Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Marathon Bombing Trial: It's Not About Him Anymore. It's About Us.

“The hangman is a disgrace to any civilized country.”          --Arthur Koestler

It's not about him, not anymore. Now it's about us.

"Him" is convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who with his brother Tamerlan, carried out one of the most deadly terrorist attacks in United States history, two years ago this month. "Us" is represented in the twelve jurors, who in the days ahead will decide whether or not Tsarnaev should die at the hands of the state or serve the rest of his natural life in prison, as punishment for his crimes.

Now that the penalty phase of the Marathon Bombing trial has begun, it’s sobering and profound to witness the culture wide debate about whether or not Tsarnaev should be put to death.  Especially heartbreaking have been the pleas from bombing victims and their families. Some favor radical mercy, others swift and sure justice. As one not directly touched by the attacks, not even close, I can’t imagine what the trial and media coverage and anniversary has meant for these survivors.  I applaud their courage in speaking out, both for and against the death penalty.  Their stake in this choice is huge.

The media too, of course, has weighed in. Boston's two newspapers are split, the more liberal Globe editorially opining "Spare Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the Death Penalty" and the right leaning Herald declaring "No Mercy for Tsarnaev".  No surprise there. The conflict about the morality of human execution reflects a worldwide divide on this form of human justice. According to Amnesty International, the United States is one of 57 countries which still carry out the death penalty, putting us side by side with nations like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, India and Iran.  Only one western developed country makes the list: Japan. Every European nation has banned executions; Mexico and Canada too.  In the U.S., 32 states have the death penalty and 18 do not, including Massachusetts. In the Boston area, a recent WBUR poll reports that 58 percent of us favor life in prison for the Tsarnaev. We got to this choice because U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who calls the shots in a federal trial, has chosen to seek death.

But now in a way it all comes down to us, us: what we believe collectively as a society about the death penalty and its legitimacy, embodied in the dozen women and men who'll determine Tsarnaev's fate. Make no mistake: if the jury votes for death, that choice is a direct reflection upon us as a nation, a people, and a culture. In a very real way, if the jury chooses death, we choose death too, for we will be the ones on whose behalf this death will be carried out. We may not be in the jury room, may not be in the death chamber, but when a government decides to kill another human being in the cause of human justice, it is for "us".  And I wonder and I worry and I weep about what such a decision might say about America in 2015, say about us.

It's not about him, not anymore.  It's about us.

The warped and violent ideas which inspired those brothers to kill, maim, and traumatize the innocent are heinous, evil. As a person of faith I am ashamed and embarrassed that another believer in God would have the arrogance and hardness of heart to presume this same God endorses terror. The "religion" which the Tsarnaevs and others of their ilk supposedly practice is no religion, not at all.  It is a radical and oppressive secular ideology, born in hatred and the desire for power over others, and it must be stopped for the sake of our nation and world. 

But not by death. Not by more death in response to death. Not by more violence and more bloodshed, even if we choose to cloak and justify the act of taking another's life in the language of the law.  The struggle between radical Islam and the rest of the world is finally a struggle between ideas, and what it means to be a human being and to live with others in peace on this diverse and amazing planet.  

If we as a nation choose death, I fear we will unwittingly contribute to and stoke the flames of religious intolerance which have our world in a vise grip these days.  Imagine instead, what it would say to these fundamentalist radicals for us to spare this one life, to declare that while you may use death to further your cause, we?  We will not. 

It's not about him, not anymore.  It's about us.

God help us all in the choice that we, we, are about to make.



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