Whenever I think that some Western country or institution has reached a low point, shortly thereafter, sometimes the very next week, another Western government or institution proves me too optimistic.
Last week, it was the news that the Yale University Press will not allow any picture of Muhammad to appear in its forthcoming book on the Muhammad cartoons controversy. Not only will Yale not print the cartoons that are the subject of the book, Yale will not print any picture of Muhammad, no matter how respectful, no matter that a believing Muslim drew it, and no matter how long ago it was drawn.
This week, it was Scotland's turn to shame Western civilization. And though it seemed impossible to outdo Yale, Scotland has.
The Scottish government released Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the one person convicted in the mass murder of 270 people when Pan Am flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988.
As the Chicago Tribune noted in an editorial appropriately titled "Scotland's Shame," at al-Megrahi's 2001 trial, the Scottish prosecutor pointed out that "four hundred parents lost a child, 46 parents lost their only child, 65 women were widowed, 11 men lost their wives, 140 lost a parent, seven lost both parents."
But all these people and all their loved ones were not the recipients of Scotland's compassion; the murderer was.
What the Scottish government, its Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, and millions of others in the West do not understand is that, unlike justice, compassion cannot be given to everyone. If you show compassion to person X or group X, you cannot show it to person Y or group Y. Justice, by definition, is universal. Compassion, by definition, is selective.
That is why, generally speaking, governments should be in the business of dispensing justice, not compassion. Individuals can, and often ought to, dispense compassion, not societies.
When governments try to dispense compassion, they usually end up hurting people, as in the case of Scotland.
Allowing al-Megrahi out of prison was compassionate only to al-Megrahi, the individual least deserving of compassion, and it was an act of sheer cruelty to the ones who deserve all our compassion, his victims. The fact that al-Megrahi has terminal cancer is utterly irrelevant. He should have been allowed to die in prison. Allowing him, his family and his murder-loving supporters in Libya and elsewhere the joy of his last months/years in freedom mocks the dead, trivializes the suffering of the victims and their loved ones, and undermines justice.