I read this morning in St. Louis that the Government of Iraq has hanged Saddam Hussein. Immediately, my entire body slumped. I am torn between the justice that I was confronted with in that newspaper headline. I will never support the justice of vengeance and punishment, devoid of the most basic human decency and respect for life. What was particularly distressing for me was the knowledge of my own government’s involvement. This is not to say our government hanged a man, but in a way, it indeed had a hand involved. I’ll try to explain my thoughts on the matter;
When the US decided (separate from it’s constituents or not) to birth a new government within a sovereign nation, we took the responsibility for the growth and development of that new regime. It is entirely upon our shoulders if it fails or succeeds. We have an almost parental obligation to foresee the progress of our offspring. We have a solemn task to produce a just system from basically the political vacuum that was created when we overthrew the dictatorship in Iraq. We are accountable for anything that springs from the result of our actions in that country.
In the Hebraic, and indeed the entire Semitic culture (which includes Arabs), children are given a first name to signify something that the parent identifies with their child (unimportant to my argument, but figured I would mention it). What is important to remember, though, is that they were often given a surname that identified their father. In Arabic the prefix is Ibn (i.e. Mahmoud Ibn Musharef –or something), in Hebrew the prefix is Ben (i.e. David Ben Gurion). Additionally, this prefix was clearly an identifier of one’s characteristics. A Jewish or Arab boy given this type of name was considered to reflect the same honorable (or not so honorable) characteristics of his father. Ben and Ibn seemed to say “who is like.” So if one’s father was known for his integrity, the son was expected to carry on that legacy of honorable adherence to integrity. In another way, if the father was a known for his profession, it would be expected that his son would perform the same type of job and in the same type of manner as his father.
So, in our age, Iraq has lost it’s distinct national flavor in the region, and has become almost “Iraq Ibn America.” My conundrum and source of moral distress came from this new government to support this form of punishment that it’s shaping government, the US, condemns as cruel and unusual. It is as though the child takes it’s cues from it’s parent. Just as parents are charged with the moral upbringing of it’s offspring, the characteristics Iraq displays are a direct reflection of the US.
How forked have our red white and blue tongue become in this age? On the one side of our mouths, we claim and defend the right even to criminals to be spared the ‘cruel and unusual’ treatment they may have subjected their victims to (placing our collective moral conscience clearly above their own). On the other side of our mouths we allow a government we bore into the world to use the same deplorable treatment against criminals. I will put it into simple terms to reflect the gravity of what has happened.
Today, an Iraqi man was hanged cruelly by his neck; either dying swiftly as it broke, or brutally suffering through suffocation, his hands bound behind his back as he hung at the end of a rope.
To this day, only two states within the Union reserve the right to hang a person as a form of capital punishment, after Furman v. Georgia nearly abolished the death penalty in 1972 for it’s questionable constitutionality (Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments). If there is any question toward a Christian response to capital punishment, I feel Jesus’ justice was unquestionably shown in Prostitute v. Mob (circa 30 AD), whereby the Supreme Judge cast His vote against capital punishment. In His remarks, He stated that no man who has ever sinned would be given divine endorsement to carry out such a sentence. His reasoning rested upon the fact that no man was (or is) undeserving of death, since all have sinned. If one should desire to render death to a fellow sinner, that person must first step up to the gallows to cleanse themselves from their own sin as well. This was a surprise verdict in a case which aligned unquestionably with the Hebraic covenant handed down from God to Moses, in which sexual immorality was explicitly punishable by stoning. The Messiah which Jeremiah 31:31-35 promised would fulfill and accomplish God’s justice rooted in God’s infinite and immeasurable love has done just that.
That being said, I present my deepest anguish; the reality of my own country’s failure to condemn Iraq’s decision to use such a punishment against a criminal who deserves restorative justice, not vengeful justice. Vengeful justice says “my killing is moral, yours is not, because I am moral and you are not. I am not even responsible for my killing, because you made me do it, so my responsibility is transferred to you.” Psychologists call this projection or transference, if I remember correctly; the attempt to remove oneself from guilt and project or transfer it upon the shoulders of another. It is a simple fact, stated by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that “you can murder the murderer, but you cannot murder murder. You cannot drive out darkness with more darkness, only light can do that.” I fail to see the logic of killing a person to teach a society that killing is wrong.
Vengeful justice assumes total moral and ethical superiority, which goes against the spirit of Christianity. The ones who assumed this were subjected to Jesus’ most condemning language in the Bible in Matthew 23. As Christians, we are called to address injustices like this and be a moral light for the corporate conscience. A wiser man than I might ever be compared the church to a whore, adding. “but she is my mother, and I love her.” I am compelled to feel the same way about my country; I am a product of her, I love her, but I do not hide from her her own failures and allow her to repeat them, at ultimately her own expense. Our country needs us, but she needs us most to speak the truth in Love, as Paul reminds to do in Ephesians 4:14-15.