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.
The bigger tragedy, however, is that MacAskill and his government are not aberrations. They are not just a few foolish individuals who happen to have power.
The Scottish government had plenty of support, and not just among terror-loving Libyans who appropriately waved the Scottish flag alongside the Libyan.
The office of the U.K. Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, for example, had no comment. As The Scotsman pointed out, despite intense international pressure, and despite the fact Brown is hardly reticent about commenting on far less significant matters such as the death of a British reality TV star (Jade Goody), he remained silent on the Lockerbie murderer's release.
As The Scotsman further reported, "Last night, the top story on the Downing Street website was a video message from Mr. Brown to Muslims around the world for Ramadan. There was no mention of Lockerbie."
A spokesman for the Church of Scotland, Ian Galloway, said the decision "sent a message to the world about what it is to be Scottish. ... We are defined as a nation by how we treat those who have chosen to hurt us. Do we choose mercy even when they did not choose mercy? ... I would say justice is not lost in acting in mercy."
Galloway's nihilistic and antinomian romanticism helps explain why so many European churches are empty.
Sir Richard Dalton, British ambassador to Libya between 1999 and 2002, also supported Scotland's decision: "Appalling though the atrocity was that led to the deaths of 270 people, there are not good reasons why anybody convicted of that crime should be excepted from normal rules which apply for considering release on compassionate grounds."
One can only wonder whether the morally confused are more likely to enter foreign office work or whether being in a foreign office is more likely to render one morally confused.
The BBC reports that "MacAskill accused the Libyan government of breaking a promise not to extend a hero's welcome to Megrahi on his return."
That MacAskill believed the Libyan government of Mouammar Qaddafi would keep a promise is just one more example of the naivete about evil that has characterized much of Europe since the end of World War I.
Until next week's Western abomination against Western civilization, so long for now.
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