mercredi, juillet 26, 2006

The Politics of Forgiveness

One of the hardest acts I have ever tried to perform has to be forgiveness. My personality combined with my philosophical disagreement with the very essence of what forgiveness entails makes it very difficult for me to perform the action. For you see, to forgive, to ultimately forgive, is pardon the offender, irrespective of both the offender's acknowledgement of the crime/wrongdoing, etc. that they have committed against you and/or the offender's own (or lack thereof) remorse.

In the book that I'm reading, Bone to Pick: Of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Reparation, and Revenge, Ellis Cose travels around the world (i.e. South Africa, New Zealand, Peru, etc.) to study how both individuals and societies who have been ruptured and dismantled by trauma (i.e. torture, World Trade Center, warfare, violent death of a loved one) trek along the path of forgiveness, or if they even do. Its a fascinating read to say the least. Take for example the case of Amy a young girl who was raised in a middle class family of devout Mormons, her father a leader in the church. For a number of years in her pre-pubescent up until her fourteenth or fifteenth year, her father repeatedly molested her. As she got older, she began to fight him off and he eventually stopped and moved on the her younger sister. Being somewhat of a loner, Amy never really had friends in school and married at sixteen. She had two children and was involved in an unsuccessful marriage when she discovered that her father had been doing the same thing to her sister for quite some time. Despite his 300 pound frame and his violent temper, Amy, filled with rage, confronted her father. He dropped to the floor and began to beg for her forgiveness. She later found out that he had grown up in an orphanage where he was severely mistreated and carried out his rage upon his children. What I found most intriguing about this story was that while Amy eventually came to forgive her father, she finds it increasingly difficult to forgive her mother who knew about the abuse (she walked in on her husband performing oral sex on her daughter) but did nothting to stop it.

Or take for instance, Thandi Shezi's story a woman who grew up in Soweto, South Africa and was quite vocal and active in the anti apartheid and post-apartheid movement which served to end the torment of Blacks at the hands of apartheid's many enforcers. In 1988, when she was in her teens, a group of cops illegally broke in on her and her friends claiming bogus charges. To get her to talk about their activist activities, they took her male friend and put his penis within an open drawer. As Thandi shouted that she knew nothing, they repeatedly slammed the desk drawer on her friend as he screamed in pain. When they finished with him, four different white policemen took her in the back room and beat and raped her repeatedly as her hands were in cuffs so tight her wrists still bear scars. Then they covered her head with a wet sack, a torture device that when she breathed in the wet sack clung to her nostrils and took her to the edge of suffocation. They then applied electric shocks to her body. Eventually, they took her to a physician; she could barely walk and was unable to talk. The cops told the doctor that she was a prostitute and because her tongue was so badly swollen, she couldn't talk to dispute the lies. She was then incarcerated for a year in solitary confinement and never tried for any crime. A decade later, she testified before a tribunal about what happened to her. There was a part of the tribunal where perpetrators came forward to describe their crimes for amnesty. One of her assailants was there but refused knowing her or acknowledging what he had done to her. She's still trying to move forward with the reconciliation process but finds it virtually impossible if her perpetrator does not admit to what he did to her.

Its stories like these that resound through the book along with a number of pivotal questions posed by both Cose and myself (after reading much of the book):
  1. How effective are apologies?
  2. Are some things so horrific that models of reconciliation and/or forgiveness are not possible? Furthermore, are their some individuals, groups of people, and/or nations that are beyond forgiveness?
  3. Is there a space for revenge, the "settling of scores", or "restorative justice" in social justice movements or acts of reconciliation? If so, how do we determine what is sufficient revenge for what crime? What is the formula? If that is determined, who should carry it out? The individual or the state? If the state, is it possible for the state to carry out "torture" and be "civilized"?
  4. How does a nation adequately atone for atrocities of the past? How do you compensate torture survivors, survivors and descendants of historical events such as the Holocaust and American slavery? Will America ever acknowledge and/ or dialogue about American slavery?
  5. How large a role does religion play in a person's decision to forgive?
  6. Can mercy be taught?
  7. How is evil that is perpetrated against humanity best dealt with: through forgiveness, through retribution...?
  8. Is total forgiveness truly possible? Is atonement a necessary component of true forgiveness?
  9. Is forgiveness obligatory?
  10. Can revenge be beneficially transformative?
  11. Is it easier or harder to forgive when the perpetrator is someone you love?

South Africa is also known for its truth commissions, tribunals where the offended/victimized, etc. are expected to and coerced into forgiving the perpetrator in the spirit of removing animosity and forging bonds between former enemies. Should reconciliation be forced? Likewise, there are others who refuse to forgive and believe vengeance is the only true answer. Forgiveness, is indeed a very, very complicated issue for me, also because I am a Christian and my religious beliefs dictate that Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord (Romans 12:19) but they also contend "an eye for an eye" (Exodus 21:24). I take my religion seriously which is why I am trying to reconcile all of these feelings, thoughts and ideas that I have. Forgiveness plays a large role in Christian doctrine but the nature of who I am can't just accept something and move forward; I have the move through my thought processes and find a way to reconcile both. I know that I will have to both forgive and be forgiven in life --- but first I must learn how to do both.

exiguity -- n: Scantiness; smallness; thinness;the quality of being meager

"The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house” -- Audre Lorde