Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Theo Van Gogh's Murderer Sentenced to Life in Prison

There are two striking aspects of today's decision by a Dutch court sentencing Mohammed Bouyeri to life in prison with no possibility of parole. One is the sentence itself. It's very rare in the Netherlands to get the maximum life sentence.

Only a few dozen life sentences have been given by Dutch courts since World War II, generally in multiple murder cases. In handing it to Bouyeri, the court cited his radical motivation and assertion that he would do it again.

The second notable thing about the court's decision is also the sentence: It's life in prison with no parole -- not the death penalty. If Bouyeri had committed his crime in the United States, he would have been executed.

Of course, Holland does not have the death penalty. Neither does any other country in Western Europe; in fact, over half of the world's nations have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.

This has a significance beyond the mere fact of it. The significance is that, by sentencing Bouyeri to life in prison without parole, and not to lethal injection or the gas chamber, Dutch society has put itself on an entirely different moral plane from this savage, psychotic, unrepentant man who riddled his victim with bullets and then tried to decapitate him: a higher moral plane. It's a higher moral plane because it's not polluted with the same disregard for human life demonstrated by the murderer. The refusal to kill Bouyeri for killing van Gogh is not motivated by pity or compassion for Bouyeri, or the belief that maybe he could be reformed, or by sympathy for Bouyeri's religious fanaticism. It is motivated by the belief that it's wrong to kill another human being in cold blood. It is informed by a human value that says civilized, humane, morally advanced societies do not turn the state into an executioner.

This judge, this court, this society, has drawn a sharp, bright line between its values and the convicted murderer's values; and in doing so it has made the utter depravity of this person's act so much clearer, so much starker.

No comments: