Friday 28 August 2009

The rose of all the world is not for me...

Oh dear.

Scotland seems to have upset an awful lot of people with the decision to release Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds. According to the weight of news coverage, the general consensus appears to be that this action has brought great shame on Scotland - and that someone, somewhere, needs to apologise. I’ve even seen a few people take it upon themselves to apologise on behalf of all Scots.

I wish they wouldn’t do that, really, because some of us - a minority, granted - don’t feel like apologising at all. Some of us feel quite comfortable with the decision, actually. To publicly profess pride in such a thing, of course, would be to stretch the boundaries of good taste - given the shocking pain endured by the families and their continued and obvious distress - but the sentiment may be said to come close.

In a fraught (often painful) public debate, it’s been quite hard not to agree with absolutely everyone, really, even when the things they say are diametrically oppositional. Most of those angry, bewildered voices, for instance, denouncing the decision of Scotland’s Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, seem genuine, convincing and highly credible (to me).

There is political posturing, naturally enough, which looks and feels cheap, but the generally principled nature of the opposition (to Megrahi's release) excites respect and understanding of – and every sympathy for – some heartfelt points well put.

Less impressive, however, was the intervention by FBI director, Robert Mueller. His open letter to Kenny MacAskill – an incautious, shatteringly parochial, factually confused travesty - is simply too unremittingly awful to cover in any great detail. This stood out, though:

Your action in releasing Megrahi is as inexplicable as it is detrimental to the cause of justice. Indeed your action makes a mockery of the rule of law.

No, in fact, it does no such thing. It may run contrary to Robert Mueller’s own particular notion of justice, that’s true, but it upholds (to the very letter of the law) the Scottish approach to such matters. A cursory understanding and acceptance of the fact that different people around the world do different things differently, of course, should make the actions of Kenny MacAskill entirely (legally) explicable to the dullest, crudest mind.

He goes on: your action makes a mockery of the grief of the families who lost their own on December 21, 1988.

No, in fact, it does no such thing. A more carefully worded approach would have taken pains to reflect the realities. And so, for example, the following would have been harder to dispute: your action may cause – and seems already to have caused - further grief to some of the families who lost their own on December 21, 1988.

A number of British families, after all, actively welcomed the release of Megrahi, believing him to be innocent – which is a separate issue, right enough, to the principle of “compassionate release”.

Indeed, if you are to accept the principle of compassionate release - as Scottish law does and some Scottish people do - then everything becomes a separate issue, temporarily.

(Normally, with terrorists, I would like to see the families of those they have killed given access to punch their faces for an hour or so every day for the rest of their natural lives – and Megrahi was no different. But then a bigger and better idea fell out of the sky and somehow landed in the clumsy mouth of the drastically unimpressive Kenny MacAskill.)

Someone wrote convincingly – in The Economist, I think - about the importance of symbolism (if all else fails). Basically, the writer argued, it is important for people to feel that justice is at least being symbolically served by the continued incarceration of the only man ever convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. I agree.

Taken at face value, however, I just happen to agree more with the symbolism of a society daring to offer compassion - even to men like Megrahi. In fact, especially to men like Megrahi, especially to those people we may actively fear and despise.

Irish Blogs
Copyright © 2006-2012 TPE. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. Sorry about that. (All comments © the individual authors.)