The British historian and my esteemed journalistic colleague Professor Geoffrey Alderman has published an editorial in the Jewish Chronicle of August 28 entitled “I’m Ashamed to Be British.” When I saw the title I thought Geoffrey was referring to the disgraceful football riot that engulfed parts of London’s East End at the end of August because Millwall was playing West Ham in the Carling Cup.
Regular readers of my columns will know that I am passionate about sport, having once been the London correspondent of World Tennis magazine and being regularly pie-eyed due to addiction to late-night broadcasts of American football, baseball, and other events. So the violent riots at Upton Park in East London as August came to a close ignited my interest and I rather assumed Geoffrey Alderman was going to share my shame.
But no — his article was about the other disgrace in British life this past month: the release on “compassionate grounds” of Lockerbie terrorist Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi back into the bosom of his homeland by the Scottish authorities, who some of us had assumed had incarcerated him for life. Professor Alderman reminded his readers that the British justice system in the persona of Justice Secretary Jack Straw (he calls him “the Man of Straw”) had released brutal “great train robber” Ronnie Biggs to a retirement home paid for by the taxpayer in the same month that the Libyan had been let free and that neither man has ever shown remorse.
Like me, Geoffrey Alderman is filled with shame and dismay; he regards the release of al-Megrahi on the grounds of Scottish compassion “pure, unadulterated humbug.”
On Wednesday, September 2, the Scottish Parliament had a stormy day because the Pan Am 103 Lockerbie story will just not go away. I have to confess I thought the al-Megrahi “hero’s welcome” by Colonel Gaddafi would be a one-day wonder, but I was wrong. As September gets well underway the British media are full of the story and the turbulent debate in Scotland’s Holyrood halls of power was fierce. The Scottish coalition came close to a no-confidence vote. Condemnation of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown — himself a Scot — kept bubbling up in the public forum like the never-ending pink floss in a cotton candy machine.
I have a special feeling about Lockerbie and therefore think about that atrocity every day. In December 1988 my father had a heart attack. I can still remember standing by my bathroom sink brushing my teeth and wondering if I could knock off work at Anglia TV in London on December 21 and get straight onto the Pan Am flight that left in the early evening. My mother told me, however, that if my father had seen me arrive in intensive care in that New Jersey hospital he would have assumed I had been told he was going to die and that it would do him a power of good if I did not fly over. She went through the whole Jewish mother litany of “and anyway, I don’t want you flying in winter and maybe hitting a blizzard, etc., etc.” And so it was that on the evening of December 21, 1988, my Anglia TV colleague Annie Price, a wildlife cinematographer who was going to take the trip with me had I gone, sat in cold shock but safe in my living room, the two of us watching those horrific images unfold in a Scottish village that could so easily have been our final resting place.