Saturday, 15 August 2009

Where were you?

There's always some hot political topic going on and the most current one is whether the Lockerbie terrorist Megrahi should be allowed out of the Scottish prison and allowed to go home on compassionate grounds because he's terminally ill with cancer.

I'm all in favour of showing compassion. I have long been interested in Buddhism, and had a lucky opportunity and privilege in 2004 to make a film with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. But the case of Megrahi is quite different, and enormously sensitive.

I remember the day, 21 December 1988. It was a Wednesday. I know the day of the week because I was running a physical training night for the Boys' Brigade company I was attached to. I arrived back at my flat to my then new girlfriend Lorraine, when she said a plane had crashed into a petrol station. I recall I had heard an unprecedented amount of sirens going off in the city. We both had no idea of the enormity of what had happened.

On the 4th January the following year I was journeying down to Manchester, driving south on the M74. As I approached Lockerbie, which runs closely alongside the motorway, the traffic slowed, as everyones morbid curiosity got the better of them. I was no exception. On my right was a trench, where houses must have once stood, the size and shape of something enormous. It was a jaw dropping moment, to think that an aircraft, a 747 jumbo jet, had plummeted from 36,000 feet and hit this little town, devastating the lives of families on the ground, as well as those of the victims in the plane.

Then the conspiracy theories started, as they always do in events such as these, and there have be no shortage of events since I was born in 1963: there was the JFK assassination on 22 November 1963; space shuttle Challenger exploding on 28 January 1986; Diana, Princess of Wales on 31 August 1997; the Nine Eleven terrorist attack in 2001; and more recently the London bombings on 7 July 2005.

I think these surface generally because no one wants to believe that such a terrible thing has happened by some random event. The people's inherent distrust of their government means they must be involved in it somehow.

And these events leave a mark in most people's memories. They can recall what they were doing that moment. I've already told you about the night of the Lockerbie disaster. Space shuttle Challenger, when I was coming up for 23 years old, exploded on a Tuesday. I had just returned from work early to watch the launch live on TV. What followed seemed unreal to me at the time.

When Diana died I was sitting in a coffee shop the day after in Fortrose, just east of Inverness, with my girlfriend at the time, Pauline. People in the coffee shop were talking about "Diana". We thought it was someone local. On the drive home that same day we noticed many flags at half mast, but still the penny didn't drop, until we arrived home and turned on the TV. On Saturday 6 September I remember closing my deli that I owned, as a mark of respect on the day of her funeral. The thing I remember most about that day was the ten minute walk home around 1pm. All the way home there was not a single car on the normally busy road. Not one.

And the most famous terrorist attack of them all to date: 911. I was ill and was sat at home watching TV. I went through to the kitchen and came back through to see this image of one of the twin towers with smoke bellowing out. I thought a disaster movie had just started. Just as when I saw the Challenger disaster this seemed very unreal, and just like the Challenger disaster it was on a Tuesday (I can already hear new conspiracy theories starting!). I was glued to the TV all day. When the towers came down early on, I was truly speechless. It was so incredible, so unbelievable, it was obvious conspiracy theories would abound after this. And of course there was the attack on the Pentagon and flight 93 that crashed. I threw a video tape into the VCR almost immediately and still have these tapes to this day.

Influenced by that day, in 2006 I made a short film called Where Were You? You can see this 7-minute film on my YouTube channel, by highlighting, copying and pasting this link into your browser address line;

All these tragedies have one thing in common: the anger felt against those that perpetrated them is real and tangible. The question is should we not look at these from outside the box? What on earth drove someone to feel this was the only way to get their issues noticed? Should Bush have got the terrorists round a table and attempted to get to the bottom of it, instead of putting the wagons in a circle? Were these terrorist events, though tragic, a missed opportunity to put a peaceful end to these events.

So should Magrahi be allowed to return to Libya? Is he in fact really the guilty one? That is a different question to the former. One could argue that we have convicted criminals in prison who are also terminally ill just now, and who will die there, so do we allow them to go home?

Hilary Clinton and Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, do not seem to see eye to eye on this, with Hillary saying leave him where he is. MacAskill is said to still be considering matters, but there are those that believe Megrahi will be home within days.
In 2004, during filming, the Dalai Lama said; "the answer to our problems with our aggressors is to adopt a non-violent approach". Is, then, keeping Magrahi in prison until he dies, a violent act? Or is allowing him to go home to die true compassion?

It will take a wiser man than me to decide.

No comments: