Scotland freed the terminally ill Lockerbie bomber last week so he could die at home in Libya. "Our beliefs dictate that justice be served, but mercy be shown," a Scottish official said. Did Scotland do the right thing? Should we have any mercy for mass murderers who are terminally ill?
Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi is a mass murderer–that is beyond doubt. His release was perfunctory–that is also beyond doubt. A Scottish prison would have, no doubt, facilitated copious morphine and demerol for a terrorist in the last throes of metastatic prostate cancer. He would have died much more mercifully in jail than the victims of the Pan Am flight he conspired to destroy. While the Scots knew they were gifting a convicted terrorist the comforts of home and family in his last days, they ended up gifting him much more–a heroic welcome and a martyr’s narrative that could only end up inspiring many more generations to come. What a tragic error!
As always, we view this action in the varying contexts of faith and realpolitik. A believer in Indic faiths, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism or Sikhism understands that the terrorist has accumulated terrible karmas with his actions. Whether he is meted out punishment or not, eternal empirics dictate that every action has an equal reaction. He must suffer for his sins, and payback may occur in this lifetime or the next. A terrible sin can only but wrap the soul in extra layers that will need to be shed over lifetimes to resume the ultimate destination towards moksha, or nirvana, liberation. Indeed, vindictive punishment by mere mortals can too saddle those inflicting punishment with negative karmas, even if they seem justified. Behold the importance of ahimsa or non-violence in the Hindu ethos.
But realpolitik is eternally relevant to those of us that inhabit this world of maya, or illusion. And our governments, military, police–our homeland security–are entrusted to protect and serve their citizens. This is a dharmic trust that cannot be eschewed. When the Indian government released three Pakistani terrorists after an Indian Airlines jet was hijacked, one of the released, Maulana Masood Azhar went on to found the Jaish-e-Mohammed. That Islamist group attacked Indian soil on countless occasions taking scores of lives. Capitulation, even if justified to save lives of the passengers, cost India a decade of terror that still continues. Dharma dictates that a punishment be complete and meaningful.
Scotland’s myopic mercy may pacify a conscience now, but cost our global community dearly tomorrow.