On March 9th, 1950, Timothy Evans was hanged in England for the murder of his 13-month-old daughter, Geraldine Evans. Evans’ landlord, John Christie, was later found to be a serial killer who had murdered other women, including Evans’ wife, Beryl, as well as his daughter Geraldine.
The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act, 1965 [see here], basically abolished the death penalty for murder in the United Kingdom, with the Evans verdict one determinent. The interesting part is that this legislation kept the death penalty in place for certain crimes such as terrorism against military installations, piracy, espionage and treason. In other words the taking of the life of a private individual was given the more lenient sentence of life imprisonment, whereas actions against the state, where individuals may or may not be killed, was considered more heinous and thus wanting of the death penalty.
Fast forward to India today, which is one of the few countries that espouse western-style democracy and which also has a death penalty. Soutik Biswas, a BBC Delhi correspondent, penned a confusing article on the hanging of Mohammad Ajmal Amir today. Amir was the lone surviving gunman of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Biswas spends some confusing moments, I think, of tending his argument toward abolishing the death penalty in India. His main reason (which has some slight merit) is the lack of certainty as to which crimes should attract the death penalty. He also alludes to Matthew 5:38, where we are reminded of the Christian concept of eschewing “an eye for an eye” vengeance and instead “turning to him the other cheek.” What I think Biswas is attempting to do is conflate the grey areas that can arise with individual murders to the much more troubling murders enacted against the state. In this case Islamic jihad against western democracy. And naturally, the words Islam, terror and jihad do not make it into his article.
I think the Indian government made a great decision in hanging Amir. They may have some issues connecting certain crimes to the death penalty, but Islamic jihad should not be one of them. In fact India, a nation that allows to some extent the kind of freedoms we understand in North America, should amend its criminal code to include certain death for all jihadist activities. In the same way that the United Kingdom still kept certain crimes against the state to the death penalty, India could break the trail for some western countries who also see jihad as a national, as well as a civilizational, crime deserving of death.