"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, May 30, 2016

Is Forgiveness Ever Really Possible?

Ten years ago when the memory of the Rwandan genocide was still vivid, the government began a South African-style ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ process.  If those who murdered their neighbors would come forward, admit their crimes,  identify the graves where their victims were buried, and beg forgiveness from their families, healing would begin and the country would once again be made whole.

The tensions between Hutus and Tutsis persist in Rwanda, Burundi, and eastern Congo; and the gacaca (truth and reconciliation) process not only may not have promoted true forgiveness and reintegration of genocide perpetrators but increased resentments, suspicions, and hostilities.
Many survivors argue that convicted perpetrators have in the main benefited from the government's need to rapidly empty the prisons and thus gacaca  tendency toward moderate sentencing. Meanwhile, there is widespread anger among Hutu that gacaca has addressed only genocide crimes and not revenge killings against Hutu civilians committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the rebel force that ended the genocide in July 1994 and today represents the ruling party in Rwanda.
Second, gacaca has also generated significant truth-related problems. Gacaca's attempt to clear the massive backlog of genocide cases has involved weekly hearings over nine years in many communities. For many Rwandans, this has meant hearing repeatedly highly emotive testimony concerning brutal crimes. Gacaca has consequently increased levels of trauma among many of its participants.
The re-traumatization of individuals who are still dealing with the emotional and psychological legacies of the genocide is one of the major costs of gacaca's truth process. Furthermore, the truth component of gacaca itself has suffered from many participants' instrumental calculations based on the plea-bargaining scheme. In particular, many genocide suspects have had an incentive to confess falsely to crimes much less severe than those they actually committed in order to benefit from gacaca's pre-determined system of sentencing (International Justice Tribune, 10.24.10).
President Kagame in the spirit of ‘Never Again’ has pursued unrepentant and increasingly hostile Hutus wherever they have found sanctuary.  These actions, while completely understandable in geopolitical terms, have made sure that the Hutus would forever be branded as genocidaires and that forgiveness for them was only conditional.

Nevertheless, if Rwanda’s gacaca achieved but a fraction of what it intended – forgiveness of those who committed horrific crimes, the reintegration of genocidaires into Rwandan society, a forgive-and-forget policy towards those who most people would never even consider forgiving – then there is some hope for a more charitable, Christian society

There have been no recent polls or inquiries about the relationship between the two communities, Hutu and Tutsi.  In fact few people will speak openly about the genocide, fearful of government reprisals (President Kagame is proud of his defeat of Hutu genocidaires, his rise to power as a unifier and militant nationalist; and his repressive policies have been designed to keep any scintilla of resurgent ethnic hostilities from the surface), and afraid to open still sore and festering wounds within the community.

Rwanda has in a way become like France whose leaders have always been proud of saying, “We are all French”, dismissing American-style affirmative action and ethnic and racial quotas.  Yet this attitude has simply driven resentment underground.  It is one thing to talk cultural unity; but it remains only talk unless inequities and inequalities across ethnicities persist.  Thus the riots of the northern Parisian suburbs a few years ago.  Insisting on racial, cultural, and ethnic harmony when the society is far from this ideal is counter-productive.  France is facing civil unrest because its Muslim population, for decades second-class citizens in the supposedly uniform Republic, refuses to have its religious practices neutered.

Kagame, as long as he is in power; and as long as the donor West tolerates his increasing abridgment of civil liberties in the name of ‘Never Again’, will keep the lid on the unspoken resentments of his people.

Gacaca was always political and practical. Rwandan prisons could simply not hold – with or without trial – the thousands of Hutus arrested for genocide.  The State had to find another acceptable process of justice; and it followed the example  of South Africa, whose Truth and Reconciliation met with the same popular opposition but in many ways succeeded in defusing the persistent racial tensions in the country.

By any measure forgiveness for the brutal murder and mutilation of a family member or neighbor is almost impossible to believe; and only the most idealistic take from gacaca lessons of basic human goodness. 

Most of us cannot forgive a brother, sister, or cousin for slights made decades ago, let alone welcome a former adulterer, cheat,  or child abuser back into the family fold.

There are always two sides to every dispute; yet families take sides quickly and unequivocally, siding with one spouse or the other for painful divorces even though the truth most certainly lies in between.  Families will always dispute inheritance, wills, and legacies; although the sub-texts of these (mis)interpretations will always unearth middle ground.   Women who are left alone after successive failures in their relationships will resent the men in their lives until the day they die.  Men who have been left on the curb once too often will not only resent the women who left them, but all women.  Othello was not alone in his unrepentant blame of Desdemona for the wickedness and duplicity of her sex.

Image result for images of othello and desdemona

Because all conclusions are subjective, there is little room for open-armed tolerance and generosity.  Any0ne who concludes that they have been wronged in financial, social, and emotional ways, cannot possibly ask for a truce, truth, and reconciliation.   The nature of resentment is complex.  Admission of guilt in the Hatfield and McCoy blood feud never happened.  Nor was complaisance and willingness to negotiate ever a possibility in the Mafia wars among the five New York families in the Seventies.  There was always right and wrong, onore, vendetta, and family status.  The families went to the mattresses regardless of the nature of the slight or dispute.

Relatives who are distant from a spousal dispute still weigh in on circumstantial evidence or make a priori judgments based on their own limited but painful experience.  Their non-cooperative, judgmental advice will always be based on how they were treated.  Better hate the presumptive offender rather than let in even a ray of hope for a deceived brother, sister, or aunt.

Most people will take their anger, hostility, and resentments to the grave.  Even at death’s door few people will apologize to those they have bitterly opposed for their whole lives.  Even faced with nothingness will they hold fast.  Not even eternity and the meaningless of judgment, opinions, or right and wrong can persuade them to apologize, admit their egotism and twisted self-worth, and give in.

Except in fiction.  Count Andrei in Tolstoy’s War and Peace has two important epiphanies.  One on the battlefield of Austerlitz when he realizes that all men – including Napoleon, his hero – are mortal; and another when the is finally dying and admits his selfishness, pride, and egotism to his wife.

Image result for prince andrei at borodino images

Everyone else is filled with regret – love missed, opportunities sacrificed, attention not paid – and resentment.  Unfulfilled dreams are not the result of one’s one apathy or lack of ambition, but because of the obstruction of others.  Even gasping our last breath, we cannot forgive.

Perhaps the most disregarded precept of Christianity is forgiveness.  Christ, it is said, died a painful, tortured death on the cross for our sins.  Our transgressions are so great, so numerous, do varied, and so horrendous that only by the death of God’s only begotten Son can these sins be forgiven and future forgiveness made possible.

Christians should be very thankful that Christ died for their sins, and that redemption even for reprobates is possible through the grace of their Savior; because forgiveness is in very short supply within humanity itself. 

Christ/God knew what he was doing and understood that man’s inhumanity to man would not only persist and repeat itself, but would never be acknowledged or atoned for.

It is popular now for world leaders to apologize for the past.  Queen Elizabeth, despite her protests, was forced to apologize to the Kenyans for British colonial atrocities during the war for independence.  She was asked to overlook the barbarism of the Mau Mau.

President Obama was pressured to apologize to the Japanese for Hiroshima, and yet that fateful decision was a good, sound, logical and strategic one in 1945.  Wars are for winning especially against the likes of Hitler and Tojo.  He did not apologize per se, but his metaphor of ‘the rain of evil from above’ left no one in doubt of his tearful regrets.  His hopes for a more peaceful, non-nuclear, more accommodating and loving world were well received in some quarters, but most seasoned observers knew that his apology was capitulation and a sign of American weakness.

Image result for image hiroshima bomb

Jane has not apologized to her sister-in-law for her untoward and self-serving criticisms of husband Bob.  Martha still has not agreed to sit down with her brothers and discuss the misunderstandings over the family will. Alice has vowed to hate her former husband to his death, despite his jail time, obvious rehabilitation, and demonstrations of good will.

Only meaningless apologies prevail – the Senator who apologizes to his wife for his sinful adultery, but is only buying time until she and the public forget.  The mega-preacher who is deeply sorry for his sexual deviance, and who promises – until he is transferred or forgotten – that he will never stray again.  The CFO of an investment banking firm who took repeated advantage of every loophole in SEC regulations and of the ignorance of his clients to make a fortune; and when caught says he’s sorry, but knows that after his short pris0n term he will be back in action.

Jesus Christ would be sorely disappointed about how the human race turned out despite his repeated admonitions and those of his disciples; but then again, being God, he knew exactly what he was doing.  He created man to procreate and be plentiful, and he knew full well that that meant selfishness, aggression, perimeters, expansionism, and violence.  No one in our dog-eat-dog world every really and truly apologizes and/or asks for forgiveness.  That would not be human.

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