Forgiveness is mad, says the most difficult of modern philosophers. Only the unforgivable can be truly forgiven. And this exchange between the pardoner and the pardoned is inscrutable, it takes place “in the night of the unintelligible”. In Iran, it took place a few days ago in broad daylight, with men, women and children watching. A young man was about to be hanged for killing another young man. He had been blindfolded, stood on the chair, the noose slipped around his neck. The mother of the victim was then asked to push the chair away from below him, as is the custom. She came forward to do this, but instead of hanging her son’s killer, she took off his blindfold, gave him a resounding slap, and forgave him — as the victim’s next of kin is allowed to in Iran. The two mothers — of the killer and the killed — then fell weeping into each other’s arms. The victim’s mother has said that she was prompted to forgive the youth by a dream she had had the previous night. Besides, this was the second son she had lost unnaturally. So, she probably realized the futility of vengeance in the name of the law.
Opposers of capital punishment would argue that by being asked to push the chair away, the mother was being authorized by the State to avenge murder with murder, even when the act was not going to give her back her son. Her loss was being compensated for by the pleasure of revenge. But this woman took the law into her own hands, and replaced it with another kind of logic — a mad sort of reason, the philosopher would say, that has the power to render the State and its ‘justice’ machine redundant in an instant. In early modern times, monarchs of the Western world used publicly performed, last-minute pardons as theatrical demonstrations of royal power. This woman, too, must have been aware of her action’s histrionic potential. What the young man felt through all this is, of course, another story.