Here is my response to a set of questions about the death penalty posed by a Virginia high school student.
Q. What do you believe about the death penalty?
A. I believe that the death penalty should only be applied as a punishment for willful murder or for widespread criminal activity of a most serious nature, such as terrorism. However, because the criminal system in the United States has been unable to enforce the death penalty in a fair handed manner, especially as regards the racial and ethnic backgrounds of the perpetrators, and because of the frequency with which people have been convicted of capital crimes and later shown to have been innocent, I believe that there should be a moratorium on the death penalty until such time as these flaws in the system can be fixed.
Q. Why do you believe what you do? How did you come to this position? What were the influences in forming your beliefs?
A. Among the factors that have contributed to the development of my present position are the teachings of my religion (Islam) and my familiarity with the criminal justice system. “… [I]f anyone killed a person, unless it is for murder or for spreading terror in the land, it would be as if he killed a whole people, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of a whole people.” (Qur’an 5:32)
Q. Do you see any problems with your point of view?
A. The only problem I see with my view is that it is vulnerable to skepticism that the flaws in the justice system that make the death penalty so unfair at this time may not be fixable.
Q. How do you explain the perspective of those who think differently from you? Do you see inconsistencies or problems with their point of view? Do you associate with persons who believe differently? Can you respect their beliefs?
A. I believe that people who disagree with me in most cases are starting from different premises. Were I to accept those premises I would have to change my view. For example, one might reasonably argue that lifetime imprisonment is a harsher punishment than death for some people. In most cases I can respect their points of view. On the other hand, I do confess to seeing in inconsistency in the views of establishment “liberals” who oppose the death penalty for the guilty, but have no problems with the slaughter of innocent and guilty alike by war.Q. Can you give me any stories, references or other resources to help me with my research?
A. I recommend that you search the Internet for examples of cases of people who were sentenced to life imprisonment for capital crimes of which they were subsequently found innocent. Had they been executed, they would’ve had no means of redress.
Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute