Friday, December 7, 2007

Collective Silence: When Evil Triumphs

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”. Edmund Burke

I thought that it could not just slip through our thoughts without comment, the Courier News letter written by Flemington resident, Ghouse M. Ismail, former president of the Islamic Society of Central Jersey and co- chairman of Islamic Center of Hunterdon County. (See http://www.c-n.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?category=OPINION02, “”Punishment of Teacher Not in Islamic Spirit of Forgiveness” and comments.) The letter and comments were well thought out and the ideas and feelings were those that need to be expressed.
Muslims are a minority in the United States and hence most of us are in the process of being informed through their deeds about how Muslims practice their faith. The press is not good and much of that is due to overt behavior by some very angry Muslims. The teddy bear incident in Sudan together with the horrible sentence of 200 lashes and prison time for the 19 year- old victim of a gang rape in Saudi Arabia gives most non- Muslims pause. What kind of justice is this? Candidly speaking, I am personally horrified at the brutality and rage that at times seems to be directed at non- Muslims and Muslims for what appear to be benign infractions in my eyes.

This world consists of many countries with many different sets of laws. If these laws are not applied humanely, if they do not take into account human suffering of both victim and accused, there is no morality in these laws. They are nothing more than a set of rules probably tilted in favor of those in power. Therefore, I do not accept that this violent punishment can be understood as morally acceptable as a function of cultural/ethical relativism. Whipping rape victims and threatening to lash or execute someone who unwittingly gives a teddy bear the wrong name is intuitively morally wrong in any universe. Justice requires us to address the nature and gravity of the offense, if there even be an offense. Justice requires us to determine what kind of treatment can be visited on those accused of crimes. Our sense of justice, internal to us all, is part of our moral conscience that signals us when the punishment does not fit the crime. Are we allowed to punish people in certain ways at all such as lashing men and women?

As I see it Mr. Ismail, a Sunni Muslim, in a dignified yet straightforward way followed his conscience by denouncing certain behavior that has given non –Muslims and no doubt many Muslims pause. I salute him for his high moral code and his willingness to act on it. By defending justice, compassion and wisdom, Mr. Ismail was that good man who did something. So can we all do likewise.

Stay tuned.

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