How Tsarnaev sentence traps us in cycle of violence

Story highlights

  • Jay Parini: As a Christian, I'm horrified at Tsarnaev death penalty. It does nothing to bring peace and continues cycle of violence
  • "Turning the other cheek" may sound meek. But it's a powerful teaching

Jay Parini, a poet and novelist, teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont. His newest book is "Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal," which is forthcoming in October. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)As a Christian, I can't but feel horrified at the news that a federal jury has imposed the death penalty on Dzhokar Tsarnaev, the young man who (with his brother) was responsible for the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

This punishment only continues the cycle of violence, and it will not bring peace. In fact, the execution of Tsarnaev will transform him into a martyr, and millions around the world will find fresh reasons to dislike the United States.
Jay Parini
I have no sympathy for him. He killed and maimed innocent people, believing that this violence would somehow make up for the violence to Islamic people wrought by American bombs. But violence is never the right answer.
    Capital punishment is murder by the state; it cannot be justified. It will do nothing to comfort anyone who suffered from the horror perpetrated by Tsarnaev. If we allow ourselves to get sucked into the violence that has been done to us, we in turn become that violence.
    Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount that "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" is the old way of doing business. He asked us to turn the other cheek. And he meant it -- although that is a very complex teaching that each Christian must interpret with prayerful alertness to the responsibilities and difficulties of nonviolent responses to violence.
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    It is not hard to argue that Tsarnaev's case has its roots in an earlier cycle of violence: The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that left nearly 3,000 dead in 2001. It is for many of us the worst day we can recall.
    I remember thinking to myself: there will be violence for decades now, and it will follow from this act. So it was not surprising when only a few years later we invaded Iraq, even though expert voices around the world warned that there was no real connection between Iraq and 9/11.
    Over 100,000 civilians and security forces would die, bombed by Americans and their allies. These deaths, and countless injuries, would create a great deal of anger, as generations would remember the day that the Americans bombed their city in this "war of choice."
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    Of course, it was impossible to know the full extent of the terror that would follow, and that indeed ISIS would rush in to fill a vacuum created by wiping out Saddam's army. Violence follows violence.
    From this, angry, distorted men, like the Tsarnaev brothers, drew justification for their unspeakable actions.
    Cycles of violence are difficult, nearly impossible, to break.
    The concept of "turning the other cheek" may sound meek and mild, almost a copout. But it's a powerful teaching that could lead to genuine, even radical, transformation. It invites us to struggle to find a way out of this cycle of victim and perpetrator.
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