George A Romero’s cult classic Night of the Living Dead was produced and released in 1968. The story follows two primary characters and five others trapped in a rural farmhouse, attacked by ‘living dead’ creatures. The zombies swarm the farmhouse in search of living human flesh. For a budget of $ 114,000 dollars, the director created a horror film that still sends chills down the spine. Luckily, after about 95 minutes, the psychological terror dies down. While the outcome is not good, we can all go back to our own lives. The film is pure theatrical stagecraft. Zombies do not exist; human flesh is not for consumption. God created us, we are fearfully and wonderfully made — the stuff of greatness — when we walk out our lives with Him to guide us.
Qadi Sayedd Yousef (and I use the term Qadi with contempt) is busy directing his own horror film and using the court system to eat the flesh of enemies of the state. Eight minutes — in eight minutes, this zombie swarmed down on 683 individuals and handed out death sentences. Last month, 429 defendants were also sentenced to death by this flesh-eating tool of the state; the same theatrical stage, equally ludicrous amount of time to destroy the lives of the defendants and their families.
Who gives a rip and why should we care? After all, Egypt is just the latest little political hellhole, the result of an Arab Spring that is now an ongoing Carbon Winter. And, of course, we are talking Muslim blood. Apparently, it is not worth much, judging by the manner in which you rise up against each other. But then I remember the words spoken to me years ago by a scholar from Pakistan: “Is Muslim blood worth less than your US blood?” Of course not. For Swofford, blood is precious; every single drop that is spilled with injustice counts.
All of us who are sane should send up a howl. From the beginning, universal principles of law have been expressed in an eloquent and consistent manner throughout recorded history. A record of capital punishment for various offences is carefully laid out. However, the historical record also bears witness that the standard of practice leans heavily on the doctrine of individual guilt for one specific crime.
The Code of Hammurabi contains the first known codification of the death penalty, with 25 offences punishable by death. Women are to jump into the river, some men bound and tossed into the river, others are to be burned or impaled but there is a common thread of thought: a death penalty verdict identifies the one and punishes the one. A death penalty verdict that sweeps the mass into the isthmus of death is not allowed.
The book of Ezekiel expands on issues of crime and punishment in a famous passage that boldly proclaims a doctrine of individual guilt for sins while also obliterating a concept of generational guilt. The man who sins will be put to death and his blood will be on his own head, but a man does not pay for his father’s sin. Neither does the son bear the cost of his father’s sin. His own life gives a solitary account of his actions. Before God, each man stands. Before God, all will give account (Ezekiel, chapter 18).
Islamic jurisprudence modifies even further issues of crime and punishment with the legal concept of blood money as an acceptable means of resolving the guilt of murder. This diyah is owed by the clan of the accused. Payment in full is due within three years of the event, or within three years of the judge pronouncing his verdict. The nuances of the amount offered by the clan vary based on whether the murder was accidental or committed with intent. Naturally, I always lean toward Abu Hanafi. He declared that the blood money offered for a Jew or a Christian was equal to the amount offered for a Muslim. I like to think that we are all on an equal footing before the law.
The point I am trying to make is a logical one. Laws are meant to bring a subtle recalibration to society in the afteramath of trespass and harm against a fellow citizen. Law coupled with mercy is the fount of healthy governance. Justice meted out with an even hand demonstrates to the citizens that their concerns are heeded by the state. Hearts are mended and emotions recalibrated, and grief receives the necessary balm when the courts work properly. However, law that is not sprinkled with mercy is tyranny.
In this current case, police stations and churches were burned to the ground and a uniformed officer lost his life. Those who torched the buildings should be put to work rebuilding what their hands destroyed. The one who killed the officer must also pay the cost for his actions but a massive death sentence verdict coming from the bench? Judge Sayyed Yousef is the Round Gobi of a military government, which can scarcely manage to declare its own legitimacy. And so it is that the subversion of law continues. An invasive species once again consumes the small eggs of democracy.
I support the death penalty when applied with limited scope for the most heinous of premeditated crimes but even as I write this I am reminded of the mother in Iran who gave her own demonstration of law sprinkled with mercy. She refused to kick the chair out from under the man who had a noose around his neck for the murder of her son. And then she did a most remarkable thing: she cried with the mother of the accused. Tears were mingled with mercy and compassion. This act demonstrates the true measure of the law. Perhaps it is also the measure of God’s own immense mercy towards us. We all stand on that chair. My own chair has not been kicked aside. Thankfully, Sayyed Yousef is not my judge.
The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org