The Lost Art of Compassion

My heart hangs low in my chest today. Eight people were killed by firing squad in Indonesia this morning as an attempted deterrent to drug smugglers everywhere. Eight people faced their killers, all of whom denied the offer of a hood. It is said they died with dignity, as dignified as being shot whilst tied to a plank can surely be.

I had a scathing post ready, full of zingers and well-crafted literary comebacks. I can’t do it now. My lowly opinion is nothing compared to the agony the families of these prisoners must be experiencing.

I have deliberately refrained from engaging in any online debate over the Bali Nine ringleaders and their fates. This is partly because up until recently I didn’t actually know a hell of a lot about it, and partly because I was afraid I’d end up getting into an argument with a friend or acquaintance which would eventually culminate in me losing respect for them and their opinion. But mainly, it’s because I can’t hide my disgust for the “average” Australian sitting in their comfortable suburban armchairs, yelling “kill the bastards” at their television. It hurts me how easily we can separate ourselves from others, how cozily we pass judgement, how ruthless we are in our dismissal of others’ pain, just because they broke the law. Just because they made a mistake. Who here on this planet has never made a mistake? I just wonder how gung-ho these armchair executioners would be if these men were their own family.

Yes, these people broke the law in a country that upholds the death penalty. Yes, they did the crime therefore they should do the time. I’m not arguing against Indonesia’s laws although I vehemently disagree with them. What hurts my heart is the callous indifference to the fact that these men are now dead. Dead by the hands of other men. Up until their execution I heard people give me all sorts of reasons why the Indonesian government should “kill the bastards”, including that the heroin they were trafficking would have claimed lives here in Australia. Okay, fair enough. But it didn’t. No lives were lost at the hands of Andrew Chan or Myuran Sukumaran with that heroin. (And please don’t lecture me on how heroin destroys lives, I know more about that than I care to. Even after my experience watching a loved one mess herself up with that drug, I still wouldn’t want anyone else’s death to be a payment for her life.) When discussing it with a friend few months ago, she told me she had no sympathy for Chan and Sukumaran because, irrespective of her own feelings about the death penalty, they broke the law. Pure and simple. I then said to her, “can you imagine what it would be like knowing you’re going to be shot in the heart by twelve faceless people?” She said she didn’t want to think about that. That made her feel horrible.

Yeah. Me too.

Truthfully? I don’t know what I want to say, other than I’m grieving for those men’s families. I grieve for those men who were by all accounts successfully rehabilitated and who took ownership of their crimes. I grieve for those countries who utilise state-sanctioned murder as a punishment, and I grieve for those who have died for their crimes in those countries. I grieve for those people who separate themselves from their compassion and empathy because it’s easy to do so from the safety of their own home. I grieve for those who are victims of crime and are still hurting so much that they feel someone else’s death will lessen that pain.

Sometimes people do stupid things for stupid reasons. They still do not deserve to die. To quote Professor Jeffrey Fagan who appeared as an expert witness for Chan and Sukumaran in 2007: “Executions serve only to satisfy the urge for vengeance. Any retributive value is short-lived, lasting only until the next crime.”*

That’s all I have to say.

*Quote from Fact check: No proof the death penalty prevents crime, published on 2 March 2015 on abc.net.au

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