Do we want justice or revenge?

  • Watching The World
  • Sunday, 11 Nov 2018

Overdue justice: The Philippines’ anti-corruption court ordered the arrest of its former first lady Imelda Marcos after finding her guilty on seven counts of graft during the two-decade rule of her husband and former dictator, Ferdinand.

To be a developed nation we need to adopt more humanitarian policies and not give in to emotional responses. 

I was thinking about the twists and turns of life when interviewing whistleblower Xavier Justo a couple of weeks ago. He first surfaced as a prisoner in Thailand four years ago but now he here was, walking around Malaysia, feted as a celebrity.

Justo talked a good game about how his time in a Thai prison led him to turn his back on the profit motive and learn the true value of things in life. But when it came to his former cohorts in PetroSaudi, he did not deny that it was partly about seeing them locked behind bars.

He may want justice to clear his name, but he also wants revenge against those he holds responsible for his jail time.

The whole issue of justice or revenge crops up all over the place. From monitoring The Star Online readership numbers and feedback, I can tell you that many Malaysians out there seem more obsessed with seeing the public humiliation of the former regime’s leaders than they are concerned with progressive legislation to make Malaysia a better place.

I am not really fond of the personal demonisation of ideological opponents.

For example, the fat-shaming of Jho Low and unfortunate depictions of the former self-titled First Lady of Malaysia, FLOM, are not my cup of tea.

Which do we want more? The return of stolen monies or to see the perpetrators humiliated and punished for what they have done?

On Friday, the Philippines’ anti-corruption court ordered the arrest of its former first lady Imelda Marcos after finding her guilty on seven counts of graft during the two-decade rule of her husband and former dictator, Ferdinand. And I won’t deny it, I thought it was great news. Not to mention nearly 30 years too late!

When the government announced the abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia, I was surprised to find that a full 45% of The Star Online readers who took our poll were not in favour of the move.

It made me question how many of us really want a new Malaysia built on mutual respect and forward-thinking.

One aspect of the death penalty is the conflict between our emotional and rational responses. To me, it’s easy enough when someone gets the gallows for medical marijuana or is a drug mule. But a question that often comes up is ... what if someone committed a heinous crime against your loved one? For gang rape or child abuse, torture and murder, do you really think a convicted criminal deserves the chance for rehabilitation, to get out after good behaviour, to be housed and fed for many years at the taxpayer’s expense?

It’s hard to forgive some crimes. Imagine someone who burnt the body, broke the bones, bashed the brains and tore the rectum through sodomy of a baby or an infant. Why do we even want to give them a chance at any sort of life after committing such a crime?

Part of my objection to the death penalty is centred around flaws in evidence-gathering and access to proper legal counsel.

I know that the system is flawed so I don’t want the state to be responsible for taking the lives of people proven later on to have been innocent.

Many Malaysians may not know it but we actually have a history of summary justice.

In 1945, after the Japanese surrender, there were kangaroo courts set up by the communists to punish collaborators. All it took was to be accused and a crowd would be there baying for blood. There was no chance for real justice, so dominant was the thirst for revenge.

And that is definitely not what we want moving forward. We want a good system in which we can trust our police, prosecutors and judges to seek justice and not be motivated by other agendas.

We need a system that is not so ludicrously harsh such as that in Pakistan, in which an ordinary woman, Asia Bibi, and her lawyer have to flee for their lives just because of an accusation of blasphemy.

We don’t want one that is so soft that it doles out the sort of lightweight punishment that Oscar Pistorius got in South Africa.

Part of being a developed nation is to adopt more humanitarian policies. As tempting as it is to give in to emotional responses, I think we should wholeheartedly embrace a systematic move that is more about justice and less about revenge.

News editor Martin Vengadesan is conflicted but concedes that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

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