Could you forgive Mugabe?

Zimbabwe's president shows no sign of going. How does this "devout Catholic" square his crimes with

The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, memorably cut up his clerical collar live on Andrew Marr's Sunday breakfast show in 2007 to demonstrate how Robert Mugabe had destroyed the identity of the people of Zimbabwe. Sentamu believes Mugabe should be tried for crimes against humanity, and pledged not to wear a dog collar again until the president had gone. But nearly two years on there is no sign of the archbishop being able to resume his neckwear.

As Mugabe has been much in the news of late, with a very warm reception at the Southern African Development Community summit and the EU delegation's visit signalling acceptance that he is here to stay, I have written about him in today's Independent, asking this: could we -- should we -- forgive him his crimes?

In the Indy I looked at this from a political perspective, but I would welcome a discussion examining the ethical or religious grounds for forgiving him. Robert Gabriel Mugabe, educated by Jesuits, is of course still supposedly a Catholic, a point Christopher Hitchens raised in typically tart fashion in Slate.

What is it going to take before the Roman Catholic Church has anything to say about the conduct of this member of its flock? Mugabe has been a devout Catholic ever since his days in a mission school in what was then colonial Rhodesia, and one is forced to wonder what he tells his priest when he is asked if he has anything he'd like to confess.

One does indeed. Not least because many would assume that forgiveness should not even begin to be meted out until there has been some repentance on Mugabe's part. He hasn't repented in public. Has he in private? And if so, does he think that's enough? The notion that he could be unburdening himself of his crimes in the confessional, receiving absolution, and then committing fresh atrocities in the knowledge that he has a clean slate because he's said a few rosaries, is too twisted to contemplate.

Surely, one might say, only an unbalanced mind could imagine that was conduct within both the spirit and the rules of the Catholic faith. But if Mugabe does believe that, there are other consequences. If we judge he is not of sound mind, the extent to which he can be held responsible for his crimes diminishes. And then he becomes demonstrably more deserving of pity -- and forgiveness . . .

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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It's Gary Lineker 1, the Sun 0

The football hero has found himself at the heart of a Twitter storm over the refugee children debate.

The Mole wonders what sort of topsy-turvy universe we now live in where Gary Lineker is suddenly being called a “political activist” by a Conservative MP? Our favourite big-eared football pundit has found himself in a war of words with the Sun newspaper after wading into the controversy over the age of the refugee children granted entry into Britain from Calais.

Pictures published earlier this week in the right-wing press prompted speculation over the migrants' “true age”, and a Tory MP even went as far as suggesting that these children should have their age verified by dental X-rays. All of which leaves your poor Mole with a deeply furrowed brow. But luckily the British Dental Association was on hand to condemn the idea as unethical, inaccurate and inappropriate. Phew. Thank God for dentists.

Back to old Big Ears, sorry, Saint Gary, who on Wednesday tweeted his outrage over the Murdoch-owned newspaper’s scaremongering coverage of the story. He smacked down the ex-English Defence League leader, Tommy Robinson, in a single tweet, calling him a “racist idiot”, and went on to defend his right to express his opinions freely on his feed.

The Sun hit back in traditional form, calling for Lineker to be ousted from his job as host of the BBC’s Match of the Day. The headline they chose? “Out on his ears”, of course, referring to the sporting hero’s most notable assets. In the article, the tabloid lays into Lineker, branding him a “leftie luvvie” and “jug-eared”. The article attacked him for describing those querying the age of the young migrants as “hideously racist” and suggested he had breached BBC guidelines on impartiality.

All of which has prompted calls for a boycott of the Sun and an outpouring of support for Lineker on Twitter. His fellow football hero Stan Collymore waded in, tweeting that he was on “Team Lineker”. Leading the charge against the Murdoch-owned title was the close ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and former Channel 4 News economics editor, Paul Mason, who tweeted:

Lineker, who is not accustomed to finding himself at the centre of such highly politicised arguments on social media, responded with typical good humour, saying he had received a bit of a “spanking”.

All of which leaves the Mole with renewed respect for Lineker and an uncharacteristic desire to watch this weekend’s Match of the Day to see if any trace of his new activist persona might surface.


I'm a mole, innit.