Monday, August 22, 2011

America's "Punishment Regime"

In the wake of the horrific shootings in Norway, where professed crusader, Anders Breivik, killed 77 people, there is renewed debate about crime and punishment in the world.

For all of the damage Breivik wrought, under Norwegian law he faces a maximum of only 21 years of prison. Americans are outraged. Predictably, they want more.

America, the self-proclaimed "Land of the Free," ironically locks up more people - over two million - and holds them longer than any other nation on Earth. We excoriate China and Iran for their penal abuses despite being more like them than we are our counterparts in the West. (When it comes to executions, China, Iran, and the U.S. constitute the Big Three.)

Helge Luras, a terrorism expert at the Norwegian Institute, speaks of America's "punishment regime," flatly stating: "We do not want to be like you." Tone-deaf to that indictment, Americans clamor for harsher and harsher punishment of peoples at home and abroad. And progressive nations like Norway shudder at the specter of Europe's medieval past reflected in America's eye.

What is wrong with us? Are we so consumed with hate that it drives us century after century to act out? Consider this: America is the race of people (Native Americans), enslave another race of people (African-Americans), and intern yet another race of its own people (Japanese-Americans). Across the breadth of this atomic age, we are the only nation to actually drop a nuclear device on our fellow human beings.

We are dangerously close to the edge when the likes of Breivik applauds America for what he perceived as our stand against the spread of mosques in the States. Eighty years before, it was Hitler who, in his manifesto, "Mein Kampf," praised America for the efficient way it dealt with its "Native American problem."

We fancy ourselves the pre-eminent world leader. But what are we showing the world - how to inflict pain and endless punishment? I would like to think we are better than that. History says we are not.

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