Justice Should Remain Blind


One of the greatest of the medieval Turkish princes was Mahmud of Ghazni (محمود غزنوی) or Mahmud Ghaznawi.  He lived from about 971 to 1030.  During this time his forces conquered large parts of what is now Iran, Afghanistan, and northern India.  It was apparently for him that the title of sultan was first invented.

Edward Gibbon, in Chapter LVII of his lyrical Decline and Fall, tells the following tale about how the prince was in the habit of dispensing justice.  He says:

From the paths of blood, and such is the history of nations, I cannot refuse to turn aside to gather some flowers of science or virtue.

The name of Mahmud the Gaznevide is still venerable in the East:  his subjects enjoyed the blessings of prosperity and peace; his vices were concealed by the veil of religion; and two familiar examples will testify his justice and magnanimity.

As he sat in the Divan, an unhappy subject bowed before the throne to accuse the insolence of a Turkish soldier who had driven him from his house and bed.

“Suspend your clamours,” said Mahmud, “inform me of his next visit and ourself in person will judge and punish the offender.”

The sultan followed his guide, invested the house with his guards, and, extinguishing the torches, pronounced the death of the criminal, who had been seized in the act of rapine and adultery.  After the execution of his sentence, the lights were rekindled, Mahmud fell prostrate in prayer, and, rising from the ground, demanded some homely fare, which he devoured with the voraciousness of hunger.

The poor man, whose injury he had avenged, was unable to suppress his astonishment and curiosity; and the courteous monarch condescended to explain the motives of this singular behavior.

“I had reason to suspect that none except one of my sons could dare to perpetrate such an outrage; and I extinguished the lights, [so] that my justice might be blind and inexorable.  My prayer was a thanksgiving on the discovery of the offender; and so painful was my anxiety that I had passed three days without food since the first moment of your complaint.”

In this way Mahmud explained how he was able to ensure that his justice would remain blind, without concern for the lineage of a criminal offender.  But it is not enough to call generally for blindness in the administration of justice; a judge must make positive efforts to ensure that he stays blind.

None should be above it, and none should be exempt from it.