In The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny, beyond the solving of a murder and delving into the reactions to a study advocating institutionalized killing of the unproductive members of society there is an uncomfortable exploration of how we act when faced with great evil.
Haniya Daoud, the Hero of the Sudan, is visiting Three Pines. Daoud was “sold into slavery when she was eleven” and cruelly treated. Armand thinks the scars upon her face symbolize a person imprisoned by their past. She has lost her own children but worked relentlessly to save and improve the lives of women and children around the world. At 23 she is worshipped. At the same time she has a disdain, for at least everyone in Three Pines, that she readily expresses.
In a beautifully written passage Reine-Marie drawing on a poem of Ruth captures the essence of Haniya:
Who hurt you once, so far beyond repair?
Though they knew who’d hurt her. Not just her torturers. They all had, by their silence and inaction.
She calls Armand weak, even feeble, for failing to stop Robinson from speaking. Haniya accurately senses that Armand loathes Robinson. She skewers him saying he would speak and give money for causes but “won’t actually lift a finger to stop a tyrant”.
Within the book is a description of a real life Canadian psychiatrist, Ewen Cameron, who played God and, in the interests of psychiatric research and CIA money, tortured people. No one stopped him.
Each character looks within their soul to see what they have done to save the victims of torture.
And if you have joined in torture can you atone for your actions? If you are Catholic you need to confess and do penance. In the criminal justice system, if you are convicted you need to express remorse and do time. If you are neither religious nor found guilty in a court you face a lifetime psychological burden.
Is there a time limit on responding to torture?
The last prosecutions of Nazi concentration camp guards are taking place. The accused are men and women in their 90’s. The Holocaust took place over 75 years ago. None of the latest accused I have read about directly participated in the planning of the Holocaust or the killing. What should the consequences be for these elderly men and women?
Not all responses to those who have committed wicked acts are predictable.
Rudolph Hoess, the commandant at Auschwitz, was tried in Poland after the war. Sister Gaudia, a Polish nun, in the online Catholic website, Aleteia, said he returned to the Catholic faith to which he had been born because he was not mistreated or tortured by his Polish guards:
“They treated him mercifully,” she said. “Mercy is the love we know that we do not deserve. He doesn’t deserve their forgiveness, their goodness, their gentleness. And he received all that.”
He confessed to a Jesuit priest and received the Eucharist before he was executed.
Few among us whether fictional characters or real life readers can say we have acted against evil beyond expressions of sympathy or condemnation and possibly a donation of money to a worthy cause.
Within the book are police officers who have put their lives at stake to stop violence and remove those at risk from further harm. Yet they are not to harm or kill those who have committed vile crimes. Over the past several hundred years Anglo - American justice has rejected the vigilante response to crime in favour of a justice system with trials to determine guilt and judges to hand out measured punishment.
But Abigail Robinson will never face a criminal trial. She has not committed a crime under the Criminal Code of Canada. She advocates for laws that would kill those who burden society. She would pevert our system of justice to legalize killing.
Thousands, perhaps millions, support her. Many more reject her. Might she gain the support of governments facing fiscal crises? Should she be silenced by direct action to preserve humanity?
What would you do to oppose an Abigail Robinson?