Lockerbie: Terror and Compassion

Terror and compassion

Convenient. That’s what the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was, last week. Not just for the terminally-ill Libyan, convicted of the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, but for BP, Marks and Spencer, Shell and several other British companies who stand to make a lot of money from trade deals with Libya that are now more likely to go ahead.

Vast numbers of pundits, from anti-corporate lefties to President Obama (and the usual right-wing tabloid outrage-mongers) have criticized the move. But some (including Britain’s most decorated foreign correspondent, Robert Fisk, who believes Megrahi was released to save Britain the embarrassment of an appeal) have cast doubts on whether Megrahi was ever guilty.

But if we are going to invoke the importance of the rule of law and legal process in declaring that irrelevant in discussing his release, then we must accept that freeing or transferring prisoners on compassionate grounds is perfectly legal under Scottish law and Megrahi was eminently eligible for such compassion.

But was the compassion moral? Personally, I believe that those who serve a God of mercy should also show mercy (there are so many verses that support this view that the Bible itself must be profoundly embarrassing to Christians who oppose it.) But the mercy here is not even the peculiarly Christian mercy of radical forgiveness. It’s not like he was just found guilty and Britain has said ‘ah…bygones..’ and set him free. He is dying, after serving over twenty years in prison, and he wants to die in his own country. Surely even those Christians who find it hard to obey Christ in loving their enemies could stretch their under-exercised mercy at least that far?

‘But what,’ asked many critics last week, ‘about the families of those lost at Lockerbie?’ How would they have felt about the hero’s welcome Megrahi received? Angry and upset, and legitimately so. Particularly because many of those greeting Megrahi as a hero will not have assumed him an innocent victim of a miscarriage of justice, but a victorious military hero. This is undoubtedly wrong.

But ask yourself this: If you were the mother or brother of a civilian killed by British or American forces in Iraq or Afghanistan, how would you feel about the honours bestowed on our soldiers when they come home? How do the families of those killed on Iran Air flight 655 in 1988 feel about the American military man responsible (Captain William C Rogers) not only walking free, but training other military personnel in combat?

If our objections to such an argument centre on the difference between war and terrorism, I would say that such a distinction really depends on which side you’re on. The guerilla tactics used by Americans against Britain in 1776, by the Boers in South Africa in 1899 and by Jews in Palestine (also against Britain) in 1945 could all be termed ‘terrorist’ inasmuch as the term is applied to Afghans fighting foreigners on their soil today. But to the families of civilians killed, I suspect it doesn’t matter much who did it or what you call it. And I’m not sure God is that concerned with our semantics as to whether we are legally ‘at war’ or not, either.

Does that make Megrahi’s welcome less upsetting and more acceptable? No. But we run a serious risk of Godless hypocrisy when we fête our own side’s soldiers as heroes when they slaughter civilians (whether in Dresden, 1945 or Khanabad, 2001) and denounce others for the same myopic and worldly attitudes. Every civilian death, whether ‘ours’ or ‘theirs’ should for Christians be cause for mourning, self-examination and, sometimes, repentance. May God have mercy on us all.


One Response

  1. […] years by the worst kind of psychopaths, it’s a tough time to plead for mercy as I did in my Lockerbie column below. But I stand by what I said. If a man has served several decades in prison, he has not […]

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