Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fair trials and justice

"Somebody must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning." -The Trial by Franz Kafka
Of all the tragicomic masterpieces to have been created in the world, 'The Trial' must surely rank amongst the best. The entire book is about the trial of Joseph K. who is arrested and is supposed to defend himself in a "court" for offenses he doesn't have the knowledge of committing and is never told about throughout his trial. I suspect that it was this work in particular that gave birth to the term "Kafkaesque," to describe travesty of justice whenever and wherever it occurs. It is also ironic that this particular work came to see the light of day only because Kafka's friend disregarded his last wish(therein betraying his trust) to refrain from destroying the unfinished novel and instead published it. It serves as a reminder to each one of us, of the importance of an independent and a transparent judiciary, especially for a nation with liberal, democratic aspirations.

We believe that in the end truth prevails, "Satyameva Jayate." The principle of "presuming innocence until proven guilty," originates from this love of justice. It is never too late to punish the guilty, but to take back a mistaken conviction is impossible. Beautifully illustrated in this short story by Leo Tolstoy, " God sees the truth but waits," it highlights the need for checks and balances in our judiciary so that, "A hundred criminals may go unpunished, but not a single innocent shall be punished."

Following through, we realize that Justice must be blind and all are equal in the court of justice. This "Rule of law," enshrined in our constitution is in place to protect that smallest minority - the individual. With this in mind, it is inconceivable that an individual is not provided the "fair trial" due to circumstances. Each exception taken to the "Rule of law" is just another body blow against the weakest individual in the society. The powerful may weather the storm - remember Jayalalitha or Karunanidhi's time in the jail, yet it is the meek who will bear the brunt of systemic abuse.

If circumstances can be used as an excuse to override these principles today in the case of a terrorist, nothing stops someone else from misusing the same "circumstances" as an excuse tomorrow to paint an innocent(innocent until proven guilty) as a "threat to the society." Remember the invocation of NSA against eve teasing?

In the '70s it was famously predicted that India would fail as a democracy and be ruled by the an autocracy. The reason, that prediction didn't come to fruitition is the courage of a few good men in our independent if inefficient judiciary. Our system may be corrupt and full of holes, the trial may only provide a stage for Kasab and his ilk to broadcast their agenda, it may result in the worst kind of mudslinging over issues of nationalist importance, yet it is imperative that we provide him a fair and a transparent trial. As Acorn put it, "He deserves an exemplary punishment after an exemplary judicial trial."

If we are afraid that we cannot prosecute Ajmal in a fair trial despite catching him redhanded or that it will take too long, then how can we claim to safeguard our own citizens and how can we claim to be a "democratic republic" which upholds the "rule of law"? What is the difference then, between us and the taliban?

Ofcourse, this also serves to shut up the psuedo liberal ostriches like 1, 2 who draw moral equivalence between terrorist and counter terrorist activities or atleast make them look like the fools they really are. But more importantly, If we are to hold onto our moral highground in this battle of ideologies; Indeed if we are to survive, we must stick to our principles even in the most trying circumstances.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"The End of Faith" by Sam Harris - a review

I first came across Sam Harris when I read his article "Bombing our Illusions" right after the 26/11 Mumbai massacre. This article written in 2005 sounds prophetic and ominous in equal proportions. He made an attempt to be intellectually honest and didn't care to be politically correct regarding the nature of religion and the ills that it propagates in our world and was determined to read his thesis published as "The End of Faith", in greater detail.

The book enters into great detail the ills that religion has inflicted upon us over the years or as some believers would want us to say, the ills that have been inflicted upon us "in the name of religion". The basic thrust of his thesis is that "Religion has no place in the age of reason, especially when most religious tenets are overflowing with irrational claims and fantastic myths that have been laid to rest by most of the scientific knowledge accrued over the years.
The only reason anyone is "moderate" in matters of faith these days is that he has assimilated some of the fruits of the last two thousand years of human thought. The doors leading out of scriptural literalism do not open from the inside. the moderation we see among nonfundamentalists is not some sign that faith itself has evolved; it is rather, the product of the many hammer blows of modernity that have exposed certain tenets of faith to doubt...
Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance....
Extremely critical of any and all evils that arose out of religious dogmatism from spanish inquisitions to public stoning of "adulterous women"(which incidentally is still followed in some places) down to the calls for jihad. He calls the bluff of left-liberals who adopt illiberal dogmas in the name of "pragmatism" and "relativism". He pans all irrational beliefs across the spectrum, yet makes a few concessions for metaphysical or "mystic" phenomena that science hasn't yet been able to explain.
"It is not enough that Jesus was a man who transformed himself to such a degree that the Sermon on the Mount could be his heart's confession. He also had to be the son of God, born of a virgin, and destined to return to earth trailing clouds of glory.... According to the dogma of Christianity, becoming just like Jesus is impossible, One can only enumerate one's sins, believe the unbelieveable, and await the end of the world

But a more profound response to existence is possible for us and the testimony of Jesus, as well as that of countless other men and women over the ages, attests to this. The challenge for us is to begin talking about this possibility in rational terms"
The book makes for a thoroughly provocative yet at times dry read getting bogged down by philosophical monologues. Perhaps these are very basic statements for a student of philosophy but I would rather read them in simpler language. It also appears that at times in order to support his thesis, he brings in questionable evidence. I don't see the reason why he should do that. History of the last two thousand years is replete with examples that support his arguments, and using such pieces may only serve for the "shock value" but diminish the cogency in his message.

Bottomline: Well worth a read for everyone who considers himself/herself to be a rational human even though the going might get slow at times.