Townhall | Dennis Prager | Aug. 25, 2009
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.
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