Alija Izetbegović (1925–2003)
(Translator’s note: This is a short excerpt from Izetbegović’s “Thoughts from prison, 1983-1988.” He was sentenced to 3 years in prison in 1946 when the new post-World War II communist rule was established in Yugoslavia. The excerpt is from his second stint in jail. In the now-infamous 1983 Sarajevo Process, aimed at some of the leading Muslim intellectuals of the time, he was sentenced to 12 years for “hostile activity and propaganda.” He served five years after which he was released in 1988. After the first post-communist democratic elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1990, he became the Chairman of the Bosnian Presidency.
In this excerpt, he writes about a very sensitive topic: corporal punishment. In his unmistakable style – brief, direct, and rational – he breaks down the topic and shares his insights. While not everyone will agree with his conclusions, it is hoped that his thought process will be of benefit. ES)
There is no doubt that corporal punishments are contradictory to the feeling of honor and human dignity, and that we will all agree to that. On the other hand, however, the experience shows that, unfortunately, there are humans who have not even a shred of honor and human dignity. The Qur’an says some humans are just like animals, “even worse.” Whoever had spent some time in prison with petty criminals could be persuaded of this. Strangely, criminal laws are written by the people who sit in their offices, who do not even know this human “material.” It is unthinkable that doctors should be the people who never even stepped into the hospital and among the sick.
This is exactly the case with the criminologists. In the best case, most of them had met the offenders during the hearing or court proceedings. It should be kept in mind that criminals have a greater ability to pretend than regular people. The criminals could be more or less experienced, but naïve they’re not. Their life accounts could be wrong, not because of naivety though, but because of their orientation toward evil, which – with most of them – is final and incorrigible. I have seen in prison a great number of people who were guilty of petty theft and highway robbery. I never noticed, not even with the single one of them, the readiness to get an honest job after serving the sentence. On the contrary, they mutually encouraged and trained one another, and exchanged experiences. I saw some remorse only among the murderers, but even here such people were not in the majority. In a movie I watched in the prison’s cinema, there was a scene when a man attacked a young girl with the intent of raping her. As she was struggling, like a captured prey hopelessly calling for help, the majority of the viewers – prisoners – were loudly cheering for him.
Petty thieves and pick-pocketers are an especially unscrupulous type of criminals, They entertained one another, talking about how they stole the salaries – from month to month – from the coal miners. They mentioned a case of a coal miner who, after realizing that his salary was stolen, committed suicide.
One of them, while showing me his hands, said to me, “Can’t you see how these hands are not made for work, they were made for something else.” And indeed, he had a nicely built hand with long fingers. I told him that some claim the hands were precisely created by work. He answered that his hands for sure were not. At that moment I thought that he didn’t deserve that beautiful hand and that it would be right if he didn’t even have it, only to remember later on that the Shari’ah punishment would be exactly that.
Of course, one has to be cautious when pronouncing sentence, but if I were to write a criminal law while in prison and based on my prison experiences, I think such law would more and more look like the Shari’ah criminal law. As I used to have certain reservations toward the corporal punishments, it seems to me at times that God had sent me here [to prison] to compare mine to His wisdom.