Friday, August 21, 2009

Diary: Why do we love a bomber?

It is perplexing to see a hero's welcome being extended to one of the Lockerbie bombers who has recently released by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds. Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, a convicted man for the Pan Am Jet explosion above Lockerbie in 1988, is suffering from terminal prostate cancer and was released by the Scottish government based on the principle of justice usually applied in such cases. This led to worldwide condemnation, drawing angry reaction from victim's families, and also from English and American leaders who saw this as an excellent opportunity to show they are tough on terrorism.

The Scottish government indeed was following the letter of the law. They applied the principle that normally applies in such cases, and chose not to make an exception. The British government, not wanting to appear soft on terrorism, tried to keep this as low key as possible, first by being less than clear whether the appeal will be granted and then by trying to make sure that the return of Mr. Mergrahi remained low key. It indeed failed on both counts - the delay allowed the build up time for world wide condemnation and the expectations in Libya, where a significant crowd turned up at the airport to receive Mr. Megrahi and gave him a hero's welcome in full view.

This indeed throws up usual questions and the new ones. Could, and should the Scottish government make an exception in this case? Should we be able to forgive a man whose actions directly caused so many deaths? And, most importantly, why does anyone love a bomber?

Let us start with this question of exception. Should political considerations of a government necessarily affect the process of justice and administration? The moral answer is no, but the practical answer is that it does. Inevitably, while Gordon Brown and Barack Obama were afraid of looking soft and thereby making noises that the bomber should not be released, Alex Salmond, the nationalist Scottish First Minister, possibly saw this as an excellent platform to launch the Scottish foreign policy. Yes, indeed, Scotland always stood for compassion and justice, and the Libyans at the airport turned up with Scottish flags side by side with Libya's. So, this indeed is a fairly political action on both sides, which takes no cognizance of the innocent people who suffered, on both sides.

Of course, the British media and their American cousins are horrified that the Scottish government stuck to the letter of the law and did not make an exception despite their agitational op-eds. This comes as usual from the double standards of the mainstream media, who were full of sympathies for Samantha Orobator, the 20-year old from South London who was caught with drugs in Laos and escaped prison sentence by becoming pregnant while in Prison. The Laotian law was followed, which forbids prison sentence for pregnant women, and despite her crime and the obvious fact that she became pregnant just to avoid the sentence, the letter of the law was followed. The attitude of the British media then was, yes she is a drug smuggler but she is our drug smuggler.

But for all the obvious politics and self-serving coverage in the media, possibly the law remains the ultimate arbitrator and justice is best done following the law. And, in that sense, following the letter of the law is a much better moral stance than following the politics of the day, since this may mean no moral stance at all.

But, yes, indeed, we may not be able to forgive a man whose acts resulted in so many deaths, of innocents, and wrecked families and lives. Or, should we able to? One of the lessons of civilization is possibly to be able to differentiate between a man and his actions, and while the crime must not be tolerated, one should be able to show compassion to the person. The question here was of remorse, and the media reported there was none in Mr. Megrahi. This is most surprising, because he himself is not far from the end of life and had enough time in prison to reflect on his actions.

I think one missing bit here is that Mr. Megrahi was not put face to face to the human tragedy he caused. He should have been put in contact with victim families, before he was released. Possibly, this would have told him who he killed were humans after all; may be, the victim families also discovered him to be human and a slave to his circumstances. However, it is unlikely that this will ever happen again and we will ever be able to reconcile and be in peace.

And, this leads to the most amazing spectacle of all, the hero's welcome Mr. Megrahi receives in Tripoli, as his plane arrives. Nationalism is a nasty thing, in Britain as in Libya, and once under its spell, we refuse to recognize that carrying drugs or killing people is unacceptable after all. I am certain most Libyans are peace-loving normal people, and they don't start the day saying that 'I am going to kill an American'. It is politics again, this time from wily Colonel, who allowed, if not organized, this uncivil display of nationalism.

I follow John McCain's tweets and know that he was recently in Libya and met Colonel Gaddafi and found him an interesting man. Colonel Gaddafi is a new found friend of the western powers, someone who is willing to bury his differences with his old enemies [or pretend to do so] and choose to play ball in the fear of growing instability in the Islamic world. But, friend or not, the old Colonel is a master of playing the nationalist card and that's what he has done again. Libyans may not love their bombers, but some of them needed show up for the sake of Colonel G's political survival.

In all, in this game of convoluted nationalism, people and decency were forgotten. The only thing mattered is media minutes. The old nasty nationalism reared its head, once again. Justice and usual human feelings were, as usual, considered as not that important.

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