Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Systems of Justice

The first regular episode of the seventh season of 24 featured Jack Bauer testifying before a Congressional panel which seemed dedicated to the destruction of Jack and the sense of patriotism that caused him to commit the acts he became well known for in previous seasons. The atmosphere of the Congressional committee room was formal and rigid, and the parties involved were eager to challenge each other, making the encounter tense. The method used to pillory Jack seemed to be harsh and unfair, creating the idea that the overall type of justice which the lead inquisitor, Senator Mayer, was attempting to impose was vindictive and counter-productive.

One of the very last scenes of season seven showed Jack, near death due to his exposure to the bio-weapon he was trying to keep from those who would use it against the American public, essentially waiting to die in a hospital. He had previously reunited with his daughter, Kim, made peace with her for their past falling-out, and then sent her away so that he could die without exposing her to the grotesque process of death due to the bio-weapon. Jack is alone except for his medical team when he is informed that he has a visitor, and is seemingly surprised when that visitor is Gohar, an imam who Jack met earlier in the day. Their initial meeting was far from cordial, with Jack seeking information from Gohar regarding a member of Gohar’s congregation and Gohar reacting to Jack with disgust due to Jack’s reputation. Indeed, one of the first comments Gohar makes to Jack is that he saw him at the Congressional hearing, said in a derogatory tone. However, when Gohar accompanies Jack and Renee in their search for his congregant, and when Gohar sees Jack’s attitude toward the congregant change once he realizes that the congregant has been unwillingly brought into a plot by Tony Almeida, Gohar’s views of Jack change.

When they are alone at the hospital, Jack tells Gohar that he asked him to visit in order to apologize and seek forgiveness. Instead of asking for more, or reminding Jack of the previous acts which caused Jack to seek forgiveness in the first place, Gohar extends his hand to Jack and suggests that they both seek forgiveness for their previous actions. They each spend a moment in quiet prayer and then Jack signals that he is ready to die, after which his doctors put him in a comma to ease the suffering of a biological weapon-induced death. Gohar stays with Jack and when Kim returns to insist that she be allowed to participate in an experimental procedure that might save Jack, she is greeted by Gohar, who identifies himself as Jack’s friend.

Other than Jack, what is the connection between the opening and closing scenes of season seven? Certainly it is nothing aesthetic – there are perhaps fewer obvious contrasts than between a politically charged Congressional hearing room and the hospital room of a dying man. And certainly it is not in the other characters involved – again, there are fewer glaring contrasts than a near-rabid Congressional inquisitor and a quiet, peaceful religious leader. The connection between these scenes is that they each portray a system of justice, and the contrast between the two raises the question of how success is viewed from the perspective of justice.

In the Congress-implemented system of justice, Jack is called before the panel – led by an extremely zealous and highly opinionated Senator – in order to be excoriated for what the panel’s leadership views as immoral conduct. Jack is brought to the panel in order to be the scapegoat not only for his own actions but also for the entire CTU entity, which we quickly learn was dismantled after the sixth season due to the continuous crusading of Senator Mayer. Senator Mayer and his panel hold Jack up as the representative of CTU and intend to dress him down publicly in order to receive a vindication of their actions to end CTU. They seek to punish him through a system of justice in order to promote their interests while at the same time indicting a person and the system of enforcing justice which he is deemed to represent.

In the system of justice used by Gohar, the anger at Jack ends when it is realized that he is not in fact a monster or on a mission to target the Muslim population at large. Rather, Gohar’s system of justice involves talking to Jack as a person and seeking to understand him in order to comprehend what he has done. There is no attempt to publicly flaunt Gohar’s relationship with Jack. When he believes he is about to die, Jack reaches out to Gohar because he represents those who Jack believes he has wronged and yet is still willing to listen to him. Gohar’s system of justice is to lead Jack in prayer and to grant forgiveness without personal gain other than the knowledge that he is doing his religious duty by helping a repentant, dying man.
The contrast in systems of justice, when viewed as such, is extremely stark. Of course, one system of justice is political and one is religious, but that is not the extent of the contrast. Rather, the contrast comes in the way in which the system administers and understands justice. While the Congressional system is vindictive in its justice and understands its role as furthering such a concept, Gohar’s system of justice is open to those seeking to avail themselves of it and does not seek to condemn. Both systems of justice would likely find supporters, and the purpose of this blog posting is not to explicitly favor one system over the other. Rather, the purpose of this blog posting is to highlight these systems of justice and their placement in the storyline of 24.

Information about 24 is available at .

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