The Last Plea Bargain by Randy Singer

The Last Plea Bargain
by Randy Singer

In case you didn’t see it check out the book trailer I shared earlier. Interested? Now onto the review.

Randy Singer is a gifted writer and story-teller who writes with an insider’s perspective. Sure most of us have seen our fair share of Law and Order but that doesn’t give you the kind of knowledge that an experienced trial-lawyer like Randy Singer brings to the table.

The Last Plea Bargain starts with the death of the former showgirl and young wife of Caleb Tate, one of the most famous defense lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia. The circumstances look suspicious. A young prosecutor, Jamie Brock, who is known for her insistence on taking her cases to trial and not settling for a plea bargain that lessens the punishment for a criminal simply to grease the wheels of the justice system, takes this case as her personal mission. Not simply to seek justice for the victim, but also because Caleb Tate, the lawyer, also defended the man Jamie is convinced murdered her mother and nearly killed father just a few years earlier.

The story takes you through her own quest for justice while struggling to keep from falling prey to simply seeking vengeance. It reveals her own personal struggle, made even more difficult when she is confronted with unexpected revelations. She is left without knowing who to turn to for help. She is forced to question the very things and people she has most trusted in life.

The story is great. It will draw you in. It will keep you guessing right to the very end.

Also, one of the elements I had most appreciated about previous books I had read by Randy Singer was his ability to take a particular social issue (for example responsibility for gun control) and put it in narrative that forces you to question your presuppositions on the topic. The Last Plea Bargain does this as well with the issue of the death penalty. This issue just jumped back into the public consciousness with Amnesty International’s release of their 2011 report on the global use of capital punishment with the USA at #5. Where do you stand on this issue? Why? The narrative of the Last Plea Bargain will take you into the issue and examine the logic and emotions on both sides of the debate.

To speak critically though, a few of the  turns in the plot seemed a little forced. While plausible they were just a bit of a stretch in my opinion. There is a skill an author has that keeps you guessing, unable to predict the end all along, yet once you get to the end you think back and say “ahh!! how did I not see that?” I didn’t feel like that was the case here. The turns came but not as tightly wound as I would have preferred.

In the end it is a wonderful book. I would gladly recommend it for someone looking for an enjoyable and exciting legal novel.

DISCLAIMER: I received a free evaluation copy of this book from Tyndale House. I did not receive any monetary payment nor was I required to write a positive review. I hope my comments about the book will help you evaluate whether or not the book is worth purchasing and reading.

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Wednesday 2.22.12

How to Boost Your Reading Comprehension – Do you find you have more to read than you can ever possibly finish? Do you actually take time to chew on what you read? There is a certain amount of value of being able to read and understand lots but it is easy to get lost in the flood and never profit from all you read. This article has some good tips for managing your reading work flow.

Five Thoughts on Vocation – A few brief thoughts on what the theology of vocation is and why it is so important that we see not just the “spiritual” acts of our life but all of life as before the face of God.

Finally, the theology of vocation is fundamentally about who we are created to be – both as human beings in general, and as specific creatures.

Review: Islam Without Extremes – a good overview of a book I’m really excited about Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty that summarizes some of its main arguments and shows why the book is valuable.

I honestly think it is one of the most important books of 2011; if you have any serious interest in Islam and its future, do make sure you read this.

Secularism: Its Content and Context – this is a pretty heavy article but makes some really interesting and strong points about what secularism should be and how it should be argued for. He, in a very interesting way, argues against relativism in a way that I really resonated with. While there are some areas of disagreement with the author I really liked the piece overall. (I’d recommend reading the full article, though a heavy 35 pages) because this excerpt just gets started on the good stuff!)

Re-Thinking Secularism Abstract

So one of the ways in which I’m hoping to profit from blogging this year is through sharing some of the work I’m doing other places and generating feedback and helping to develop ideas. In my articles that I plan to post on Thursday’s (or Friday’s!) I will often be drawing from reading and writing I’m doing for grad school. Today I sent in the last of my projects for the fall semester. So I am now officially done! I’m looking forward to a few weeks off. It was mildly anti-climactic though because I’m going to be continuing some of the same topics next semester as I work on my master’s thesis.

Below is the abstract for a paper that will form the basis for my thesis. Thoughts? Questions? Ideas?

Re-Thinking Secularism: Religion in Public Life in Turkey

Abstract:

What does it mean to be a secular state? Is there a universal understanding of the place religion should occupy in a democratic state? This paper considers the conceptions of secularism and the particular brand of secularism that Turkey has embraced throughout its history. It is argued that a variety of factors make it untenable for the state to continue in a path of strict secularism through the  control of religion but secularism should be reconceptualized in a way that assures the freedom of religion from the state and the state from religion. A theoretical model is proposed that is better suited to the current realities of the Turkish experience and identifies some of the unique issues of concern. As Turkey continues to develop a robust and stable democracy and desires to remain a leader in the implementation of democracy in the Muslim majority world it must continue to make progress in the place of religion and public life.  

Public Protest as a Road to Democracy?

We are all quite aware that 2011 was a year full of protests. I say “Arab Spring” and”Occupy” what do you think of? I picture crowds filling the streets. Chanting, screaming, yelling for change. Time was on to something when they named “The Protester” their person of the year. There was certainly a lot of noise.

What changed? Maybe you shoot back – what didn’t change? Ben Ali is gone. Mubarak is gone. Gadaffi is gone. Papandreou is gone. Burlusconi is gone. Even Kim Jong-il is gone. Okay, but what changed? What assurance is there that the public protests that pushed most of these out of office will in someway lead to something better for their countries? We know what has been torn down. What will be built up?

Within political sciences many have argued that the public protest is not actually a very likely candidate for moving a country from authoritarianism to democracy. Why would that be? What factors might stand in the way of a public protest leading to a democracy?

Let me at least give you five:

1. Lack of Leadership 

Authoritarian rulers do not appreciate challenges to their rule from other potential leaders. So what do they do? They repress leadership. Students are the universal opposition of regimes, in the words of Samuel Huntington. While certainly public protests have been more than just students, the young people do contribute a significant amount to the cause. Nor am I discounting the importance of young peoples movements. I’m in full support of students and youth taking an active role in the shaping of their society. However, if they are not able to create leaders who are able to reach a broader demographic than just the youth the protest may ultimately fail to produce.

2. Institutional Weakness

Another factor is that the authoritarian government controls nearly every aspect of civil life. Especially in single party regimes they monitor and control the institutions. The civil servants that run the daily affairs of the country are employed by the regime. A violent removal of all those elements leaves the country with weak institutions. During the transition period to a new government there must be some sort of civil institutions. In some societies these are able to operate under the rule of the regime. Whether they are labor unions, religious groups, etc. institutions and organizations will be an important part of a new society. If they are lacking or prove too weak then the prospects may be grim.

3. Factionalism

During protest movements we don’t often hear much about factionalism. There is a common goal – remove the current person from power. That is pretty much all that matters. Ideologies and principles take a back seat. However – once that goal is accomplished – factions come to the surface in the rebuilding phase. The ability for groups to form broad-based and effective coalitions will be crucial to a transition to a democratic government. If they are not able to do this then the factions will compete – with institutions that are not strong enough to handle the competition within the political arena – and the political movement that started out so well. That drew together people from all different backgrounds and ideologies will ultimately come to nothing. Worse than nothing it will produce instability.

4. Instability

 The period falling the removal of a regime is often marked by instability. One study (from the 1980s) looked at the transition after the removal of a long-ruling leader to determine if the way he was removed made a difference for the instability that followed. The most volatile and negative effects came about when he was overthrown. It is studies like these that inform the fears of outside countries who are cautious about supporting public protests of regimes. This is the charge leveled against the US for their foreign policy in the Middle East. That they will support an authoritarian regime rather than democracy to protect their interests. The evidence in many ways supports the conclusion that instability will follow. If a country persists in a period of instability for too long someone will step in to offer stability. Oftentimes this is the military and sometimes this creates a military regime. It happens not because that is what the public wanted but because they are the only ones who offer peace. This is especially true when violence is involved.

5. Use of Violence

One of the most crucial components is whether or not the opposition movement uses violence in their protest against the authoritarian regime. When they do the likelihood of producing a stable democracy decreases significantly. There are also studies that have shown that nonviolence is a more effective strategy than even a well-armed and well-organized resistance. A non-violent opposition is able to engender more support from more facets of society. It does not offer the regime any way to legitimize their use of force against the protesters. As many have pointed out having the military on your side – or at least not actively against you – is key to successfully removing the regime. Soldiers are less likely to join forces with those who have been throwing Molotov cocktails at them. It also sets the standard for what your goals and objectives are. If you are willing to stand by your principles in your efforts to achieve them.

So what do you need to go from the crowd chanting in the street to the crowd casting votes at the ballot box to the crowd living in a secure, stable, and democratic society? Leadership, institutions and organizations, a willingness to work together and not default to factionalism, minimize the instability, and a rejection of violent methods.

Is it a guarantee of a transition to democracy? No. Is it going to make it easier? No. But it offers the best hope that the public protests will be part of putting the country on a road to democracy.

Public Protest as a Road to Democracy – References

Dissent Denied↓

Ambiguities of Apostasy and the Repression of Muslim Dissent by Abdullah Saeed

The fifth article from the Summer edition of The Review of Faith & International Affairs.

Saeed, Abdullah. “Ambiguities of Apostasy and the Repression of Muslim Dissent.” The Review of Faith and International Affairs (Vol. 9 No. 2, Summer 2011): 31-38.

This article begins with a sketch of the historical background and the practice of Muhammad and some of the early followers in relation to those of other faiths. Saeed comes to the conclusion that though with a few exceptions

religious freedom came to be regarded as a fundamental principle of classical Islamic law and theology, particularly in relation to non-Muslims. (31)

The majority of the article deals not with the freedoms of non-Muslims in Muslim majority contexts but for Muslims within Muslim majority contexts. Saeed points that laws dealing with this topic emerged during a period of “imperial expansion and internal competition” (32). These laws were used to silence opponents in order to consolidate power. They were prone to abuse then and now.

Saeed breaks “dissent” down under five different headings: Apostasy, Blasphemy, Heresy, Hypocrisy, and Unbelief.

Apostasy: After having previously accepted Islam turns away and rejects it
Blasphemy: Foul language with regard initially to the prophet Muhammad and then extended to include God, angels, and other prophets.
Heresy: Teaching that becomes a danger to the state, freethinking, outward faithfulness while in practice remaining loyal to a former non-Islamic religion.
Hypocrisy: Outward profession to Islam while continuing inward devotion to non-Islamic beliefs. 
Unbelief: One who does not believe in core beliefs (oneness of God, prophethood of Muhammad) of Islam.

These categories cover the vast majority of the laws relating to division within the Muslim community. In the second and third centuries of the Islamic era lists began to be constructed. Today there are dozens of “apostasy lists” There is no consensus on which list is correct. Depending on the location and circumstances one list gains prominence over another. These become useful in silencing dissent especially when three conditions are present:

1. The laws are worded ambiguously and are therefore easily applied in a wide range of cases;

2. there is a dominant local orthodoxy and an overbearing religious establishment to oversee its implementation; and,

3.  there is a political elite willing to support the religious establishment. (Saeed 33)

The majority of the remaining pages of the article expands on each of these conditions. It is easy to see how when these three things come together there is no room for critical thinking. The author cites a number of cases in various countries that demonstrate what this looks like. At times it takes the form of academic censure, or eliminating a political challenger. Other times these laws have led to imprisonment or execution. Sometimes the suppression takes place through official channels, the police or military, legal proceedings, etc. Other times individuals are provoked to take action against someone who a leader feels is divisive or a challenge to their authority.

What are the most significant losses from this denial of dissent?

Obviously, when physical violence or execution is a major loss. Beyond that, it hinders an individuals personal expression of their faith. If they differ at all from the dominant orthodoxy they may face opposition. It forces minority religious groups into the background. Academics and intellectuals are denied the freedom to seriously study and share their findings with society. This is why a large number of the prominent voices calling for reform in Islamic thought live outside of Muslim majority countries. Within their home countries the academic freedom does not exist to seriously engage on topics that might be seen as a challenge to the existing structures.

Whenever religious freedom is suppressed something significant is lost. Not just when one religion silences another but within the same religion. The freedom to think and question and work towards greater understanding is a valuable freedom.

For Islamic thought to move forward, Muslims in Muslim-majority states need to rethink these laws that criminalize dissent and that suppress thought and debate. (37)