Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Nationalism, culture wars, and willful misinterpretation

There's a lengthy post at the Dallas Morning News website, in which local religious thinkers are asked to give their reactions to Cardinal O'Brien's article last week about the US "culture of vengeance". Refreshingly, his views do attract a limited amount of sympathy, but you won't be surprised to hear where the balance of opinion lies. I haven't been having much luck leaving my own comment at the website, so I'll post it here instead -

Whenever Europeans express concerns over the use of the death penalty in the US (even when one of our own citizens is the prospective victim of judicial murder) we're told to "butt out". Equally, then, I think a European country is perfectly entitled to say "this was the correct decision based on our own laws, which are grounded in our own values - please respect that". The basis for O'Brien's anger is that many Americans seemingly cannot even conceive of the possibility that Megrahi was released as a result of straightforward due process, rather than corruption. It's a textbook example of imposing an American worldview on the actions of another country.

It's hard to keep a straight face when seeing Matthew Wilson dismiss the Cardinal's views as being coloured by "Scottish nationalism". The Cardinal (an Irishman, incidentally) only responded after weeks and weeks of the most disgraceful attacks on the integrity of the Scottish authorities - we were effectively being told "Americans understand justice, Scots don't". In any case, if you can find an example of an external attack on the US way of doing things that hasn't provoked a knee-jerk nationalistic response from some quarter or the other, I'd be very surprised. No-one does it better than the "God Bless America" brigade.

Amy Martin : "Even considering the growing doubts about al-Megrahi being the sole perpetrator of the bombing..."

It was always accepted that if Libya was the guilty party, there must have been many others than just Megrahi involved. The "growing doubts" are over whether he was guilty at all - he had been granted a second appeal after a key piece of evidence was discredited.

Daniel Kanter : "The question I have is whether Megrahi has reformed his ideas that led him to kill the people on Pan Am 103 or is he being released to potentially teach violence and hate to young terrorists of Libya who might look up to him as a hero?"

To me, this question simply illustrates the extent to which many Americans have willfully misinterpreted the 'hero's welcome' Megrahi received in Libya. Yes, it was wrong, yes, it was insensitive - but he's not a hero to those people because they think he killed westerners. He's a hero because they believe him to be innocent and think he has suffered terribly for a crime he did not commit.

William Lawrence : "Even the physician, whose judgment about the man's medical condition was trusted to be authoritative, is now acknowledging a need to have been more thorough in his professional assessment."

Frankly, Mr Lawrence should be looking to his own need to be more thorough in his checking of facts. Karol Sikora was not one of the doctors whose opinions were taken into account during the compassionate release process.

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