To Be Or Knot To Be

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I have a confession. Until I was about 30 the sorts of things people are saying regarding the impending deaths of these two young men in Indonesia used to come out of my mouth too.

I used to say things like ‘they knew what they were risking when they went’. I’ve said ‘they were pushing drugs, so they deserve it’ and ‘the country can do whatever it likes’. I have even said ‘I’d flick the switch myself’ for some of the more inhuman acts people sitting on death row have committed.

But I have  changed my mind.

Let me ask you a very simple question: Do you think it’s okay to kill people?

This, I think, is at the heart of the whole death penalty debate because that is what we’re talking about – killing. Who or what they’ve done isn’t the issue. I’m not even saying you can’t wish them dead. I’m saying it is morally wrong to actually kill someone in cold blood.

Some people say it isn’t our business how other countries govern themselves. How very naive. We’re all a part of the global community.

Let’s simplify things a bit. Let’s look at countries as houses in your street.

The owners of each house can make their own decisions about what vehicle they drive, be it Ford, Holden or Vespa. That’s fair. If they want curtains or blinds, carpet, furniture, meals, bedtimes, internet supervision and footwear – I think we’d all agree it’s up to them.

You can’t, for example, go to your neighbour’s house and tell them to upgrade their kitchen.

Additionally, each household has its own rules, and that’s fine. If your kids go to that house to play, you expect them to abide by the rules of that house, yes?

So what happens if they break the rules?

Can they be called into line? I think most of us would agree they can. Can they be yelled at? Demeaned? Belittled? If the standard punishment in that house is the naughty corner, is that okay with you? A smack? Do you think you have the right to stop that person from smacking your child if your kid misbehaved in their house?

Even if your kid knew the adults there smacked as a punishment for misdemeanors?

What about a belting? With an actual belt? Harsh, but those are how things are dealt with in that house.

Do you think you have the right to be upset that these people belt their own kids? Should you step in? Do you have that right? Do you have a responsibility? 

My goodness there’s a lot to get your head around, and this is just the house down the road. And we’re just talking corporal, not capital, punishment.

Look, that was an over simplification of the issue, and I know that, but I hope it also illustrated why I feel our government should step in and protect even our most wayward ‘children’ from punishments so out of the park excessive to our own.

Which brings me to another point – have you ever wondered why we don’t have the death penalty in this country anymore? We’ve certainly had our share of criminals I wouldn’t miss, like Ivan Milat.

But there’s an issue here we need to consider. On Q & A last night Alan Jones, who I disagree with as often as I applaud, said, “If we had a death penalty here Lindy Chamberlain would be dead – and she was innocent.”

How many innocent people being put to death by the state would you see as acceptable?

If you say none and you still believe in the death penalty as an okay punishment, you are a hypocrite or, at best, deluded.

I’m not saying there are Hollywood style conspiracies here to shove innocent people in jail all the time, but the odds guarantee it will happen. People make mistakes, even well trained police and prosecutors. Evidence isn’t always as watertight as it’s made out. People lie on the witness stand. The fact that this very thing has happened so often – look to all the documented cases in the USA – is proof that it is still happening.

I’m not even saying I think these boys in Indonesia are innocent. I actually don’t care about that. Their plight has brought the issue to my attention and I’m focusing my attention on the most heinous part of the story – the death penalty itself.


When I posted the above comment on this blog’s Facebook page I received a shit-storm of disheartening comments basically about how okay people are with the death penalty. Not everyone – obviously – but enough.

Someone even accused me of grandstanding on a current issue because why aren’t I upset about all the other people on death row? The fact is, I am. Someone said why haven’t I contacted all the other countries who have the death penalty and told them I disagree with it.

That actually got me thinking. Why haven’t I? Well, now I’ve started to. And if anyone else wants to as well, here’s a list (countries which have capital punishment).

The people in support of capital punishment who really confuse me are those purporting to be Christian because that’s how I was raised. While I know there’s a lot of that eye for an eye stuff in the bible, the Commandments are pretty clear on Thou Shalt Not Kill and I thought the Commandments were the be all and end all of Christianity’s holy doctrine. That’s how it was taught to me at my Anglican school. Maybe I missed the bit where the exceptions are listed. Maybe I missed where so long as I didn’t do it myself, and had someone else pull the trigger or whip the horses or hit the switch, that it was alright to get excited by the idea of someone being killed.

Of course, there were also some wonderful comments on the post from people who seemed to understand why my knickers are so knotted by this issue that my vasectomy seemed like a waste of time and money.

Here’s my favourite from Jane which I think I’ll leave you with because I couldn’t have put it better myself:

What has never made sense to me, and never will, is the idea that if killing is wrong, and justice is there to stop killing, then how does it make sense to kill people as ‘punishment’?

Through all this, I have to remind myself that it took me a while to get there as well. I have had to give it some serious thought and stop thinking about how great it could be if serial killers and kiddy fiddlers were all removed from society, and realize that in prison, they are.

I confess, I really hope a lot of people who are either baying for blood or shrugging dismissively start to see this as well, because if they don’t our neighbourhood will continue to be a very scary place to explore.

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“Raising a family on little more than laughs”

My two favourite Youtube vids on the topic in the hope you’ll watch them.


  • Really good points here Bruce, I am a Christian and I totally agree with you! The bible doesn’t have any room for capital punishment.

  • I was leaning on the side of ” they knew what they were doing”. My hubby and I have been discussing this. Then I remebered a year 8 debate where I was oposing the death penalty and all the research I did on how inhumane it can be, especially if a mistake is made and the person is actually innocent. Death is really quite permanent!

    Is it not better for people to be incarcerated long term and have them daily be accountable for their actions by loss of liberty?

  • Perhaps some do deserve death, I don’t know. I have neither the wisdom nor the authority to make that decision.To quote Gandalf, “There are many alive who deserve death and there are many dead who did not deserve to die. Can you give them life? Then do not be so quick to deal out death”. An innocent prisoner can be pardoned and, to some extent, compensated for a miscarriage of justice. But I must question the value of a pardon to a corpse and there have been enough innocent corpses to raise real doubts in my mind about the justification of the death penalty.
    It seems to be the foreign policy of some countries to try and dictate to others how they shall run their own affairs. Countries like Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Cuba and other oil rich locations have all suffered under this policy, but the fact that is has happened does not make it right or morally justified. Bali is a self governing country and is quite correctly resentful of any attempt to enforce on it any standards other than it’s own.If Voltaire can defend my right to free speech, then I must defend Bali’s right to freedom of action within it’s own borders.But that same right of freedom gives you and I and everyone else the right to protest against something which we think is wrong.Australia has no authority to directly interfere in the proposed execution of two convicted drug smugglers and very wisely there is no attempt to do so, but that does not mean that Australians, both collectively and individually, cannot make our concerns known.

    • Okay, so freedom to govern themselves etc – until what point? Some governments have taken the death penalty to horrific lengths. Genocide. It’s the extreme, but then it’s still state sanctioned murder. How can anyone be okay with the state, which can never be brought to account in the same manner as the individuals it’s sentencing, killing people? I don’t understand.

  • Bruce I aqgree with you 150%. Have you ever seen The Life of David Gale with Kevin Spacey. Powerful film with insanely good anti capital punushment arguments

  • I agree Bruce. I grew up in the deep south in the USA, where the death penalty is still used (much to my horror!) at an alarming rate. In a country that claims to be civilized? I DO think they knew what they were doing, and that they knew it was wrong… but do I think they should be killed for it? Definitely not! I don’t object to them getting a Shapelle type sentence though. But revoking someone’s right to exist is not something anyone has the right to do. And yes, it is mind boggling… that sentencing someone to death for murdering another is supposed to make some warped kind of sense?

    *backstory: My family was a victim of a violent crime, my step grandmother was murdered in front of a young family member, very violently. At the time I probably DID want to see the perpetrator killed… thank all the powers that be that someone with a more level head at the time than I had to make that decision. Having been responsible for his death would have followed me forever… and I am a better human being than that.

  • The rightness or wrongness of a state’s actions are a matter of individual conscience. You will have received messages of condemnation from people who disagree with our opinion. Some of those messages may have even been from people who have thought through the question logically and yet arrived at a different conclusion to you and I. I am afraid that many, probably the majority are simply incoherent rants, the distorted outpourings of an extremist mind. But that does not alter my belief that no country has the right to dictate to another sovereign state how it shall manage affairs within its own jurisdiction. Whenever this has been attempted, the result has been an even greater outburst of barbarity.
    The crusades to Jerusalem lasted from 1095 to 1291 and were a barbaric and brutal attempt to exterminate the Muslim faith, an action not just sanctioned, but actually ordered by the “Christian” church of the time. 200 years of cruelty and torture inflicted on an innocent and peaceful population. Various Inquisitions were ordered by a variety of bodies, notably the Pope, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castille. There was also a Roman and a Portuguese version. Altogether they lasted from 1184 till 1826, when the last person to be executed by an inquisition Cayetano Ripoll, was hanged in France for teaching Deism.
    The list goes on and on of bodies and groups who have distorted the essential message of a faith for their own financial or political purposes. In more recent times, the KKK, Adolf Hitler, the South African government, the Dutch Reformed church of South Africa, Exclusive Brethren, have all indulged in this same practice. The Christian church cannot claim the higher ground in any debate.
    To bring the matter up to date, we only have to look at David Hicks. He was imprisoned without trial, tortured by agents of the “Land of the Free” and his sentence was based on a confession obtained by torture. Even the Americans now acknowledge that he was innocent. He, of course has the advantage of still being alive and may, at some future time, be compensated marginally for his treatment.
    I would not suggest that we should be OK with any state that legalizes murder. To kill a person because he killed someone else is completely reprehensible. The only difference is who committed the crime first. What I am saying is that actions such as yours are the only legitimate action that we can take. We can refuse to buy products of the Nestles Company because of their dubious trade practices, but to storm the offices of the company and blow it up would be very rightly seen as illegal. In the same way, we cannot legally tell another country how to manage its own affairs, we can protest in various ways and that is all we can do.
    You mentioned Genocide. Some of the German officers stood trial at Neuremberg for assorted war crimes it is true, but I wonder how many of them would have suffered this fate had they won the war. Unfortunately, it is ever thus. In the world that we live in, might is indeed right. All we can do is be thankful that we can protest within certain legal limits, there are some things we can do about a situation that we find wrong.
    Because I am an Australian citizen, I have certain rights under Australian law. I can register my disapproval or otherwise at the ballot box, I can draw the Old Age Pension as long as I stay out of jail and so on. The fact that I am an expat Australian living in the Philippines does not give me the right to vote here, but there are legitimate means by which I can express my opinions on facets of life in Manilla.

  • Firstly Bruce. Let me commend you for using your large influence to address a controversial topic. I admire that.

    I really am not 100% sure where I stand on the issue.

    For instance – I used to think that anyone who does something worthy of the death penalty – i.e ruining countless lives through drug dealing or taking another life and other offences in the same ilk has given up the right to their own humanity and therefore, if not deliberately put down, then simply left to rot in a jail cell.

    We don’t have the right to interfere in other countries affairs. And the sad truth is – Australia is disgustingly lax on violent offenders and other criminals. The legal system lets these people out and Jill Meagher / the people of the Sydney siege had to pay for it. So it’s hard for me to criticize another countries system.

    Either way – I think that Australians should be tried on Australian land.

    I have also learned about structural violence and that completely changed my perspective on criminal behavior. Perhaps we need to focus our efforts on protesting against these kinds of things that affect society on a whole. But that’s a whole other issue – and one where it is much harder to rally people to the cause.

    • I had to look structural violence up, but that is interesting. Thank you. ‘Structural violence is a term commonly ascribed to Johan Galtung, which he introduced in the article “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research” in 1969. It refers to a form of violence where some social structure or social institution may harm people by preventing them from meeting their basic needs’

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