Monday, November 10, 2008

Mr. Sheehan on the death penalty

Mr. Paul Sheehan of The Sydney Morning Herod had a thought-provoking, if ambiguous, column on the death penalty today. He writes that at last month’s Ubud Writers' and Readers' Festival in Bali,

… Only one person at the session [that Mr. Sheehan attended], an Indonesian man in the audience, expressed support for the Indonesian Government, and he was monstered. There was no effort to offer, for contrast and complexity, a moral universe different from the one prevailing in Australia where, thanks in part to our legal system, life is cheap, rape is essentially legal, and drug crime has destroyed tens of thousands of lives.

Yesterday, the Australian Government, via the Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, reiterated its opposition to the death penalty. "We urge countries who continue to apply capital punishment not to do so," he told the ABC, adding that Australia would co-sponsor a resolution in the United Nations General Assembly calling for a moratorium on capital punishment. Thus the Rudd Government undermined the Indonesian Government instead of just shutting up for a change and supporting a friendly government at a tense, difficult and morally ambiguous time. Indonesia, unlike Australia, is actually on the front lines of fighting jihad.

Whatever one may think of the death penalty, the majority of Australian intellectuals simply will not countenance debate on the issue, as if the matter were not just self-evident but closed, and the incessant lecturing by Australians to their moral inferiors in Asia is perceived there as colonialism and missionary condescension in a new form.

Oppose the death penalty, but at least recognise that the subject is not a debate about barbarism, immorality or counter-productive retribution. As one Sydney woman, Maria Kotronakis, who lost two sisters and two cousins in the 2002 Bali bombings tearfully told CNN yesterday: "We've waited a very long time for this and this is our justice … It's something that's been infesting us every single day … There's big relief that they're not around any more … They showed no remorse. Nothing."

The argument most often used against these executions was that it raised the spectre of martyrdom for the murderers, creating an appetite for more revenge and more martyrdom. Perhaps, but this is entirely speculative, especially as the Indonesian Government has been effective and committed in tracking and containing terrorist cells since the bombing in 2002 …
It is good that another writer, along with Mr. Linnell and Mr. Verrecchio in recent weeks, has noted the paradox of life being cheapened, not by imposing the death penalty, but by withholding it. And it is refreshing to see a broadsheet journalist admit that the death penalty is not a matter of “barbarism, immorality or counter-productive retribution”, but of justice. I look forward to the reaction in the letters page; who knows, we might even see someone advance a reasoned argument rather than echoing the usual inane slogans of the death penalty abolitionists.

Reginaldvs Cantvar
Feast of St. Andrew Avellino, 2008 A.D.

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