Monday, 16 May 2011

Literally an eye for an eye

It's such a good saying, but it's also one that I get the impression that people don't understand very well. But it might also be that I've come up with my own interpretation of the adage. I always interpreted it as a form of justice with a defined start and end point. So if someone attacks you and cuts off a finger then as a form of justice you get to cut off the finger of the person who attacked you. That's it. No escalation of retribution and the attacker has no right to then cut off one of your fingers since he's already done that. Of course in this day and age we have managed to move beyond such things and have come up with a system of monetary reimbursement and imprisonment instead of actually committing the same crime in the name of justice.

The reason I bring this up is that under Sharia law in Islam such a form of justice exists under the name Qisas. Granted the actual concept is a bit more complex and the teachings of it depends on the school of jurisprudence that it followed in the respective Sharia following country but the underlying premise is the same. Punishments should be proportional to the crime in question.

Discussions on this have started appearing again after Iranian courts suspended the blinding of Majid Movahedi after he threw acid in the face of Ameneh Bahrami back in 2004. In 2008 Bahrami took advantage of this concept during the trial when she suggested that he be blinded so he may see what she is going through.

Personally I'm a little conflicted. I clearly understand the arguments made when people say that it's a cruel punishment because it is cruel, but I don't really see why that means that this punishment is necessarily wrong.

This article on suggests that Bahrami is unable to empathise with Movahedi by asking for this punishment. The fact of the matter is that I can't really empathise with him either.

This is a man who couldn't take "no" for an answer and did this simply because he was hoping that the attack would end pretty much the same way it did for Burt Pugach. Pugach hired three men to attack Linda Riss, a woman he'd had an affair with, by throwing lye in her face simply because she had gotten engaged to another man. In the end Pugach ended up marrying Riss.

Movahedi had decided that Bahrami was going to marry him no matter what. When he threw the acid on her face he didn't care about her. In the end he left a woman disfigured and in the end blind after surgery to save the sight in her one remaining eye failed due to an infection.

This man has utterly ruined her life. I'm sorry but I can't empathise with such a person. I've tried but I really can't. The only thing is that I empathise with him losing his sight and becoming unable to continue to experience the world as he knows it. I think that but then I remember that he made that decision for another person.

There are two other points that I would like to make. The first is a comment that you can find on other websites which is:
“His mother phoned my parents. She asked for mercy,” said Bahrami in an interview.

“She said that Majid would always work for me if he could keep his eyes. But now it’s too late,” she said.

The thing was that this was the plan Movahedi had. She would be defenceless and he would sweep in and take care of her for the rest of her life. In other words rewarding him for his behaviour. The mother might as well have offered some sort of "rehabilitating marriage" to make the comparison with my next paragraph more blatant.

It would be the same kind of "punishment" that Filippo Melodia was hoping for when he kidnapped and raped Franca Viola in Italy in the 60's. Melodia had tried to court Viola and had failed to.Instead of going to prison he would undergo a "rehabilitating marriage" a practise designed to protect the "honour" of the raped girl (it also automatically extinguished the rape charge for the man, so no ulterior motives there...). Viola refused and Melodia went to jail for 11 years.

Both Melodia and Movahedi committed their crimes for a reason. They wanted to get the girl no matter the cost. Melodia spent 11 years in prison for his crimes. Movahedi will lose his eyes.

The end of this Time article probably makes the most sense of this issue. By blinding Movahedi all that will happen is that he will be an additional drain on the system. But prison for any amount of time would be the same. Money that could be spent on whatever social welfare there is in Iran would either go to support a prisoner or a blind man. Odds are the blind man would get more social support.

The second point is one of forgiveness. There are people out there who think that she should forgive him and not go through with revenge. However forgiveness is a conclusion. There are many factors that lead to the resolution of an event like this. Getting justice would be something that is on the road to forgiving. Who knows, she may feel sorry that she asked for this punishment later on in the future, but at present all Bahrami has at the moment is that her attacker has not been given his punishment, and she is probably feeling that she has lost her life in the process. People are expecting much from a woman they don't know when the chances are if they were in the same position they would make the same decision that she did.

The point is that forgiveness is not something that you do willy-nilly. It has meaning and purpose and is not really something that is given lightly.

I think that it is possible in time Bahrami will come to forgive her attacker, but the important part of that statement is "in time".

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