Brutalizing our civil societies!
Published : Saturday, 25 January, 2020 at 12:00 AM Count : 444
Ethically speaking--I need to be politically 'correct', when writing about blacks in the United States. To most African Americans growing up in the (US) South in the last two centuries, the threat of public 'Lynching' was a horrifying reality. A popular image of an angry white mob stringing a black man up to a tree is only half the story. Lynching had been an act of terror meant to spread fear among blacks, served the broad social purpose of maintaining white supremacy in the economic, social and political spheres.
Like executions by guillotine in medieval times, lynchings were often advertised in newspapers. Such events were no less a public event, or a fanfare, because it drew large crowds of white families. Public hangings offered a sense of security--a kind of vigilantism where Southern white men saw themselves as protectors of their way of life and their white women.
Stories of public hangings were widely covered in local newspapers, with headlines spelling out the horrific details. Photos of victims, with exultant white observers posed next to them, were taken for distribution in newspapers or on postcards. Body parts, including genitalia, were sometimes distributed to spectators or put on public display. Most infractions had included petty crimes, like theft, but the biggest one of all was looking at or associating with white women. Also, many victims had included black businessmen, or black men who had refused to back down from a fight.
Although rape has often been cited as a rationale, statistics have revealed that only about one-fourth of lynching between 1880 and 1930 were prompted by an accusation of rape. In fact, most victims of lynching were political activists, labour organizers or black men and women who violated white expectations of black deference, and were deemed 'uppity' or 'insolent'. Though most victims were black men, women were by no means exempt.
One of my favourite French writers Albert Camus had felt, in one of his famous books that the pathological joy among the people and bystanders in anticipation of an imminent execution has remained as a key to the continuation of the death rap in a collectively uncivilised world.
What the great existentialist Camus wrote decades ago, is happening exactly with the same gusto in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, dubbed of course in their local, cultural versions. Only in recent times, a nation of 1.3 billion Indians has waited eagerly to witness the imminent executions of four separate convicts in Nirbhaya rape and murder case, that took place on a wintry night in December of 2012.
Four decades ago in Pakistan, the former military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq had initiated the 'punishment' process, soon after public lynchings in religiously-inclined Iran, had become cultural carnivals. The famous cricket stadium in Karachi had frequently boasted of that exhibition site for public floggings of men (or women), sentenced by Islamic (military) courts for such crimes including infractions of Islamic laws.
And, Bangladesh has had its own share of exposure-its very own slice of the pie. People have witnessed an anguish-laden public backlash, in the aftermath of Holey Artisan Bakery massacre. A passion for public lynching does exist in the country, against the misguided 'fanatics', who had allegedly taken innocent lives, in the name of religion. Only in recent times, public passions have remained highly inflamed after the Principal of a Women 'Madrasa' was convicted for another heinous crime of raping a teenage student and Madrasa girl; then had ordered his loyal subordinates to burn his victim alive-on the rooftop of the school building.
Again, back to India's recent tryst with public killings. Is not this morbid enthusiasm regarding the judicial elimination of four people, a macabre sign of the ghastly times we are living in? Very recently, the whole nation had rejoiced in the extrajudicial killings of the four rapists by Hyderabad police, and now the whole country had gloated over the 'sealed' fate of Nirbhaya's killers.
A process of brutalization that was initiated by jihadi extremists in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia had soon transformed into India's defining act of Hindutva. Extremist factions of the ruling BJP have carried out several blatant public lynching of minorities in India-to include the Muslims and the Dalits. One can watch on the clock, regular videos on YouTube, of torture and murder of the minority members of India's Hindu dominated society.
Does the capital punishment have a place in a civilised society? Is death rap a deterrent to heinous crimes? These are the pertinent questions that are raising their heads amidst the hullabaloo related to custodial killings and hangings. Most of the countries in the western hemisphere have abolished death rap. England did away with it in 1965 following an innocent person's hanging. Only a few states in the US have still retained capital punishment.
Saudi Arabia and a few Islamic nations still decapitate the convicts in public. The point is: What purpose does capital punishment serve? Rapes, murders and highway robberies (yes, an armed robbery also deserves capital punishment) are still happening at regular intervals in Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that perpetrators are beheaded publicly?
As late as the year 1850, Britain had publicly hanged culprits for pick-pocketing. Onlookers would throng to see the spectacle of public hanging and they used to be so engrossed and oblivious in watching the horrific and blood-curdling spectacle that they would not know that miscreants among the crowd had also managed to pick-pocket some of the onlookers.
English Nobel laureate and one of the greatest minds of the last century Sir Bertrand Russell had also observed that capital punishment actually had a reverse and anti-climax effect on the future criminals and perpetrators. It instigates some of the hardcore criminals, for an audacious encore. No doubts about this. Academic discussions have included Sigmund Freud and his student C V Jung, who termed this phenomenon as criminal re-enactment paving the way for a destined adventurous end. To many hardened criminals, execution is the eventual crimino-orgasmic experience and the ultimate reason to long for.
The Execution Diary of the US Federal Court had reported in 1974 that in more than hundred instances (precisely, 131) of the 'judicial' death by hanging across the world, executed convicts ejaculated when the noose was tightened around their necks. Mind you, they didn't urinate in fear. The complex death-wish or Thanatos (criminal harakiri /Thanatos is the god of death in Greek mythology) galvanises them to commit a heinous crime that warrants execution. So, to such humans, in lieu of being a deterrent, capital punishment is a veritable boon or blessing.
Studies have clearly shown that human brain works in a very intricate manner. We have not yet been ably to understand the modus operandi of human brain comprehensively. In an interview to BBC in 1970, Agatha Christie, the Queen of detective novels, advised the 'civilised' world not to continue with the antediluvian practice of capital punishment for, it stoked the basest emotions of both the convicts and the citizens.
Psychology apart, capital punishment has profound ethical and judicial issues. How can a state, with its combination of organs, protect its people, 'officially' and 'judicially', eliminate one or a few of them, however execrable his/their act may have been? Capital punishment as obviously satiated the collective desire of the people, who think only in terms of revenge. They cannot go beyond the immediate vindictiveness of their psyche.
The general public only has mono-track access to the act and is not in the know of the concomitant circumstances and the extenuating factors. To them, tit for tat is the order of the day. However, the law in a civilized society cannot and should not give any significance to the so-called public conscience as we all saw in the case of Afzal Guru, who was hanged in February 2013 for the attack on Parliament in the wake of public uproar.
And therefore, what we do call justice is actually yet another name of retribution. It is like 'Qisaas' in Islamic law, the Shariah ominously enjoying support in Arabic culture as well as jurisprudence: 'eye for an eye, tooth for tooth'. Unfortunately so, if that is applied, shall we not render the whole world blind? The revengeful nature of capital punishment is a throwback to our past, which we have liked to lean in! It reminds us of the savagery of our cave-dwelling existence. There's a sanguinary streak in all of us. That bloody streak needs regular episodes and doses of bloodletting. An execution, therefore, seems an ideal source of satisfaction for that ingrained proclivity.
Czech writer Milan Kundera summed it up wonderfully: 'We are all, including our judicial system, law and government, like Romans. We feel contended when a gladiator is gored or impaled on an iron rod or a convict's limbs are ritualistically dismembered. There is a beast hidden even in the best of us.' The fact that Indians are awaiting the D-Day of the execution of the four convicts at Tihar jail, is a sign that the vast majority are collectively happy over something society should actually be feeling sad and sombre about.
This indeed is a time for introspection. The ubiquitous media is also intensifying our longings to see them hanged and relegating the whole caboodle to a public carnival of masqueraded mass criminality. This has obviously disgusted the sane elements in our societies. people. However, the question is: are there sane persons left on earth? So long as we remain stuck in the mould of revenge and so-called 'equal' justice, we will continue to be rejoicing in such brutal punishments and debasing ourselves.
Let sanity prevail, wherever we live in this planet of gods!
The writer is a former educator based in Chicago