Pardon for a Price
Given the chance, how much money might you contribute to help spare the life of a juvenile convict on death row? For Iranians, this question is not hypothetical: an interpretation of Islamic law allows victims of crimes to seek retribution—or grant a pardon, usually in exchange for money. In the case of Safar Anghouti, who was convicted of murder at age 17, most of the victim’s friends and neighbors pushed for an execution—an eye for an eye. But an anti-death penalty group reached out to the family and “appealed to their kindness,” said the group’s director, “stressing that those who forgive are rewarded in heaven.” The family agreed to pardon Mr. Anghouti in exchange for $50,000. Within days, thanks in part to a social media campaign, the group raised $63,000 on behalf of Mr. Anghouti, now 24, and he will be set free.
Last year, Iran executed more than 500 convicts, including two juvenile offenders. The success of the recent campaign, however, reveals increasing popular opposition to the death penalty in Iran, especially for juvenile offenders. In 2012 Iranian lawmakers decided that capital punishment can no longer be applied to juveniles who commit drug-related offenses and other “discretionary crimes.”
The religious and cultural context that allows an individual or family to grant a pardon is no doubt a foreign concept to Americans. But the value that prompted so many people to reach out to save the life of this stranger is easy to recognize. In a country that has been somewhat ruthless in its application of the death penalty, it is heartening to know that a growing number of Iranians are opening their hearts—and pocketbooks—to mercy.
Over the Line
Calls to “secure the border” are a nearly constant refrain in the immigration debate in the United States. Less discussed, but more consequential for the roughly 11.7 million undocumented immigrants already living in this country, is how the disappearing border between immigration and law enforcement agencies has contributed to an unprecedented number of deportations on President Obama’s watch—almost two million so far, about 1,000 per day. Immigrant advocates have called on the president to slow these deportations, arguing that many people being expelled would be allowed to remain in the country under the bipartisan reform bill that passed the Senate last June but remains stalled in the House.
After Sept. 11, 2001, rules governing interagency information sharing were relaxed to allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement to learn quickly if a person charged by federal and local police was in the country illegally. Since 2008 the Secure Communities program has in effect turned local police into immigration officials and brought “the border” to every county in America. While the Obama administration has pledged “to focus enforcement efforts on serious offenders,” each year thousands of undocumented immigrants, including parents with no criminal record or only minor offenses, are deported.
Most disturbing is the way in which some of these deportations occur. Migrants are frequently separated from loved ones and dropped off in dangerous border towns at night, where, stranded without money, documents or personal belongings, they make easy prey for drug and human traffickers. Thomas H. Smolich, S.J., president of the Jesuit Conference of the United States, recently called on the administration “to immediately enact simple deportation safeguards to protect migrant lives.” We join that call. The protection of human dignity knows no borders.
A Poet’s Life
In the years right before the Second Vatican Council, a variety of Catholic intellectual movements created a mini-renaissance in the church in the United States. Novelists, poets and journalists collaborated with social groups committed to peace and justice, including the Catholic Worker. From 1953 to 1967, a trio of Columbia University graduates—Edward Rice, Robert Lax and Thomas Merton—introduced Jubilee, a literary magazine, to address controversial church issues. It was distinctive for its beautiful black-and-white photography, layout, poetry and artwork.
In the mid-1960s its literary editor was Ned O’Gorman, who died on March 7 at 84. He was a graduate of St. Michael’s College in Vermont and Columbia University, where Mark Van Doren helped him develop the passionate poetic voice that won him a Lamont Poetry Prize and a pair of Guggenheim Fellowships. A big man who lived well, Mr. O’Gorman traveled widely in Europe and Latin America and twice attempted to become a priest but was refused. As the war in Vietnam surfaced as a moral issue, Jubilee opposed it.
In 1966 Mr. O’Gorman founded a free storefront preschool in Harlem, where every student received personal attention. By the 1990s this had grown into an elementary school with a curriculum in Chinese, classical music and Shakespeare, and its graduates went on to prestigious colleges. Ever playful, on a summer day Ned would roll down a grassy hill turning over and laughing like a wonder-filled child. His students knew he loved them.