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Amrozi: What would Batman do

'Amrozi: What would Batman do?' by Chris JohnstonIt's ironic that at a time when popular culture is dominated by a cartoon hero's moral stand against a sadistic and grinning killer, the Indonesian Government is less than a month away from doing what Batman refused to do in The Dark Knight. It will send the 'smiling assassin' Amrozi bin Nurhasyin and his cronies to death by firing squad for the 2002 Bali Bombings.

I'm sure enough people have now seen The Dark Knight for me to write, without spoiling the plot, that Batman refuses to become a monster to stop a monster (The Joker). And this, despite the fact that Heath Ledger's Joker is a truly evil character.

Unlike other brutal criminals in the movie, who are motivated by money, power and prestige, the Joker is motivated only by the desire to see good people turn evil. In short, he wants to prove that even the most righteous among us is, deep down, like him: self-serving and willing to murder if the right buttons are pushed.

Batman, of course, refuses to swoop to this level. There are occasions in the movie when he could terminate the cackling one, but he knows that to do so would make him no better than the monster that is the Joker. Instead, he graphically shows the Joker that people aren't always willing to kill when their survival is threatened. The Joker ends up in a padded cell rather than under the fat wheels of Batman's motorbike.

Amrozi's motivation for killing 202 people, many of them Australians, was obviously different from the Joker's murderous motivations. Amrozi claimed his religion mandated him to wage jihad on non-believers.

But do believers in justice, peace and human harmony gain anything by waging a microscopic jihad on Amrozi and his henchmen?

I'm not defending Amrozi's actions any more than Batman would defend the Joker's. When Batman refuses to take his revenge — and Gotham City's — on the psychopathic clown, he actually defends himself and the whole city from the barbarism that the Joker wants to let loose inside him and the public.

A simple fact: Indonesian law allows the death penalty and Australian law does not. Do we think that therefore our hands will be blood-free when Amrozi and his clan smile their last in a few weeks time? Some of us don't even care. Many Australians interviewed in the last few weeks, none of them wearing capes, think it's okay that the Bali bombers will soon be executed.

Our law states that it is unlawful to execute people, regardless of what they have done to us. We have the Batman law in this country, but where are the caped crusaders as the Bali bombers face the death squad?

In his apology to Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders, Kevin Rudd demonstrated principle and showed he believes in saying and doing the right thing, even if it's not universally popular. In regard to the Bali bombers' impending execution, all he and his Government have said is that we shouldn't meddle.

Imagine, if you can, our Prime Minister in a Batman suit. And then imagine Amrozi as the Joker. What does Batman do in the current situation? He has his code: he will not take an eye for an eye. And he is the Australian Prime Minister, not his Indonesian counterpart. Even if Batman Rudd stood up with his cape waving in the wind and said, 'you don't stop a monster by becoming one', the Indonesians most likely wouldn't listen.

So what would Batman do? I believe he would stand up and say it anyway. He would explain that Australians do not condone terrorism — we are, in fact, outraged by it. But neither do we believe in becoming monsters in order to stop them. The executions would go on regardless, but Batman Rudd (and consequently all Australians) would know that under his suit of international diplomacy is a man who stands for the good in us all.

As the nights pass before the executions, I'll be searching the sky for the Bat Signal.

Paul MitchellPaul Mitchell's most recent books are Awake Despite the Hour and Dodging the Bull. www.paul-mitchell.com.au


Topic tags: paul mitchell, batman, dark knight, one rule, the joker, bali bombing, death penalty, pro-life



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Existing comments

I agree, we all should exercise our 'inner Batman' in this instance. Batman, however, has appointed himself as protector of the people, whereas Rudd has been elected by the people of his electorate. There are but a few Australians (ie swinging voters)who hold the careers of politicians like Rudd in their hands. Ask these Australians if Amrozi should be executed. It could be that our 'caped politician' has already found his own answer. Will the majority of career politicians put principle before their own careers?

Andrew McAlister | 18 August 2008  

Paul Mitchell's piece is a welcome refresher about the importance of putting principle before populism in politics. An appeal from Australia's government for clemency for the Bali murderers would be no more than a consistent expression of the principle now well imbedded in our domestic legal system: no capital punishment. The degree of fanatical delusion motivating the murderers or the scale of their success in destroying lives they were too ignorant to understand or respect do not justify an Australian abandonment of principles we hold based upon the value of all human life. The life of the inanely grinning Amrozi will be worth more in demonstration effect if it were to be spared by the Indonesian government to allow him to grow old in contemplation of his confinement; at least Australia should put that point of view and accept that it is duty bound to do so.

Paul Munro | 18 August 2008  

The Australian Coalition Against Death Penalty (ACADP) is opposed to the death penalty - in all cases - unconditionally.

The death penalty is a barbaric, brutal, cruel, degrading, inhuman and uncivilized act of vengeance, which is a violation of the most fundamental universal human right - the right to life.

Human life is not granted nor given to us by Governments and therefore, they should have no right to take a human life.

Human Rights belong to all of us, worldwide. Human Rights is everyone's business - as members of one human race, we all have a born right to guard and protect the life of another human being, regardless of color, religion and location on this Earth.

The punishment of death brutalises and degrades a society. It fails to promote forgiveness, compassion and mercy, but actually inspires more acts of violence in an already violent society. Capital punishment teaches the youth of society (the next generation of influential world leaders) that it is 'alright' to even scores by killing (aka revenge).

More importantly, the death penalty creates more victims in society - the innocent family members and loved ones of the executed offenders.

ACADP has the deepest sympathy for victims of crime and their families. However, there never has been, and there never will be, anything 'good' achieved by state-sanctioned killing. The attraction of capital punishment is merely a form of social acceptance for human hatred, which satisfies the bestial aspects of our society.

Australian Coalition Against Death Penalty (ACADP) | 18 August 2008  

The death penalty in our day and age achieves nothing to prevent further crime or bring healing to those who are victims or relations of victims.

That said, this particular execution vigil we're all keeping is an exercise in knowing our collective powerlessness. The issue of whether the Bali bombers would or would not be executed was settled last year when the Aceh/Flores three were executed - they were three Catholic leaders accused of murder in the Christian-Muslim uprisings over the past decade.

The crimes are the least matter in question. It is really the question of who and what constitute the Law in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim democracy.

Rough Justice as it may seem to us, but it goes far beyond our Western understanding of the dignity of the individual. Indonesia is making a statement in these executions, as it did in the Aceh/Flores executions, that it is the Law that matters, that not being Muslim or Catholic entitles anyone to create any situation that seems to be above the Law.

While I'm amused at the analogy of the Batman movie being used, I'm worried that some colloquial, especially USA version, drivel can be used to teach us a lesson in morality when we know for fact that the USA, both at Government and cultural/social levels is lost in a moral desert with the 'goodies' having no credibility, or, in the analogic image, looking for a sign from the skies.

I give Mr Rudd more credit and would not expect him to rant and rave on this issue like a half man-half animal, but to work at levels which truly do bring substantial progress, the level of diplomacy. Note the number of countries who have now signed on to Mr Rudd's vision for an Asian Community approach to relations between states in our region.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew Bombala NSW | 18 August 2008  

I agree - to consent to this barbarity is contrary to our espoused Christian values. The 'eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth' idea is an ancient one, the results of which can be seen world-wide. It spawns more of the
same - short-term solution for long-term and ongoing revenge. No punishment can fit this crime. Incarceration is the only option. To kill is to become like the one who killed.

Hilary | 18 August 2008  

Full marks to the Indonesian government.

Hugh Laracy | 18 August 2008  

Amrozi may have been set up. It could have been a false flag operation to convince Australia to go into Iraq. I am not suggesting that this was done by an Australian authority. However it is interesting to note that currently a Muslim is on trial in Australia, for having having discussions with an ASIO spy who provided explosives for a demonstration.

richard | 19 August 2008  

Killing Amrozi is wrong.

Perhaps he should spend the rest of his days in a cell lined with pictures of his victims enjoying life with their families; but that would probably be too cruel.

We don't need Batman as a role model. Just one PM with the moral fibre to put the case that executions are murders of the worst kind; cold, premeditated, and committed in the name of all of us if we don't speak out.

Markus A Frank | 19 August 2008  

Not only is the death penalty as self-defeating as The Dark Knight portrays, but it seems inconsistent with the nationality towards which Indonesia as a nation seek to move.

At the same time, it is wholly consistent with the rather bloodthirsty conception of Islam encoded in Wahab'ism.

Amrozi initially embraced his sentence with the enthusiasm of the Wahab'i fanatic. His subsequent change of heart and ensuing appeals for clemency may be cowardice, but they are also a rejection of Arabian austerity.

David Arthur | 19 August 2008  

A "Dark Night" it will certainly be when Amorozi is executed (it seems there is now no "if"). An unequivocal anti-death penalty statement from Kevin Rudd may, at least, provide some "shining light".

Kerry Bergin | 19 August 2008  

Whether or not Kevin Rudd has seen the movie, he has just been to the South Pacific Forum. Hopefully, he had the opportunity to discuss the matter with Helen Clark and will happily take the lead from her on this matter. (See my article "A matter of principle", The Age, 29 July 2008).

Frank Brennan SJ | 21 August 2008  

Good article Paul.

Nathan M | 26 August 2008  

I do not believe in the death penalty. I have written to the minister responsible, and said that the death penalty is morally wrong!

Theo Dopheide | 11 September 2008