The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Monday, December 28, 2009

A need for moral insight.

Does the People's Republic of China have moral insight, at a State level? I ask this because recent events suggest otherwise. I shall explain.

A British man, Akmal Shaikh, 53, is under penalty of death and due to be executed tomorrow morning for carrying 4 kg of heroin into the country. Now, that might seem like a simple matter of executing (under Chinese law) a drug smuggler who happened to get caught. However, it is not so simple: you see Akmal Shaikh has bipolar disorder and, at the time of his supposed offense, was acting under the delusion that he was flying to China to make a hit record. Apparently, he had been duped into carrying a suitcase filled with heroin, of which he was utterly unaware - at least, that is what his supporters say. The Chinese State, on the other hand, seems to see things in a rather more black and white fashion that goes a bit like this: "Man caught with drugs. Drugs bad. Kill man." They are not considering whether it was even possible for this particular man, to understand what he was doing, or what, in fact, is going on.

It is curious to note that China is unable to immediately see the problem with their proposed execution. The rest of the world seems to have no trouble identifying the trickiness of this scenario. Yet a spokeperson for the Chinese embassy would only say that the amount of heroin he was carrying "could kill 26,800 people". Yes, it could, if they all decided to overdose on it. However, almost all would not. It is interesting, however, that the Chinese refuse to understand the situation and keep harping on the drug he was carrying. It has never occurred to them that you can't convict a man of doing something he didn't know he was doing. There is something called "intention" - and he had no intention of carrying these drugs and, we are told, no knowledge that he was carrying them. So, it is clear that, although a crime has taken place, he is not a criminal. The crime lays with whomever GAVE him the drugs. That is the person or people who should be tracked down, caught and tried - not the innocent mule who was unaware of his burdened status.

Then again, there is the matter of his bipolar disorder. If he was "high" and knowingly carried drugs (which it is said he was not), then he could not have been responsible for this, either - since, in that condition, he may be unable to understand the implications, consequences and nature of his actions.

All of this is very straightforward and most reasonable people have no trouble understanding it. However, as it is now, the Chinese have given no indication that they understand these issues - or appreciate their relevance to the impending execution. Yet, I note something most, most odd: the Chinese have kept Akmal Shaikh prisoner in A HOSPITAL. Thus, they know, for sure, that he is mentally ill: that is their OWN assessment - yet still they persist in arranging his execution. That indicates a fundamental lack of morality in the justice system - and a fundamental failure to appreciate human rights. The need to make an example of this hapless man is greater than the desire to see that the RIGHT thing is done and the JUST thing is done. Spectacle is to take precedence over humanity.

I hope, for the sake of this unfortunate man, that China wakes up to some degree of moral understanding before the morning and cancels this man's execution. Akmal Shaikh doesn't need a lethal injection - he needs a quiet place free of stress where he might calm down and achieve some equanimity.

Looking at this matter from a broader perspective, it strikes me as peculiar that certain countries are very quick to execute drug mules (Singapore and China for instance), but less in a hurry to track down the networks that supplied the drugs. It would have more impact, in the long run, were they to keep the mules alive and pump them for clues as to their "bosses", in the hope of working out the supply chain. Maybe they do try...but I don't see much result. All we see are fairly regular executions, in this part of the world, for people carrying sometimes surprisingly modest amounts of drugs.

So, it is not just China that needs to look to its conscience in this matter - but other countries, too. Should the mules be sentenced to death, since they are often unwitting pawns in a much larger enterprise? Or should such sentences be reserved for the organizers?

We will find out, tomorrow, how much China has understood of these issues. So will Akmal Shaikh.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:28 PM 


Blogger Fox said...

How strange that you fail to mention that Singapore's neighbours - Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand - also have mandatory capital punishment for drug trafficking. One cannot help but suspect that you have singled out Singapore and China because of their dominant ethnic population.

And it is the People's Republic of China, not the Republic of China. The latter is Taiwan.

6:58 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

You are being rather paranoid Fox. It is not strange that I did not mention the laws of Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia...because, you see, I DON'T KNOW THEIR LAWS! Contrary to your suspicion, I am not, at this time, omniscient, though it would be handy if I was. I am merely writing from what I presently know and understand.

I am familiar with China, having taught many PRCs...I am familiar with Singapore, having lived there for almost a decade. I am not, however, yet familiar with any of the countries you have mentioned. I have, after all only been in Malaysia for just over three weeks.

As for People's Republic of China...that is precisely what I meant to write: it is called a typo. I just left out one word inadvertently. Thanks for pointing it out.

No. I did not single out Singapore and China because of their "dominant ethnic composition"...I singled them out because of all the countries whose laws I am familiar with...mainly the West and Singapore and China; they are the most draconian re. drugs. That is all.

Have a Happy New Year.

10:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is nothing in your entry that would argue against the punishment in my view. Why should you engage in any sort of introspection on his state of mind at the time the offense was committed? By doing that you leave any rational, objective criteria to one side and allow other considerations to enter into your decision making.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Your view is one formed on a lack of thought about the issues, I rather think.

Let me direct your attention to one point: he didn't know he was carrying drugs, HE THOUGHT HE WAS FLYING OUT TO MAKE A HIT MUSIC RECORD. Now, excuse me, but if someone thinks they are making music, and not carrying drugs, I think it has a significant bearing on whether they should be punished, for it, in the conventional way. That you don't, indicates that, rather like the Chinese, you don't pause to think in humane terms.

The matter of intention is recognized in most legal structures around the world - how come you don't recognize it? If there is intention to murder, for instance, it is one offence, if it was accidentally inflicted death, without intention, it is another offence...and so on.

I hope you are not in the law yourself, since justice might be hard to come by, if so.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

By the way, your dismissal of "other considerations" as opposed to "rational objective criteria" comes across as rather Spock like and cold.

It IS actually rational to ask what was a man thinking...since that gives us understanding of his purpose and intention, all of which have bearing on the meaning of what happened.

12:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree with a legal system that recognises an internal state of mind as an external condition. I see no way to resolve any persons internal state and therefore this must not form part of any judgement. Surely the Chinese courts would have recognised that he had been duped if that was the case, i.e. evidence that he had been given the case by someone in Poland? The fact that most legal systems, in your view, take intent into account is not an argument I recognise; where is the rational basis for this?

12:53 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...


There is a big difference, for instance, between chasing someone through the streets with a car and then deliberately running them over, reversing and running them over again and again until they are dead - and accidentally hitting someone who crossed the road at just the wrong time. One of them is a crime, the other is an accident. Apparently, however, you are unable to distinguish the two.

I think you need to think carefully about what the law is meant to do. It is meant to discern is not meant to punish accidents, or unintended circumstances.

Have a Happy New Year.

4:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Valentine,

This may be of interest:

In particular, these lines:

"Prof Stone said the authorities would not want to be seen to make an exception for a foreign man but the issue of mental illness was an important consideration in Chinese law.

"The Chinese law is actually pretty careful about mental health issues," he said. "They have special dispensations, special rights, greater right to counsel.

"In this case, the issue of mental illness seems not to have been raised until after the trial was over and the death sentence had been handed down."


12:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is why there are people who deliberately hit someone with a car, make it looks like an accident. How could they prove the intention of the criminal?

under s 121A of the Penal Code.
Whoever compasses imagines, invents, devises or intends the death or hurt to or imprisonment or restrain of the President, shall be punished with death and shall also be liable to fine.

How could this be proved?

Now, The question is whether Akmal Shaikh can prove himself that his real intention is to record a hit video.

On the other hand, if The PRC were not to punish him, this will create a loophole in the law system in the future. The drug dealers will exploit it by using innocent people to transport drugs since there will only be two possibilities, get away from the police or get acquitted from the court.

Blame the system.

1:49 AM  
Anonymous jen said...

Hi valentine,
this may be off topic..since you guys in how's ainan schooling in singapore politech? I'm just curious. Have a nice day :)

3:31 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Jen,

Ainan has finished at the Polytech...we have made other arrangements for further studies. More of this at another time...

Have a Happy New Year.

9:15 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Drug dealers DO use innocent Akmal Shaikh. They use innocent people all the time. That is one reason why you are asked: "Did you pack your bags yourself?", at airports...because you are responsible for its contents if you did...and not responsible if you did not (though you would have to show that you did not pack them.)

Innocent drug mules are caught quite frequently around the world. Unfortunately for them, legal systems can be undiscerning and can punish people who played no part in a crime, but were VICTIMS of it. This is rather stupid.

No. Innocent drug mules should not be punished in any way...and it is up to the COURTS to establish their guilt - not up to them to prove their innocence - or have you forgotten the doctrine of "Innocent until proven guilty"...although I understand in places like Singapore it often seems to be "guilty until proven innocent".

Best wishes

9:20 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. mental illness.

It is disturbing that Akmal Shaikh was so poorly represented in the case, that mention of his mental illness was not made. I would have thought this would be one of the first things a defence lawyer would point out.

It seems that Akmal Shaikh has had a series of misfortunes leading to his conviction...the first being his illness.

It is interesting that he was duped into believing he was recording a hit record. Thus, the "delusion" did not originate with him...he was just naive enough to believe it.

Thanks for your comment.

9:36 AM  
Blogger Fox said...

"You are being rather paranoid Fox. It is not strange that I did not mention the laws of Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia...because, you see, I DON'T KNOW THEIR LAWS! Contrary to your suspicion, I am not, at this time, omniscient, though it would be handy if I was. I am merely writing from what I presently know and understand."

The Malaysians plaster big warning signs in English on capital punishment for drug offences at their airports and border crossings.

Perhaps you should really pay attention to these things. And learn some of the basic laws of your host countries. You know what they say: when in Rome...

If you need anymore explanation, please see

1:25 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, Fox, it is good to know the rules of the society one is residing in. However, I have only just set foot in Malaysia, so these things shall need some time.

I don't know about you, but, when I arrived in Malaysia, I was too busy looking after my kids, to pause to read any signs at all. My eyes have to be in three different directions at once. Try that with two eyeballs!

The link you offer would be insulting were I to consider myself British. It is a link that says that Brits make the worst tourists in the world. Well, I am 100% Irish by genome, and one of my citizenships...and I think you'll find that the Irish are probably among the best of tourists (they are generally friendly, for instance).

Happy New Year.

3:22 PM  

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