By proposing that rioters and their families be evicted from public housing, British Prime Minister Cameron is promoting collective punishment for the acts of an individual – an ancient injustice that the Old Testament rejected.
“British Leader Seeks Public Housing Evictions for Rioters and Their Families” reads a New York Times headline from Aug. 12. It was Prime Minister David Cameron’s response to what his government said was the worst civil disorder in a generation.
The prime minister’s pronouncements both to the House of Commons and on television suggest a troubling disregard of what is the most basic axiom of any legal system – guilt is individual. No democratic nation today sanctions collective guilt. Yet the prime minister’s demeaning reference to “phoney concerns about human rights” implied that such claims are not to be treated as real.
His advocating that families be expelled from public housing if one of their members has committed a crime is not the creation of a brilliant new punishment, but a reversion to the ancient practice of a blood feud. By the time of the Old Testament, which called for “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” the blood feud and collective punishment had been rejected.