Saturday, December 30, 2006

(In)Justice is Served:Killing for Justice is like Screwing for Virginity?

At 6:10 this morning (Dec. 30, 2006), Saddam Hussein, the leader of Iraq for 3 decades, was executed by hanging for the 1982 killings of 148 men and boys in the Iraqi town of Dujail. In a statment, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said: “To you who have endured the anguish of the years, and suffered from the injustice of the tyrants during the era of odious dictatorship, your pure land has gotten rid of impurity of the dictator.” In a statement prepared in advance, George W. Bush (who was sleeping at the time of the execution) said that Hussein “was executed after receiving a fair trial — the kind of justice he denied the victims of his brutal regime.” He continued: “Saddam Hussein’s execution comes at the end of a difficult year for the Iraqi people and for our troops...Bringing Saddam Hussein to justice will not end the violence in Iraq, but it is an important milestone on Iraq’s course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain and defend itself, and be an ally in the war on terror.”
I wish to draw attention to the rhetoric of "justice" and "injustice" in these two men's statements. To whose notion of justice does such an act of execution align? How are they describing "justice" and what does it mean to have "[brought] Saddam Hussein to justice"?
In one sense, "justice" seems to be described in the sense that Thrasymachus described it in The Republic, as the interest of the strong. Those in power make the rules, might makes right. Now that there are new people in power, these killings are viewed as unjust. Also with new people in power, and backed by the USA as a superpower, the execution of Hussein is viewed as just, because those in power judge them as just. This may be a good description of of what is politically called justice but I wouldn't want to hold this up as normative, as something that we should strive toward.
The execution itself is seen as being just by those in power, but this sense of justice seems to go along with the assumption that justice is getting what you deserve (and what you deserve is decided by those in power). Saddam Hussein had 148 men and boys killed at Dujail, therefore he deserves to die.
My question is this: can the hanging of Hussein be viewed as just? Instead of stopping the body count at 148 , it is now at 149. Are the injustices done by Hussein made right through further injustice? Do two injustices make justice prevail? Is justice a zero-sum game? Basically, can killing a human being serve justice?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Jesus, Son of the Father

"Now it was the governor's custom at the Festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, 'Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?'"
Matthew 27:15-17
(for the parallel stories in the canonical gospels see also Mark 15:6-15, Luke 23:13-25, and John 18:38-19:16)

In this passage, there are (at least) three things that make me suspicious of a "literal" reading of this event of Jesus' Passion week. The first two are more historical, though they implications in the third which is more theological. First, nowhere other than the New Testament do we see any evidence that "it was the governor's custom at the Festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd." Second, historically (though little is known) Pontius Pilate was not considered a nice guy, as he is often portrayed in the canonical gospels. For example, according to Josephus, in approximately 36CE, Pilate attempted to suppress what appears to have been a Samaritan religious procession in arms that may have been interpreted as an uprising, by arresting and executing the Samaritans. Pilate's behavior was so offensive to the morals of the time that, after complaints to the Roman legate of Syria, Pilate was recalled to Rome, where he disappears from historic record. Third, and this is my big question, are Jesus Barabbas and Jesus the Messiah one and the same? In most manuscripts, we just read the name of the prisoner as "Barabbas", however, in a few manuscripts and the discussion of this passage by Origen, Barabbas is refered to as "Jesus Barabbas". The name Jesus Barabbas means Jesus, Son of the Father. Jesus the Messiah was often called Son of the Father. Are these seemingly distinct men really the same man? It seems odd that the crowd that ushered Jesus into the city as a king at the beginning of the week, all of a sudden wants him crucified. Perhaps, there was only one man, Pilate was afraid of a riot, so he asked if they wanted Jesus (the son of the Father, the messiah) set free. They responded by saying set Jesus (the son of the Father, the messiah) free, Pilate agreed and the crowd dispersed. Then Pilate had Jesus crucified anyway for his crimes of sedition.