Aseela Shamim Haque
Writing and Communication
9th May, 2012
Is vigilantism helpful to society in its attempts to enforce justice and eradicate crime?
Suppose a person feels that his neighborhood bully is targeting him. The police are ignoring his complaints and he is tired of the harassment. He sees on television that vigilantes like Batman are taking matters into their own hands and standing up to the oppressors. He decides to do the same. He faces his enemy and a heated argument ensues. A couple of punches are thrown and before he knows it the skirmish erupts into an aggressive brawl. He channels all his frustration and keeps throwing punches; one after the other. In a little while, his enemy stops hitting back. His enemy stops resisting his attacks, stops moving, stops breathing. Suppose, everyone in his neighborhood has been watching the same television show and is just as inspired to take revenge on their bullies. They all take to the streets to enforce their own justice. Now, what is going to happen? Vigilantism means taking the law into one’s own hands and then enforcing it according to one’s own understanding of the law. It relies on an individual’s perception of the effective way of dealing with crime and administering punishments. Should people employ their own understanding of what’s right and what’s wrong by becoming vigilantes? Or should they depend on the police force and legal system to bring justice to their society? Recently, the media has focused on promoting vigilantes and portraying them as heroes of our world. But are vigilantes really as good for the society as the media has portrayed them? Are they doing more harm than good? Although vigilantism has been supported and glorified by the media as heroic and in some cases vigilantism seems like the only way to obtain justice, however everyone’s idea of crime and punishment differs greatly; moreover it leads to violence by vigilante groups, weakens the police force and justice system, causes civil disobedience and a state of anarchy.
Everyone’s idea of crime and punishment is different and if everyone takes the law into his or her own hands all sorts of atrocities would take place. An example of a group which works outside of the country’s legal system is the jirga, also known as tribal court, which operates in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan and also in parts of Afghanistan. It can be categorized as a vigilante group since it does not adhere to the rules of the state but enforces the law according to its own understanding (“Jirga; Speedy Justice of Elders”). On 18th July 2010, the Guardian published a news article about a jirga in Kala Dhaka ordering a Pakistani couple to be stoned to death for committing adultery. Instead of reporting the crime to the police, prominent members from the village formed the verdict themselves. They strictly follow tradition and according to their norms they burnt down the man’s house and claimed that as soon as they find the couple, they will kill them (“Pakistani couple face death by stoning threat after conviction of adultery”). A similar verdict was declared in the Bedamnai area in December, 2006. A jirga charged an Afghan refugee, Imran, with attempted murder and robbery and ordered his stoning. Nearly 500 tribesmen were reportedly involved in the man’s stoning. Renting out houses to Afghan refugees was also forbidden by the jirga. They threatened the violators of their law with a Rs 1 million fine (“Afghan Stoned to death on jirga’s orders”). If the case had been forwarded to the police, a prejudice against Afghan refugees would have emerged, a proper investigation would have been carried out to confirm the involvement of Imran and he would have been tried in court through just and fair means. He would have been allowed to defend his case and he may have been able to prove his innocence. But since the jirga took matters into its own hands, it handled the situation...
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