Friday, August 21, 2009

MacAskill Makes Sound Judgement in Face of Emmotive Opposition

On the 12 December 1988 I was about 5 minutes further towards London Waterloo than the Clapham Rail disaster occurred.

On the Saturday of that week the 17th me and a friend were driving past Lockerbie on the then A74 at about 7pm. Wednesday the next week Pan Am Flight 103 came crashing out of the sky there.

Also that Christmas while I was home I was out for a run, came in showered, went down to watch the news and saw a bomb had gone off in the last hour along my route of that night.

December that year was a memorable one for that young student at the end of his first term of tertiary education. Being raised in Northern Ireland of course I was also used to seeing the families of victims of terrorism on TV all the time. Therefore the reactions to the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi on compassionate got me thinking back to those more troubled times.

On the TV those families had one of two reactions, there was either bitter anger or a forgiving compassionate response. I long knew which type of person I'd far rather spend more time with. The latter weren't hurting any less than the former but showed compassion, maturity, not wishing to escalate what was often a volatile situation any further.

If like many other times this year there was a story about a terminally ill prisoner being given compassionate release from prison, it may have made the front page of a local paper, but a column inch, if that, in the national's other news section. It is because of who it is and the nature and extent of the crime that this got this attention.

I was mischievous earlier about Kenny MacAskill sounding more like a Kirk Minister than a Government one. But unlike Daniel Hannan's playing to an American audience and forgetting the home viewers reaction, MacAskill was playing to both. He attempted to appease both sides with the promise that the decision was hard come by.That he eulogised about a higher power and a greater inescapable sentence being imposed, but it failed to quell the anger of some of the American families.

There were issues with the handling of the build up but the resultant outcome was the right one. America can shout and scream all it wants to but they have a legal system lacking compassion. In reality they have an Old Testament legality overlooking the New Testament, there an eye for an eye still holds true, here we believe in re-education and reintegration.

Back to the Northern Irish situation the peace dividend, after many Americans supported the IRA cause, has led to many of those who carried out killings to be released. Did we see a hoopla in the States about any of the IRA murderers being released early, not even on grounds of compassion due to imminent terminal disease? No, of course we didn't, but then these releases were also right in a different way.

The Americans are sadly,to an extent, largely, a selfish people, it is part of their inward lookingness. Their national champions in some sports after all are called World Champions. But some of the squawking about the shame to Scotland and the Scottish people shows the shame to the American people.

Back to those scenes on the TV in Northern Ireland and just over a year before Lockerbie one of the most emotive appearances for Gordon Wilson who held unto his dying daughter Marie's hand under the rubble of the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bomb. He was a victim physically and emotionally as someone present and as someone losing a dear one. His initial and lasting reaction was not to condemn those who had carried out the atrocity but to work for a lasting peace. After the release by Scotland of al-Megrahi some American statesmen are saying this will change how they deal with Libya. Why? How? Surely that is the wrong way to build a lasting peace. Libya are trying to get involved in the global fight against terrorism these days, steps have been made to a reconciliation, so why do Americans react this way?

A nation that shows compassion finds it easier to look past the past, one that hold grudges finds it harder to let it go. So while the triumphalism of al-Megrahi's return to Libyan soil was over the top so too has been the heightened of tension, deepening of old wounds that the American political class and media has stirred up.

MacAskill made a tough decision, but made a right one based on the medical evidence and leaving emotions out of it. If emotions cloud our rationale in making these sort of decisions we end up getting involved in trying to justify those actions with dubious facts (WMD in Iraq anyone?).


subrosa said...

Good post Stephen but I do think you're being a bit hard on those whose reaction to grief isn't compassionate. Reactions don't show maturity, actions do and some people, for example Rose Gentle, has shown extreme anger which she channelled to excellent use.

Personally, I'd rather be in the company of someone like Rose Gentle than someone who was prepared to sit there and passively accept the situation.

Anonymous said...

Good post Stepehen and I agree with your sentiment, it's unfortunate truth that the angry inconsistent and reactionary voice is louder but as Subrosa says, it can be channelled to productive good, I doubt however some of the statements from politicians in America will do as much, they are mixed up within their own domestic dialogue and have simple exemplified a general ignorance of issues by some in the states.

Compassion was indeed the right decision and leaving aside this very specific & weighty issue itself showed the impact a future Scottish Government might have on world opinion.

Imagine an independent Scottish Foreign Minister standing up in the UN and giving a similar speech as a mediator to the States and UK on the runup Iraq.

That is the power of standing by your convictions and not accepting the compromised position of sitting idly by and accepting the non-representation offered by having others speak for us.

MacKaskill did Scotland proud yesterday and showed the way forward for international relations based on truth and openness.

If only the mandarins in the states and UK could follow suit we might actually solve the apparent 'clash of cultures' evident throughout the world.

Lincoln County said...

As an American I would just like to say.....You release a convicted murderer and then you blog about how the people in the states just don't understand how compassionate you are? Fuck all of you highlander, lowlander, gaelic-wanna be, kilt-wearing, eurotrash. Thank God my ancestors left your stinking shit-hole of an island!

Callum Leslie said...

Thanks for your constructive comment Lincoln County. Not showing a lot of compassion with your blatant racism are ya?

Anonymous said...

Lincoln is a bit upset, you see he's a bit of a coward, he likes to send others out to the dirty work, likes to sned down others for his failings, in short he's a hypocrite.

What's worse he's a pious one.

Begone you fool, stop misrepresenting the decency and kindness of the majority of americans.

Nich Starling said...

I'm afraid though that McGaskill made himself look pompous and self important in his overlong kmonlogue about "the defining quality of Scotland being its sense of justice and forgiveness". he spoke on Radio Five live afterwards to Simon Mayo, in in answer to every question , he simply read out his speach again. At one point Simon Mayo interrupted and said he had heard him mkae the statement before and could he answer the question.

The man is an arse and sadly out of his depth.

Stephen Glenn said...

Subrosa and Wardog thanks for the comments, I did Tweet it but couldn't do so here at the time I first read them.

Subrosa Rose Gentle's situation of a son dying in an illegal war is different from that of victims of terrorism. But like Mr Wilson she is doing something about it.

Lincoln county I do not know you personal circumstances but if you read the article you would realise that I am from Northern Ireland. So unless you are the victim of terrorism in either Oklahoma, Pan Am Flight 103 or 9-11 directly I think that when it comes to compassion to terrorists I may somewhat more understanding on the subject matter that you gave me credit.

Norfolk Blogger I agree with you that the delivery of the statement from MacAskill was wrong to our British ears, and the repetition of that style while addressing just the British ears was worse. However, it doesn't take away from the fact that while their emmotive pleas not considering the permatations of our law he made a tough but right decision under the pressure, just the delivery was wrong.


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