May 19, 2006

Mr Criminal, You Are Abusing My Democracy

If one delves into the psyche of ordinary people enraged by criminal acts -- whether by petty thieves, rapists, murderers or organized crimes against communities or the humanity -- one often notices the familiar refrain:

Mr Criminal, you are abusing the fair and democratic laws of my country; in another less civilized and autocratic place, you would be long dead.

One wonders if the audience grasp how autocratic regimes operate beyond the media portrayal of unflinching prosecution in the backdrop of severe, even corporal, punishment. By definition, a system of summary justice can not afford fair trial to all accused. Self preservation dictates they target a criminal type or two. It helps massage the ego of a society it is law-abiding. With that fig leaf of credibility, the regimes go on to commit and shield all sorts of crimes with impunity.

You hate rapists and thieves? We've got the Taliban, the Iranian mullahdom and Saudi Wahabism ready to chop their (in)appropriate body parts. You hate capitalists or money lenders or enterprising people? We've got the Pol Plots to kill and bury anyone who can even afford a pair of reading glasses and the Hitlers riding on nationalism to solve the problem of moneylending Jews for good. You want real lessons taught to the tardy bureaucrats that run trains late or help adulterate your favorite grocery item? We've got a Mussolini and an Indira Gandhi of her brief (thankfully!) flirtation with the Emergency.

Of course, I'm oversimplifying the most egregious crimes against humanity or mixing them with the less brutal ones. Invariably they all seem to capitalize on the outrage of well-meaning admirers with the above refrain.

Consider this quote from the recently retired US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in a speech at Georgetown University:

"We must be ever vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies. It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings."

I am not suggesting we muzzle common outrage against criminals, corrupt, terrorists, rapists or the greedy that thrive on exploitation. If anything, common people ought to have the freedom of speech to express their outrage fully without paying heed to political correctness, especially when the perpetrators belong to a particular community, gender or anything else the MSM deems above reproach. However, we ought to avoid the beginnings of degeneration by unwittingly accepting the democratic norms of a fair trial has let us down.

It might be more appropriate to say:

Mr or Ms criminal, I'm glad you did not commit this crime in that autocratic country. Over there, so many criminals get away with murder and worse. In this civilized country, we are proud our laws will bring justice to every criminal like you. If not, our constitution will facilitate new laws without compromising our core values and bring you justice. If found guilty, you will pay.