Thursday, January 3, 2008

Making Monsters into Martyrs

The Australian Catholic Social Justice Commission has called for the Bali Bombers to be spared from execution on the grounds that all life is sacred, regardless of how badly that life might be lived. It would be nice if such moral questions were clear cut matters of black and white, but the truth is it’s not so simple. At the same time, the opposing view that they deserve to die and should be executed without any qualms is equally simplistic.

Bishop Christopher Saunders who heads the Commission says that “No matter whose life it is, humans don’t have a right to take it, apart from self defence”, and “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Well it could be argued that individuals such as the Bali bombers are so evil that their continued existence is itself a threat to the safety of the community, and that their execution is a form of community self defence. Obviously, they’ll never kill again if they are dead.

It could also be argued that the call for a recognition of the value of human life by sparing the villains is misguided, and serves only to devalue the lives of victims. It could be argued that the lives of the Bali bombers have no value, at least to the wider community. It could even be argued that these individuals are so evil that they have given up the right to be considered human at all.

Ultimately, all of the emotional arguments boil down to one of two things: either all life is sacred and the death penalty is evil, or all life is sacred and those who destroy it should themselves be destroyed like vermin. Neither of these arguments is logical, but both arguments represent valid points of view.

I have never supported the death penalty, and I’m not going to change now. But while Australia as a nation rejects the death penalty, that does not mean Australian authorities have any obligation to lobby on behalf of the Bali bombers, or any other terrorists. That’s the job of people like Bishop Saunders who represent an entirely different perspective.

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