When I lived in England, I got used to my British friends regularly taking digs at how primitive America is compared to enlightened Europe. To be sure, most of the time the mocking denigration was done in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way, and they really weren't looking to offend me as an American. Still, the taunts were said with conviction. Today it continues, with my friends in England who hear I'm running for Congress asking me why I would want to be part of America's fundamentalist, right-wing shift.
One of the foremost examples cited by Europeans as to America becoming a country of knuckle-dragging Neanderthals is the fact that we still have the death penalty while Europe has abolished it utterly. I'm wondering, therefore, what my European friends are currently thinking about Anders Behring Breivik, who yesterday pleaded not guilty to the massacre in Norway of 77 people, most of whom were teenagers. Breivik cited "self-defense" as the reason for his rampage seeing as he was trying to stop Norway from being overrun by Muslims. He added chillingly, "I would have done it again."
And here's the best part. If Breivik is found to be mentally competent, which observers say is likely, the toughest sentence Norwegian law can mete out is 21 years, though he may still remain incarcerated if he is deemed to be a danger to society. All told, Breivik may be walking the streets by the time he's 55.
Counter to my European friends' claims that the death penalty is abhorrent, I would ask them whether they felt that seeing a man who killed 77 people sipping a latte on a sidewalk café is not more so. My close friend Dennis Prager, the well-known author and radio host, once said that the death penalty, where it is truly warranted, is actually the more compassionate thing to do since the idea of a mass murderer being freed from prison inflicts a sadistic cruelty on the families of the murderer's victims who demand justice.
To be sure, the Talmud famously says that any court that put more than two people in 70 years to death is considered murderous, which just demonstrates how absolutely meticulous and careful any court must be before it metes out the ultimate punishment. But surely Breivik, even according to this most compassionate of opinions, would be one of the two. If a mass murderer of approximately 70 young people merits being freed from incarceration after just two decades, then justice has no meaning and the world we live in is utterly lawless.
In the United States we rightly demanded a full judicial inquiry into the death of Travyon Martin. We were flabbergasted that a 17-year-old armed with Skittles should lie in a grave without a complete investigation. Multiply that now by 77 and imagine Breivik walking the streets in his fifties, enjoying a cool morning breeze.
Europeans can mock us all they want, but one of the distinguishing characteristics of the United States of America is its hatred of evil and its constant preparedness to fight it. Whether it's our 28,000 troops currently protecting South Korea from the new North Korean thug Kim Jong-un or our brave servicemen and women fighting the wicked Taliban, America has always fought tyranny while the rest of the world has often preferred to hide their heads in the sand.
Mass murders in cold blood are wicked beyond comprehension and do not deserve to walk G-d's green earth along with the righteous. After a proper inquiry and absolutely fair trial, if found guilty we must dispatch mass killers to the hell they deserve. Leaving them alive to one day walk free is deeply contemptuous of the many lives they have slaughtered and trivializes the unending grief of their surviving relatives.
Likewise, when our nation sees a tyrant and bully like Saddam Hussein who gasses children, we remove him from power, just as Britain and France courageously did, along with American air power and following the lead of the brave Libyan people, to Muammar Gaddafi. Which just shows that maybe even Europe admits it has something to learn from us backward Americans.
Fighting evil is not primitive nor Neanderthalic but is rather deeply moral and demonstrates a deep commitment to the infinite value of every human life.
Shmuley Boteach, "America's Rabbi," is the international best-selling author of 27 books and has just published Kosher Jesus. He is currently running for Congress from New Jersey's Ninth District. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley. His website is www.shmuleyforcongress.com.
Written in memory of Machla Dabakarov, the mother of a dear friend of Rabbi Shmuley, who passed away last year.