The likely release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber has resonances with that of Ronald Biggs, although their crimes were not in any way comparable.
Just after I graduated the Northern Ireland situation escalated from protest to insurrection, so along with other people of my generation I am well used to atrocities. I lived through three decades of terrorism, reading, in all, of the deaths of more than three thousand people, and the maiming of many more. I had a friend, now dead, who was an intelligent Oxford graduate who worked for IBM. He was Irish, and had been educated by the Christian Brothers. I met him in the pub after work one evening when I was still filled with disgust at the latest BBC report of an IRA bomb that had killed a number of innocent and harmless office workers as they ate their lunch, and blown off both legs and one arm of a typist. I was shocked and angry, but my friend, displaying that weaselly ambivalence that Gerry Adams made his own, would not say that the bomber was wrong. I didn't understand the situation, he said. Were he alive today I would love to ask him how he felt about the London Tube bombings, whose perpetrators were just as callously sincere as the IRA hard men.
I supported the Good Friday agreement with a metaphorical peg on my nose. Some loathsome sadists who had inflicted untold misery on innocent men women and children were freed. That would stick in anyone's throat - but we have to accept that because of that agreement there are hundreds of people alive today who might otherwise have been murdered in the pursuit of insane sectarianism.
The dead cannot speak. Some - a minority - of the relatives of victims of Lockerbie and Enniskillen and elsewhere have expressed not so much forgiveness of the perpetrators, as a belief that things should now move on. Many of them are Christians, following the teaching of that well-known Nazarene troublemaker. What you or I think about it is personal. During the IRA insurgency many voices were raised calling for the abandonment of British standards of justice and freedom. I was proud then, and I am proud now, that my country carried on (mostly) playing by the rules while those who despised our freedom took advantage.
And that is why, in the last analysis, I am prepared to feel compassion for someone upon whom age and disease are wreaking their havoc, whatever he may have done in earlier days.
Like I said, it's personal.
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