Monday, January 16, 2012

Elizabeth J Harris of Liverpool Hope University reviewed Michael Henderson's book No enemy to conquer in the December  2011 issue of the publication Interreligious Insights (published by the World Congress of Faiths).

Michael Henderson, the author of this book, is a Christian. The writer of the Foreword is the Dalai Lama, a Buddhist. Extracts from the writings of a Jew, Sir Jonathan Sacks, a Muslim, Dr Mohammed Abu-Nimer, and a Hindu, Rajmohan Gandhi, as well as women such as Betty Bigombe and Benazir Bhutto are included. The case studies that are the focus of the book come from across the world, and celebrate people of many different religions and none. Indeed, one of the aims of the book is to foster knowledge of those who are different from us.

No Enemy to Conquer draws on Henderson's lifetime of experience working with people in situations of conflict, through his commitment to the organisation now called Initiatives of Change. Offered as an antidote to the view that faith is impossible in a world of suffering, it is predicated on the conviction that apology and forgiveness “have more than personal ramifications” (xviii). At the same time, it recognizes that forgiveness has an “image problem” (p. 1) and needs to be rehabilitated as the option of those who are strong, rather than those who are weak.

The book is divided into six sections that examine, through narrative, key aspects of reconciliation through forgiveness: Clash or Alliance?; Reaching out to “The Other”; Moving Beyond Victimhood; Taking Responsibility; Creating Safe Space. Within most of these, between three and six case studies are narrated. After this there is a response to the case studies from a prominent person involved in reconciliation initiatives and an extract from the writings of a religious leader. A dialogue is therefore established on each theme.

I will give on example from the second section, Reaching Out to “The Other”. This cites the Heidelberg Tavern Massacre of New Year's Eve 1993, when the armed wing of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) attacked a Cape Town restaurant, killing four people, under the orders of Letlapa Mphahlele (p.47). It focuses on the tortuous journeys of a Christian, Ginn Fourie, the mother of one of those killed, and Mphahlele, which eventually led to Fourie's forgiving her daughter's murderer and the two of them speaking together about reconciliation on platforms in Africa and Britain.

Henderson's style in this richly personal book, is fluent, accessible and immensely readable. It does not hide from the suffering of the world but movingly claims that healing is possible.