The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (June 30) – It is hard to credit that a minister tasked with the responsibilities of the Higher Education portfolio could speak in favour of Sharia law, the extremist Islamic law code that invokes physical violence.

We can only assume that Mr Polye’s outburst urging the use of limb amputation, castration and torture in cases of rape and murder was a knee-jerk reaction to recent events.

On the other hand, if the minister was reflecting his own firmly held views, we would urge him to re-think his point of view.

There is little evidence to suggest that the imposition of Sharia law has stopped any would-be rapist or murderer from criminal activity.

Violence breeds violence.

That’s a simplistic phrase, but we believe that it’s one that should be memorised by every school student, and respected by every adult citizen.

Consider some relevant facts.

Papua New Guinea is currently suffering from a sharply increased level of alleged sorcerer deaths.

The manner of these deaths comes closest to the concepts of Sharia law.

Victims are hideously tortured and must often welcome death as an alternative to further suffering at the hands of their tormentors.

Far from lessening the rate of supposed sorcery cases, this wave of torture and violence has been matched with ever-more incidents.

Nor is there anything to suggest that the possibility of the death penalty, or spending the rest of one’s life in jail holds particular terrors for our murderers or rapists.

We do not believe that the Christian churches of PNG would support Minister Polye’s torture and castration options.

There is already profound disquiet among Christians at the existence of the death penalty, despite it not having been invoked in independent PNG.

It is a very short step indeed from the amputation of hands and legs, or the castration of male offenders, to the beheading of criminals on television.

Do we really want to align PNG with the horrendous violence that has generated global revulsion in recent times?

Mr Polye says that he does not support the death penalty, but that he wants the criminals to suffer, and uses the "eye for an eye" concept to justify his demands.

To us, the gap between death on the one hand, or torture and bodily disfigurement in the other, lies in the mind of those making these propositions.

There is no difference in the motivation, and probably little difference in the effect it would have on the community.

Regular readers of The National will be well aware that we could never be regarded as proposing a soft line towards criminals.

Time and again we have urged the courts to take a more community-oriented view of serious crime, and impose sentences more in keeping with the expectations of the public.

But that is a very long way indeed from supporting the torture and disfigurement of our own citizens in a legally endorsed fury of fanatical punishment.

The real issue lies in identifying the sources of premeditated murder, rape and serious assault.

What makes murderers, rapists and thugs of our own people?

What are the experiences that so warp a young Papua New Guinean that he or she will commit crimes of this nature?

Once we can reliably identify these causes, we can make an energetic attempt to eliminate them.

It is not enough to point the finger at poverty, or social alienation, or lack of employment, or any of the other fashionable alleged causes for these crimes.

That is a glib attempt at an easy solution to a complicated problem.

The reasons are likely to be as many and varied as they are in developed societies.

Rather than spending money on instruments of torture, or employing doctors to fly in the face of their medical oaths and inflict torture and amputation upon fellow citizens, we should be pouring money into the development of our primitive mental health system.

Currently, PNG experiences the greatest difficulty in even providing a psychiatric assessment of persons charged with murder or rape.

There is a very real need to rethink the whole issue of crime and punishment in PNG, and particularly with regard to major crimes.

But the adoption of Islamic fanaticism is certainly not the answer.

June 30, 2006

The National: www.thenational.com.pg/

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