We hear a lot about “compassion” these days in international news. Scotland just released the sole person convicted for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that left 270 people dead. Its rationale? “Compassionate release.” The Libyan was greeted back home as a national hero. Across the globe, Malaysian authorities agreed to postpone the caning of a Muslim woman. Her crime? Drinking a beer, a violation of sharia law. They did so out of “compassion” and observance of the holy month of Ramadan, but still intend to flog her in a few weeks. Um, these are examples of “compassion”?
The word, of course, is fraught with mixed meanings. George W. Bush’s compassionate conservatism” springs to mind. But when the offending acts leave the rest of the world befuddled and angry, you have to wonder if they were done more out of politics than out of compassion. There is also no shortage of hypocrisy present. After all, if we learned nothing from the Sotomayor hearings, it’s that there is no role for compassion or empathy in judicial rulings. Judges must follow the strict letter of the law, not their personal prejudices. But we seem to hold foreign judiciaries to a different standard. After all, isn’t that what the Scottish and Malaysian justice ministers were doing–following the law, however abhorrent or puzzling to us?
To borrow from the famous cliche about freedom fighters, it seems one country’s compassion is another one’s act of barbarism and hypocrisy.