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Shof'tim 5769
Release of Lockerbie Bomber

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein
22 August 2009


Tzedek, tzedek tirdof – Justice, justice shall you pursue. These words resound as loudly to Jews as the shofar call, for in the Torah, there are only two goals that we are commanded to ‘pursue,’ justice and peace.

This week must have God writhing in agony for what had been created. If we were in ancient Israel, we would have prophets of God crying out in every gate of every city and the inhabitants of those cities would be in garbed in sackcloth and sat, fasting and wailing lamentations amongst ashes, desperate to avert the expected wrath of God. For this would have been the response to the utter disregard for tzedek, that has been evidenced in amongst the clamouring for blood and the abomination of hero-worship, the result of the release from prison of the so-called ‘Lockerbie bomber,’ Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi.

At least in the short-term there can are no winners apart from Al-Megrahi and his family and those who have a warped view of the world, as it would seem many in Libya do today. For unlike the word ‘compassion’ used as the reason for Al-Megrahi’s release, those celebrating his return to Libya have shown none for the grieving families of the 270 innocents killed in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 on 21st December 1988, over Lockerbie.

These families seem to have been pawns in a global system that places political expediency above pursuing true justice. There is no justice for them. The more open-minded amongst them have never been convinced that the real perpetrator of the crime that kept their loved ones from celebrating their festivals of light in December 1988, was convicted. Those who saw Al Megrahi as at least a symbol of justice being served, have now had any sense of closure that they might have had shattered by his release. For all of them, the lives that were shattered 21 years ago stand no hope of reconciliation.

The horrendous silence from British leaders seems to signal the kind of deals that members of both sides of the House would have struck in the situation. Their desire for securing long-term energy security outweighs the lives of 270 families. Whatever deals emerge in the future, and they will, whilst we might celebrate being able to drive our petrol powered cars past 2015, we must acknowledge the decay of a global system that allows political expediency to outweigh the pursuit of justice. Our ancient ancestors believed through the words of our parasha, that the pursuit of justice, creating a just world for all - Jews and non-Jews alike – drew them nearer to the pursuit of peace. In their terms, justice was a prerequisite for inheriting the Land. Then our leaders have once more sent a weapon of mass destruction into the world. We were promised moral leadership in global affairs. I do not think that this is a promise that any political party that exists within our system of governance can provide.

We must also remember that in more than theory, Scotland remains part of Britain. Scotland is not yet fully devolved.  I feel as tarnished by the waving of the Soltaire in Libya on Al-Megrahi’s return as anyone living in Edinburgh or Glasgow, Shetland or Loch Lomond. The decision of Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Secretary, to free Al Megrahi after he has served 8 of his 27-year sentence on compassionate grounds, might actually be a just one. One of the leading and most vocal spokespeople for the families who lost loved ones in the Lockerbie bombings and who doubted the conviction all along, had described the possibility of a release as a matter of “common humanity.” He said:

"The man has reportedly got months to live…My personal feelings are that to force him to remain segregated from his family and his five children for the short remaining time that he may have before him would amount to exquisite torture."

If this does indeed prove to have been a just decision, regardless of the showboating we have had to endure on Al Megrahi’s return to his home, and that he was innocent from the first, it highlights the utilisation of the Scottish Justice System as a whole in perpetrating the dirty work of the US and UK, both governments and publics who had been baying for blood.

No matter how difficult it might be to find independent witnesses and juries in such cases, is this not the basis of our justice systems? Indeed, was it not so from as far back as the time of the authors of our Torah portion, who acknowledged that safe decisions can not be made by one or two individuals, especially in cases that, in the words of our translation of the Torah, ‘baffle us.’ Al Megrahi did not face a jury and nor did a jury consider his release. Our system would grind to a halt if every trial went to a jury; but in cases that baffle us, we might do well to consider referral. In Biblical times it might have been seen as a referral to a higher authority in God. Today, perhaps it might be a combination of what is viewed as higher authorities or powers and perhaps, the real higher authority in democracy, a jury.

Of course, in our fast-moving world, most of us will forget the furore that fronts every news reel this morning. If England wrap up the Ashes, our front pages will be full of jingoistic nonsense. Humility will probably be scarce but let us hope that if we can allow sport to be our safety valve for aggression towards others, when it comes to real life, why might act more justly. Ultimately, we cannot legislate for how Libyans or even Americans behave, only for ourselves. If justice is proved to have been served for Al Megrahi, then a wrong has been righted. Disturbingly, there may never be justice for the families of the Lockerbie bombing. Our concern might best be served in seeking the division of judicial processes from political expediency in cases that baffle us. If those who govern come back from their summer recess with a little humility, then we may make some progress.

Tzedek, tzedek tirdof – Justice, justice shall you pursue. Justice shall you pursue and justice in the means that you pursue it.

Keyn y’hi l’ratzon – may it be God’s will.

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