Blargh Blog

Monday, September 27, 2004

Justifying murderers

Let's say that someone, we'll call him C, asserts without hyperbole that someone else, we'll call him X, deserves to die for what he has done, even though X has broken no law. The press picks up on this inflammatory statement, so C is asked to clarify. He states, in all sincerity, that he does believe that what X is doing is terribly wrong, and that morality dictates that X should be killed for it. However, C makes clear, he is not advocatig that people go and kill X themselves. Since there is also a duty to obey the law, they should let X live, but they should strive to use the political process to make X's activities illegal and punishable by death.

Is this slight backtrack sufficient for us to forgive C's call to kill a man who has done nothing illegal? Well, let's further suppose that there are people out there who are more radical than C in their beliefs. They place the dictates of their morality above the law, and would like to kill those who are doing things like what X is doing. Perhaps some of them have already killed people like X in the past, or they are likely to do so in the future, or they are likely to kill people who try to promote what X has done or refuse to condemn him. If our story takes place in the past, we might already know that people who supported X's (legal but allegedly immoral) actions were killed after C made his statement. The exact details shouldn't matter too much, as long as we understand that, even though C does not actually want people to give X what he deserves, he is making his statement that X deserves to be killed in a climate where other people are seeking to kill people like X. Additionally, let's suppose that C is a public figure, whose statements may lend some credibility to the beliefs of these more radical groups. Now, how do you suppose that C should be treated by civilized society?

Well, the responses from civilized society have varied. If C is Yusuf Islam, X is Salman Rushdie, X's allegedly immoral action is blasphemy in publishing his book Satanic Verses, the actions took place in 1989, and the radicals are fundamentalist Muslims, some of whom killed translators of Rushdie's book and moderate Muslims who opposed the censorship of Rushdie, then the answer, for many people on the right and some on the left, is that C deserves no sympathy from us for being deported from the United States in 2004, and that even if deportation is perhaps a bit excessive (and maybe even illegal) it is not an outrage.

Now, if C represents Tom Coburn, X is any doctor who performs an abortion (except to save the mother's life), the actions are taking place in the present, and the radicals are mostly fundamentalist Christians, some of whom have killed doctors and are likely to kill more doctors, then the answer, for many people on the right, is to try to get C elected to the United States Senate.

That's moral clarity for you.


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