Forgiveness can be the only escape
PATRICK MAGEE killed Jo
Berry's father on 12 October 1984. He was the notorious IRA
Brighton bomber, she is the daughter of Sir Anthony Berry, former
Tory MP for Enfield, Southgate. They were an unlikely pair to be
mingling over the canapés in a smart Soho hotel.
The occasion was the
first London screening of a new documentary film, Beyond Right
and Wrong, made by Lekha Singh and Roger Spottiswoode, which
examines a number of extraordinary stories of forgiveness in
Northern Ireland, Rwanda, and the Middle East.
Some of it was almost
unbearable to watch: the Rwandan woman whose five children were
massacred in church is approached by their killer, who asks for
forgiveness; the now-grown-up Irish schoolboy who was blinded by a
rubber bullet meets the British soldier who fired the round; the
Israeli and Palestinian families who meet, despite having all lost
children in the conflict.
interested me was the title - surely a reference to Nietzsche's
Beyond Good and Evil - and its disturbing implication that
ethics and justice can take us only so far seems to me entirely
correct. It is difficult for both ethics and justice to stray too
far from the idea of proportionality. Justice has its scales, and
the scales must be balanced. Punishment is not the only way in
which the scales are supposedly balanced, but it is often the most
viscerally attractive, especially to many victims.
But what proportionate
response can ever balance out the loss of a child? And what sense
of things properly answered for can break the cycle of retribution
in such a way that a whole new future is possible? Forgiveness can
feel much like betrayal, easily portrayed as allowing perpetrators
a comparatively easy time.
But, for all the powerful
and familiar rhetoric that forgiveness is a betrayal of the
victims, the truth is than no amount of punishment can ever change
the past. All there is to change is the future. And forgiveness -
especially when understood in Girardian terms as non-retaliation -
may well be the only way in which a different future can be
wrestled from the hatreds of the past.
The body language between
Berry and Magee was hardly warm and friendly. And she admitted to
me that she sometimes stands on a beach in North Wales, and lets
all her anger out by bashing stones against each other. But what is
important is that she leaves all this potentially violent anger on
Forgiveness is psychologically complicated. But it remains the
only basis for hope in many dark places of the world.