The horrific events unfolding in Libya have gripped the world. And they are horrific, at least as much as they are inspirational.

One cannot help but admire the courage of people who are prepared to face down a tyrant’s soldiers with little more than the moral courage required to die. Many have done just that, and they will rightly be remembered as martyrs, witnesses to a better way.

But along with the horror of their deaths is the horror of the testimonies coming from Moammar Gadhafi’s secret prisons, where unimaginable brutalities were inflicted on his enemies.

If the toppling of his regime, which looks increasingly inevitable, leads to the light being let in to all these places, it is hard to imagine a price too great to pay.

It should not be forgotten that the whole apparatus of the secret service of a repressive regime was in full swing during the whole of Britain’s and the United States’ rapprochement with Libya, and that this was well known to the intelligence services of each.

Britain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair, academics and business people have come in for severe criticism for their attempts to bring Gadhafi into the mainstream of international political life.

But such criticisms are surely misguided, if not mischievous. These were genuine attempts to bring someone responsible for terrible deeds to a better mind, and to prevent even greater atrocities than he had already perpetrated.

The government under both John Major and Tony Blair had held its nose and talked to the IRA, with the result we all know; Libya was at least as much of a risk, but it was surely a chance worth taking.

What is lacking from such discussions, in the contributions made by church people as well as the angry bloggers, is a recognition of the moral complexity of the universe in which politicians and diplomats live.

“Shall we do evil that good may come?” No, says Paul in Romans 3:8; but there are those for whom such calculations are a daily reality, and not in theological abstractions but in human lives.

It’s easy to condemn those whose judgments turn out to have been wrong. It’s far harder to live in their world and maintain integrity. We should pray for them.

Mark Woods is editor of Britain’s Baptist Times, where this column first appeared.

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