Thursday, October 19, 2006

Because sometimes, courage is rewarded, and hope is justified.

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of one of the most courageous political decisions ever made.

The 25th anniversary of a profoundly moving speech by a great man, a lawyer, speaking out in the great French Senate.

The 25th anniversary of Robert Badinter’s hard-won victory after a lifelong war against the barbarity also known as the death penalty.

25 years, and despite charming rumors spread by loving friends of France and Europe such as Fox News (fair and balanced, remember?), France is a place of order. And Europe, where the great principle of the interdiction to ever condemn anyone to the death penalty or execute any criminal is written in the funding charter...

Well, Europe, much to the chagrin of all the fervent defenders of the death penalty, is a place of peace.

No, the abolition of this barbaric practice doesn’t invite chaos. It doesn’t invite criminals to multiply and commit even more atrocious crimes, feeling invincible and unafraid of the judicial system. Only fools believe that the death penalty is a solution. Only fools believe it has the effect of lessening the crime rates—fools, and all those who refuse to think, to have anything other than simplistic answers to problems--simplistic answers but no true solutions.

The death penalty doesn’t help contain crime. It’s the opposite. Violence calls for more violence. Blood calls out for blood. Death calls out for death.

And even of you don’t believe that, if you refuse to bow to the numbers and conclusions of many studies on the subject, then consider this: how many innocents were in extremis rescued from the death row on the eve of their scheduled executions? How “perfect” is this joke of a judicial system the US boasts as the best in the world? How perfect is it, when it will spare those with wealth and condemn those who neither have the means, nor the right looks, regardless of whether they’re actually guilty of the crime they’re accused of?

Ah, I see you’re pissed at me now, dear reader from the US. Please, be angry. Then, once the red veil of anger has lifted from your eyes, ask yourself why a Republican governor, in favour of the death penalty, has declared a memorandum on the death penalty in his state, thus forbidding this sentence to be passed?

Why, it is because that Republican governor is a brave man who dared look at the ghosts haunting the antechamber of death, because he dared turn his gaze toward the guests of his prisons’ death rows. And the number of innocent people waiting there to be butchered like animals unsettled him so much that he had to take a stand.

When you have a judicial system as unreliable as the one prevailing in the US, how can you even consider applying the death penalty?

Ah, because you think it works. Wrong answer. It doesn’t.

Because feeding inmates and housing them costs way too much taxpayer money. Hmmmm, well, that may be true. So, why not be coherent, and kill anyone found guilty of anything? Waste of good people’s money, the whole lot! Oh, and the old people, such a strain on the social system! Should be dead by 70 anyway, so why keep them? And the physically or mentally handicapped? No use to society either, and also a big, big financial expense for the poor tax payer. Away with them all, mate!

Disgusted yet? Good.

No matter how you try to rationalize it, there is no argument that will hold in favour of the death penalty. Try all you want, they will not resist solid argumentation. Of course, as a crowd, people like to see blood, people like vengeance, people love slowing down and causing gigantic traffic jams on the freeway just so they can have a chance of catching sight of dead or, better, agonizing people in a car accident just in the other lane...does that mean we should all go back to Circus Maximus, get ourselves some lions, and good scapegoats, or criminals to be thrown in and fed to the beasts for our own animal pleasure (prime time required, Fox News already has a slot ready for the moment it’ll be reinstated)?

There is no justification for society deciding to kill someone. Guilt is never whole, never absolute and perfect. And to kill is to put oneself at the same level as the killer. No matter how you want to sugarcoat it, taking a life is taking a life. There is no rationalizing over this, no looking for clever words and witty phrases.

When society kills, it debases itself. It becomes no better than the one it passes judgement upon. And in effect, it becomes unfit to pass judgement. It loses any moral high ground it might have had.

The abolition of the death penalty in France was voted against popular opinion. 66% of the French population was for the death penalty. Today, 25 years and a full generation later, only 30% are still in favour of it. As always, the truth speaks for itself.

Europe can be proud of having written the interdiction of the death penalty in its funding charter. The far-right, religious extremists of Poland be damned! They can leave Europe, if they want to revel in obscurantism and barbarity. Good riddance.

Europe can be proud. As can France. As can Mr Robert Badinter. Courage and persistence prevailed, 25 years ago. Of all the things the left’s victory in 1981 brought to France, this one is certainly the most beautiful.

Now, dear US politicians, dear US citizens, who among you will have the courage to bring the issue forward?

No comments: