In Islamic eschatology, there is a saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) which states: “By the one in whose hand is my soul, a time will surely come to people in which the killer does not know why he has killed and the one killed does not know why he was killed.”
I just returned from our neighbouring island of Trinidad where I attended a regional meeting. One of the sessions I participated in was titled Preventing Violent Extremism. At that session, the statistics on murder in that country were highlighted. In 2016, the number of murders stood at 463. In this year, 2017, with only six months gone, the murder total is 265. Comparing these figures to 20 years ago, the murder total in 1996 was 106. A four-fold increase in just 20 years. A country just 30 minutes away from us by plane.
Last week, Barbados received the news of a double homicide in St. George. Two persons chopped to death and, as usual when Barbadians struggle to come to grips with such horrendous events, the call goes out for justice, punishment, solutions and all other ways of handling these gruesome acts.
Barbados has been witnessing a rise in violent crimes over the years. There has been a steady increase in gun crimes and violent deaths. The situation in Trinidad is right next door. Their statistics on murder didn’t just happen overnight. There was a steady and consistent rise in the numbers over the last 20 years. An oil-rich country which has far greater resources than we do.
Can we afford to selectively ignore what is happening in our neighbouring CARICOM country? Can we even afford to ignore what is happening at our doorsteps? Have we reached the time as predicted in that saying I quoted above, ‘the killer wouldn’t know why he killed or the killed know why he was killed’?
At the workshop on preventing violent extremism, a very recent case in Trinidad was highlighted. This case shook the Trinidadian society to its core. A 13 year old boy and his caretaker were brutally murdered in their home. Senior Superintendent of Police McDonald Jacob said the killing was one of the worst kinds, as the killers defiled the sanctity of a person’s home to carry out “such a heinous act.” It was reported that both victims’ hands and feet were tied and their throats slit.
The Police speculate that this murder was not a robbery but was linked to an old robbery in which the robbers were recently released from prison. The robbers were jailed eight years ago in a robbery linked to the child’s father. If these details are accurate, then clearly our Caribbean societies are falling into an abyss that we all will suffer the effects in some way.
Social commentators, experts and sociologists have all been attempting to explain this rise in violence. Like them, I do not believe there is a single cause. This resorting to violence is complex. There are many ingredients in the mix but what is sure is that we cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand and hope the problem will go away. I suspect that as a society, we are becoming immune to the news of gruesome murders and that is a slippery slope to be on.
In some of the causes given for violence, a participant made the point that our children from a very early age are exposed to all forms of violence. That is what they are fed as they grow up. From violence in cartoons to movies to video games to real life situations in the home, in the neighbourhood and in the schools, that violent culture is predominating many of our Caribbean communities. Sadly, that culture is pervasive in many of the lower income groups. And what is taught either openly or subversively is that the reaction to violence must be violence. So, as I said some columns ago, the cycle of violence continues.
There is a need for an overhaul of this culture and mindset. Our delicate societies and economies cannot allow for a spiralling out of control of crime and violence. The Minister of Tourism of Barbados was quick to react to a video that went viral which showed a very violent fight in the Bridgetown area where tourists frequent. He linked the need to safeguard our fragile tourist industry with maintaining law and order. He is right but it can’t just be for the tourists. Every citizen and resident of this country need to feel safe and secure. It cannot be like the wild, wild, west. Innocent lives are at stake when these violent individuals are hell bent on killing someone with whom they disagree or have some grouse to settle. Innocent lives have been lost and others affected in the crossfires of these violent reactions.
In the aftermath of the St George murders, the Member of Parliament for that constituency called for the resumption of the death penalty. It is the usual cry at such times and regrettably that cry lessens as the impact of the tragedy subsides. I maintain my support for the death penalty in cases where beyond the shadow of a doubt, the perpetrators of such horrendous acts are found guilty. How can it be that the rest of society must bear the financial burden of these killers while they spend their life sentences (which is not really life anymore but a set number of years) in jail?
For me, a humane society will rid itself of such inhumane individuals. I do not see a contradiction nor do I see this as perpetuating violence. Example is the Trinidad case where if all the reports are true, then a 13-year-old lost his life in the most horrendous manner by persons who learnt nothing more than more violence when they were in jail for eight years. And there are so many examples of such cases. Even persons out on bail for murder commit more murder.
I lived in Trinidad in the late 1990’s when the Panday administration did everything legally possible to have Dole Chadee and his gang of nine faced capital punishment. They succeeded and in June 1999, these 10 men faced the gallows. Dole Chadee and his gang were found guilty of murdering a family of four, execution-style, in 1994. Two young members of that family, one 13 and a younger sister, barely escaped that execution.
That day in June, Trinidadians felt that justice was finally delivered with the hangings. No more resolve to implement capital punishment since then and the murder rate has climbed significantly over the years in that country.
However, capital punishment is not an end in itself. The root causes of such violent behaviour must be examined and solutions sought. The intention is that every attempt should be made to prevent as much as possible violent responses. For me, capital punishment is effective when violent offenders have no regard for human life.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace., Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)