My opinion on the death penalty is similar to Nkem's in reasoning. But I also agree that forgiveness on the part of the victims' family is more likely to bring relief to them than killing the criminals. I also think that keeping them in prison for life is more humane, and yet more of a befitting punishment.

However, in respone to Sisi Oge, I don't believe it is a victim's duty (if she were still alive) to forgive her perpretrators. And I think it is inhumane for anyone to compel a rape or torture victim to instantly forgive. The victim will likely go through the various feelings and emotions that come after such crimes, from hatred to self-loathing, etc. And I think society/family/religion should be supportive in that process. They need to listen and provide whatever he/she needs to recover, AND ensure that justice is done on the part of the criminals. Forgiveness does not mean a lack of justice and empathy for the victim.

A practical example would be a young girl or boy who is sexually abused by a parent or older family member. In most societies around the world (including Africa), keeping the family "peace" and protecting the perpretrator is more important than justice. In those cases, telling the child or grown adult that God said she/he should forgive is unnaceptable. He or she can make that decision themselves as they go through counselling, therapy, etc.

Akin 1:10 pm  

Hello Grace,

You touch on a very raw point there, that of sexual abuse of children either by relations or by trusted people in the home.

This is a difficult topic, because I have seen people carry the scars of such abuse through their lives and have literally had their potential completely damaged as our Nigerian culture always defers to the older when determining the veracity of an accusation.

Some, never get to the point where they can exercise the healing power of forgiveness.

Others shut it up as an episode never to be remembered until the dormancy is awakened by some event which could completely derail them.

Some have just moved on regardless and devoted time to ensuring no one else gets the kind of treatment they suffered - it is part of the forgiving process that hopefully prevents people from falling into the first three categories.

I still believe forgiveness wields a power difficult to analyse in a blog, but evident in the example I gave earlier.

I live a life of having to forgive, I belong to the fourth category, moving on and getting on.

If you have never been affected you probably do not know why forgiving works for the victim who has decided to move on from the victim complex.



Jeremy 2:55 pm  

Thanks Grace and Akin for the two thoughtful and reflective comments (Grace, I still do not know your blog - if you email it to me I promise not to tell another soul!) Sisi-Oge, we've talked about this before face to face and you exploded then. I find it hard to believe that you (an avowed Christian) do not find space in your faith for forgiveness, which surely is central to Christ's teachings. As Grace and Akin said in their different ways, forgiveness is a extremely difficult process for the bereaved/victims/victims relatives. It is perhaps too much to ask in certain horrific cases. Of course, if a terrible event were to happen to some close to you or to I, we may not have the moral or spiritual strength to ever forgive. I know I have a strong vengeance streak (as you do perhaps) which I might never be able to quell. But all this simply confirms the ethical and spiritual ideal of forgiveness. We may be 'Human, All too Human', that is precisely why we need to hold on to spiritual ideals, and, to use a big posh word, the category of supererogation: reaching beyond commonplace moral and ethical values to make a supreme effort of faith - as did Anthony Walker's mother.

St Antonym 5:16 pm  

In the course of my research into Coetzee's "Elizabeth Costello," a work that interests me deeply, I came across an intriguing interview with the American philosopher Cora Diamond, who has a persuasive and poignant sense of the ethical work that fiction (or imaginative work in general) can accomplish.

Here's a link to the PDF:

The money quote: "That's, I think, what I'm trying to get at in what Coetzee is doing. He's trying to ask questions about where we are coming from, what our life is from which we come, and asking us to forget about this whole business of should we do this, or should we do that."

And equally good is: "What Coetzee is really doing is taking it that prior to, and in some degree independent of, our attempts to find solutions to ethical problems, is the kind of 'being-in-the-world' that includes responsiveness to striking and puzzling and hurtful features of our lives."

What I take from this is that, in a strange way, supporting the death penalty or opposing it is not really the point, nor is accepting or rejecting vegetarianism (the subject ostensibly at issue in "Elizabeth Costello"). The idea is that ethical behavior can be grounded in a certain recognition that the world, and all of us who live in that world, are in some way wounded.

grace,  6:38 pm  

sent you an email. THE SECOND TIME!

Styl Council 7:12 pm  

Jay...don't be dissapponted as I pride myself on being a realist not a fantasist. Thus i stil l maintain my stance; that until it happens to you...ONE is not justified preach forgiveness in anyway form or how.

Not only do i practice christainity as form of worship, i also dabble with islam and flirt and respect the ideaology of buddism (thanks to you and my sister). But i am first and foremost of human flesh, thinking and behaviour. As a Chritiian there is a diacotomy between faith, belief and life; which we all have to face at some point in our lives. Infact i think this applies to people of all faiths...

Shall i take for instace the case if the London pastor who resinged from her position very recently because contrary to what she had been preaching about forgiveness all these years and believing in what she preached, ALAS! she now finds herslf in the position where she has to forgive those who murdered her only daughter on July 7 2005 amongst others during the London bombings;, and she has been unable to do so!!

Does that make her a bad person? No it merely makes her human, honest, truthful and in my opinion, worthy person. Her daughter had been killed by evil people and that's all she know and quite frankly all she has to blame Irrespective of what their cause maybe, they had killed her daughter and she was never going to have her back. I can quite honestly empthasis and identify with her feelings much more that yours!!!!

As for the death penalty, it's neve solved anything and it neve will!

Akin 3:41 am  


It appears if one has not been directly affected by dastardly events like child abuse or tragedy, it is easy to be clinical about the forgiveness and give in to the human foible aspect of situations making it difficult to forgive and forget.

Now, I am not saying that people who have lived glorious lives of not being in a situation to forgive great grievance should stop commenting on the issue of forgiveness.

However, you do the people who have to live with those realities a great disservice of crocodile tears if all your contributions are about being about to sympathise, emphathise or if possible apathise.

It is alright for many to have hypothetical disdardlies to illustrate or push a point, but it still remains that one of the noblest virtues is the ability to forgive.

In fact, Jesus in His teaching about faith did say; ask and you will receive, however, if you have someone unforgiven when making your petitions sort that out first and return to the petitioning.

It could easily be the case that the reason many prayers never get answered is because unforgiveness has gummed up the works of that principle.

So that leads us back to the forgiveness issue, would you because you have suffered great loss or grievance abrogate the need for answered prayer?

Basically, that teaching is not selective in application; you want answered prayers, you sort our unforgiveness regardless of the offence.

Forgiveness is about our safety, not about the offence or the offender.

Stark as the choice is, it becomes a matter of deep faith than simple tenets or some 5-minute manager tip.

grace,  12:37 pm  

hello akin.
I won't automatically assume that people offering critiques on this issue have not been directly affected by things like child abuse, etc. I really think you are being presumptious there.

I am not against the concept of forgiveness itself, in fact I am in support of it. The point I was trying to make, albeit in a roundabout way is that I consider forgiveness as a process, a process in which recovery is in my opinion, the most important thing following the crime. Like you suggest, you confront what has been done, you understand its ramifications, you grieve, and then you try and move on with your life, in the process supporting others who have gone through the same thing, and coming to forgive the wrong doers. Depending on the nature of the crime, you can seek reconciliation, if you want. But I won't badger you if you choose not to.

I am as interested in how people come to forgive as much as the act of forgiveness itself. I see it as a case of the End not justifying the Means. And I think it is okay for someone to take a lifetime to carry out that act of forgiveness.

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