(pic of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi taken from http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/europe/08/20/lockerbie.bomber.reaction/index.html)
Well, the headlines were a doozy today: the Lockerbie bomber of Pan Am Flight 103, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, went home to Libya on compassionate grounds, due to advanced prostate cancer and a prognosis of only a few months to live. (Read CNN’s “UK Minister Condemns Lockerbie Bomber’s ‘Hero’s Welcome'” for more details)
The news reports that many different viewpoints and emotions have been roiled up at his release. Some are thrilled (Libyans especially), some are relieved (they have some doubt about his guilt), some are angry (why extend compassion to a mass murderer?), some are ok with it (let him die in peace). Will they ever be at peace with each other, I wonder? Probably not…too much distance exists between them…
The issues of justice and mercy are front and center on this one. Justice seekers want him in prison–they want him to finish his sentence until he dies. His sentence was 27 years and he has only served 8. In order for justice to be served, the perpetrator needs to get what he/she deserves. For victims to feel that they don’t have to seek personal revenge the law must consistently carry appropriate consequences–fairness matters. We all know that one in our gut from the youngest of ages–I think a sense of justice is something that is inborn.
Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said he was motivated by Scottish values to show mercy and went on to say:
“Some hurts can never heal, some scars can never fade…Those who have been bereaved cannot be expected to forget, let alone forgive … However, Mr. al-Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power.”
Many point cynically to political posturing and greed for Libyan oil on the part of the Scots in this whole episode. It seems to me that those people would dismiss the above statement as hogwash or, better yet, as whitewash. I cannot go there here…I simply cannot blackball the Scots. I agree that there may have been multiple reasons/motives behind his release, and some of them not so pure, but I hesitate at only seeing dark hearts here.
MacAskill bravely names the “Scottish” value of mercy (mercy=not getting what you deserve). He dares to mention God (ok, he says “higher power”, but we all know he means God). He calls on the best in his people in letting al-Megrahi go home to die. He stands before the world and claims Scots are merciful and compassionate–that they carry values that allow them to move in such a bold fashion. They are willing to let go and release him into the judgment of God. It is a rather beautiful act and a very Christian one. Mercy and forgiveness will never make sense, they will always transcend justice.
Americans, on the other hand, tend to be all about justice. Our legal system is gargantuan and ever growing. Lawyers are a dime a dozen and on every street corner. We all want others to get what they deserve, to pay for what they’ve done to us. We like to know justice is being carried out, that consequences exist and are enforced. Mercy doesn’t gel well in America. For instance, a handful of terrorists kill and terrorize us on American soil and what do we do? We go to war, ready to root out all terrorists: Iraq gets pulverized, Afghanistan and Pakistan get pulverized. Thousands upon thousands of innocents and not so innocents “over there” are rounded up, set to prison, interrogated, bombed, shot, left without basic necessities. Entire societies are raped so justice is served, so they get what they “deserve” and we can feel safe again. We whitewash it saying we’re helping these countries…I just don’t know, though. Maybe we’re helping some, but chances are high we’re probably totally unsettling the whole region and creating unsolvable problems. We may be stirring up even more enemies because of our imposition of justice. Justice is about fairness and if they feel like we’re being unfair to them, then they’ll probably want to even it up and seek their own form of justice on us. How anyone will ever feel like fairness has been met, I don’t know. Eye for an eye may go on forever unless mercy is given a corner and begins to grow. It’ll be interesting to see who has the guts to extend mercy first: Americans or extremist Islamic militants.
Thanks, Scots, for showing us a better way, for revealing the heart of Scotland. May God have mercy on you for extending mercy to al-Megrahi. May your act touch his heart and lead Him into the arms of Jesus…may your act touch all our hearts and lead us all into the arms of our Lord Jesus Christ.