I listened to “Serial” this weekend, a podcast that tries to “solve” a murder case that happened 15 years ago in 1999, in which a Pakistani immigrant called Adnan Syed was charged for murder.
I strongly recommend you listen to “Serial”. For one thing, it’s real. Adnan is a real person, and he really is serving a life sentence for the alleged murder of his girlfriend. He was convicted in Maryland, the United States, when he was 18, and if you listen to the podcast, you’ll see that the conviction was pretty shady.
The podcast is an amazing insight into the nature of justice, the objectivity of perspective, and racism. Sarah Koenig meticulously goes over every piece of evidence at hand, both incriminating and otherwise. She interviews every person related to Adnan and Hae, the victim. She poses questions that tackle every single angle. She is so thorough it’s impressive.
Yet, even with all Sarah’s thoroughness, my own personal conclusion is that there isn’t enough data to decide whether Adnan is innocent or guilty. The information is inconclusive.
You see, I’ve spent a good portion of time in the past few years consciously training myself to think critically. This has involved learning formal logical fallacies. Ultimately, it is fallacious reasoning that keeps us from knowing the truth. As I listened to the prosecution, all I could do was count the logical fallacies I heard: Fallacy of Presumption, Ad Hominem, Appeal to Authority, Biased Sample, Appeal to Ignorance, False Dilemma, Poisoning the Well, Questionable Cause…
Yes, I’m aware that misusing fallacies is a natural part of the justice system. Tapping into people’s inability to think critically is what law seems to be all about: manipulation by those skilled in the art of rhetoric.
This is where accountability comes in. Our humanity is based around the concept of accountability. What makes us different from animals is not intelligence — animals are intelligent too — but accountability. Thousands of years of laws, tradition, and religion has cemented our need for accountability.
There is not enough evidence in the case to assess Adnan’s innocence or guilt. Regardless of whether Adnan is guilty or not, it seems to me that Adnan was convinced to hold someone accountable for the death of an innocent girl.
And this is why Serial is so amazing. It just shows you what such a screwed up thing justice is.
Yet, the worst part by far is the motive claimed by the prosecution. Racism screwed up a kid’s life. It is atrocious, disgusting, racist, and xenophobic. According to the prosecution, Adnan’s motive was something in between being the “crazy possessive Muslim guy” and the hypocritical bad guy who is pretending to be a “good Muslim” but is instead doing something “evil”. He was after all, they claimed, dating in secret, due to not wanting to his conservative families to know.
It was this “motive” that was used against Adnan by the prosecution, and he was made out to be the psychopath who hid his dating from his family because he is a psychopath. They said Adnan was guilt ridden about lying to his family about having a girlfriend, and so he killed his girlfriend. They presented him as this two-faced bastard with a split personality.
This is where I was like WTF.
In 1999, when Adnan was convicted, I was a teenager too. I keep going back to 1999 and feeling horrified that this poor guy basically got locked up for hiding stuff from his parents, when me, myself, and everyone I knew were hiding stuff too.
They put a kid away simply because they couldn’t relate to his background.
1. Hiding stuff from parents during your teenage is the normal thing as far as Middle Eastern culture is concerned. You operate thinking that your parents don’t want to know these things. I hid stuff from mine all the time, even though I knew they wouldn’t have given a crap. I hid it because everyone else in the community hid it from their own parents.
2. Middle Eastern culture is very strongly connected to religion, so it’s harder to face parents. Their concern over their children’s behavior is deep-rooted in the fear of God. Parents get really worried when they think their kids might go to hell, and so kids just avoid letting their parents know that they’re doing stuff that “god might not be too happy with” for their parents’ peace of mind. This is totally normal. It doesn’t make anyone a bad person. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, it’s really sweet. Let the mothers sleep soundly at night, yeah?
I can’t believe that the prosecution used this against Adnan. It really is atrocious.