Reza Aslan: The public was quick to forgive Dylann Roof -- so why can't we do the same with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?

Aslan said that "forgiveness" plays a bigger role in the court of law than we think

Published June 26, 2015 2:00PM (EDT)

 Reza Aslan      (Comedy Central)
Reza Aslan (Comedy Central)

With Thursday's news that Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev would be formally sentenced to death, Reza Aslan, guest panelist on "The Nightly Show," couldn't help but wonder why the same "rush to forgiveness" he saw with Dylann Roof wasn't being extended to Tsarnaev.

Tsarnaev broke his long, two-year silence yesterday in court with an apology, explaining “I am sorry for the lives that I’ve taken, for the suffering that I’ve caused you, for the damage that I’ve done — irreparable damage.” Though, it was too little, too late.

Aslan, the religious author and scholar, told Wilmore and his co-panelists that he was struggling to reconcile the two news stories and how people were responding to them. Roof, the 21-year-old who shot and killed nine members of a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., didn't even have to apologize in order to earn the public's forgiveness.

“It was a big deal about the fact that – despite the fact that he did not apologize – that the victims were forgiving of him, it was splashed on the New York Times, everybody was talking about how amazing it was, that all this forgiveness for him.”

He continued: “Yet we’re having this argument, this debate about whether we should also forgive Tsarnaev, and I’m just trying to figure out exactly what the difference between the two of them are, and I can’t figure out the difference between them."

Aslan said that, while "forgiveness" shouldn't ideally factor in when determining punishment, it inevitably does.

"The law is supposed to be completely dispassionate. But throughout the entire sentencing, there was this whole thing about, does he deserve to go to prison, does he deserve to die. That’s sort of like the state forgiveness.”

Watch the clip courtesy of Comedy Central below:

By Colin Gorenstein

Colin Gorenstein is Salon's assistant editor of internet and viral content. Follow @colingorenstein or email

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Reza Aslan The Nightly Show Video