Monday, April 17, 2006

Bloodlust is Unpatriotic

I've been having an illuminating exchange with one of the Third Path readers the last few days, on the question of whether or not Zacarias Moussaoui should get the death penalty for his role in the 9/11 conspiracy. My position is clear: executing Moussaoui is wrong, not merely on fluffy spiritual grounds, but also on the basis of steely-eyed pragmatic self-interest.

What is most illuminating about the conversation is the willingness of many people on the right-wing end of American politics to display their naked bloodlust, their bloodthirsty need for revenge, even if it hurts "us" more than it hurts "them," and also their unshakable belief that emotional pandering trumps intelligence, wisdom, or cautiousness.

Read more...First, an anonymous reader suggested that we should not only kill Moussaoui, but do so by the most violent and barbaric means possible: "[Moussaoui's execution] must be so degrading no one would claim him as a martyr." Another reader pointed out that foregoing revenge is one of the reasons we get to call ourselves "civilized." I pointed out that there is no such thing as a death so degrading that Moussaoui would not be hailed as a martyr, although I would admit to the exception of letting him rot in jail and die in his sleep decades from now.

Another reader, Vince, suggested dipping Moussaoui in hot oil as a form of torture, but not actually killing him. He then took offense because I didn't see his idea as worthy of serious discussion. I invited him to make a case for executing Moussaoui without basing it on revenge, but the best he could come up with was, "The state is better off with him dead. Simple as that." Not a very compelling argument. Since he couldn't come up with any real discussion points, he chose instead to throw insults: "Mr 'left wing' Madison has [solved?] all the world's problems solved and if you disagree with him then you show a lack of wisdow." I never made any such claim. However, if you believe that we should boil terrorists in oil, or if you believe that we should kill criminals just to satisfy the desire of our reptilian brains for bloody revenge, then you show a profound lack of wisdom.

Bloodlust is NOT a patriotic virtue. In particular, it causes more problems than it solves. Let's suppose that we execute Moussaoui by lethal injection. If just one jihadist joins up with al Qaeda because of Moussaoui's execution, then it's a net loss for the interests of the United States. Execution will never deter suicide bombers. What — do you think that they are willing to blow themselves to bits, but they're scared of being put to death if they get caught first? Does that idea make any sense at all? Just as an exercise, though, let's suppose that we take the execution far beyond lethal injection or hanging or firing squad or electric chair, and find some vastly more inhumane method to execute a terrorist like Moussaoui. A bullet in the back of the head on Arab TV, being boiled alive in oil, or, as I sarcastically suggested, shoving dynamite wrapped in bacon where the sun never shines and blowing him to bits, then cremating his remains with a pig and using the ashes to write a curse against Allah. Would any of those vicious acts of barbarity make us the slightest bit safer? Would they in any way ever deter a single person from joining up with — or financing — a terrorist group?

The bottom line is quite simple: Revenge never works. It only feeds the cycle of hatred that leads to more violence, more death, and more misery, for all sides. Making al Qaeda unhappy doesn't make us safer. Inflaming the Muslim world doesn't make us safer. If you defend yourself against a hornet's nest with a sharp stick, then you're a moron who deserves a swarm of stings. If you believe that revenge accomplishes anything useful, I can only point to examples of revenge throughout history: Israel/Palestine, IRA/UDF, Montague/Capulet, Hatfield/McCoy, Crip/Blood ...

"Before you set out on revenge, you first dig two graves."

قبل أن يبحث أنت إنتقام، أولى جعلت يتأهّب اثنان قبور۔
The quote is from a James Bond film, supposedly an "ancient Chinese proverb," although I found no corroboration. In Chinese, it would be something like this:
在寻找复仇之前, 第一个开掘二坟墓。 [simplified]
or this: 在尋找復仇之前, 第一個開掘二墳墓。 [traditional]

My goal is to have fewer American graves to dig, and I believe that sentiment is patriotic. Killing Moussaoui — at best a low-level bumbler for al Qaeda — serves only the opposite purpose. If the question is how best to protect America from terrorism, executing Moussaoui is not only immoral, it is also the wrong answer.

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