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John Adams Blog

The blog of The Antient and Honourable John Adams Society, Minnesota's Conservative Debating Society www.johnadamssociety.org

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Virtue of Hate

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, UCLA Law Professor Euguene Volokh has a courageous post on a recent execution of a serial killer in Iran

An Iranian serial killer who murdered at least 20 children has been executed in front a large crowd of spectators.

Mohammad Bijeh, 24, dubbed "the Tehran desert vampire" by Iran's press, was flogged 100 times before being hanged.

A brother of one of his young victims stabbed him as he was being punished. The mother of another victim was asked to put the noose around his neck.

The execution took place in Pakdasht south of Tehran, near where Bijeh's year-long killing spree took place.

The killer was hoisted about 10 metres into the air by a crane and slowly throttled to death in front of the baying crowd.

Hanging by a crane - a common form of execution in Iran - does not involve a swift death as the condemned prisoner's neck is not broken.
Says Volokh

I particularly like the involvement of the victims' relatives in the killing of the monster; I think that if he'd killed one of my relatives, I would have wanted to play a role in killing him. Also, though for many instances I would prefer less painful forms of execution, I am especially pleased that the killing — and, yes, I am happy to call it a killing, a perfectly proper term for a perfectly proper act — was a slow throttling, and was preceded by a flogging. The one thing that troubles me (besides the fact that the murderer could only be killed once) is that the accomplice was sentenced to only 15 years in prison, but perhaps there's a good explanation.

I am being perfectly serious, by the way. I like civilization, but some forms of savagery deserve to be met not just with cold, bloodless justice but with the deliberate infliction of pain, with cruel vengeance rather than with supposed humaneness or squeamishness. I think it slights the burning injustice of the murders, and the pain of the families, to react in any other way.

And, yes, I know this aligns me in this instance with the Iranian government — but even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and in this instance the Iranians are quite correct.

As one might suspect, he is getting quite a few irate emails.

This reminds me of an article I read in First Things by Meir Y. Soloveichik in 2003 called The Virture of Hate. In it, Soloveichik describes an experience of Simon Wiesenthal when, as a concentration camp worker, a dying Nazi asks him for forgiveness. Wiesenthal refuses. The question of whether he should have is given to a symposiam of religious types of all stripes. Commenting on the commentators, Dennis Prager writes, ``I was intrigued by the fact that all the Jewish respondents thought Simon Wiesenthal was right in not forgiving the repentant Nazi mass murderer, and that the Christians thought he was wrong.'' The article then goes on to examine the theological differences between Judaism and Christianity when it comes to hate and forgiveness and the author is very clear: Judaism (as I suspect Islam) simply does not take forgiving ones enemies to be a virtue. In fact, hating them them is a virtue. It ends with

Those Israeli parents whose boys and girls did not come home will pray for the destiny of his soul at the conclusion of their holiest day, but their prayer will be rather different from the rosary:
Let the terrorist die unshriven.
Let him go to hell.
Sooner a fly to God than he.

So what does this have to do with Iran and Volokh? I agree with Volokh that there is nothing unjust about painfully killing such a monster. In fact, it is probably more just than giving him a painless death. But that doesn't mean it is wise. I think Christianity may be on to something here. I wonder if the families of the slain children feel that much better now. Maybe revenge is a like a meal which doesn't satisfy. I'm pretty sure I would have a huge difficulty ever forgiving someone who harmed one of my children. But forgiving them may be good practical advise.

In any event, the First Things article cuts to the essence of the issues Volokh brings up. As Instapundit says, read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Over at Mirror of Justice, (a blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory) they are blogging up a storm on the theological implications of this. Read especially this post, as well as the ones above it.

Blogger Craig Westover said...

Volokh's response is the reason I'm willing to endure the injustice of NOT having a death penalty. I agree that some crimes are so heinous that to reestablish moral balance capital punishment is the only justified response. But at the same time, the power to avenge -- especially when uncategorically righteous -- is not easily constrained. It is not a power I want government to have, whether a government of one, government of a few or a government of a citizenry united in liberte, equalite and fraternate. There is less danger for free people in resolving themselves to the injustice of a deserved punishment undelivered than providing government the authority to act impulse.

5:39 PM, March 17, 2005  

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