Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Justice or "justice"

The BBC reported yesterday the public killing by the Taliban of a young Pakistani called Waheed (

The article itself is no shining example of journalism, as I shall attempt to show.

To start with, the headline "Hundreds witness Pakistan Taliban public execution" appears to absolve the Taliban of murder (by referring to the killing as an execution). The term is no accident - it appears again in the sub-headline "Up to 700 people in a tribal region of north-west Pakistan watched the Taliban publicly execute a man accused of killing two brothers, officials say." and in the journalist's assertion, "But such public executions by the Taliban are rare.", and twice more.

> He had earlier been found guilty
> by a self-styled Taliban "court".

One wonders whether the sentence requires both the double-quote device around the word court and the prefix "self-styled". The tautology aside, the reporter now seems to imply that the process was illegal. This theme is repeated in:

> There have been instances of public
> Taliban "justice" in the area before,
> but they are not common.

So the public shooting (by masked gunmen) authorized by a non-public (or, at least, not so reported in the article) and certainly illegal council is not justice. This view however, is contracted by the earlier:

> The killing also signifies an effort
> by the Taliban to win local people's
> sympathy by delivering quick justice,
> our correspondent says.

In this case, the word justice does not get treated to the double quote device, and therefore clearly indicates that the murder (or killing) is a good thing. It is just, it is quick. And (as a result) it is popular.

Things become a little murkier. Remember the killing of two brothers bit above? Well, this is reiterated:

> he had been executed on the orders
> of a Taliban council for killing two
> brothers, Noor Zeb and Alam Zeb.

But then, the article goes on to state:

> Local sources say Waheed opened fire
> on his two brothers in Miranshah's
> cycle ground area after a brief altercation
> last month.

So the victims were HIS brothers! Curious that they apparently have surnames, but he is "known only as Waheed" (i.e. does not have a surname).

And, of course, in keeping with the traditions of the BBC, the picture of masked gunmen need not have anything in the slightest to do with the incident described in the article. Apart from the fact that the text mentions guns and masks, and people wielding both.

Regardless of the shocking violence and the journalistic ineptitude, the incident also raises the question as to which courts are valid, and which are not.

If we lay aside the Dogma of Nationalism for a moment (as Galileo and Copernicus probably laid aside the Dogma of Religion when they were doing their most startling thinking), then is there absolutely no difference between a Taliban council (they even wrote a letter) calling for a man to be shot dead on the streets by masked gunmen and a prosperous, well-dressed, academically distinguished judge in the citadel of western civilization (i.e. the civilization that came up with civil law, tolerance and liberty) sentencing someone to the electric chair?

Yes, there is a difference, even if it is one of gradations. Trials are public, the law is written down and accessible to the general public and professional lawyers, open to scrutiny by legislatures; appeals are allowed, the accused is given time to prepare a defence, the accused is innocent until proven guilty, and the level of tolerance is high(er).

The journalist appears to sit on both sides of this divide. Is it fear that causes this?

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