* Back in July we ran a poll here on this blog for or against the death penalty, and those who came out in favor Â numbered over 80 %. Yet the issue is rejected by the political left and the right, equally. Â Why are our polit-props so adamantly against it and why is there no referendum about it?
HANDS UP if you said “good” when the three Bali bombers were finally shot dead.
Gee, that many of you?
Then why, given how you feel, is Australia now leading an international campaign to ban capital punishment even for just such smiling mass murderers?
What odd timing. At the very instant our hearts told us we weren’t that opposed to the death penalty, after all, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith promised to step up the Government’s campaign against all such executions, anywhere on the globe.
Terrorists not excepted.Â
“We urge countries who continue to apply capital punishment not to do so,” Smith told the ABC’s Insiders just hours after Amrozi, Mukhlas and ringleader Imam Samudra were shot dead, made to pay for slaughtering 202 tourists and Balinese workers.
“In the near future at the UN General Assembly we will be co-sponsoring a resolution calling effectively on a moratorium on capital punishment.”
Excuse me, but why?
In fact, the first question is why us? Who are we to get so moral about the sanctity of life when we no longer observe this principle ourselves?
Only last month, Victoria passed new laws to allow the killing in the womb of healthy babies just weeks from birth.
Yet here we now are, having just backed the killing of innocent children, lecturing other countries not to kill unrepentant terrorists.
No, we’ve long dropped the Christian habit of judging each human being as deserving of life, and have instead issued a string of qualifications. What about the deformed? The aged? The terminally ill? The not-yet born?
What abort abortion? Euthanasia? The rationing of medical services?
Take Green senator Bob Brown, who said the executions of the Bali bombers “dehumanises” us: “I am with the Government and Opposition in saying the death penalty is never warranted.”
Yet the same Bob Brown fought to restore euthanasia laws in the Northern Territory, which had already been used to kill seven people, most of whom, as Lancet revealed, were unmistakably lonely and none of whom was in severe pain.
Talk about dehumanising us.
If we can contemplate killing our innocent sick and helpless, let’s not get too huffy if others kill a terrorist.
And by what right do we use international institutions to force other democracies to end a form of punishment that I suspect both their citizens and ours support?
Campaigners like to cast the debate over the death penalty as between barbarians and the civilised, yet most nations still have the punishment on their books, and many are just as civilised as we pretend.
There’s Japan, the United States, Israel, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Latvia, India, South Korea and Peru. And let’s not forget that spiritual home of the militant chic, Cuba.
Castro kills, yet Leftists thrill.
And are the Australians who support the death penalty also barbarians?
Is Maria Kotronakis, who lost two sisters and two cousins in Bali, a barbarian to cry with relief at hearing their murderers were now dead?
“We’ve waited a very long time for this, and this is our justice,” she said. “We lost four beautiful girls that did nothing wrong.”
So just why are we campaigning so noisily against capital punishment in foreign countries?
Smith is yet to fully make out that case, but some of the arguments now made in his support seem as shaky as our support for the right to life.
Indeed, many of those arguments aren’t about morality, but mere self-interest. Take the most popular this week – that executing terrorists just turns them into martyrs, inspiring new crazies to start killing.
That’s the line, for instance, of Melbourne barrister Julian McMahon, who warned that killing Bali bombers would turn them into “heroes”.
Former magistrate Brian Deegan, who lost his son in Bali but still campaigns against capital punishment, agreed: “I have trepidation as to what might happen as a result of this.”
This is the kind of pragmatic argument – we’ll suffer if they’re shot – that’s about all we’ve got left.
And it’s indeed worth considering, especially given Islamist extremists are this week threatening revenge for Sunday’s executions, and our Government is warning of rumours of attacks being planned in Bali.
I agree, killing the bombers isn’t worth it if Indonesians and Australians are left no safer.
But it seems these three killers became heroes more through being kept alive than by being shot. In prison, Imam Samudra gave boasting interviews and published his memoirs, glorying in the 2002 bombing. Mukhlas held court to a stream of visitors and had his preachings published on the internet. From his cell, he even denounced his brother-in-law as an apostate for helping the police.
But dead men cannot preach, and corpses struggle to lead.
Saddam Hussein, hanged two years ago, can never again command his fascists in Iraq, and his followers lost fight the instant he fell through a trapdoor. If we’d have got Iraq to ban the death penalty, how many Iraqis would have then died for our fine feelings?
Mussolini, hanged from a lamppost in 1945, likewise died so disgracefully that his own fascists never made him a martyr, and the Nazis hanged in Nuremberg in 1946 never got to rally the faithful again in beer halls or Argentinian cafes. If only we could have hanged Hitler, too, for the shaming example.
Let such monsters live and you may come to regret it, for few grow into saints.
Idi Amin, the genocidal thug who skipped a firing squad in Uganda to flee to Saudi Arabia, tried to return at the head of an armed gang. Helter-skelter killer Charles Manson remains a cult figure behind bars.
And think: would the world be safer with Osama bin Laden executed or held for decades in Guantanamo Bay, awaiting liberation?
But, yes, you’re right. I’m picking on people exceptionally evil – like the Bali bombers – when ending the death penalty would actually spare the lives of far nicer people.
In truth, very few of the almost 6000 people executed last year, most of them by China, are mass murderers, international terrorists or dictators. And not all were guilty, let alone deserving.
But that’s my point. We may well argue that the death penalty shouldn’t be imposed so lightly or freely, but to ban all executions everywhere is not especially humane – or a decision that’s ours to make or impose.
Some countries are battling such threats and such monsters that they cannot afford to be as delicate as we can, far away in our suburban safety.
Yes, let us fight against the execution anywhere of the innocent and the merely inconvenient. Yes, let us be profoundly aware that executions often cheapen life, leaving us less safe rather than more.
And let us be grateful that we live in a society that can afford to indulge such scruples, when others do not.
But there’s one thing above all we might consider before we preach to the world: are we really so pure ourselves?
Before we save terrorists from death, let us save our own children first. Only then can we truly insist each human life is sacred. Even Amrozi’s.