Moral Pretensions

“Mr. Al-Magrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power…He is going to die.”

And with that supine rationalization, Scotland’s Justice Minister freed “on compassionate grounds” Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the only person convicted in the mass murder of 270 people in the explosion of a Pan Am plane in 1988. The problem is not just the obvious moral outrage, the misplaced compassion for a mass murderer, the anguish caused to the victims’ families who live to witness their loved one’s executioner free, feted and celebrated (a travesty well known to Israelis) or the obvious commercial benefit that will accrue to the UK through increased access to Libyan oil and gas     that makes this mercenary trafficking particularly odious.

Add to that the moral confusion sowed by this Justice Minister by invoking the “higher power.” The implication of the above-referenced statement is that until this killer dies, he cannot face divine justice. This is both false and dangerous. The Torah, for example, clearly posits that G-d elicits justice in this world, not only in the world after life – but in this world, human courts mete out justice. Thus, Jewish courts are explicitly permitted to execute convicts in a variety of cases, and some of them for deterrent and/or educational purposes. Non-Jews, as well, are authorized by the Noachide laws to establish courts of justice in order to administer and enforce the observance of those very laws, one of which proscribes homicide.

Indeed, human judgment is but a prelude to divine judgment – not a substitution for it – although in some cases, punishment by the human court can mitigate one’s subsequent divine punishment. It is not an either/or scenario, but rather both systems work hand-in-hand in order to fulfill G-d’s will for mankind.

There are certain instances wherein human justice is inappropriate or simply incapably of properly dealing with a moral outrage. For example, the Minister’s theological musings notwithstanding, his release of this despicable creature was also a moral offense – for which he too should be judged. And as the move was more crassly commercial and politically motivated than it was sensitive and civilized, it is unlikely that he will ever face human justice (except maybe at the polls). So it is he who will ultimately face justice at the hands of the “higher power,” along with the monster that he released.

I wonder if his theology extends as far as being able to look in the mirror.

In G-d’s world, human justice is not always perfect but it is adequate when fairly and systematically carried out. The notion that we cannot or should not judge evildoers is the product of a faith system that itself brought much destruction and bloodshed into the world. G-d gave us permission to fight evil and thereby bring His world closer to perfection. The reluctance to do that, or the timidity that the weak-willed  demonstrate under the guise of compassion, are both moral weaknesses that also endanger the rest of us, in a very dangerous  world, at a very dangerous time in history.

Moral strength and rectitude beget political strength and courage – and true compassion as well. And all good people should protest, grieve – and pray and work for a better day and a better future.

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