Wednesday, November 01, 2006


I am not in favor of the Death Penalty. I have always felt that it is the Creator's privilege to pick and choose the moment of our death, and that humans should actually stay away from this decision. There is just something so cold, so calculating, and so wrong about putting another human to death, no matter what method one uses, and no matter how humane that process might be.

However, if you ask me my theory on how to rid the world of violence and anger, I would have to admit that I haven't a clue. I have a small hunch that the answer may lie in the proper mixture of love and discipline in early childhood, just enough discipline to ensure good behavior, and just enough love to make a child feel secure. But there is just no way to ensure that every child is disciplined and loved. The world is filled with undisciplined, unloved, neglected and brutalized children.

Usually, what one learns in childhood carries over into adulthood, with a slight lull during the rebellious teen years, which God invented to make parents go gray. If we could take a child of twelve and skip him over to age thirty, it would save us a great deal of grief, but things just don't work that way.

Republicans these days sneer at Democrats because they believe they are too forgiving, too understanding, too permissive with criminal behavior. Democrats, on the other hand, sneer at Republicans, because they feel that the rigid, punitive, rigorous and unbending rules encourage rebellion. The truth is, nothing seems to work. We've never tried caning folks for misdemeanors or cutting off arms for theft, etc., but a punishment just doesn't work if it makes the punisher seem more criminal than the man or woman being punished.

This is what is horrifying about torturing prisoners. If the Captor is no better than the Captured, what's the use?

I have been reading a novel concerning "Jihad," which seems to be the Islamic equivelent of carrying a mammoth grudge. In the Muslim world, if a person harms your family by killing, wounding or raping a relative, it is considered your duty to avenge this atrocity. It might takes years to accomplish and requires great patience, but the duty is always there and must be attempted, in order to please Allah and gain pleasure in paradise.

Not only is the person who harmed one's family included in this Jihad, but it is permissable to kill his family members, or anyone getting in your way as you are trying to carry out this vengeance, in a sort of "the more the merrier" manner.

In matters of political importance or those with religious meaning, Jihads have been declared that involve each and every citizen of a country, and these declarations of vengeance have caused people like Salmon Rushdie to go into hiding for what was thought to be an insult to Islam in his writings. He may still be hiding, for all I know, even though his books keep selling.

In America, we haul our criminals into court. Before trying them, if they are charged with a Capital Crime, we question the jury, asking them if they would consider the death penalty. Anyone stating that they do not believe in the death penalty cannot serve on that jury. Thus, the criminal being tried for a heinous crime knows that every one of those twelve jurors are ready and willing to put him to death.

If that seems a little skewed, it is still true. Then, once the criminal is found guilty and if he is sentenced to death, he is placed in a cell to wait through the Appeals process, which can take a while. But, eventually, inevitably, the last day arrives. On this day, the prisoner is treated in a princely manner, allowed to say farewell to relatives, and given the meal of his choice. Then he is led to that chamber of death, stretched out for the doctors to administer whatever concoctions that supposedly bring an early end to life, and sent to his reward or punishment in the Hereafter. A mirrored wall allows the families of the victim and members of the Press to watch the whole grisly proceedings.

All of this is supposed to bring Closure to the relatives and friends of victims and perhaps it does, although I have never really understood the meaning of the word. It certainly will not wipe away the memory of a horrible crime, or bring back the lost loved one. The most it can do is offer a sort of Jihad success, a satisfaction that the crime has been avenged.

Our Death Penalty is a slow and arduous path, and in some ways, it might be better to die in a Jihad, where an ax-wielding lunatic slices your skull and leaves you broken and bleeding in the name of some long forgotten atrocity. And, thinking it over, our War in Iraq must be leaving in its wake some thousands and thousands of Jihads, mulled over and nursed by dark and violent hatreds that will explode into violence in tomorrow's world.

Sometimes it seems that many of the ills of the world are encouraged and bolstered by religions. Certainly Jihad has its tribal and cultural roots in the Islamic faith. And Americans, with their puritanical streak, seem to use punishment with great relish. Currently, the disapproval, contempt and ridicule of the Poor and Homeless has led to a brutal game called Bumfighting, a dark and deadly attack that has been carried to realistic extremes, as though the Homeless are subhumans, unable to feel the pain of merciless blows.

And most of us, faced with these problems of violence, crime, atrocity and War, can only sit back and ask the ageless Rodney King question, a question that will never, ever have an answer. "Why can't we all get along?" Throughout the centuries, this question remains. Whether lenient or harsh, whether winter or summer, whether one political regime or another, the same answers are sought and proven elusive. Why can't we all behave? Why can't we all get along?

Why, indeed?