Tuesday, June 2, 2009

No Enemy To Conquer was launched at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, DC on June 2. Its author, Michael Henderson, had given evidence for the setting up of the Institute 25 years earlier and congratulated the Congressionally-funded body for its achievements in such a short time.

Michael Henderson and David Smock (Photo: Kathy Aquiline)David Smock, the Institute’s Vice President, one of the contributors to the book, chaired the occasion which had as its theme: ‘A stunningly original strategy?’. Two other contributors, Dr Margaret Smith, adjunct professor at American University, and Joseph Montville, former State Department officer and pioneer of the concept of ‘track 2 diplomacy’, also spoke.

Dr Smith, author of a book on teaching history in Northern Ireland, said that No Enemy To Conquer covered the spectrum of rebuilding relationships, reconciling, trust and new departures in the wake of trauma. The ability to forgive, she said, was linked with a sense of personal empowerment. This was why so many victims who speak of forgiveness ‘are people who engage in some new endeavor of their own to change the world’. She challenged politicians to see their way, as those in Northern Ireland had done, through the thickets of the impossible and ‘believe that those with the profoundest enmities can be brought to the same table and find ways to negotiate and even cooperate’. ‘Politicians who are true visionaries do not lose sight of this possibility,’ she said, ‘and want to make such things happen. The stories told in No Enemy To Conquer can help politicians remain steady in pursuit of that vision, because they see evidence of such things actually happening.’

Joseph Montville said that given the reluctance of political leaders to admit errors citizen action had to prepare the ground for what he calls ‘the acknowledgement – contrition – forgiveness transaction’ that is needed. The book’s strength was that it contained stories which described what real human beings had done. He cited the uniqueness of the public apology by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to the Aboriginal people for the way ‘the stolen generation’ had been removed from their families and contrasted that action with Washington’s unofficial rule: ‘Never explain, never apologize.’

After the formal presentation a dozen people out of the nearly fifty present – from academic institutions, NGOs and government service – quickly lined up at the microphone to ask questions and discuss the relevance of the forgiveness theme to areas in the world ranging from North Korea to Iran, from President Obama’s  Middle East challenges to the United States’ relations with native Americans.

The author was interviewed for a Voice of America program ‘Newsmakers’.

Text of Michael Henderson's speech at US launching of  book:

More than 25 years ago I spoke at a hearing at Lewis and Clark College in Portland in support for what was called the US Commission on Proposals for the National Academy of Peace and Conflict Resolution. This was part of three months of hearings scheduled in all parts of the country. The basic argument then: the US has four military academies and five war colleges devoted to maintaining peace by armed force, isn’t it time we had a least one national institution dedicated to creating the conditions of peace by affirmative means?

What a great track record this Institute has in a comparatively short time laid down and soon you will have a new headquarters on the Mall – and with modern technology I can even sit at my computer at home in Devon and watch it being built.

Michael Henderson speaking at the launch at the U.S. Institute of Peace (Photo: Kathy Aquilina)I am honoured to have this book launch here today. My last book on a similar subject Forgiveness: Breaking the Chain of Hate was launched at a Washington, DC, think tank. A younger member of staff came breezing up to me before I spoke, and asked, rather accusatorially, ‘Is your approach journalistic or analytical?’ I didn’t think quick enough to suggest that journalists could do both, and said ‘Journalistic.’ ‘Then, you’ll tell stories,’ he said. He was right and I do so again with my new book. But this time I have the input of scholars and practitioners like your own David Smock.

I come to the subject of peacemaking and forgiveness because for more than fifty years I have been working with men and women all over the world who want to do something about breaking down the barriers to understanding between individuals and nations, who believe that you bring unity not by watering down the truths of your faith but by living them out more fully.

This commitment began when in 1947 as a family we visited the centre of reconciliation which had been set up the year before in Caux, Switzerland. We went to find unity after being separated for five years during the war when my brother and I were evacuated to America. We found unity but we found much more. My family had lived for hundreds of years in Ireland. We were Anglo-Irish Protestants. At the time of Irish independence my grandfather was told to leave the country by the end of the week or be shot. A family home was burned to the ground.

At that centre in Caux my mother heard an Irish catholic senator, Eleanor Butler, speak and rebelled at her talk of European unity. ‘Who is this woman who talks about European unity and she chucked me out of my country?’ However, on reflection, she felt that she should apologize to Eleanor for the indifference we had shown to Catholics over the years. They became friends and worked together. Eleanor said soon afterwards, ‘I come from a nation of good haters. We enjoy feuds and we love fighting, almost for the fun of it. But in these last months I have had to do something I very much dislike. I have had to make some honest apologies for viewpoints which have divided instead of uniting me to other nations and other parts of my own nation. In every case new unity was born between myself and those from whom I had been separated.’ The senator went on to be one of the founders of the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. And my brother and I decided to follow in our mother’s steps in peacemaking.

An unexpected apology had opened up new options. It brings to mind something Mahatma Gandhi said to a friend of mine in the 1940s. They were discussing the unexpected beneficial results that flowed from the changes in the lives of a number of British officials in the Northwest Frontier province. Unlike in the rest of India at that pre-independence time there was peace, with blood feuds being settled and the leader of a radical wing renouncing violence. Gandhi said, ‘Politics has become like a great game of chess. Both sides know the value of the pieces and the moves to make. But when men’s motives and aims are changed, like these have been, the chessboard is upset and we can begin again.’ Or as a former British ambassador. Archie Mackenzie, likes to say, in his years in diplomacy it was often the problems round the table rather than the problems on the table which were causing the most trouble and were the least dealt with. My book contains stories of people who have behaved in unexpected ways that have in turn led to dramatic results. Not all of course on a national level but many having significant repercussions. I think Senator Mitchell put his finger on it when working on Northern Ireland he said that the big issue rather than the decommissioning of weapons was the decommissioning of mindsets.

Another unexpected event happened that summer 1947 just after World War II. There were Germans present in large numbers, it was the first international conference where they were welcomed. One of those attending was Irene Laure, leader of the Socialist women of France who had suffered in the resistance, with her own son being tortured and who, as she told me, had wanted Germany wiped from the map. She had not expected to meet Germans at Caux. She wanted to leave but was challenged to stay. Her passion was for a united Europe and she retired to her room to consider whether she would give up her hatred for the sake of that aim. When she came out she asked to speak. Did she say, I forgive the Germans? No, she did something more dramatic, she asked them to forgive her for her hatred. She put out her hand and a German woman came up and took it. She said, ‘It was like a hundred kilos being lifted from my shoulders. There is not time to tell the whole story. It is in the book. But the effect on the Germans was dramatic. Many people have seen it as a key element in helping build the friendship we now take for granted between the two countries.

What she and our family had met at Caux was the simple idea that if you want to bring an answer in the world you have to start with yourself and your own country. It was the idea, too, that in all your dealings you have to keep open to the idea that there may be a way to get through to the other person even if you are miles apart, and the need to speak and act in a way that doesn’t make that more difficult.

It is this allowance for a change in people, a decommissioning of mindsets, whatever the motive, that upsets the chess board. One only has to mention Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness in Northern Ireland or DeKlerc and Mandela in South Africa. Recent revelations about what went on behind the scenes in apartheid South Africa with private meetings between Thabo Mbeki, Professor Esterhuyse and even DeKlerc’s brother indicate the importance of Ambassador Mackenzie’s reference to problems round the table. What more startling results could be found than the fact that Shia and Sunni, and, last month, Israelis and Palestinians, have been going to Northern Ireland to learn from Protestants and Catholics how they made peace there and, assisting their talks, have been black and white from South Africa.

It doesn’t mean that all the problems of South Africa and Northern Ireland are behind them. Indeed, two stories in the book speak to the challenge that remains and how people are reaching out to each other, sometimes under considerable opposition from their on people.

There is the dramatic story of Jo Berry and Pat Magee. Jo’s father was killed by the IRA bomb that destroyed the Grand Hotel in their attempt to kill the British cabinet. Pat Magee was the man who set the bomb. He was caught and spent many years in prison before being released as a result of the Good Friday accord. She wanted to bring something positive out of the tragedy and believes that she had a choice to stay as a victim blaming others for her pain or go on a journey of healing. She has been meeting with Pat, and they have been hearing each other’s story as they put it and Jo says that she realizes that if she had grown up in the circumstances he did she might well have gone down the road of violence. It has been important for her to see Pat as a real human being rather than a demonised terrorist as pictured in the media. Pat has gone so far as to say that he is sorry that he killed Jo’s father and is open to the possibility that one of his victims might one day persuade him that what he did was wrong. The two have joined up with other groups working for reconciliation.

Likewise in South Africa Letlapa Mphahlele and Ginn Fourie are working together. In 1993 Letlapa was the South African government’s most wanted terrorist. He gave the order for what was called the Heidelberg Tavern massacre in which Ginn’s daughter was killed. ‘If I had met him then,’ she says, ‘I could have killed him with my bare hands.’ As a Christian she felt she should forgive him. In the succeeding years they have spoken together at many forums in different countries. She says now, ‘It’s not that I don’t feel a great sadness of losing my daughter, but forgiving her killer has made it bearable and given me a creative way forward. We are good friends, not enemies. Letlapa has told me that in forgiving him I have restored his humanity.’ Mphalele, who once claimed, ‘My proudest moment was when I saw whites being killed on the battlefield’ has been called by the Cape Argus ‘a peacemaker on international renown.’

I also talk about two men who are on the frontline of the Christian Muslim divide in Nigeria and whom David Smock and the USIP have been working with, Muhammad, the Imam who was dedicated to the Islamization of his country, and James, the pastor who was just as dedicated to its total evangelization and are now called by Archbishop Rowan Williams ‘a model for Christian Muslim relations’.

In South Africa the tone of forgiveness was of course set by President Mandela and Archbishop Tutu and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In another continent, Australia, we have seen how, when government faltered, remarkable progress in relation to the Aborigine population was fuelled from the grassroots. I was there in Australia on national sorry day and saw the sorry books which gathered a million signatures offering apologies. What a moving sight last year in the Australian Parliament when the prime minister finally offered the government’s apology for the way they had been treated. Polls showed that he had the support of 70% of the nation. Kevin Rudd invited the leader of the opposition to join him in a commission aimed at overcoming the desperate shortage of housing in the Aborigine community, an invitation that was immediately accepted.

I said to my distributor in the UK, you must read the book first. She did so and her first comment was, ‘It’s forgiveness with teeth.’ I like that. It may not be the most elegant description but she got at the heart of its message that far from being a soft option forgiveness is a vital ingredient in building trust. Indeed our Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, says that forgiveness is the single most important word in conflict resolution. But, he also adds that it is more than a technique of conflict resolution, it is ‘a stunningly original strategy’. Sacks uses the phrase in the context of breaking the chain of hate and healing historical grievances. Forgiveness, he says, means that we are not destined endlessly to replay the grievances of yesterday. It is the ability to live with past without being held captive by it. It represents our ability to change course, reframe the narrative of the past and create an unexpected set of possibilities for the future. It is the duty we owe to our children as well as to our ancestors. That is also the revolutionary path the Irish are treading in these months.

No Enemy To Conquer. I think that only Hindus would recognize the full significance of these words. In many ways it is connected with the qualities we will need in our own lives as we work on the task before us. In his essay for the book Rajmohan Gandhi describes the context. In the Ramayana epic, Rama, the divine prince, is in a fight with Ravana, the demon king. Rama is asked, ‘Ravana is in a chariot and you are on your feet. How will you fight?’ Rama replies, ‘Listen, friend, the chariot that leads to victory is of another kind. Valour and fortitude are its wheels, truthfulness and virtuous conduct are its banner; strength, discretion, self-restraint and benevolence are its four horses, harnessed with the cords of forgiveness, compassion and equanimity. Whoever has this righteous chariot, has no enemy to conquer anywhere.’

In this UN Year of Reconciliation let us work for that victory.