THOUGHTS ON TIMOTHY MCVIEGH AND THE DEATH PENALTY
By Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
For most Americans the execution of Timothy McVeigh is an act of justice, the desirted retribution for the greatest act of domestic terrorism and in America's history. For Muslims in America it is a reminder of how the blowing up of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City perpetrated by McVeigh was initially characterized as a “Middle Eastern” act and blamed on Arabs or Muslims without evidence. For many thoughtful people it is a takeoff point for reflection on the death penalty.
The views of American Muslims on the death penalty vary somewhat, but the range is narrow compared to the enormous disagreements among Christians. All Muslims accept the permissibility of the death penalty because it is addressed in the Qur’an. However, our views range from those who would apply it for a moderately short list of crimes (short compared to the enormous list of capital crimes in the old testament) to those who would apply it to a somewhat shorter list still and who call for a moratorium on the death penalty in America. As the subject is discussed, more Muslims are moving from the former position to the latter.
Some people seek a moratorium on the death penalty as a first step in its elimination. A larger group of people, including African-American Muslims and, increasingly, Muslims in general, while accepting the death penalty as just punishment (whether or not it is an effective deterrent) for murder and other extremely heinous crimes, object that the penalty is not enforced in a fair and just manner.
Attorney-General John Ashcroft is one of the few who thinks the death penalty is enforced in a fair and just manner. He has cited a recent study that shows that for particular federal offenses there was no bias in the application of the death penalty against black or Hispanic defendants. This study minimizes the significance of the fact that the selection of crimes for which the death penalty will be imposed in American law is biased against those groups. For example, the use of crack cocaine, preferred by blacks, is more severely treated in the law than the use of powdered cocaine, preferred by whites.
While not denying that there is bias in the implementation of the death penalty, the Southern Baptists have opposed a moratorium, arguing that it would make more sense to remove the bias from the system rather than to suspend the implementation of a theoretically just penalty. This argument seems to ask us to continue committing injustice wile we attempt to attack its roots. It seems to me it would make more sense to place a moratorium on the unjust implementation, and drop the moratorium only after equity has been brought to the American justice system.
One concern about the death penalty is the impossibility of undoing it when an innocent person gets executed. The execution of innocents has certainly happened in the past. The best way to prevent that ill is to only impose a death penalty where the evidence of guilt is overwhelming–as in the McVeigh case.
And yet, even in the McViegh case, one cannot claim that justice has been achieved. When the tenth circuit court denied McVeigh's appeal, Ashcroft said Timothy McVeigh is responsible for the brutal murder of 168 people including 19 children and will now be brought to justice. Yet Janet Reno will not be brought to justice for her murder of 80 people including 22 children in Waco, Texas. It was these crimes by the United States government that drove McVeigh to assume the mantle of the avenging angel. Much as Ashcroft sought vengeance for the deaths of the children of Oklahoma City in his prosecution of McVeigh, so McVeigh sought the vengeance for the deaths of the children of Waco at the hands of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI in his bloody deed in Oklahoma.
There is a difference, of course. Insofar as McVeigh is the man responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing it is just that he should die. The federal employees in the Murrow building were not Janet Reno and the government agents at Waco and Ruby Ridge, and so there was no justice in their deaths. Yet there is a similarity as well. Just as McViegh cast too wide a net in holding all federal employees as guilty in the BATF and FBI brutality at Waco and Ruby Ridge, so has the government itself cast too wide a net in the “Effective Death Penalty and Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996” that was rushed through in the wake of the explosion in Oklahoma. The real targets of that act, which was drafted long before the bombing that insured its passage, are not Timothy McVeigh and his accomplices, but the Muslim immigrants to America. And not only has George W. Bush yet to fulfill his campaign promises to repeal the secret evidence provisions of that act, but to this time his administration continues its efforts to put Anwar Haddam and Mazan an-Najjar back in prison under it.
The tragedy in Oklahoma City was caused by double standards. America must end its double standards. It must end the double standard that mobilizes against the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, but subsidizes the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It must end the double standard that condemns the Taliban call for a different color of cloth on the clothes of Hindus but ignores the Israeli mandate for a different color of license plates of Palestinians. It must end the double standard that kills black men while giving white men a slap on the wrist for equivalent offenses. It must end the double standard that executes Timothy McVeigh while leaving Janet Reno free to consider a run for the governorship of Florida.
No justice, no peace.