Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Killing conscience

I am utterly paralysed by the inhumanity of what happened to Mr Foley. I don't recommend anyone looking at the footage unless of a strong constitution. But words and news reports somehow inure us to the graphic reality of the true unbridled horror of pre - meditated execution. There is no Hollywood horror movie that could instil such fear and trauma as the 2 minute footage posted by IS. Execution is surely wrong whoever conducts it and whatever it's purported justification. I have no doubt a video of any state execution in those countries still operating the death penalty would be equally horrific and traumatising to a civilised person. How can any community tolerate the cold blooded taking of life in any circumstances? It is as abhorrent as a life lost to crime. Murder is a crime against state and religion. The most censorious commandment, thou shall not kill, is equally the most serious crime. Execution is no more than state sanctioned murder and there will be no better modern illustration than Mr Foley's traumatic footage. IS consider themselves a state and sanctioned the execution. The US sanction several state executions yearly. Many middle eastern and Asian countries execute drug traffickers regularly. I believe we, as Europeans sanctioned historically many executions that are no less horrific than today. Thousands of 'witches' we burned at the stake in the 1600's. The Catholic Church, of which I am a member, tortured and executed countless innocents in the name of the church. Our British legal system is the envy of the world in no small part to the moral authority and purity that the abrogation of execution invests in it. The same is true of every other significant national criminal tribunal conducting war crimes investigation. If as an individual you support the death penalty then you must support it, if state sanctioned, across cultural borders - it can't be ok in the UK or US but abhorrent in countries with political or cultural differences to the values we prefer. For example adultery is not even a crime in Western cultures. But it is indeed a crime in several countries. A crime to which the death penalty applies. Would anyone really say, 'well if that's the law, that's the law and off with her head....'? But to support state sanctioned execution is effectively to say just that. It's not the execution you would object to, just the offence that the state deem worthy of death. A shocking attitude for any person to hold, you may think. The evident truth is that no state, body, group or man can morally claim to hold sway over the life or death of another. For any reason. Period. All executions are equally abhorrent to the essence of our humanity. Mr Foley's execution was inhuman. As are the thousands if not millions of murders executed in the name of any authority throughout history. A moral conscience and execution are irreconcilable whoever you are. Jesus, who was tried and convicted to be crucified on what was, it seemed to the state, to be the grossest blasphemy - he claimed to be no less than god himself - was nailed to death. That 'open and shut case' is not one in which any of us would come forward to drive the first nail pinning him to the cross now we have the benefit of hindsight. And who would happily set the fire under the woman convicted of witchcraft then pray as her skin sizzled and burned? Who would shoot the poor soldier, no more than a child, who deserts his comrades in abject fear of the terrors of a war he had no wish to be party to? Laws change. We as a community change. Yesterday's most horrific 'crimes' are seen differently as tolerances, prejudices and attitudes dissipate or expand. Children hanged by their necks for theft by order of the very law to which I have devoted my working life are stains on the purity of the enlightenment of civil governance. Uncivil scars on the canvas of our pursuit of civil society. A life, my life, any life is not for taking. It is never justified and our historical experience is that an eye for an eye only leaves everybody blind. There are not many things that are simply inherently and immutably true, particularly in a constantly changing world. But one of them is this...thou shall not kill. Not in any circumstances premised upon the whims, dictates and views of those in governance. So I decry the horror of what happened to Mr Foley in the name of state and religion as I decry every single murder perpetrated in the name of state or religion. In a world peopled by communities with values and beliefs that are worlds apart my prayer is that the sanctity of life might one day be the immutable ground upon which humanity can build, secure that whatever the shifting sands, there is a bedrock upon which every one of us is in accord.