16 March 2012
Breaking the cycle of violence
This week Taliban militants vowed to avenge the shocking murder of 16 Afghan civilians in Kandahar by a US soldier, saying it will “avenge the martyrdom of each of the victims of the invading and beast-like murderers and punish them for their barbaric action".
And in Gaza, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) vowed to take revenge on Israel for the Israeli air strikes on Gaza that killed at least 12 Palestinians.
It’s natural that when we or ‘our group’ experience injustice, we want to hit back. But all too often this leads to a depressing cycle of suffering, whether this is at the level of neighbours or nations.
Jesus took a different approach, challenging us to: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you” (Luke 6:27-28).
He also put this into practice, forgiving even those who were crucifying him (Luke 23:34).
When I first came across this passage at school I tried the approach on someone who was bullying me. I took the initiative to greet him as though he was a good friend every time I saw him. It worked: the bullying stopped and he became a friend.
On a national and international scale, forgiveness may be the only lasting answer to conflict.
One of the most remembered responses of forgiveness in recent times were those following the Enniskillen bombing of 1987. Whereas many Northern Ireland terrorist attacks were followed by acts of revenge by opposing terrorists, this Remembrance Day bombing was followed by acts of forgiveness and reconciliation that came to be called the Spirit of Enniskillen. In an interview with the BBC only hours after the death of his daughter Marie, Gordon Wilson forgave the terrorists, and said he would pray for them and begged that no-one took revenge for her death. His response was reported worldwide and may well have contributed to the eventual peace.
South Africa’s peaceful transition from injustice and oppression of apartheid to freedom and democracy was considered by many to be a miracle. It was made possible by the extraordinary response of forgiveness and reconciliation from Nelson Mandela and the process of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Chaired by Desmond Tutu, the Commission allowed perpetrators of some of the most gruesome atrocities to receive amnesty in exchange for a full disclosure of the facts. Instead of revenge and retribution, South Africa chose to tread the difficult path of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
One certainty in life is that we will be let down by, or suffer in some way, at the hands of others. It’s inevitable because we are all sinners, or abusers (to use a more modern word). We abuse others, just as we abuse ourselves and we abuse our environment.
A couple of weeks ago, a Malaysian student robbed by two men who pretended to help him during last summer's riots said people should forgive his attackers and that he was not angry with the men.
We might find it difficult to forgive and forget. But we can choose to forgive and not dwell on the hurt we have suffered, to stop running through those hurtful conversations when we awake at 4am.
To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.
Jerry Marshall, Forum for Change