Letter of the week in Holyrood Magazine
When Plato in his Republic established justice as one of the cardinal virtues, he did so in the knowledge that striving to match a person’s actions with their due desserts was pivotal in promoting social stability and the ideal of fairness. The human desire to be shown mercy is just as primal, and it is this desire that is the main mover in our showing mercy to others.
Such basic moral virtues are not supposed to clash but what is problematic is that they invariably do.
What appear to be the final chapters of the Megrahi case, playing themselves out in front of our eyes in newspaper columns and television screens, have sparked unprecedented soul searching not only in our nation as a whole, but more tragically amongst the surviving relatives of the 270 people who died on that fateful day.
These are experiences that no victim of human loss should have to go through.
But alas, we rarely chose the predicaments that fate pushes our way.
Perhaps what is most unfortunate about this episode is the differing perceptions amongst the families of the victims of how, if indeed at all, to strike a balance between societal imperative to administer justice and the rehabilitative human quality of showing mercy. It is this that has ultimately made the early release on compassionate grounds of the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing so divisive.
In the Muslim faith tradition, the decision to show clemency is the prerogative of the victims and is thereafter vested in the judicial powers that be.
This is one case where it doesn’t necessitate that it be on Earth as in Heaven.
But if justice is a divine attribute, then mercy more so, being the wellspring of creational force itself, and it is in the diligent pursuit of mercy in all its aspects that the children of Adam truly acquire their humanity.
It is the habit of life to throw moral predicaments in our path that test the very values upon which we build our individual and collective identities. How we respond to them, be it in our public or private capacity, gives out the strongest message of who we are as a people and the values that we hold to most dearly.
When all is said and done, and the individuals to whose lot it fell to make decisions, hard decisions, review in their own conscience the choices they have taken in balancing the dictates of justice and mercy, we in civic society will all have to redouble our efforts in search of a principled humanity that truly represents what the Saltire, at home and abroad, means for us.
Shaykh Ruzwan Mohammed
Muslim theologian and co-founder of the Solas Foundation