Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Shiite cleric believes capital punishment is a must

From The Daily Star - Beirut, Lebanon

Leading Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah has emphasized the importance of the death penalty in deterring criminals and pacifying societies.

His comments come at a time when Lebanon is under pressure from the European Union to ban the death penalty. If Lebanon does not ban it, the EuroMed agreement will not be fully implemented. Humanitarian and Islamic values do not conflict with the death penalty, he asserted during an interview with The Daily Star. He went on to strongly criticize those who focus only on the tragic side of execution.

The cleric, who is known for his progressive interpretations of Islamic religious law, called on all those concerned about the death penalty not to look at the sanction's effect on the individual but to consider its effect on the society as a whole. ''Islamic law protects the life of human beings in a way that balances the rights of the individual with the rights of the society. Islam has laws to protect the society from the individual, to avoid crime and social problems," he said. Thus, he said, Islam permitted executions on the principle of "a life for a life."

He listed the three crimes that merit the death penalty in Islam: First, in cases of premeditated murder, he said that the parents of the victim could ask the government to carry out the death penalty, but the method of punishment should be proportionate to the crime. This is explained in many verses of the Koran, he added.

"We read in the life of Imam Ali that before he died from an assassin's sword, he ordered his cousins to strike his killer with a sword once for his killer had struck him once," he said.

The second case where the death penalty can be applied is when a criminal's activities threaten or corrupt his society and undermine its security, like highway robbers, Fadlallah said, adding that in Islam, these people are called the corruptors of the earth.

The third case is homosexuality, which has a "negative impact on the normal relationship between a man and a woman," he said.

Fadlallah said that forgiveness and tolerance were not for the state to grant, but for the parents of the victim as they were the ones who had been wronged. This would prevent vendettas between the family of the victim and the family of the killer, as happens now.

However, if the offender's crime was against society rather than individuals, forgiveness would be abused by the criminal and society would degenerate into chaos, he said, as the lack of an effective deterrent would give criminals free rein. On the possibility of reforming and rehabilitating criminals, Fadlallah said "if we take this idea seriously, we should build hospitals not jails." People who favor the idea of rehabilitation, he said, were not thinking objectively.

"Many things in society cannot be treated by medicines, they need surgery," he said, "and this is what Islamic penalties like cutting off hands and jailing to protect society are: they deter other criminals." Fadlallah criticized those who he said sympathized too much with the criminal and neglected the rest of society; civilizations throughout history have legalized penalties which put the interests of the society above the interests of the individual, he said. "I think that replacing execution with life imprisonment is like a daily execution for a person, because emotional, social and family life, true living, is impossible," he said.