08 December 2005

Nguyen, and Life, Revisited

By this point in time, some of my friends have expressed their ambivalence about Singapore's hanging of Ngyuen tuong Van last week (he was convicted of heroin smuggling). Their argument is sound: they personally don't feel one way or the other about Nguyen himself, and they don't necessarily agree that Australia should interfere with Singapore's handling of the crime committed on their turf.

And look, I feel really bad for his family's suffering, but I'm not really attached to this specific incident one way or the other. However, I do want to kick off a conversation about life and how we respect it (or don't) in general. Here is my argument:

First, I do know that we're all well-meaning people (I will also extend this assumption to everyone reading this), and as such, we don't want to see reckless mistreatment of life. We generally don't support wars (or violence in general) except as a last resort.

Second, had the punishment not "fit" the crime, for instance, if Nguyen had been hung for littering or chewing gum (both are crimes in Singapore), everyone would have been outraged.

However, I think it's a matter of degree. Hear me out:

I didn't support the war in Iraq. I didn't buy the White House's arguments that Saddam was still much of a threat: I was up-to-date on all the arguments and I knew that the U.N. had largely disarmed him. I also knew that the U.N. required that Iraq report on its weapons programs and I knew that the White House heavily edited this report before releasing it to the rest of the U.N. council. (The White House used the report's "incompleteness" at the time as justification for the attack, so I really didn't trust Bush and pals. They appeared to be lying, and history has now shown that they were.)

But the primary reason I did not support the war in Iraq was that I have two nephews of miltary age whom I love dearly. I could not sacrifice either of them to stop Saddam. Given my refusal to send my loved ones to war, I had no right to sacrifice other people's loved ones.

And this is the crux of my position on Nguyen: there is no one I would punish by capital punishment, so I cannot support it. And if it were someone I loved, I would want everyone to help me stand up against it, since I could not do it alone.

And that is why I stood up for Nguyen.


Blogger Rachel said...

Hi Elissa,

I'm one of the ambivalents. The issue for me is that in this world there are so many people dying due to circumstances completely beyond their control that it is hard for me to get as worked up about someone who dies as a result of his own choice and action. My heart cries out for so many anonymous people but for Nguyen I just can't help but think 'you were the idiot who decided to smuggle drugs'. I think if this were more about the death penalty in Singapore in general I might get more worked up, but then again, I'm not sure whether it is our role to force another sovereign nation to change its laws. And then I wonder why I feel so callously when really I don't think anyone should be eternally punished for a stupid mistake.

11:10 am  
Anonymous Ingrid said...

I am against capital punishment. However I have to agree with Rachel in that eveyone knows there's the death penalty for drug smuggling in Singapore, and if you're silly enough to do it anyway then you just have to cop the punishment.
On the other hand, I do this its sexist that Nguyen got barely any press until right at the end, while the two chicks up on drug charges got heaps of coverage.
And if we're going to do something about capital punishment, then surely we need to be looking at all the contries that have it, not just Singapore.
The other thing is that while I agree that it would be good for Singapore to change their laws, I'm not going to blame the people of Singapore for their laws because I would hate to be blamed for the stupid laws that our government have just passed.

5:30 pm  
Blogger elissa feit said...

Absolutly. If the people were blamed, then I would have to cop it for both the US and the Australian laws. 8-)

7:33 am  
Anonymous Shane said...

Side note: it's been reported that Nguyen was carrying 26,000 hits of heroin. According to a Sydney Morning Herald piece the 400 grams Nguyen had makes maybe 2000 hits. A very different figure.

"..the idiot who decided.." "..silly enough to do it anyway..".

Wow. just, Wow. Can't find words for my response to this view but it *does* make me ask.

That Nguyen was paying a debt [for his brother]. Do people not believe his claim there, or does it not make a difference? I'm surprised to find that for me it makes his action somehow noble. Other people don't seem to think so.

Ing: Is someone blaming Singaporeans? I've not heard it. I hate being blamed for Australia's stupid laws too but I don't want friends overseas to stop calling me on it, and I say I'm trying to change them as best I know how.

1:43 pm  
Blogger elissa feit said...

Hi Shane,

Thanks for posting that. The number of doses certainly makes a difference to my understanding. 26,000 is a lot of lives potentially harmed. 2,000 is a lot less. 100 regular users for 1 year's supply. And it's a crime for which he would theoretically be jailed and then released while he still a young man. He would have a life ahead of him still.

The irony is that the drugs were never slated for Singapore. And Nguyen was convicted and punished as if his crime could have in any way affected Singapore.

My goal in these posts has simply been to figure out where we do and don't respect life for its own sake,.

I've lost loved ones. I felt just awful for his mum.

1:19 am  

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