April 13, 2011
Executing a malefactor by stoning has received bad press due to a deplorable enthusiasm among certain modern Muslims for pelting adulterous women with rocks. But stoning seems no more cruel or unusual than many other capital-punishment techniques. It is difficult to see why an athletic, baseball-playing nation such as America should regard it as worse than hanging, shooting, electrocution, or lethal injection. Ropes snap, guns jam, fuses blow, needles break, and sub-standard European injectables fail, but out of a thousand rocks hurled, one is sure to do the job. A properly organized stoning can be quick, cheap, and relatively painless. It literally fulfills the biblical command given to Noah that in a proper execution the murderer’s blood must be shed.
Stoning’s great merit is that it is democratic. Everybody takes part and no one can be identified with certainty as the actual executioner. It is rather like a firing squad in which care is taken to load one of the guns with a blank cartridge. Stoning abolishes the stigma attached to the individual who wields the axe, plunges the syringe, fits the noose, or flicks the switch. The entire community carries out the sentence following the verdicts its juries have issued. To take part in that execution is both a right to be exercised and a duty that cannot be shirked.
Well-meaning reformers have suggested that stoning be privatized. It would be possible to make money by auctioning permits to wealthy persons with a sportsmanlike enthusiasm for serious stoning. But such a process would be tainted, because it would undermine capital punishment’s democratic nature. The execution of justice and the justice of execution belong to the people as a whole and must not be bought and sold like a commodity. Neither can stoning be restricted to particular social groups, for this could create a caste of stoners who would be amateur executioners.