What would make one celebrate death? Who would support a murder – the execution – at the hand of a state? A democratic state killing people in the name of justice would actually be making its entire population responsible for that execution by way of being of the people, for the people, by the people. So why did some of us feel excited when the news about the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri broke yesterday? A little complex it is.

That the death penalty is counter-productive or is a genuine deterrent has been a subject of intense discussion around the world, more so in Pakistan over last one year specifically. The general sentiment of the public going per media reports suggests there exists fairly massive support of the capital punishment among the people. This should be seen in the special circumstances Pakistan has been facing over especially last two decades. The dreadful attack and slaying of kids in Army School in 2014, subsequent terrorist attacks on worship places and educational institutions have added to the general public trauma and an insatiable urge for retribution.

The goriest of the sectarian attacks on people over last couple of decades have rendered them helpless enough to even approve of extrajudicial killings of the sectarian terrorists, mainly because they don’t find the justice system working. Because of this faulty, manipulative, selective and weak justice system, people have stopped trusting it to be dispensing justice. The rule of law being a far cry in these circumstances, has transformed itself into rule by law and at some points rule by twisting the law. Every state institution has done its part in the past to arm twist the system and the statute to its own advantage.

It however is ironic to see that the same judicial system people distrust so much, becomes the ultimate basis of their retributive rage when it comes to the death penalty. Those condemned by the same faulty and manipulative system, become the target of public rage. It was seen in the case of Shafqat Hussain’s execution who was allegedly a juvenile at the time of the crime. Those who raised a voice against this execution were condemned to be ‘foreign agents’ who wanted to ‘defame Pakistan’ at the behest of western governments (the same western governments who normally fund our army for enhancing its arsenal).

People are made to desire that the brutality be fixed by the state through more brutality and death. They are made to believe that retributive justice would act as deterrence to curb the crime. Studies are generated with skewed up numbers to prove that the decline in crime actually occurred, which happened because of the death penalty. Simple statistics without putting contest to them would be used to prove that point. For example, murder rate in the death penalty states of USA went down from 9.94 in 1991 to 4.72 in 2013. When read in isolation, it could easily produce the conclusion that death penalty might have actually been helpful in curbing the rate of murder. But when read alongside the rate of murder in non-death penalty states that went down from 9.27 in 1991 to 3.88 in 2013, would certainly add more dimensions to the debate.

Deterrence, in short, is an argument largely flawed and twisted, which remains unproven to date. Life imprisonment, on the other hand, might be a bigger deterrent than the outright death, many death penalty scholars opine. The conservative Republicans and Tea Party supporters Richard Viguerie and Brent Bozellargue that the society may protect itself without putting a human to death as it would a wild animal. “Since we believe each person has a soul, and is capable of achieving salvation, life in prison is now an alternative to the death penalty.”

A senior Attorney General and Public Prosecutor from Portugal, António Cluny writes, “Nobody can assure that the death penalty can contribute to reduce the number of the most horrible crimes. In Portugal, we have – without the death penalty – one of the lowest statistics [rates] of violent crimes.” So much for the deterrence!

Amnesty International (AI) in one of its reports on death penalty in Pakistan once concluded that the death penalty actually legitimizes an irreversible act of violence by the state and would inevitably claim innocent victims. Which is the case variously proven in Pakistan. Human justice being vulnerable to being fallible generates the risk of executing the innocent. Its irreversibility renders it a thoroughly measure and misplaced measure aimed mistakenly at curbing the crime. In Pakistan, if people knew that the death penalty is applicable on 27 odd crimes, not only murder, they would probably be less supportive of it.

Retribution being another argument used by the pro-capital punishment community is also misplaced conclusion. As Camus and Dostoevsky once called retribution argument unfair because ‘the anticipatory suffering of the criminal before execution would probably outweigh the anticipatory suffering of the victim of their crime’. Moreover, the long period spent in jail (mostly solitary confinement), before the actual execution while being sub-humanly and unjustly treated, could be a double punishment with little justification.

Furthermore, the judicial biases and prejudices (which might always not be mala fide and could be natural consequence of life experiences) alongside the socio-economic background of the accused, brings another dimension to the capital punishment debate. For the poor, merely lodging an FIR is an unimaginable ordeal and suffering let alone the entire litigation process. Little ability to hire qualified lawyer (and here in our system, the ‘qualification’ doesn’t merely mean academic and professional qualification. The more you are connected and having good relations with the Bench, the more qualified you are) put the poor at perpetual disadvantage.

Having said all of that, Mumtaz Qadri was none of the above. Yet he was everything that represents what is wrong with our society. Getting excited on his execution by those upholding the principle of right to life and against the capital punishment might not be an act of ‘hypocrisy’ and ‘double standards’ as was being suggested by those who have been advocating vociferously for the execution of Shafqat Hussain. Also, his execution alone cannot be celebrated as state’s firm resolve to reinstate its lost writ. Here is why.

Hanging a man does not kill his idea. If the state does not come out and addresses a larger problem of challenging the rhetoric put forward by Mumtaz Qadri and his supporters, his state murder would remain an isolated act and misplaced judgment. Those protesting his execution and eulogizing him as a martyr would never realize he had committed a crime, which had to be punished. This requires measures much more than an execution.

Applauding this execution might not be because he stands killed. A silver lining that it so unmistakably felt rested more in the state posturing rather than the execution itself. The state positioned itself to spell out that an act of purported religious valor was certainly a crime in its eyes. Good. Silver lining yes. It is however sad that this spelling out was done through a death. Wonder there must have been better ways to do. Better, comprehensive and longer term. Let’s see where this beginning takes us and how.