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"As we forgive those..."

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There is an argument (especially put forward by my Edinburgh University history professor) that the British Enlightenment was, in fact, a Scottish Enlightenment. Sorry, readers, but David Hume was not born in Essex. So when the Scottish parliament granted leave for the convicted Lockerbie bomber to return to Libya on humanitarian grounds, as he was suffering from terminal cancer, it was an enlightened and very Scottish decision.  But it was a decision not without controversy south of the Border. To some, it was (is) distasteful that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi returned to Libya to a hero's welcome. The chorus of "you've been conned" critics grew louder when, two years later, Megrahi was still very much alive.

   Alive, but dying. New evidence this week suggests that Megrahi is close to death. Why, you may ask, has he lived for so much longer than the six months indicated to the Scottish courts over two years ago? Partly, it seems, because Libyan "heroes" are given the best medical treatment available anywhere in the world. Money was no object as far as Megrahi's treatment was concerned. Doctors would be flown in, and no expense spared. I wonder, too, if those months were prolonged into years simply because he found himself at home again: "Breathes there a man with soul so dead, who never to himself has said, this is my own, my native land! Whose heart hath ne'er within him burned, as home his footsteps he hath turned from wandering in a foreign strand!" (Another product of the Scottish Enlightenment, Walter Scott).

  So justice has been tempered with Scottish - Christian? - mercy. (And here I must point out that Hume would not be the greatest fan of Christian compassion, since he spent much of his life demolishing the ecclesiastical establishment: it is not without irony that the recent statue on Edinburgh's Royal Mile marking Hume's achievements has his face turned disdainfully towards St Giles Cathedral). Dr Jim Swire, a giant of a man and the father of one of Lockerbie's victims, has never wavered in his approval of the Scottish court's decision. In a letter written in 2008, the English doctor, now aged 73, whose daughter Flora was killed in the Lockerbie bomb, wrote: "Does anyone suppose they would feel any lasting benefit were Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi forced to die in prison, far from his family? Would such a fate advantage those still grieving after 20 years for the loss of loved ones at Lockerbie? I don't believe it would."

 To err is human, to forgive divine. Not that Dr Swire is advocating forgiveness exactly - he maintains Megrahi may not be the man responsible for his daughter's death. All the same, he has drawn the line at which justice has its limits. The Scottish court agreed, though with a bizarre twist, I should add that Megrahi, even now, is accountable in his movements and actions to East Renfrewshire Council - as if they don't have enough to handle with Barrhead Boys Football Club. The so-called "benefit" of ‘eye for an eye' belittles the victims as much as it does the perpetrators of terrorism. Let him die in peace so that we may live in peace with our consciences.

 Dear God, forgive us our trespasses - as we forgive those who trespass against us. (I usually have to pause at that point in the Lord's Prayer to check which church I am in - the Kirk still has its debtors). Enlightenment compassion does not come easily. Christian forgiveness is even harder. Radio Times is currently conducting a poll on the most popular interview of all time. No doubt Martin Bashir's interview with Princess Diana (forgiveness, anyone?) or the Frost-Nixon saga (compassion please?) will come top, or possibly Michael Parkinson being mugged by a stuffed bird (emus, anyone?). The interview with Gordon Wilson after his daughter Marie was killed in the Remembrance Day Enniskillen bombing will not head the list.

"But I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life. She was a great wee lassie. She loved her profession. She was a pet. She's dead. She's in heaven and we shall meet again. I will pray for these men tonight and every night."

Forgiveness never does come top of the pops. But those who remember it will never forget those words. They literally changed Northern Ireland. Could I have prayed "for these men tonight and every night"? I wonder - I, a product of Scottish Enlightenment education, who every day asks to be forgiven "as we forgive our debtors" (sorry, the north-of-the-Border bit again)? I find it hard to forgive myself, but that's another story.

 On 1st August 2011, an Iranian woman blinded and disfigured by a man who threw acid into her face stood above her attacker in a hospital operating room as a doctor was about to put several drops of acid in one of his eyes in court-ordered retribution, under Iranian Islamic law. The man waited on his knees and wept. "What do you want to do now?" the doctor asked the woman. "I forgive him" she replied. And the man was released, his sight saved. Enlightenment and forgiveness are not exclusively Christian.  Perhaps it's just as well.

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