Tuesday, August 25, 2009

the curious case of the compassionate politician

I come from what was called, in less politically days, a "cancer family". In fact, in one of the branches of my family tree - which included my Dad - the males tended to die young, so when I woke up alive on my 40th birthday the shock nearly killed me.

For me it's a good memento mori, but it seems that the Scottish Executive's Justice Minister, Kenny MacAskill, has leapt overexcitedly out of the bath with the realisation that death invariably terminates life. He shared this with the world in part of the statement wherein he justified the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, better known as the terrorist who blew up Maid Clipper of the Seas over the Scottish village of Lockerbie. There's a transcript of MacAskill's statement to an emergency session of the Scottish Executive on the Scotsman newspaper website and a video of the four-minute speech on the BBC site. The whole speech is worth listening to - if just for MacAskill's allegation that Megrahi's release is due to the actions of UK Secretary of State Jack Straw - but given my family history I was interested in this short segment:
Mr Al Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power. It is one that no court, in any jurisdiction, in any land, could revoke or overrule. It is terminal, final and irrevocable. He is going to die.
don't make it worse than it already is
Perhaps a theologian might make a case for death indeed being a sentence imposed for the sin of Adam, but Great Britain is not a theocracy, and Megrahi's prostate cancer is no more a judgement upon him - as vile as he may be - than Hurricane Katrina was upon the populations in its path, HIV upon its 40 million sufferers, or the prospect of death upon every member of the human race.

I think this clip of MacAskill speaking about compassion in the context of Megrahi is very informative:

The Justice Secretary of the Scottish Executive does mention justice as well as compassion/mercy, but justice seems to lose out to a compassion that is curiously lacking for the victims of Megrahi's outrage. I don't mean to say that mercy should be gagged, merely that MacAskill is arrogating to himself the power to work out the implications of any sentence the Higher Power may or may not have delivered upon Megrahi. The shockwaves have travelled as far as Israel, where cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen drew the following conclusion:

click to go to the Dry Bones blog and read the rest of the cartoon!

Staying in Israel, it's interesting to note that Corporal Gilad Shalit of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), who was abducted by Hamas militants on a raid from Palestinian territoryTweet-power: click to go to the Jewish Internet Defence Forum's tweet4shalit campaign and is being held in captivity (where the IDF promoted him in absentia to Sergeant) is being refused access to the International Red Cross, whereas Megrahi was never refused medical or other attention, and indeed had former South African premier Nelson Mandela as a prison visitor. While an exchange of 450 prisoners is being demanded for Shalit - who is the subject of a Twitter campaign (please click the pic to the right) - all that the Scottish administration and British Government asked was that Megrahi not be given a triumphal entry into Libya, which undertaking the latter's senior politicians gave then dismissed, adding insult to injury by flying the Scottish flag alongside the Libyan - prompting Middle East and terrorism expert Con Coughlin, writing for the Telegraph, to comment I cannot think of a more humiliating day for the Scottish people.

An appeal to the better instincts of politicians in reference to the health of prisoners seems to be literally a "get out of jaia postmodern solution to the jails overcrowding crisis?l free" card. First, in the UK, we had Ronnie Biggs, released from prison on compassionate grounds despite never having expressed remorse for the Great Train Robbery or compassion for the family of driver Jack Mills, who never worked again after being coshed with an iron bar until his death seven years afterwards. Bernie Madoff, no fool, is now telling his fellow inmates in prison at Butner, North Carolina, that he's "dying of cancer".

Perhaps members of the Scottish and Westminster parliaments should treat as a wake-up call the Boycott Scotland campaign, which is gaining a head of steam on a Facebook Group. I've joined this because the more pressure that is exerted to identify and punish guilty parties, the better. I don't relish the prospect of British businesses losing money, but neither do I want to see any more wrong-headed decisions release terrorists able to pass on the deadly skills that Megrahi obviously excels in. And an apology to cancer-sufferers and their families might not go amiss.

Related post: Lockerbie and the moral limits of diplomacy

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