Sunday, September 07, 2008

Stairway to Heaven

The Bali bombers’ saga is currently limping onwards towards it squalid and inevitable conclusion. A hail of bullets should soon be offloaded at its three unrepentant protagonists, after a final trio of Gudang Garam cigarettes I shouldn’t wonder. Amrozi, Imam Samudra and Ali Gufron have been tying themselves in logical knots in recent weeks, protesting the death penalty one moment and embracing martyrdom the next.

For example, Gufron and Samudra recently signed a letter stating, "It is forbidden for me to accept execution because killing a Muslim is a cowardly and criminal act and is very sinful." Why anyone’s supposed to give a battery operated shag about what these murderers can or can't accept isn’t made explicitly clear in the text of the letter but anyway, Allah’s own grim reapers blithely continue, “Those who have planned and intentionally commit it will provoke God's wrath and curse and will be sent to hell for all eternity." Give yourself three gold stars and a pat on the back if you’ve spotted the 747 sized flaw in this argument, namely that, along with many Australians, plenty of Muslims also died in the Bali blasts.

Moreover of course, Sharia Law, a system supported by the Bali three, supports the death penalty. Capital punishment appears to be advocated by the Qur'an itself in the following verse. "If anyone kills a person, unless it be for murder or spreading mischief in the land, it would be as if he killed all people." (Qu'ran 5:32). The phrase, "spreading mischief in the land," in particular suffers from the typical vagueness inherent in our two millennia old monotheisms and their accompanying holy books and has been used to justify all kinds of murder down through the centuries.

Casual conversations with friends and letters to the Jakarta Post in recent weeks have depressed me somewhat in their support for the death penalty. The Bali bombing easily excites emotions of course, especially the lack of repentance expressed by its perpetrators. Most of these angry Westerners looking forward to the three executions come from enlightened, strongly secular countries however in which the use of the death penalty has long been outlawed (the good old US of A and Ol' Sparky would be a notable exception here).

I would suggest that it ill befits critics of fundamentalist Islam to advocate a central tenet of its ideology. The replication of the original act of murder in the form of capital punishment is philosophically and ethically problematic. Surely we should be seeking to rise above a legalized and codified form of revenge. As Gandhi once said, “An eye for an eye will make the world go blind”, maybe that’s why he wore glasses.

Advocates of the death penalty claim that it acts as a deterrent, a fact that isn't borne out by the statistics. Detractors such as myself would say that capital punishment works against our evolving sense of morality and human rights and leads to a culture of violence and bloodlust.

Unfortunately though, the problems with life imprisonment for the Bali Three are both the creaking machinations of the Indonesian justice system and the often porous nature of jails here. The bombers in question presumably don't have the financial wherewithal for a Tommy Suharto style custodial sentence: puffing cigars in a specially constructed jailhouse Jacuzzi surrounded by bikini clad lovelies (allegedly). There is, however, the very real danger that these three stooges will be regarded as heroes by those surrounding them and may even eventually be sprung from their cells.

So what to do, what to do? How to punish appropriately in this case? I guess they could always be tied to a chair with their eyes clamped open like Malcolm in A Clockwork Orange whilst being made to watch Australian soap operas and American TV evangelists all day long. That would give them something to chew on; I can almost hear the bloodcurdling screams now.

For those of you still sticking with your firing squad fantasies of vengeance however, I would urge you to at least think creatively. There are many ways to administer the ultimate sentence. Burning, boiling to death, the breaking wheel, crucifixion (line on the left, one cross each), disembowelment, drawing and quartering, electrocution, flaying, garroting, gassing, guillotine, hanging, impalement, lethal injection, marooning, nitrogen asphyxiation (apparently the most painless, humane way to die), poisoning, sawing in half, firing squad, Phil Collins compact disc on repeat, slow slicing, starvation, stoning... I mean I could go on.

Marooning would be a particularly apposite method for the Indonesian Archipelago I reckon. Perhaps Suharto's infamous gulag, Buru Island, one-time penal home of legendary author Pramoedya Ananta Toer, could be revived.

We could dump our jolly Jihadis on the beach there with only a six foot tall Tupperware container of bacon sandwiches, 50 liters of Jack Daniels and 3 Ozzie surfboards for company. Alas this would probably lead to some ghastly media interest, perhaps even an MTV created reality show called Terrorist Island or something: first martyr in Paradise wins an advertising endorsement contract with Honda.

By far the best course of action as far as I'm concerned would be for us to lock Messrs Amrozi, Samudra and Gufron away securely, ignore them and live in peace and harmony with each other regardless of religion, race or creed for all eternity, amen. I suspect that Terrorist Island is the more likely outcome though.
Well if the football’s not on I’m going to need some alternative entertainment.