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Religion and politics

Posted by Sigismund on October 12, 2008, at 15:05:38

In reply to Lou's request for clarification-guelyuspsrkr Jay_Bravest_Face, posted by Lou Pilder on October 12, 2008, at 9:26:40

Let's change direction. Let's leave Wall St. I read this on the weekend and this bit is worth it.

The story is of Van Nguyen, a young Australian of Vietnamese extraction who attempted to import some heroin to pay for his brother's debts and by a mischance was apprehended in Changi Airport, Singapore.............

>Van Nguyen's journey towards the gallows in Singapore was one of genuine transformation: he had to lose his life to find it. Julian McMahon [his lawyer] speaks of him as being, when McMahon first took on his case, "a typical young street punk who had not come from terrible circumstances. Young men like that, they have bravado, which of course to someone twice their age you can see straight through to be more like fear ... He was under the impression that he knew a lot about his situation, that he had it under control, that he probably didn't need too much help but thanks for coming anyway." Then it all came crashing down. Singaporean law calls for mandatory execution for anyone holding more than 15 grams of narcotics, an extraordinarily small amount, under the circumstances. Van Nguyen was sentenced to death in March 2004, his final appeal was rejected in October 2004, clemency was rejected in October 2005, and he was hanged on 2 December 2005.

>"It's very hard to mature," said McMahon, "when you're in your cell 23 hours a day and you get a very occasional visit from your lawyers." But it appears that Van Nguyen did mature while on death row. It appears, if we assume that his prison writings are not merely the hysterical happy face of a person in chronic denial, that he took responsibility for his actions and his life; that he lost all thought of self-gain and cared only for how he could help others, his mother in particular; and that he died, albeit with great regrets, a man at peace. There's the irony, the absurdity in all this: under the drawn-out agony of the death-row wait, some people journey to the outer reaches of their emotional capacity and moral intelligence, becoming more fully human - and then we kill them.

>After receiving his death sentence, Van Nguyen heard a nun, Sister Gerard, singing Ave Maria' to another prisoner on death row. His heart melted, he said, and he reached out to her. He had no real religious background. He struggled with reading and making sense of the Bible, a vast compendium of words, of dense, baroque stories. During an earlier visit from Lasry [another lawyer, I think] and McMahon, Van Nguyen described his failure to make any headway with the Bible. Lasry isn't a particularly religious person; McMahon has always kept his beliefs separate from his legal practice. Nonetheless, McMahon said, "I couldn't really leave him in that state where he was deeply troubled ... and it was really the only thing outside of his legal situation that was on his mind." So the Jesuit-educated lawyer told Van Nguyen of the Ignatian technique of repetitive meditative engagement with a text: of pausing over a passage or a few words and imagining, pondering, and then perhaps coming back to the same thing the following day, and building up a picture of its meaning in the mind. When Van Nguyen asked for a starting point, McMahon suggested Psalm 23, The Lord Is My Shepherd', with its promise of restoration, and bounty, and mercy. (Later, McMahon gave him some of Thomas More's sixteenth-century prison writings - the same ones I had leafed through when he left me at his desk to read through Van Nguyen's papers. "To lean unto the comfort of God," Van Nguyen would have read in More's Meditation on Detachment'. "To have ever before my eye my death that is ever at hand.")

>The more radical change that McMahon and Lasry and all others who had contact with Van Nguyen began to note happened some time after the Ave Maria' incident, in May 2005. Van Nguyen told McMahon he was in the shower, staring out a tiny window slot at the distant sky, and was suddenly overwhelmed with the sense that he'd been wasting his time, all of his life, and didn't want to waste even a single second more before he died. By then, McMahon said, "he knew in his heart that he was going to die." From that moment, the only instructions he gave to McMahon and Lasry were to do with how to help his friends, his brother and, most of all, his mother.

>Van Nguyen's private writings are a desperate attempt to chart his dwindling life: in them there is the anger and regret and fear and distractedness you might expect, but also at moments a peaceful resignation, and even a sense of humour. "Strange how the simplest of thoughts become incoherent come pen and paper," he writes. "I simply turn off as easily as they approach. Emotions have no consequence here. The motions of each day are met one subliminal step at a time ... My reprieved time inspires me as much as it frightens. Welcome to the Matrix."

>Visits brought both highs and lows: "Are we not in constant search of sense? With each departure, I am humbled. And with renewed reverence, I breathe."

>"I am afraid," he wrote, "to be forgotten."

>Then one day he woke up, and knew it was his last. "There was no one that I am aware of," said McMahon, who was in the prison on the morning of the execution, "to whom he bore any ill will when he died. He generated a lot of love in his prison environment, which is a strange phenomenon to come across." The 15 other prisoners on death row sang Amazing Grace' as Van Nguyen was taken from his cell and escorted the handful of metres to the gallows. They continued singing; that would have been the last thing he heard.

>On Singaporean death certificates, the phrase "Condition leading to death" is used in place of the more familiar "Cause of death". On Van Nguyen's certificate, the condition is stark and simple: "fracture dislocation of cervical spine". A second phrase reads, "Approximate interval between onset and death"; for Van Nguyen, the interval was "INSTANTANEOUS".


OK, now some of the young men who prayed with Nguyen met our PM sometime later, and Rudd gave them the Bible his father had owned before he died when Rudd was a young boy.

It's a new experience to be able to look at our leaders like this.

As for Wall St and Bush..................




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