Qualities of Justice

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We often move around issues, intellectually exploring causes, results, and reasons for situations and circumstances. We ask questions, we speak, we write, and every once in awhile, we listen. The American Enterprise Institute sponsored a panel discussion that appeared on C-Span. The topic of the discussion, in fact the name of the program as it was advertised by C-Span, was "The Trial of Saddam Hussein." Surprisingly the program was not very well attended. Maybe the issue of Saddam Hussein is no longer as intriguing as it once was. Most people have perhaps pre- assumed that Saddam will be executed. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the people of Iraq will decide not to execute Hussein, even though there does not appear to be an Islamic law, or belief that makes his execution mandatory or unavoidable.

When the American Enterprise Institute program began, it seemed that viewers and participants were going to be treated to an honest and thought provoking discussion on conservative ideas related to international law, Islamic law, and the death penalty. Instead, viewers and participants were treated to a disturbing ideological primer on Zionist justice, and Zionist views on crime, punishment, and international law. The ideas expressed were especially disturbing since they are understood within the context of the present ideological, political and judicial challenges being experienced in the United States in respect to justice. Who among us is not aware of the disproportionate influence of pro-Zionist, better known as neo-con ideologues on US policies? Their influence is not only overwhelming, but also their access to leading policy makers and their privileged roles, as government insiders is consider! ed by many to be unfair to American taxpayers who do not enjoy similar influence, even though they constitute larger groups, or constituencies. Those who believe that government must be representative of the population, and not oblivious to our demographics, majority views, etc. might also consider this disproportionate influence unconstitutional. If the constitution obliges us to have representative government, this could mean that our government, along with an obligation to govern according to majority consensus, also has an obligation to protect itself from being unduly influenced by special minority interests. No group of citizens should be allowed to achieve levels of influence over our government not consistent with, or in proportion to their numbers.

American Enterprise Institute resident scholar, Arthur Berns, offered one of the most eye-opening presentations of the day. Mr. Berns began his talk, recognizing Mr. Simon Wisenthal, who he congratulated for more than 30 years of hunting down Nazis throughout the world who were involved in the Holocaust, and bringing them to justice. He suggested that Wisenthal’s activism as an avenger, influenced his (Bern’s) opinion that vengeance and the death penalty are moral responses to heinous crimes such as genocide. Bern’s also suggested that for such causes, citizens might have to "cede their rights to their governments so that governments can carry out their (government) obligations." Can a government have separate or individual interests that are not defined by, or shared with the general population, or determined through a legitimate process, such as voting, the election of representatives, or even polling in some cases? And what interests or government obligat! ions require the surrender of a taxpayer’s individual rights, and should taxpayers know about these obligations and how they come about?

These types of ideas when voiced by people of influence should raise questions. How prevalent is such thinking among our elected representatives? Does this explain why certain ideas are almost forced down our throats by our legislators and courts? Members of governing institutions might buy into certain ideas, while never taking the time to introduce such ideas to their constituents or to provide opportunities for taxpayer feedback on such ideas before legislative or judicial actions are taken that institutionalize these unconstitutional ways of thinking, and governing. An example of such might be the recent attempt by the Senate to force the IRS to release private information on American taxpayers, and organizations under the guise of tracking money used to support terrorism.

What might actually be happening is that US citizens are being intimidated and terrorized by the Congress with an unspoken threat of "blacklisting" or being accused of supporting "terrorism" for financially supporting unpopular, or undesirable groups or ideas. This, as the list of "terrorist" suspects is being expanded ideologically in our country to include pro-life groups, anti-war groups, White nationalist, Black nationalists, fundamentalist Christians, and everyone else except Zionist, or those who support them, and adopt their worldview. Recently a television news program announced that a Muslim cleric in Ohio had been arrested because he had supported "anti-Jewish" groups in Palestine prior to immigrating to the United States, and subsequently becoming an American citizen. This means in essence that it is becoming, or has become a criminal act worthy of arrest in the United States, for an individual to have ever expressed an opinion, or privately contr! ibuted to a group, that is either understood, or misunderstood by someone, (who knows who?) as "anti-Jewish!" New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman authored an article within days of the arrest in Ohio, that introduced a litmus test for safety from US invasion for Muslim governments, which is "good relations" like those demonstrated in Turkey between a leading Turkish Rabbi and a prominent Muslim cleric. The Philadelphia Enquirer followed this up with an article by Judy Eisner that used a similar litmus test to determine who should be trusted among non-Jewish religious groups in France. Ms. Eisner seemed particularly concerned about Christians or rather "fundamentalist" Christians from the south of France who she called anti-Semites.

As troubling as these articles and Bern’s idea of "ceding individual rights" to the government may be, this was not the most troubling idea conveyed by Berns. In his exploration of death penalty morality, Berns asked, "what are the causes for society to punish?" He answered saying that rehabilitation and deterrence are "preposterous" ideas and that only retribution seems a reasonable cause for punishment and that justice must include the prospect of "paying back." He argued that the anger that results from victimization makes it satisfying to have revenge, saying, "it does something good to have revenge" and that since anger is a natural response to injustice, capital punishment is not immoral, so long as there is a process. He said that the Ten Commandments do not say, "Thou shall not kill," but rather they say, "Thou shall not murder." Perhaps this distinction in his view implies that it is the process of exacting justice, and perhaps even the procedure it! self that distinguishes the moral from the immoral in respect to capital punishment. What is troubling about this view, is that in an atmosphere of increased neo-con influence, tension over the war, upcoming elections that are distracting, public suspicion, along with the erosion of civil rights, and usurpation of taxpayer’s powers by courts and now the legislature, the possibility that citizens might be arbitrarily arrested or detained, and subjected to various types of punishment, persecution or vengeance for some crime like "anti-Semitism" might be increased. These concerns are equal to other concerns, like the likelihood that Bern’s ideas will have a very chilling effect on the enjoyment of first amendment rights, and also on other Constitutional rights.

The teachings of Jesus and Muhammad and even Moses’ teachings about justice, clearly contrast the teachings of Berns. According to the New Testament of the Bible, Jesus not only believed in rehabilitation, he also taught compassion and mercy among sinners, which includes all of us. How many times did Jesus bring back the dead to life? How many times did Jesus cure those who were sick, born blind, etc., saying to each that the day of resurrection will be a final renewal of life, and a victory over death. Jesus taught that sins were forgiven because people believed and sought God’s mercy and healing, repented from sin, and turned back from error. If we adopt Bern’s thinking, the moral thinking of the prophets will be lost to the questionable morality of Bern and those who think like him, that justice is a good feeling, rather than a divinely inspired concept that has as its aim peace, which is only achieved through compassion, mercy and self-restraint.

Another point of interest in respect to what I assume is Bern’s view, is that it mimics the view of some Muslim scholars who also believe that vengeance is a type of justice. Many Muslim scholars believe that anytime a Muslim life is taken unjustly, the only way to arrive at justice is through Qiysas, or what is known as the rule of equality, which is true. But does the Law of Equality dictate only an "eye for an eye"? The Qur’an says, " Oh you who believe, the law of equality is prescribed to you. In cases of murder; the free for the free, the slave for the slave, and the woman for the woman-¦" (2:178). Those who take a very literal understanding of this verse might believe that without exception, this is the preferred method by which to arrive at justice, since it seems to imply, as does Bern’s view, that justice is mostly about satisfaction, or vengeance. Yet, when we look to the Qur’an itself for an explanation of this verse, seeking to understand ! better God’s intent, we read in the same verse " But if any remission is made by the brother of the slain, then grant any reasonable demand, and compensate him with handsome gratitude. This is a concession and mercy from your Lord. After this, whoever exceeds the limits shall be in grave penalty. In the Law of Equality there is saving of life to you. Oh men of understanding, that you may restrain yourselves" (2:178). Muslim jurists decide when and where the application of each idea is most appropriate. Yet, we might be able to suggest that in any case, saving of life is better than taking life, and that justice in respect to capital punishment should be less an issue of individual satisfaction, and perhaps more an exercise in human compassion.

Ironically, only one of the discussants suggested that the Iraqi people would be challenged to take the high ground in respect to Hussein, and could make a choice. The Director of Human Rights Watch did make the point that the death penalty for Hussein will only be more of the same for the Muslim world, whereas an act of mercy could initiate a change in the paradigm of revenge and murderous justice instituted by Hussein. The same might be true for us here in the United States. We must reject concepts of justice that emanate from a desire for revenge since it contrasts everything that the prophets taught us about justice. Also having witnessed the result of such justice in the Palestine/Israel conflict, and in other areas of ongoing conflict throughout the world, we should be repulsed by cycles of violence that lead to death and destruction for the sake of revenge. Who knows if every act of capital punishment is an injustice, but it seems reasonable to assume! that only a moral people can dispense a moral act, and that only a just people can dispense justice-¦let the most just, and the one without sin cast the first stone of justice if stones must be cast.

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The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women. The author is also head of the International Assoc. for Muslim Women and Children, an accredited NGO with the UN Division on the Rights of the Palestinians. She is a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN).

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