Something eludes me in the story of al-Megrahi, the Libyan official who has just been released in Scotland.
If he is guilty of a crime as dreadful as the Lockerbie bombing – that is, of using a bomb to destroy an airliner and cause the deaths of 270 people -, why has he been released after just ten years in prison?
If he is innocent, then why were some people surprised to see him greeted with flowers upon his return home?
I won’t speculate on his guilt or innocence. One thing, however, is absolutely certain: if this man did indeed commit the abominable act of which he is accused, he did it not for his own account, but for that of his superiors. This is a patent, incontestable fact. Yet no one seems embarrassed to receive these same superiors with all the usual fanfare, or to accommodate their every whim. No one thinks twice before being photographed at their sides, or before signing lucrative contracts with them. Yet when al-Megrahi’s masters pose in photographs alongside the underling who paid for their crimes, we are supposed to be outraged.
Many of those familiar with the affair – notably, some of the victims’ parents – are convinced that the trial was shamefully rigged, that the Libyan official wasn’t guilty at all but rather served as a scapegoat to protect the real perpetrators, whether Libyan or not. Indeed, the Scottish Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, implied as much when he decided to free al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds. Because even if the man suffers from an incurable disease that leaves him little time to live, he could have been conscientiously treated in a British hospital. Certainly, he should never have been allowed to return home – not unless there are serious doubts about his culpability.
Everything leads us to believe that certain people have struck a sordid bargain for oil, or for commercial or political gain. Plenty of clues point this way. If this is indeed the case, then there are some who have no business lording it as though from some great ethical height. By dint of compromising values in the name of ‘realism’, by dint of interpreting principles according to what’s currently convenient, the West will eventually lose all moral credibility; as for her adversaries/partners across the Mediterranean, they never had much moral cradibility to begin with.
I don’t know whether, one day, the truth about the Lockerbie bombing will come completely to light; whatever that truth might be, however, one thing is certain: the affair exposes the moral failure that marks our times, a failure in which no leader – not in the West and not in the Arab world – hasn’t played a part. It is a failure from which no one can walk with head held high.