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Justice, at last!

Huzaima Bukhari

“Death is less bitter punishment than death’s delay”—Ovid

Exactly after seventeen months of the gruesome crime of killing 51 Muslim worshippers in two mosques of Christchurch, New Zealand, 29-year-old Brenton Tarrant will spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole. New Zealand abolished death penalty for murder in 1961. On 15 March 2019, the convict went on a brutal killing spree with an automatic weapon, taking the lives of 51 men, women and children. The youngest victim was merely three years old. This incident proved to be one of the most grotesque in the modern world in view of the emotional intensity with which the crimes were committed and the audacity with which these episodes were telecast live on social media so as to send a message across the world that humanity was dead. After his sentencing, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said nothing would take away the pain of the attack.

“Today I hope is the last where we have any cause to hear or utter the name of the terrorist behind it,”

Many feel that this punishment is not enough. That he should have been hanged or electrocuted. Had he been in Pakistan, he would have probably been condemned to be stoned to death. Such is the state of anger that exists in the heart of the people here. However, staying alive for unknown number of years with a guilty conscience is going to be more tortious for someone who mercilessly extinguished the life of not just one person but 51. The things he got to hear from the victims’ families would definitely cause him sleepless nights, especially when the sentencing envisages that he would be kept in isolation and disallowed from mingling with other inmates to one, prevent him from spreading his extremist views and two, to refrain some prisoners from killing him. After some time, he is sure to pray for deliverance from a life of mental anguish because he will never get to see the light of day.

The peace-loving people of New Zealand had probably never imagined that something of this nature could occur in their beautiful country of milk and honey. They had welcomed the Muslim immigrants of different nationalities with open arms and allowed them sufficient freedom to practice their faith without any problem. Around 60,000 Muslims comprise about 24% of the country’s population and their number is growing steadily. There are many mosques out of which, according to a blogger, Sukanya Sen, six are worth visiting. “They are extremely beautiful and exude the true charm of the Islamic religion. Their intrinsic artwork and sculptures leave everyone spellbound and add up to the charm of the country.”

The world is an open place and regardless of where one is born, there should not be a restriction on where one chooses to live. Depending on one’s peculiar circumstances, likes and dislikes, ideally a person needs to be free to decide the locale of his/her permanent home. Political divisions have given rise to nation states where people are discriminated on account of their race, colour, caste and creed. These personal identities culminate in biases and prejudices with one group exerting superiority over another. The yardsticks to define a human being have shifted from being noble to various physical forms as if virtue is encased in a specific frame rather than in one’s action.

Every person considers himself/herself better than the others in all ways but if this were limited to outward beauty (again, a relative term) it would not have been so harmful compared to the most alarming issue emanating from the idea of being ‘right’ or ‘on the right track.’ Difficulties arise with clash of interests of specific groups asserting authority on the basis of ‘righteousness’ disclaiming others as ‘fit to be despised’ and trying to enforce their own dictums. With each group, confident about its approach, naturally tends to challenge the other, which can result in ideological disputes that would be fine if confined to intellectual verbal discourses but once these cross the line of decency, can become extremely disastrous. This is exactly what has been happening over time. Rise in localized disputes means that these are bound to transgress international borders resulting in large scale injustice that has culminated in what is now infamously termed as ‘terrorism’—defined as unlawful violence or systematic use of terror against civilians or politicians for ideological or political reasons with the intention of creating fear.

There is perhaps not a single country in the world that has not suffered the brunt of terrorism in one way or the other not to mention loss of thousands of lives. Millions of survivors to this day remain traumatized, handicapped, economically famished and families are still struggling to conduct their lives in the absence of their loved ones. Other than those states where terrorism actually showed and is yet showing its vicious face, there were some countries, including New Zealand that claimed a reasonable level of peace and fearlessness in their societies. This proved to be deceptive when the Australian citizen, Tarrant decided to go on a rampage of Muslims in Christchurch, thus becoming the first person to be convicted of terrorism in New Zealand. 

While announcing the verdict, Justice Cameron Pip Hall addressed Tarrant speaking his mind about the mental condition of a terrorist. He said: “You showed no mercy. It was brutal and beyond callous—your actions were inhumane. As far as I am able to gauge you are empty of any empathy to your victims. You have said you were in a poisoned emotional state at the time, and terribly unhappy. You felt ostracized by society and wanted to damage society as revenge.”

The term ‘poisoned emotional state’ is worth pondering. Tarrant’s mind was so terribly contaminated with hatred for the non-European immigrants and Muslims, whom he called ‘invaders’ that he spent good many months in planning, collecting arsenal and means to execute his evil scheme. Building something requires patience and tedious work, taking up a long time but destruction takes just minutes. Malevolence can never generate positivity. Those who have ample time at their disposal to precipitate venom of partiality towards their fellow beings must remember that they would have to face retribution one day for the bigotry that they enthusiastically promoted.  

The fairness of the verdict can be discerned from the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison’s words, who says: “Justice today was delivered in New Zealand. All Australians were and remain horrified and devastated by his despicable terrorist act.”

Finally, Pakistan, where criminals roam scot free and innocent languish forever in dreadful cells of prisons, needs to learn from New Zealand with respect to dispensation of justice. Acting in the capacity of a judge cannot be taken lightly or non-seriously. After all, what was the fault of the deceased who were exonerated after lapse of decades from a crime they never committed? It is about time that we seek to mend our ways before we suffer an irrecoverable backlash.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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