Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Punishment: none is too much

Germans seem to be very easily swayed in favour releasing terrorist convicts, even when they are not at all compelled to, by either a gun-to-the head or for humanitarian concerns.

Martin in the Margins comments on the most recent such a release, here:

It's ironic, to say the least, that far left sects such as Baader-Meinhof justified their use of revolutionary violence on the basis of the supposed fascist tendencies of capitalist postwar Europe, when (as Herf shows) their own ideology and actions exhibited many of the symptoms of fascist reaction, including a love of symbolic violence and an increasing tendency towards antisemitism, demonstrated in their alliance with Palestinian terror groups and their notorious treatment of Jewish passengers during the Entebbe hijacking. Herf suggests that the antisemitism of the German far left, and particularly its caricature of Israelis as 'new Nazis' in their treatment of the Palestinians (sound familiar?), can be seen as part of the complex and tortuous process of expunging collective national guilt about the Holocaust. [-]

One of the most poignant features of Herf's piece is his detailed listing of the innocent victims of Baader-Meinhof violence, something he argues has been missing from many accounts of the events, with their tendency to glamorise the perpetrators. This quotation from Gabriele von Lutzau, a stewardess on the hijacked Lufthansa flight to Mogadishu, when asked if she wished to meet one of her former captors in order to discuss her motives, can stand as a riposte to all those who urge us to try to 'understand' terrorism:

I'm not interested in the background, in her history or in understanding her. This woman acted without a single moment of humanity. Her attitude was 'we are better than you. We're going the righteous way against Western imperialism'. Her distorted view of reality is not one I ever want to face again.'

Having surfed the Internet for reactions to this move, what I found most disturbing is the ease with which people seem to shrug off this reprieve. What's the point, they ask, of keeping a person in jail? Citing two explanation for their leniency they say: It won't bring back the dead; and the idea that a man should be kept in jail because it helps the victims' families to know he is punished does not really seem a very compelling argument. How can it help their loss to know that the perpetrator is rotting in jail?

Of course I have no ready answer for such very humane approach to the question of murder and punishment. Except maybe to cite the Niemoller poem, First they came, about the passivity of people who do not stand to lose anything when other people are persecuted and murdered for no other reason than they are different.

It does, however, become a very urgent issue when the menace of terrorism comes too close to home, as in the case of Rouba Elmerhebi Fahd, mother of the United Talmud Torah fire bomber, who had received a sentence of only twelve months probation after having been found guilty in September of being an accessory after the fact in the firebombing. The trial judge qualified the attack on the Jewish school as a terrorist act.

Writes Beryl Wajsman, the editor in chief of the Montreal weekly, The Suburban:

I am by no means a believer in punitive punishment. Much evidence exists that incarceration does little toward rehabilitation. Tough sentences may not even be much in the way of deterrent. But the severity of sentences on terrorist acts do go very much to the character and courage of a society in how it confronts terror.

For Mrs. Fahd to not even receive a sentence of community service, and received what amounts to a suspended sentence for complicity in a terrorist act, is an abomination. Just last week we wrote that the sentence meted out to convicted race crime perpetrator Azim Ibragimov was a joke. Ibragimov committed three criminal acts motivated by hatred of Jews, including a firebombing of another Jewish school. The sentence given to Rouba Elmerhebi Fahd makes Ibragimov’s term look serious. The judge stated that he could understand the actions of a mother seeking to get her son out of the country and “protect” him. Hers were not the actions of a mother. They were the actions of a co-conspirator.

The editorial below quotes Gemma Raeburn’s poignant question, “If we can’t even recognize racism, how can we ever cure it?” Gemma asked the question of police authority. The same question may be asked of judicial authority after the Ibragimov and Elmerhebi Fahd sentences. After all the talk of Quebec “values” this past year, reasonable people may ask whether those “values” apply to protecting citizens from anti-Semitic terror. Or is Quebec too politically cowardly and too ready to pander to the most retrograde elements in our society?

The answer is by no means clear. What is clear is that there is a malaise in Quebec. From the judiciary to the streets. Ironically, today’s sentence came down on the same day that the provincial police arrested four people in the investigation of several anti-Semitic attacks in the Laurentians this past summer. If they are charged and convicted, it will be instructive to see what their sentences will be. Is Quebec ready to stand for something, or will it fall for anything? Will it draw a line in the sand on what two judges have called “terror”? The answers to these questions are also by no means clear. We should all be saddened by that.

In the land of "none is too many" and l'Abbe Lionel Groulx, where it's a Canadian virtue to jump on the wagon, no matter what message-in-vogue is emblazoned on its side, why would we be surprised, or even mildly exercised, about such perversions of justice?


At 1:37 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy Thanksgiving, Noga!

At 4:12 PM EST, Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

Well, thanks but in Canada we celebrated Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October.

But I trust you will enjoy plenty turkey and pumpkin pie where you are!


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