An Ethic For Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics

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More than anything else, that failure was political. Politically, however, Hutu and Tutsi are as bipolar opposites, constructed by a form of the state in which if one has the identity of power, the other has the fate of being a subject. As cultural identities, they illustrate more differences along a continuum. This failure to recognise and to change the historic colonial construction of this political and social power and its resulting identities contributed most to turning justice into revenge — thus launching and perpetuating the cycle of conflict, then genocide between the two groups.

Instead of attempting to collectively identify and reshape these externally imposed political constraints, they simply chose to trade places. This approach is based on individual violations and treats these crimes as a minority of the population.

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This individualisation of blame has also been extended to targeting political figures, thus allowing guilt and evil to be defined in individual rather than in group terms, allowing the majority of citizens to transcend the past by forging a future out of new identities. The initial timetable was for two years, from December until , but was extended until 31 July It was composed of three committees: The Committee on Human Rights Violations—which was formed to collect stories of the victims on a voluntary basis; The Committee on Amnesty—assigned with hearing evidence on political crimes and allocating amnesty; and The Committee on Reparation and Rehabilitation—which sought to help the victims through monetary payments or commemorative ceremonies.

These criticisms confirm the fact that the concept of justice in ordinary life and language functions mainly as a passionate protest against wrongdoing as well as a demand for rectification. From the perspective of those who are accused, mostly former enforcers of Apartheid, there is a troubling contrast between the impartiality and the procedural protection of the justice system and a Commission allowing, for example, untested allegations to be made in public HRV hearings.

Dalai Lama speaks on Dealing with Enemies,Adversities & Gaining Self-Confidence

The principles of natural justice are not being adhered to. While it may be effective in promoting healing and in inspiring forgiveness in some circumstances, it has its own set of limitations. One tells the chronology of what happened while the later is a narrative that attempts to explain who is responsible and why events took place.

He points out that the version of truth depends on who is telling it. And who you believe yourself to be is mostly defined in terms of who you are not.

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If you are Catholic, then you are not Protestant—if Hutu, then not Tutsi—if white African, then not black African, and so on. Brandon Hamber, clinical psychologist and co-ordinator of the Transition and Reconciliation Unit for the Centre of Violence and Reconciliation in South Africa, reinforced this point in a paper he presented at a conference on Ethnic Studies in Northern Ireland.

An Ethic For Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics

Truth alone will not lead to reconciliation nor will it guarantee that a human rights culture will permeate the society and that those who suffered in the past will be able to deal with their traumas. Some have found it to be the final leg in a journey of personal healing, while for others it has been only the beginning step. The concept of confession implied by truth telling is also relevant to this discussion.

Its religious overtones and relationships of power have much in common with secular apologies. In fact, some witnesses who have come to the Commission have expressed a preference for the truth, rather than a need for the punishment of perpetrators. I think that it would be more difficult for families of victims to accept the total and unconditional amnesty adopted in the Guatemalan model, where perpetrators from all sides are not supposed to be named.

Human rights groups and families of victims in that country have criticised the terms of the amnesty as breeding ground for bitterness, and not reconciliation. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission hopes that one of the lessons from these confessions is the importance of individual choice. I think that individual conscience should be elevated above the service of the state, or other institutions of power, especially for those acts cloaked in legitimacy.

forgiveness and reconciliation | A discussion on forgiveness and reconciliation

The danger with this conceptualisation of reconciliation is that it trivialises the process of forgiveness, and reduces pain into something that can be easily chucked away, in exchange for joyful unity with the one who caused the pain. Yet forgiveness is a journey and a challenge. Acknowledging and accepting a plea for forgiveness is a first step, and one that requires both parties to work at.

Assuming anything more profound than a first step would be unrealistic, and tantamount to a form of false reconciliation. Are there other ways for a society recovering from conflict to begin taking the steps toward reconciliation—with or without a truth commission- that encompasses the possibility of forgiveness? A type of religion based behaviour described by Naila Nauphal promotes forgiveness as a form of personal and collective action. A multi dimensional approach to forgiveness education has potential to broaden this concept and has just begun to be explored. Social memory can enact a public willingness to begin again in several different ways.

Connerton states that this form of bodily practice emphasising a newly classless society took place from to , when clothing became a type of standard uniform. But, as he goes on to say, despite appearances nothing is truly new. This is particularly so when a social group makes a concerted effort to begin with a wholly new start. There is a measure of complete arbitrariness in the very nature of any such attempted beginning. The beginning has nothing whatsoever to hold on to; it is as if it came out of nowhere.

2. Cognate Phenomena

For a moment, the moment of beginning, it is as if the beginners had abolished the sequence of temporality itself and were thrown out of the continuity of temporal order. It is not just that it is very difficult to begin with a wholly new start…More fundamentally, it is that in all modes of experience we always base our particular experiences on a prior context in order to ensure that they are intelligible at all; that prior to any single experience, our mind is already predisposed with a framework of outlines, of typical shapes of experienced objects.

To perceive an object or act upon it is to locate it within this system of expectations. The recreation of historic narrative as social memory is another forum in which the process of political forgiveness could be enacted on both a group and individual level.


In this context the past is not forgotten, but simply relegated to an event that may or may not be relevant to the present and future. Another group of survivors, described by Derek Summerfield, emerged from the World War II and Holocaust death camps without becoming psychologically ill. Most did not seek, nor were offered psychological help as post-war society in Europe and America did not see them as carrying a permanent psychological wound. All over the world, huge numbers of ordinary, unremarkable people demonstrate a capacity to endure, adapt, and transcend that scarcely suggests psychiatric casehood.

Each culture has its own ritual for acknowledging forgiveness. Lebanon, a country torn apart by fifteen years of civil war in the s and 80s, can be seen as an example of the overlapping of religious, political, and cultural processes on the road to reconciliation. The concept of an apology rooted in shame and embarrassment has played a major role in this process. Social memory is the link between all these forms of analysis.

Social theorist Maurice Halbwachs has argued that individual memory is shaped by membership to a social group and strengthened by religious, class, and family ties. It differs from academic historical reconstruction in that it may or may not accurately reflect the facts or the chronology of an event.

This approach has been strongly challenged as of doubtful usefulness among Western and more especially non-Western populations. Assisting groups to set up centres for short term diagnosis and treatment, accompanied by long term development of centres for mental health has been proposed, but the criteria of such help must be acceptable to the recipients. Training and supporting local fieldworkers, perhaps drawing from the pool of teachers has been suggested.

Forgiveness and its process would be possible in such a setting, as it could set the tone for a positive reconstruction of social, political, and economic structures. This same culturally sensitive approach could be extended to formal forgiveness education. The actual enactment of forgiveness seemed to occur more often when the curriculum included the entire eighteen steps of the Enright model.

The results of this study imply that those hurt by another need to go beyond saying they will forgive. This is the precursor to the empathy and compassion that may be the keys to psychological healing.. It also must be recognised that in some circumstances forgiveness may not be possible. They may be towering titans who trample whole populations. They may be crawling worms who seduce little children into prostitution. In proposing his new paradigm of reconciliation as justice, he recognises the struggle to balance the acceptance of past wrongs against the unpunished enactment of past evil.

The dilemma is how to live with evil: Love Thy Enemy. In secular terms the dilemma is how to live in a pre-revolutionary, nay, non-revolutionary, world. Before you can love thy enemy, must you not recognize the enemy? He points out two lessons learned to prevent reconciliation from embracing injustice and evil, have focused on the quest of a new type of political and social justice. The second is that the quest for justice does not have to be self-righteous and can be framed instead as an historic response to injustice.

It is important to realize that a formal understanding of the process of forgiveness in reconstructing a post conflict society is in its infancy. If, as I have argued, sorrow is the energizing force of apology, then what moves the offended party to forgive? In historical and cross-cultural terms, what is deemed forgivable and unforgivable? In the end, it may be wise to remember that no matter how much a group promotes or supports a climate for reconciliation and healing, it is the capacity for forgiveness that lies within each individual that arguably influences the long term success of these efforts.

We can not only recreate communities but ourselves by using the same techniques of history, memory, narrative, and psychological interventions previously described. Until this point, the wronged individual risks suffering a three fold oppression: first, by the wrong itself; second, by the hatred of others, of self that may consume him or her; and thirdly, reentering a political dimension by the continuing social conflict that a lack of forgiveness helps to keep alive. If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it! Comments are closed. The Journal of Humanitarian Assistance Field experience and current research on humanitarian action and policy.

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An Ethic for Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics

Confrontation of anger; the point is to release, not harbour, the anger. Admittance of shame, when this is appropriate. Awareness of cathexis [hurt]. A willingness to explore forgiveness as an option. Commitment to forgive the offender. Reframing, through role taking, who the wrongdoer is by viewing him or her in context. Empathy toward the offender. Awareness of compassion, as it emerges, toward the offender. Realization that self has been, perhaps, permanently changed by the injury. Awareness of deceased negative affect and, perhaps, increased positive affect, if this begins to emerge, toward the injurer.

Awareness of internal, emotional release. Notes Shriver, Donald W. It requires from politicians inner strength, maturity and the willingness to see a situation from a different angle. They have to be able to develop empathy for their enemies and not invest themselves in dehumanising their enemies. Forgiveness has to be possible in politics if there is to be any hope of former enemies being able to co-exist as members of the international community. We learn the need to forgive and be forgiven from our experience of living together with others.

In forgiveness we affirm our readiness to act anew and to establish new relationships. When we do achieve the goal of being neighbours to people who were once our enemies, then we will see forgiveness in politics in action. In order to see things from a different angle we have to accept the belief that there is a spiritual basic goodness in each of us and this gives us the ability to love and recognise our connection with humanity. This inner spiritual touch is the one that makes it possible for us to view the world we live in in a different way. The spiritual will to forgive frees us to do the emotional work of forgiving for it has to do with uniting people through practical politics.

The behind-the scenes efforts of religious organisations are aimed at not just reaching agreement but at healing the wounds that are the root of any conflict. Forms of informal diplomacy had involved religious or spiritually motivated organisations such as the Quakers in Nigeria, the Mennonites in Central America and Catholics in Zimbabwe. The challenges we face in the 21st century are severe and societies will have to undergo changes if we want to be able to face the challenges that lie ahead of us.

Forgiveness is an important factor if we want to achieve a lasting peace. Otherwise, we will hear only the voices of scepticism. The readiness to forgive will create possibilities for truth-telling and the courage to take political responsibility.

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All Rights Reserved. Posted by: Israel Rafalovich. The power of forgiveness in international relations. The argument about war and justice is still a political and moral issue. Israel Rafalovich, is currently writing a book on the subject of forgiveness in international relations.