Honour among thieves

Some say that a conservative is a liberal who got mugged. Well, no one has mugged me yet, but whatever the truth of the dictum, I’ve just decided, after decades of reasonable stances and self-enforced moderation, that I am in favour of both corporal punishment and the death penalty. Yes, Edwin, defender of the meek and oppressed, champion of lost causes, haven of broken souls has morphed into Vlad the Impaler. I’ve joined the ranks of those who howl for blood. Not only do I consider it my vile and unfortunate duty to alter my well-founded and long-held conviction, I even consider it essential for our survival as a decent and humane culture.

I should hang out a proviso at this point, so as to be clear and consequential from the start: I’m not pro-execution, amputation, branding or birching in any normal, well-adjusted society where you can talk sense into someone. I’m only demanding these things for an exceptional society, a society overrun and at the mercy of hot-wired sociopaths, a society which would be under martial law if there were actually a war on or a revolution taking place.  And martial law is an imposition that justifies harsh and unusual measures in exceptional circumstances. Circumstances are currently exceptional and the unusual is indeed called for.

It’s like they never left

A few years ago, when a friend of mine was beaten up by Nazi thugs in Berlin, I thought, “Thank God that kind of thing doesn’t happen here”. Well, it does now and it happens with astonishing frequency. Because no one has remembered to tell the modern little fascists that they haven’t a hope in hell of gaining real power, lacking the support of industry, the military and the banks (the three essential pillars for the success of a nationalist movement) they are growing at an alarming rate. The political fascists are bad enough, with their smooth talk and their folksy use of statistics, but the little thugs with no future who emerge in failed batches of several dozen each year from our technical schools are a loud and growing scourge.

Entirely devoid of any kind of empathy, hooked on the dead rhythms of mind-numbing techno pop or the hate-spew of right-wing rock, hopped up on anything they can get their hands on but mostly pills and beer, these new-age brown shirts are the sworn enemies of everything that looks exotic, sensitive, artistic, culturally informed or educated. Hardly a week passes in our little town without someone being beaten up by a mob of them. This week it was a friend of mine, a local artist and musician: mid-thirties, papa-cool clothing and dreadlocks, very 20th century. He was crossing the parking lot of a local supermarket in broad daylight when twenty of them, on their lunch-break from school (I wouldn’t let them out of the building, let alone off the premises), jumped him without warning, rhyme or reason and beat him to a pulp while the other good shoppers went to and fro about their business with their caddies full of cheap food.

After the nasty little brutes had gone and he had picked himself up and counted his ribs, he phoned the police; something no one had seen fit to do during the attack. The officers told him that even if he could identify his assailants, nothing much would come of it, as they were all minors and would not even get their wrists smacked. Better just leave it alone, they advised, he would only draw the attention of their parents, who are just the same but bigger. These, please note, are the righteous keepers of the peace who recently fined me 150 Euros for ignoring a sign and parking in a zone demarcated as a road-works site (although no works will be going on there before the 7th of March). These are the same uniformed crusaders I saw yesterday interrogating a highly dangerous little old lady in the back of their van. One officer even had his hand on his holster: these old folks can be surprisingly ornery when you are about to fine them half their pension for causing no inconvenience to either man, beast or vehicle! But our local force has recently moved into an enormous former industrialist’s villa and has a mighty rent increase to cover.

Policeman Plod is out-gunned

In their defence I must say that it is understandable if the police are neither able nor willing to do the thankless job of identifying and pulling in baby fascists. They are frustrated when they see the “youth judge” frown theatrically at the little horrors and say that next time they might have to scrub a few floors, but this time there’s no more space in the cosy institution with the giant plasma TV and the comfy beds, where our region sends its more hardened young element. The police are unprepared for this new wave of ultra-violent adolescents, unwilling even to face them down in the first place, defeated and laughed at as they already are by gangs of Algerian car-jackers, Albanian burglars, Serbian traffickers etc, all of whom turn up again a few weeks, months or years later, having bowed, scraped and smiled their way to a reduced sentence, better armed, better fed and even more vicious. Our policemen are only human and mostly want a quiet life and an easy retirement. If that means bullying old ladies and setting up radar traps, then so be it. Fighting real criminals is dangerous at best and can be lethal. The police are simply not up to it, unless they are backed by a justice system that has real teeth.

I’m all for leniency in its place, such as for first offenders in lesser crimes, for the person who shoplifts to make ends meet, the person who lies to get a job, the person who does something really stupid because someone more clever put them up to it and left them carrying the can. But I think that leniency with first offenders who commit violent offences: against other kids, the elderly, racial minorities, girls and women, public servants, or any of the naturally weaker members of society – is a fundamental mistake. In such cases the best deterrent would be for the offender to experience the nastiest hour, week, year of their life. It should be harsh, shaming and preferably painful. I have no problem with birching. Indeed I feel it is possibly the only language young thugs with the cultural horizon of the cockroach will ever understand. And reparations: genuine financial and social reparations should always be both sought and enforced. Furthermore, when violent criminals go out into the world again, they should have to wear a bright red collar for at least a year. Lesser criminals should get a yellow one, sex-offenders should wear blue (violent sex-offenders should get pink, to really embarrass them), oil-spilling executives should get green (as genuine eco-criminals), and the so-called white-collar, victimless crimes? Well, these should get white, of course … and fluffy wings too. Why shouldn’t justice have a sense of humour?

The victim: first, last and always

But as for the truly monstrous, nothing can be too harsh or too serious. There is a place in our society for the death penalty: neither for crimes of passion, nor for violent death brought on by anger, nor for acts of retribution. Indeed, it should be extremely rare, but where due, it should be implacable and delivered with the fullest conviction of its essential rightness. It should not pretty itself up or try to be anything other than what it is. It should neither be long in coming, nor should it brook any appeal. And when it arrives, it should be swift and certain: because there are crimes so heinous as to demand it, where it is the only unambiguous response, where the burden of proof or admission leaves not the slightest shadow of a doubt: “We are looking into the abyss, let us not flinch”.

Not so very far from where I sit writing this, there is a little three-year-old girl lying in a coma. Those who were meant to be her protection in this strange, confusing world turned out to be her enemies. The child’s mother stood by for several days and did nothing while her boyfriend, a young man of twenty-four and his other teenage girlfriend in this dirty little ménage à trois burned the child with cigarettes, disfigured her with boiling water (75% of her face and abdomen) and lacerated her with a box-cutter until she literally hyper-ventilated herself into catatonia from the pain.

For failing to help a child in danger, the mother will be sentenced to a jail term about as long as her pregnancy. The young man will go down for five years and be out on good behaviour in three. The teenage girl, an active participant in this orgy of suffering, is legally a minor and will probably end up in the cosy place with the big TV. Of course, these sentences are based on the assumption that the child might survive, though I hope for her own sake that she doesn’t. If she dies, the two females will plead some form of diminished responsibility and end up with even shorter sentences served in psychiatric wards. The man will probably not outlive his first year in prison … which is entirely as it should be. There is still honour among thieves.

Edwin Drood

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