Message in a bottle? - Mark Kobayashi-Hillary
I received an interesting e-mail this week, not from a friend or colleague, but from a complete stranger. One of the dangers when you combine any form of representational office with a widely published e-mail address is hate mail. Some of our wired comrades take a perverse pleasure in maliciously targeting you for the latest computer virus attack. Today, I received the famous Melissa virus under the guise of a report on human rights education. Fortunately, I had seen this one before and quickly deleted it before the rancorous software seeped into my system. It is impossible to trace the individuals who invest time and effort sending these destructive messages, so I simply remain vigilant. Some correspondents are not so shy; they brazenly abuse and leave a return address, as if baiting you toward a heated exchange.
For example, Mr Smith (I wont bother changing his name to protect him) sent a charming note insisting: I deplore many of Amnesty Internationals activities: firstly, do-gooders and liberals thinking that the death penalty is so inhumane for murderers, although they do not deserve to live, and what about their victims? If I could, the gallows would be re-introduced in England at the earliest possible moment.
I suppose a do-gooder is better than a do-badder and he has every right to tell me how much he deplores AI, but his comments just dont stand up to serious joined-up scrutiny.
On the recent Question Time programme, featuring a solo performance by Tony Blair, an audience member posed the old chestnut of capital punishment to the PM. He immediately dismissed the question with a great deal more conviction than shown in the recent cabinet re-shuffle. The politicians dont seem to be listening to Mr Smith, crying out to be next in line for gallows duty. Is this representational democracy? I think it could be termed added-value representation.
The respect for life and abhorrence of the death penalty adopted as a mandate issue by Amnesty International reflects the view of many religions, although AI is not a religious organisation. In fact, the global trend is towards the abolition of capital punishment and a more humane society. If one is not of the opinion that each human being has a fundamental right to life and the state should be free to kill then a position of simple revenge is adopted. Killing for revenge smacks of the mob, baying for blood.
Many retentionist nations argue that the death penalty causes a deterrent effect on crime. Anyone travelling through Singapore cannot fail to notice the grim warnings: Death to drug traffickers displayed at Changi customs. Not surprisingly, a recent report displayed Singapore at number one in the execution charts, by population size. Scientific studies have consistently failed to find convincing evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments. The UN conducted the most recent survey on the relation between the death penalty and homicide in 1988, updated in 1996. The conclusion: "Research has failed to provide scientific proof that executions have a greater deterrent effect than life imprisonment and such proof is unlikely to be forthcoming. The evidence as a whole still gives no positive support to the deterrent hypothesis..."
Mr Smith goes on to state: Secondly, I cannot stand your stance on immigration and asylum. There are far too many in this country, and we should be sending them elsewhere.
His comment appears to skirt the very edge of insane xenophobia in light of recent events in Kosovo. If respect for human rights were universal (applicable to governments and armed opposition groups alike), no one would be forced to flee their home in search of protection abroad. The sight of refugee movement on this scale in Europe itself has caused unprecedented public reaction. Remember that nobody wants to be a refugee.
He finally draws to the succinct conclusion: AI is a bunch of do-gooders who think that everything should be humane, and who do not live in the real world.
Humanity and idealism are essentially good, respectable attributes. I have never had to call on the services of my trade union and ideally, I never shall. I believe that is does good to continue supporting so those less fortunate than I can benefit from their assistance. People sometimes do accuse me of solipsism, but the last time I glanced through my window the dirty, unfair drama of the real world was unfolding.
Prime Minister Blair should expect an erudite e-mail from Mr Smith soon. Possibly, bullet-point comments on the London Underground Private Finance Initiative.
Mark writes regularly for the national newspaper "Tribune".