Rant Number 489 15 May 2012
‘Eye-gouge boyfriend locked up for life’. The ‘boyfriend’ was Shane Jenkin. With his fingers, he tore out Tina Nash’s eyes. The media show the square-jawed, blunt face of the muscle-bound thug next to the pitiful image of his victim, wearing big dark glasses, helpless, holding on to a police woman’s arm.
Think on this: the savage assault – the brute also beat Tina, broke her jaw and half-strangled her - has sentenced her to perpetual darkness. This girl, only 31, will never again see the sky, the trees, the sea, her friends’ faces, nothing – no thing. Never again.
Do an experiment. Shut your eyes for two or five minutes. Then try to go from one room to another. Seek this and that. Open the fridge. Try to make a cup of tea. Walk out to the shops. With your eyes shut. Then imagine having to do that for the rest of your life. Can you picture it? No. No one can.
Jenkin still has his eyes. The media lie – he did not get life. First, in judicial sentencing ‘life’ no longer means life. The law lies. Second, the judge gave him a minimum of six years. So, he may actually walk the streets again, free as a bird, by 2018. Tina, however, by then will still be eyeless. Her sentence really does mean life. Sentenced to perpetual darkness. Never-ending.
Crime and punishment. Jenkin’s punishment: do you think it is proportioned to his crime? How so? Never-ending darkness on one side, deprived of liberty for a few years on the other. The beast can watch TV, move about easily, do normal chores OK. Now imagine Tina, her light being torn out of her, imprisoned forever into a dungeon of darkness. Where is the justice?
Years ago in Iran, another animal in human form threw sulphuric acid into the face of a woman who had refused to marry him. Not only was Ameneh Bahrami blinded for life – she was also disfigured in the face, neck and hands. Plastic surgery has not worked. A photo shows her devastated looks now, next to a picture of the smiling, pretty woman she once was. Blind and mutilated, that’s her now. It breaks your heart to look at her.
Iranian law took the matter more seriously than the British one. A judge decreed that Ameneh’s attacker should get a dose of his own medicine. Drops of acid to be poured into his eye sockets, under anesthesia. ( A better deal than the one his victim got.) Ameneh herself willingly doing the deed. An international chorus of indignation followed. ‘Inhumane punishment’, the British Foreign Office blathered. I wonder how ‘humane’ Foreign Secretary Will Hague would call Ameneh’s injuries. Guess he has never had sulphuric acid thrown into his face. The biggest disfigurement Hague suffered was losing his hair, not his eyes. Amnesty International also joined in – I am confused – wasn’t Amnesty about prisoners of conscience, as opposed to monsters who destroy women’s bodies?
Ameneh initially wanted the man who had taken away her eyes and face to suffer a bit of what she had suffered. But the international outcry to spare her assailant intimidated her – she caved in before the pressure and forewent her revenge. The beast went to jail, keeping his sight and looks. Who knows, when the triumphant Yanks and the Brits invade Iran next, they will release him and offer asylum in London or New York – not impossible. Ameneh, though, will stay blind and maimed. That is justice for you.
Punishment should fit the crime. Once at King College in an ethics seminar this concept was discussed. Scorn was poured on the notion of literal retribution. What is the fitting retribution for an arsonist or a rapist, someone sarcastically asked? Back then, it seemed a good point. Now I am not at all sure. Why would it be intrinsically, ipso facto wrong to give a habitual arsonist a taste of the flame and a rapist...geddit? ‘It serves him right’, I suspect a few non-Guardian readers would opine...
Corporal punishments are ritually dismissed with cliché terms like ‘medieval’, ‘barbaric’ and so tediously on. Emotive, boo words. In fact, why should not the basher of old ladies be beaten? Would it not convey a message? Deter others? Teach him a lesson? Why not?
‘It would not respect the culprit as a person’. Funny Kantian argument, in an era when Kantian notions about duty are as dead as a dodo. But Kant of course claimed that when you punish a wrongdoer you exactly acknowledge his humanity. So punishment means respect. It is the culprit’s right to be punished, unlike a real irrational animal. Funny ‘right’, of course, one that its putative bearers would never wish to claim, but that would not have troubled the great Kant.
Human rights. Thugs have rights. OK, granted. But the Western concept of HR is too individualistic. In Islamic Law, for example, human rights are primarily vested in the community. Abdur Rahman Doi writes that ‘society, in the religion of Islam, takes precedence over the individual.’ Yet the West seems to prioritise individual over social rights. Tricky how to defend social cohesion, protect youth from drug peddlers and women from thugs without punishments which really punish, methinks.
‘Fr Frank! How can you? You, a Christian...’ I hear you say. But punishment is vested in the state. The British state does not claim to be Christian today, does it? On the contrary, many of its laws are a direct contradiction of the law of Christ. God, as far as the state is concerned, is dead. What we have left, as Nietzsche points out in Die Froeliche Wissenschaft, is God’s shadow. I suppose he meant unconscious bits of Christian ethics still sprouting, like weeds, about the divine grave. Degraded into a mushy humanitarianism. That is why the FO and dubious NGO’s like Amnesty pretend to set the standards of right and wrong. Happily, they deceive themselves. A shock awaits them. The grave is empty: God is back!
Revd Frank Julian Gelli