The NYT and WikiLeaks

The NY Times posted a brief video of Executive Editor Bill Keller and others describing the Times’ involvement last year with WikiLeaks’ release of U.S. government military and diplomatic documents.  At 6.5 minutes it is not an in-depth story, but it provides some interesting information.  For instance, the Times, not WikiLeaks, redacted the names of Afghan informants from the military field reports.  Julian Assange was prepared to release the entire document trove without redaction.

Cultural Chasm II

From a NYTimes Week in Review article titled “Crime (Sex) and Punishment (Stoning)“:

Stoning is not practiced only among Muslims, nor did it begin with Islam . . . The Old Testament includes an episode in which Moses arranges for a man who violated the Sabbath to be stoned, and stoning probably took place among Jewish communities in the ancient Near East. Rabbinic law, which was composed starting in the first century A.D., specifies stoning as the penalty for a variety of crimes, with elaborate instructions for how it should be carried out. But it is not clear to what extent it was used, if ever . . .

Stoning is not prescribed by the Koran. The punishment is rooted in Islamic legal traditions, known as hadiths, that designate it as the penalty for adultery. While the penalty may seem savage to Western eyes, scholars say it is consistent with the values of Arabian society at the time of Muhammad, Islam’s founding prophet. Adultery “was considered to offend some of the fundamental purposes of Islamic law: to protect lineage, family, honor and property,” said Kristen Stilt, an associate professor at Northwestern University who has written about Islamic law. “It was a tribal society, and knowing who children belonged to was very important.”

That may help explain the link between sexual crimes and stoning, as opposed to another form of execution. A crime that seemed to violate the community’s identity called for a communal response.

Some scholars . . . argue that the stoning penalty is meant more as a symbolic warning against misbehavior than as a punishment to be taken literally.

Cultural Chasm

Remember the chill you felt the first time you read The Lottery by Shirley Jackson?  I experienced some of that from reading this article in yesterday’s New York Times:  In Bold Display, Taliban Order Stoning Deaths:

The Taliban on Sunday ordered their first public executions by stoning since their fall from power nine years ago, killing a young couple who had eloped . . . The couple eloped when the man was unable to persuade family members to allow him to marry the young woman. She was engaged to marry a relative of her lover, but was unwilling to do so, according to Mr. Khan.

The couple eloped to Kunar Province, in eastern Afghanistan, sbut family members persuaded them to return to their village, promising to allow them to marry. (Afghan men are legally allowed to marry up to four wives). Once back in Kunduz, however, they were seized by the Taliban, who convened local mullahs from surrounding villages for a religious court.

After the Taliban proclaimed the sentence, Siddiqa, dressed in the head-to-toe Afghan burqa, and Khayyam, who had a wife and two young children, were encircled by the male-only crowd in the bazaar. Taliban activists began stoning them first, then villagers joined in until they killed first Siddiqa and then Khayyam, Mr. Khan said. No women were allowed to attend, he said.

Mr. Khan estimated that about 200 villagers participated in the executions, including Khayyam’s father and brother, and Siddiqa’s brother, as well as other relatives, with a larger crowd of onlookers who did not take part. “People were very happy seeing this,” Mr. Khan maintained, saying the crowd was festive and cheered during the stoning. The couple, he said, “did a bad thing.”

I keep reading the last two sentences.  “People were very happy seeing this,” Mr. Khan maintained, saying the crowd was festive and cheered during the stoning. The couple, he said, “did a bad thing.” You might observe that the event described is on the end of the same grisly continuum as the old U.S. custom of public hangings.  I would agree, and say public hangings as a festive social event also similarly repulsive.  Repulsive, because I share the same gene pool with the cheering rock-throwers.