Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, August 4th, 2020

Humanizing the Punishments

Economic and military power can be developed under the spur of laws and appropriations. But moral power does not derive from any act of Congress. It depends on the relations of a people to their God. It is the churches to which we must look to develop the resources for the great moral offensive that is required to make human rights secure, and to win a just and lasting peace.” John Foster Dulles.
Crime is a natural phenomenon which affects all societies. Therefore especial punishments are given to prevent it. Emil Durkheim, a French sociologist, believes that crime is a natural social phenomenon which originates from the cultural conditions of modernizing societies.
In the tortuous progress of human history, punishment was one of the most complicated issues faced by tribal people. When a person committed a crime, they were usually tortured severely in the worst possible way. The evolutionary change of the punishment or criminal law can be categorized in three sections.
In the early communal life of human beings, when one committed a crime, not only was the criminal held responsible but also his family or tribes. Revenge, which was exerted as punishment, had no boundaries. When one committed a crime, a conflict broke out between the family of the criminal and the victim. The head of the tribe was also the head of the religious, political and military matters. This type of punishment was effective and people being afraid of the repercussions could hardly dare commit crime. However the fact is that this type of punishment did more harm than good. This punishment can be called communal revenge.
In addition, there was also personal revenge applied as punishment among the members of a family. The punishment was exerted by the head of the tribe. Considering the crime a dishonor for their tribes, the criminal was punished severely.
The very early criminal laws were set in place during the 16 or 17 centuries BC. King Hammurabi, of Babul, a city in Philistine, wrote intensively about punishment. One of the articles of their law which contained the procedure of punishment was strange. It was written that when a mason built a wall which collapsed leading to the death of someone, the law ordered him to be killed if the victim was the owner of the house. In case the victim was the son of the owner, the mason’s son deserved death. Moreover, when a surgeon harmed a patient seriously, his hand would be cut and if one’s son died the son of the surgeon deserved death.
Moreover, in such societies when there was no proof of the crime, they resorted to supernatural solutions. For instance, the suspect was supposed to hold a hot iron or to touch it with his tongue three times. Sometimes a hot knife was put on the suspect’s thigh. If the iron turned cold quickly and the suspected survived he was considered to be faultless but if he sustained harm or died, he deserved it.
When gradually, cities were built and governments were established in their primary and simple forms leading to the decrease of the power of tribal leaders, the people’s reaction changed. Furthermore, the emergence of divine religions such as Jewish, Christianity and Islam also humanized these societies. The harsh punishments were softened and people preferred their religious laws to their tribal practices. Hence, the members of different tribes joined the same religions and followed this law and order in their communal lives. The rules such as personalizing punishment only for criminals rather than their families, prevented tribal clashes, setting specific limits for punishments and considering reconciliation between the families of the criminal and the victim ; satisfying them with payment or other compensations.
Regardless of religious effects and the role of churches in European society in the medieval era, a great factor which changed the criminal system was the establishment of large governments with comprehensive rules and the involvement of central powers in public rule and regulation and security issues. This can be called the period of common justice which also struggled for the safety and security of those societies.
The need for religion is easily noticeable in the above mentioned paragraph. This is how religions emerged to humanize societies and change their violent and inhumane rules. Currently, the impact of religious laws is prominent in religious countries, especially Islamic societies. For example, regarding criminal law, many rules and norms have originated from religion. Religions intended to bring fundamental changes not only in the social structure of a society but also a great mental and psychological change in the members. Sometimes for a minor crime such as stealing valueless objects, many people were killed as a result of tribal clash. This issue indicated a great injustice and barbarity. Religions changed the types of punishment appropriately which was no longer too severe.
Before the emergence of religions, human rights and freedoms were meaningless. For instance, the whole family or tribe was sacrificed for the mistake of one member of their groups and it was the utmost injustice which openly trampled upon the rights of others. Such concepts were not tolerable in religion and had to be eschewed.
According to criminal systems and religious ideas, specific punishments should be introduced for specific crimes. The punishments which were too severe for a specific crime was criticized and religious ideals softened the punishments.
As mentioned above, crimes have originated from social and cultural environments. Religions not only changed societies and cultural systems but also set new laws mostly based on moral standards and human nature. When the minds and mentality of people have been changed, changes will automatically occur in culture and traditions. Every religion introduces especial norms and values for its followers. Hence, the significant role of religion in cultural and social changes is obvious.