By Abdelghani Bouchouar
By Abdelghani Bouchouar
Agadir – Although there have been calls for the abolishment of capital punishment in human societies from time immemorial, several societies are still practicing the execution of human beings as a punishment and a deterrent for all sorts of wrongs. Loud and wise voices calling for an end of this legal and religious murder are alive today struggling to get world public opinion pay attention to this destructive act of life and abandon it forever.
Capital punishment, no matter what kind justification is given to approve of it, is sheer murder and goes against what life is all about. No human being anywhere in the world can deny the value of life and his or her survival and the preservation of life at all costs. Deranged individuals and those who commit suicide are an exception and a shame on human societies.
Religions with a claim of heavenly inspiration have condoned the death penalty and many countries in the world have instituted this practice, whereas some others have abolished it completely in their system of justice although they still engage in savage killings of humans in other societies with more sophisticated and lethal means. The United Nations adopted a non binding resolution calling for a moratorium on capital punishment and several civic organizations and influential people all around the world are endeavoring for the abolishment of this evil behavior still rooted in the legal systems and mentalities of several human societies.
I am considering in this writing some of the absurd reasons advanced by those who advocate and justify killings in the name of justice by maintaining in their legal system the execution of human beings in public and in front of official witnesses and registration in official records.
Past history of human societies left a tradition in human records of celebrating the execution of culprits for all kinds of what was considered serious transgressions. In addition, it was the practice of the day and still is today, to declare wars to conquer and dominate other human groups and territories through waging a frenzy of killings till complete submission or complete annihilation. Ethnic cleansing and genocidal practices were the order of the day and the practice is continuing in many parts of the world today as well.
Revealed religions advocating the divine mercy, justice and love urged humans to do good deeds and refrain from evil acts among which killing was on the top of the list. “Thou shall not kill,” was the first of the Ten Commandments. However, the adherents of them have perpetuated the practice of killing in the name of Yahweh, the Father, God and Allah. Their rationalization for engaging in wars resulting in destruction and the slaughter of humans and their justification of the death penalty as an act of the divine will and divine justice go beyond the spirit of the divine message embodied in the First Commandment. The transgression of this Commandment and the savage slaughtering of human beings are still continuing today in the name of religion, just like in the past, though with more sophistication and savagery (the crusades, the religious wars, colonialism, world wars and lately war on terrorism and Islam). Legal procedures and complex laws have also been instituted to manage murders and loss of life depending on the nature and circumstances of the crimes and the status of the culprits and the victims. However, killing and taking a human life by any means, either accidentally or intentionally, outside the so called “legality” is condemned by all human beings all over the world although many people are clinging to the justification and rationalization of waging wars in defense of alleged national vital interests and combating terrorism.
Among the reasons then for the legal death penalty carried out by the so called authorities in human societies are deterrence, equal punishment for the murderous act and a vindication for the victim/s. Underlining these is dispensing divine justice and fulfilling a religious duty from the perspective of some believers.
The modern nation-states with their monopoly of the means of violence and control of the justice systems continue to legally execute individuals inside their own societies, as well as outside, by waging destructive wars resulting in the killing of human beings and the devastation of nature and artifacts of human civilizations. Needless to say that some states have abolished the legal murder of convicted criminals in their societies, but, some of them find no deterrent in participating in a frenzy of killing others outside their borders most of them innocent civilians (present day wars on terrorism). The issue of capital punishment is not settled forever, though, and a final solution to this barbaric and criminal behavior in human societies is still awaiting a global consensus for its implementation. Official religions and some hard headed individuals and organizations are still clinging to a narrow interpretation of the scriptures and continue to justify killing and taking human life on the grounds that the almighty willed and prescribed it.
The Hebrew scholars, it is reported, have used their interpretation of the Torah and the scriptures to make it almost impossible to carry out the death penalty legally, although when it comes to non Hebrews, the matter becomes different, especially when Palestinians and Muslims are concerned. They, however, have not yet demonstrated enough courage and acumen to ban killing all together and stick to the letter of the first commandment: “thou shall not kill.”
Some Christians, on the other hand, have a commendable attitude towards preserving God given life reflected in the beliefs of some who are standing against abortion. However, some of them do not follow this to its logical conclusion, namely, standing against killing human being under any circumstance even if the death sentence is carried by the authorities of any nation or state or organization. Texas, Oklahoma and all other states and countries that execute human beings are just few examples of the murders legally approved and condoned by some Christians in contradiction of the teachings of the Bible calling for the preservation of life given by the creator at all costs. Even Cain, the killer of his brother, is spared though with a heavenly punishment to toll for his living. Here are some verses from Genesis:
[4:12] When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”
[4:13] Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear!
[4:14] Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.”
[4:15] Then the LORD said to him, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” And the LORD put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him.
Again, even Lamech, would be spared, though with a punishment:
[4:24] If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”
And again, the preservation of life and peaceful resolution of problems resulting in interaction with other human being is recorded in the New Testament. In Mathiew:
38 `You have heard that the law says, “Take an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”
39 But I tell you, do not fight with anyone who does wrong to you. But if someone hits you on one side of your face, turn the other side to him also.
Are then Jews and Christians courageous enough and true to their faith to realize that life is the most valuable gift and its preservation is God’s covenant with humans? There is no reason to hold on to the contradiction of wanting to preserve life in its initial formation in the womb, as anti-abortionists advocate and taking it away when it is being at its full fledged stage. The consequences of taking away and eliminating a mature human being have far more negative ramifications on human society as a whole than, say, abortion, not that abortion itself should be encouraged or condoned. Medical expertise and the circumstances and conditions of pregnancy should be taken into account.
Standing against capital punishment and wars is a noble attitude endorsed by peace oriented people from different religions and political orientations.
Muslims, on the other hand, are a different case even though Islam as a revealed religion recognizes the previous books and all the prophets and their divine messages. Killings and executions characterized a great deal of the actions of rulers in the name of Islam. Since the very beginning of the establishment of Islam as an organized religion until present day, Islamic countries were involved in wars amongst themselves and against non Muslim countries, Christians and non Christians, for various reasons. Capital punishment and taking away human life, was the order of the day justified allegedly by Allah’s command in the Quran and practiced by the prophet and the subsequent legitimate and illegitimate rulers. The Islamic scholars provided official edicts based on their interpretation and understanding of the scriptures always though taking into account the desires of the rulers and their mutual interests.
A great debate about methods of killing has been raging in Islamic societies lately after the outrageous and barbarous burning of the Jordanian pilot by ISIS. The majority of Muslim writers focused mainly on criticizing the method i.e. the burning, rare were those who had courage enough to condemn the killing itself. Yet, when one considers few verses of the Quran dealing with killing and even murder, he would be struck by the same revelations and commandments of God mentioned in the old and New testaments; namely the preservation of human life because the soul is a gift of Allah, his own breath.
The Quran chapters and verses leave no doubt for the preference of saving human life at all cost even in the verses used to justify capital punishment quoted by some interpreters of the scriptures. The following verses are an example of this:
Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors.(5:32)
If a man kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell, to abide therein (For ever): And the wrath and the curse of Allah are upon him, and a dreadful penalty is prepared for him.(4:93 )
O you who have believed, do not consume one another’s wealth unjustly but only [in lawful] business by mutual consent. And do not kill yourselves [or one another]. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful. (4:29)
O you who have believed, prescribed for you is legal retribution for those murdered – the free for the free, the slave for the slave, and the female for the female. But whoever overlooks from his brother anything, then there should be a suitable follow-up and payment to him with good conduct. This is an alleviation from your Lord and a mercy. But whoever transgresses after that will have a painful punishment. (Cow: 178)
Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment, (5:33).
Clearly then, it is only lack of courage that prevents Islamic societies to ban capital punishment and the killing of human beings. Allah’s commandments to preserve life and other human rights are in total agreement with The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in spite of the resistance of some narrow minded Moslem religious zealots. Cain’s life was spared though with Allah’s curse and anger on him on earth and a hell fire in the hereafter. God’s message is one in spite of its erroneous interpretation by humans.
In conclusion, capital punishment and killing for any reason by any means is a crime against humanity and no religious scripture can justify it. As stated in article 3 of the Universal Declaration: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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