Europe and the Death Penalty: Elites vs. Ordinary Citizens
“The execution of Saddam, a human-rights monster, turned his unspeakable record upside down.” So we are informed by Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch, which issued a statement calling the monster’s hanging “a significant step away from respect for human rights and the rule of law in Iraq.”We’ve blogged on this before.
You may not agree with that — you may be one of those squares who think the death of a mass murderer makes the world a better place — but Tim Hames does. A columnist for the Times of London, Hames declared himself over the weekend with “those who find the notion of this execution offensive.” He recognizes that “the evidence of Saddam’s atrocities is overwhelming,” but, like Dicker, he is sure that the government that hanged the dictator did something as evil to Saddam Hussein as anything Saddam did to his innumerable victims. “Mainstream middle-class sentiment in Europe,” Hames tells us, “now regards the death penalty as being as ethically tainted as the crimes that produced that sentence.”
And so you might conclude from the headlines and the official European reactions to Saddam’s death. “The EU condemns the crimes committed by Saddam and also the death penalty,” said the spokeswoman for Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign-affairs chief. “Europe condemns death penalty,” announced the German paper Deutsche Welle. The British foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, let it be known that “the British government does not support the use of the death penalty, in Iraq or anywhere else . . . regardless of the individual or the crime.” Dutch and Belgian officials called the execution “barbaric.” The Vatican declared it “tragic.”
But what if Europeans don’t oppose the use of the death penalty? When the German magazine Stern commissioned a poll on whether Saddam should be executed, it found 50 percent of Germans in favor and only 39 percent opposed. A poll conducted last month for Le Monde found that most Americans (82 percent) favored hanging Saddam — as did most Spaniards (51 percent), most Germans (53 percent), most French (58 percent), and most Britons (69 percent).
In fact, once you get past the leftist elites who run the media and staff the foreign ministries, other industrialized nations may not be nearly as implacable in opposing the death penalty as we’re commonly told. “Polls show that Europeans and Canadians crave executions almost as much as their American counterparts do,” wrote Joshua Micah Marshall in The New Republic in 2000. “It’s just that their politicians don’t listen to them.”
In Canada, for example, support for reinstating the death penalty ran between 60 percent and 70 percent. Two-thirds to three-quarters of Brits, about half of Italians, and even 49 percent of Swedes (according to a 1997 poll) felt the same way. “There is barely a country in Europe,” Marshall concluded, “where the death penalty was abolished in response to public opinion rather than in spite of it.”
“Mainstream middle-class sentiment” abroad, it turns out, may not be such an ass after all. When normal men and women in Europe look at Saddam’s hanging, they, like us, see an act of moral hygiene. If their politicians and journalists see something different — well, what else is new?
Elitist blue state liberals in the U.S. want to believe that Europe is somehow morally superior to the United States, on the basis of issues like this.
(They ignore things like taxpayer funding for religious schools, more limited rights of accused persons and quick drug approval in Europe.)
But Europe isn’t morally superior. It’s simply a place were ordinary citizens have less say over public policy.