Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Law and reality | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The Head of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair, apologized for the death of an innocent man and re-affirmed British police forces will continue to follow a shoot to kill policy if they suspect a terrorist attack is imminent as it permitted by law.

In order to understand this remark, let us, if only for a short time, imagine the law as a dress. It is tight in times of peace and becomes very loose in times of danger, such as the war on terror. This loose cut is cited when suspects are arrested, jailed, their telephone calls recorded, their letters read, and their every move monitored undercover investigators.

The great English playwright William Shakespeare once described the law as a donkey; it is stubborn and incapable of understanding the world around it. Ask a bureaucrat and he will remind at every occasion what the system says. Common folk realize that policies and regulations are for the government to follow while their system is different.

I heard a story, sometime ago, about a Saudi villager and an Arab farmer who worked with him. Friendship blossomed between the two men to the extent that, when the Arab farmer wanted his wife to join him, and after much trouble with immigration officials, the Saudi villager agreed to marry her. He was able to abide by the rules of his country and please his friend. The wife lived with her real life partner but was registered as the Saudi villager’s spouse. Indeed, the marriage was only ink on paper.

When the Arab man and his wife had children, the Saudi registered them as his. Everyone lived in peace until the day the police invaded the village looking for a suspected criminal. Investigators soon uncovered the legal violations and discovered the legal marriage was a sham.

In this situation, the problem was not a moral one as so one had committed adultery or lied. Laws and regulations stood in the way. Legally, a wife is the woman registered on her husband’s identity papers, and not the woman he might be in a relationship with. Similarly, the children should be registered under the name of their father, irrespective of who they call dad.

To go back to the main issue, what matters is what the law considers to be right. Security forces in Britain have the right to shoot and kill if they suspect a situation is dangerous, even if this is very difficult to estimate most times.

Of course the clearest example of this dilemma is the tragic death of 27 year-old Brazilian national Jean Charles de Menezes, despite not looking like a murder. In this case, the law set the parameters for action and complicated matters further. Racism and discrimination are prohibited in government guidelines. Both are deplorable human traits. But how are we to go delve into people’s inner most feelings and decided what they are? The policeman who shot and killed Jean Charles said he feared for the lives of passengers on the underground train. The Saudi villager also claimed he welcomed another woman’s wife into his family for the greater good of his friend.