Here I am, sipping on my first coffee of the day, opening my mail-box and voila… the most recent email attempts to unnerve me for the rest of the day. But guess what, I’m not shocked, because I’ve received this not once, but several times from different sources. The visual of a boy with his arm under a car, about to be amputated, does not evoke the response it was supposed to generate! Ostensibly, he stole a piece of bread, and this is the punishment meted out to him… in Iran! If at all this indeed is true, and not just a stunt, as may well be the case, the brutality of such incidents seems to be very deep-rooted… going as far back as 1900-1600 B.C.E. — the Old Babylon period of the Amorite Empire.
The Amorite rulers, who were believed to have “descended from the gods”, enacted “lex talionis”, or the law of equal or direct retribution. This law empowered them to rule over people’s lives. (Note that it is administered only by the state, or by those who are “above retribution” and are thus exempted from being victims of revenge.) Many of us learned a long time ago that in the Middle-Eastern world, it is this Code of Hammurabi — “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, an arm for an arm, a life for a life” — that puts the fear in people, which, in turn, prevents the common man in many of these nations from committing crimes. Punishments, in retaliation, match the nature of the infraction, or, figuratively speaking, you reap what you sow!
Is quid pro quo not too simplistic a view, I wonder, where it seems that none of the following are taken into account i.e. the context (one’s poverty), the intent (to quell one’s hunger), the reason (one may die without food), the action (stealing food), the perpetrator (a young child), the punishment (chopping off a limb), nor the exhortation (showing no mercy). In this context of theft, here’s another disturbing viewpoint.
Even so, in my mind, this does not vindicate the violence towards women; the brutality that Nicholas Kristof’s “acid column” brought to light. Unlike the case of the young boy, there is no ambiguity regarding this infliction of physical pain over women.
Although the code of the Amorites is a subject of discussion at Law Schools such as Yale and others across the nation (and the world), perhaps for my own understanding, I should borrow this book from the library. Here’s a page from it, which I saw online.