Thursday, November 10, 2011

In the Name of Freedom

While browsing Netflix tonight I noticed a movie that I have not seen in nearly 20 years. The movie, entitled In the Name of the Father, tells a powerful story of a young man from Northern Ireland. During the IRA bombing campaign of the seventies this man along with three friends is arrested and charged with setting off a bomb in a London pub, killing five people. In addition, the man's father, aunt and several relatives, including young teenagers, are arrested and charged as accomplices. However, none of them has anything to do with the bombing and none of them are even remotely affiliated with the IRA. Nonetheless, all of them are put on trial using flimsy evidence and a guilty verdict is handed down by an emotionally charged court. The defendants are sentenced to prison terms of varying lengths, with the main character sentenced to life in prison.

The movie stirs my outrage and anger at injustice, particularly injustice perpetrated in the name of justice. It outraged me when I first watched it and it did so again this evening. I cannot understand how "good" men could knowingly convict and condemn innocent people. As the movie makes clear, this was not a case of mistaken justice. The government tortured the defendants and deliberately withheld evidence that would have exonerated them, simply because those in authority believed it was more important to get a conviction in the case and show the public that the government was acting to defend the nation. The fact that the defendants were all Irish also helped, given the inherent bias against Irish people in England at the time.

Watching the movie at this point in history I am concerned with the parallels I see with what has happened in my own country over the last ten years. In our emotional response to the events of 9/11, to what extent have we run roughshod over justice because we wanted to feel secure and wanted to feel like we were demonstrating our strength in response to those tragic events? I am saddened that so many Americans who speak out in defense of individual rights and against government intrusion often have remained silent, or even worse have condoned the excesses of our government in its "war" on terrorism. They argue strongly of the need to defend our country's basic values, but then suspend them for anyone that becomes suspect of supporting terrorism.

Above all I am saddened that many believers have adopted this mentality. Placing love of country before love of God, they see the enemies and supposed enemies of their country as unworthy of humane treatment and basic human rights. In their defense of justice they condone injustice. I don't imagine that this pleases God. I am not arguing that evil should go unpunished. I am arguing that those accused of perpetrating evil should not be presumed guilty and we should not condemn them unjustly in our zeal to defend ourselves. To do otherwise is to deny the love of the God we profess. Growing up I was taught that two wrongs don't make a right. That applies just as well when it comes to defending our freedom and values.

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