Torturing a cat to death is wrong, but is it also wrong or even worse for animal rights activists to mob, attack and injure the cat-killer?
It is not an easy question to answer. Nor is attacking another person legally acceptable. But a legal wrong does not necessarily correlate with a social, cultural, religious, political or medical wrong.
The angry animal rights activists who mobbed a National Taiwan University (NTU) student who confessed to killing two cats clearly did not approach the case from a medical perspective — namely the fact that the suspect likely needs treatment for mental illness as much as jail terms or monetary fines.
We have seen many similar scenes outside police stations and courthouses where murder suspects were attacked by angry family members of the victim and bystanders.
There seems to be no difference between the killer of a cat and the killer of a person, as far as the lynch mob is concerned.
But the nation seems to tolerate the brutality of the lynch mob who could hurt another's life in the name of justice — justice as they define it.
The activists have questioned why NTU failed to correct the student's behaviour after he was caught killing the first cat earlier this year and why it the university protected him when it was discovered he killed another several days ago.
They are demanding the court show no leniency to the student — exerting the kind of social pressure that has sometimes succeeded in swaying the judge's decisions in some other criminal cases.
Taiwanese tend to see such mob reactions as acts of justice in a country where the court system often fails and whose judges' capacities have often been questioned.
Two weeks ago, we discussed how a court changed its bail decision overnight after succumbing to pressure from law enforcement bodies and the public, and granted prosecutors permission to detain a man suspected of stabbing and seriously injuring a police officer.
A deep distrust of the legal institution seems to have become so ingrained in our collective consciousness that it is politically, culturally and socially correct to break whatever laws and regulations deemed outdated, biased or unjust.
We have seen university students storm the parliament and occupy its chamber for weeks to push for political reform, and we have seen high school students storm the Education Ministry to push for educational reform.
And we have seen lawmakers — who are supposed to make the laws and observe them — bickering and fighting during meetings and stalling parliamentary operations by occupying the speaker's desk — all in the name of defending the people's interests.
The lawmakers' in-house brawls and protests are legally permitted because of the immunity they have. And such extreme actions have become part of the nation's political institutions.
We have become a nation of protests. But perhaps we have gone too far toward an extreme where everything must be taken into our own hands.
It is high time that we took a step back and redrew the fine line dividing legitimate and illegitimate actions.
It will not be an easy task. Every culture has its own line. It may be culturally acceptable to stone to death a female adulterer in some countries, but in others, adultery is legally acceptable, if not socially, religiously or politically.
It may be legal to eat dogs in some countries, but not in others. It is definitely unacceptable in Taiwan from any perspective.
How are going to reshape our collective consciousness? When will the majority of the nation think it unacceptable to mob and attack a suspect accused of committing an "unacceptable" crime?
It may seem an oxymoron to describe a crime as "unacceptable," but there are indeed some culturally and socially "acceptable" crimes in Taiwan, such as the one the animal rights activists committed against the cat-killer.
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