Friday, August 21, 2009

Al-Megrahi, compassion and international justice. . .

I understand that many people are upset and offended by the recent release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds. As anyone who has followed the event knows, there is troubling evidence that the dying man is not in fact the perpetrator of the terrible crime of which he has been convicted. But this in itself would not be justification of his release until a court was willing to order a new trial. However, even if Mr. al-Megrahi was not dying, such a reexamination seems unlikely given the powerful political implications of the case. As I understand it however, the protocol for release on compassionate grounds is fairly straightforward and, given the circumstances, the court in Scotland felt that this was the correct legal call.  

Given the vitriolic attacks on al-Megrahi  and the almost universal condemnation of his release, it seems to me that a lot of people are wholly unaware of the actual meaning of the word ‘compassion.’ To act in a compassionate manner is, almost by definition, not easy. It is easy to have sympathy with your son or daughter when he or she falls and skins a knee. Compassion is easy when a loved one is stricken down by a debilitating disease or someone losses their home as a result of terrible flooding. But real compassion, like genuine forgiveness, is seldom an easy matter; if it were it would have little meaning. Surely the most vital lesson of Christianity is that those whom we perceive to have committed acts of evil are not themselves evil but have merely lost the true guidance of goodness that we all require to act in a ethical manner.  And if we are to truly bring goodness into the world then we must demonstrate to others the very conduct of goodness that we strive to promote. It is only through the cultivation of our compassion can we ever hope to do this. Gandhi said that you must ‘be the change that you want to see in the world.’ And given the terrible record of brutality that Western nations have practiced on many people in the world for many generations there is a remarkable irony and hypocrisy in our indignation at the release of one man. If true international justice prevailed many of our own leaders would be serving time in international prisons for various misdeeds. Western nations routinely laud the beauties of democracy while practicing the most atrocious militaristic follies. Christianity preaches compassion while perpetrating inquisitorial brutality. Here is a perfect opportunity for us to practice the real compassion that we have so long preached.

If Mr.  al-Megrahi did not commit the crime of which he was convicted then his release is not an act of compassion but an act of justice. If he did do such a terrible thing then we must hope that his release teaches him and, more importantly, ourselves that there is another path in life, a path of righteousness that expels the darkness from our souls. 

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