Is the Lockerbie Bomber’s Cancer Punishment from God?

Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi is the newly-released-from-prison Lockerbie bomber whose act of terrorism killed hundreds in 1988. He was recently released on “compassionate grounds” because he has prostate cancer and will likely die within months.

This quotation is of particular interest:

[Scottish] Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said Megrahi, dying from cancer, faced a sentence “imposed by a higher power”.

Here’s a little more context for that quotation from another source:

Scotland will forever remember the crime that has been perpetrated against our people and those from many other lands. The pain and suffering will remain forever. Some hurt can never heal. Some scars can never fade. Those who have been bereaved cannot be expected to forget, let alone forgive.

Mr Al-Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power. It is one that no court, in any jurisdiction, in any land, could revoke or overrule. It is terminal, final and irrevocable. He is going to die.

hoverFrog is disturbed by this. It makes it sound like cancer is God’s punishment for Al-Megrahi’s crime. Is that fair to say? hoverFrog doesn’t think so:

I have two issues with his choice of words that really disgust me.

1. As a representative of Parliament MacAskill stands at the highest power in the land, in accordance with the wishes of the people. By deferring his judgment to any sort of higher power is to diminish his role in government and to ignore the wishes of the people. These are the principles for which he has been granted power in government. If he doesn’t want to live up to them then he should resign.

2. What does this say about cancer sufferers the world over? Are we to believe that some few are actually being punished by God for some crime? Are the families and friends of cancer sufferers left to wonder what their loved ones did to deserve this fate? What an awful thing even to imply.

I don’t think anything disrespectful was implied by MacAskill. Still, while it may sound like pretty rhetoric that could appeal to religious people, it is really an irresponsible thing to say. Besides the notion that no one “gave” al-Megrahi cancer at all, bringing God into this lessens the severity of the punishment handed down from his government.

  • Miko

    That depends on your point of view; I imagine that most theists would say that a punishment delivered by God would actually be of greater severity.

  • bigjohn756

    I don’t think anything disrespectful was implied by MacAskill. Still, while it may sound like pretty rhetoric that could appeal to religious people, it is really an irresponsible thing to say.

    I would say that it was very disrespectful as well as grossly insensitive to imply that all cancer sufferers are guilty of SIN!!

  • Mankoi

    I think this is one of those cases where religion is not intended to be implied, but it is. Similar to almost any time Einstein uses the word god. He’s not meaning to say the cancer is of an actual supernatural origin, it’s just that it’s something no one can do anything about, and it’s his death sentience.

    Of course, I could well be overly optimistic.

  • Kaylya

    Terminal illness is, indeed, a “higher power” than the justice system. It doesn’t seem unusual for someone to refer to terminal illness as a “death sentence”. I’m not about to complain about every time someone uses a metaphor that could possibly (but not necessarily) refer to something supernatural.

    He’s not saying the disease is God’s punishment for his crimes. He’s using some metaphorical language in his description of why terminally ill criminals are released to die outside of prison despite their horrible crimes.

  • Citizen Z

    Even without bringing God in the mix it seems absurd. I was under the impression that the intent of “life imprisonment” or a “life sentence” was that the guilty party dies in prison. That they never get out.

    It doesn’t make sense that they would let someone out only if they can put a timeframe on the inevitable.

  • Jonau

    Bringing any God into the justice system is puzzling, it implies that you could be punished twice… For example, as an atheist, I take an affirmation as a witness in court. Someone who believes in god, may swear on the Bible. If I perjure myself and lie, I am only punished by the legal system. Whereas a “godly” person will be punished by the court, and then aparently again by god!
    In any case, this mans “higher power” may be a different one to many others, with different terms of punishment! I wonder if believing in a lenient god just prior to death might get you off a bit of punishment? :-/

  • http://jonathan-keith.com Jon

    Kaylya is right. Its not really that absurd of a statement.

    Even if he is saying that God is punishing him with cancer, that does not in any way imply that all victims of cancer or disease are being punished because of sin.

    Again, it would be nice if hemant would apply a little bit more of his intellectualism and give more of an intense evaluation to his blog content.

  • Snuggly Buffalo

    I wonder how the Justice would react if the guy’s cancer spontaneously went into remission?

  • http://angelofharlots.blogspot.com Nena

    I think it is an irresponsible statement.

    I understand the spirit of what the guy is saying; he’s saying that Al-Megrahi is going to suffer and die, and it doesn’t really make a difference where he does it.

    Still, I think that associating Al-Megrahi’s illness with his crime in any way does a disservice to the families of others with terminal illness, and to the families of the victims of heinous crimes where the perpetrator lived a long, healthy life.

    I blogged about this after reading Hemant’s post; I hope my post isn’t too much of a rip-off…I’m kind of new to the blogging scene and don’t know all the etiquitte. I did link back to Hemant…

  • Wim

    It’s a morally retarded god concept. If this being can “come down” and give a person cancer, it could also “come down” and prevent the Lockerbie bombing by giving the terrorist(s) a heart attack.

  • gribblethemunchkin

    Citizen Z. Life sentence in British law is generally 25 years. We also have indeterminate sentences which can go on while the authorities believe the prison to be unfit for release.

    As for this Scot proposing that his cancer is linked to his crime. I’m not sure he does. All he says is that Megrahi is dying from a condition imposed by a higher power and that no court of the land can rescind that higher power.

    He leaves it nicely ambiguous.

    Personally i’d not deliver a speech this loaded with loaded terms but its certainly nothing i’d lose any sleep over, especially since all he is trying to do is assuage some of the rage the Scots feel about Megrahi’s release.

    I have a request though for American readers of Hemants blog. I heard rumours of a boycott of scottish goods and renaming scotch to “Freedom liquor” over the Megrahi release. I hope this was sarcastic commentary on the freedom fries episode but if you hear anyone actually refering to Scotch (or whiskey as we call it) as Freedom Liquor in a non-ironic tone, please smack them for me.

  • http://www.cstdbill.com/ Bill

    If MacAskill is a member of the Church of Scotland, the best guess lacking actual data, then by “higher power” he almost certainly means the Calvinist god, the one who predestinates and elects.

  • http://www.cstdbill.com/ Bill

    gribblethemunchkin: ‘I heard rumours of … renaming scotch to “Freedom liquor” over the Megrahi release.’

    LOL! I hadn’t heard that one. It does seem to have the nature of a Poe.

    For the record, I’m a mono-maltist.

  • Graeme

    Speaking as a Scot, living in Scotland, I think you’ve over-hyped this statement a bit.

    I think perhaps to understand the nuances of the (frankly terrible) speech, you do need to have some understanding of the broader context of the political system in Scotland (and the broader UK). Given that context, within which it would be very rare for religion to be used in political discourse, I really don’t think MacAskill was implying that God was involved.

    I agree with Kaylya that his use of that language was purely metaphorical. Anyone who gets overly worked up about the use of vaguely religious language in everyday speech needs to lighten up a bit!! 😉

  • SgtSkepper

    It’s entirely possible that by ‘higher power’ he could have been referring to nature.

  • http://angelofharlots.blogspot.com Nena

    “Freedom Liquor” has got to be a Poe. A very funny one.

    Great. I read this at 7:00 in the morning, and now I want Scotch.

    Baby step to five o’clock…

  • cypressgreen

    Hard to say exactly how it was meant…but it could give the impression to cancer patients that they’re being punished by god. I work with cancer patients and have a sister dying young from it, and I think people need to be more careful in their language.
    On the ‘bright’ side…if he’s *dying* from prostate cancer, that means he had ample time in years past to have found and treated it. Oh, darn. Prostate cancer is slow growing and most of them die of old age before it gets them.
    Listen up, all you men: get your annual exam! I’m insisting ’cause I like ya’ll! Many of the patients we treat lollygag around for months before deciding on or getting treatment (with the doctors’ permission to wait). How many guys have I scheduled for months out because they are going on vacation or whatever first? I got one to schedule yesterday who they want to wait surgery on ’till May 2010!
    You can usually live years w/o treatment! But once it spreads, you’re cooked. Guess the evil dude’s cooked.

  • Ray

    What if Megrahi sees his cancer and release as a sign of approval from god and that he has been given a few months to plan another bombing?

    Asshats!

  • Alexis

    A truly just, all seeing, all knowing, all powerful god might impose a fatal heart attack or stroke BEFORE the act was committed.

  • Amy G

    I think that the idea that the cancer came from any type of “higher power” (God or otherwises) is ridiculous, and if I were, say, the mother of a young child that died from cancer, I would be offended that anyone would consider cancer as some kind of punishment that is given to someone. Cancer doesn’t choose only the guilty.

    I agree that if this man was to spend his life in prison, he should spend his life there, cancer or not.

    The other issue, and perhaps this has been addressed and I missed it, is that of his treatment. Is he to be denied treatment for his cancer? If his cancer goes into remission, will he go back to prison, or will it be a sign from God that he has been forgiven?

  • http://cannedartistshit.blogspot.com Nell Gwynne

    In April, my grandmother died after fighting a 6-month battle with a terminal cancer. She was an extremely caring individual, who was also deeply religious, and an active member of her church.

    I do not believe that God “gave” her cancer, or that cancer was a “punishment for her sins”.

    My grandmother was in a considerable amount of pain, which was not reduced by chemotherapy treatments. The one thing that did comfort her was being able to spend her final days surrounded by the people who loved and cared about her the most.

    As despicable as Al-Magrahi may be, he deserves the same thing–to pass away in his home, surrounded by loved ones.

    I agree with Kaylya that by “higher power”, McAskill meant his inevitable death. If religious people want to interpret this to mean God’s power to judge, then they have a right to do so.

  • Liudvikas

    I would give anything to see a miracle happen and this criminals cancer going into remission. It would be fun watching how would the justice system react.

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