The question posed itself acutely on September 11, 2001.  People in the United States had experienced the outrage of terrorist attacks on sites of important symbolic value, deaths by the thousands, assault on national honor, ruthless brutality.  How were we to respond?

Government clearly had a duty to protect its citizens.  Such things could not be allowed.  There was not much more could be done to the nineteen individuals who had thrown away their own lives to carry them out.  But who had enabled or supported them?  Their costs were small.  The hijackers had needed only airplane tickets and box cutters to turn the instruments and technology of the powerful against them.  Those who had responsibility, though, for providing the minimal expense or for moral and ideological support had to be held accountable, in proportion to their responsibility.

Yet there was a third element besides the perpetrators and their backers.  Americans faced a sea of anger, not only from within the Arab or Muslim world but from the countless deprived and dispossessed masses throughout the two-thirds world.  Although many nations responded to the attacks with condolences to the United States and condemnation of the attacks, there was no doubt that the attacks indicated that Americans already faced that anger on many accounts.  This was a novel situation for us.  The United States had been viewed for most of our history, when we deserved it and when we did not, as the great beacon of hope for the world, of justice, of liberty.  Now this was not so.  We were seen instead as the monopolists of the world’s good, as exploiters, coercive in our dealings with weaker countries, manipulators of their interests in favor of our own.  If we did not address the grievances of those who saw themselves as oppressed we would be unfaithful to our own highest principles.

I expressed this on the very night of 9/11, sitting on a television panel discussing the traumas of the day.  Another member of the panel, a professor, responded: “If anyone feels that way about us, we must make them fear us!”  Without much thought I retorted: “I believe those 19 blokes were trying to do that to us today.  Do you care to join them?”

This of course did not please the man who had so suddenly become my adversary.  He replied: “For all these years they have told us we should respond to these things by diplomatic means, and look where it got us!”  My return: “Our diplomacy must not have been very good.”

Our national response was in fact an effort to make them – all those of whom we asked: “Why do they hate us?” – to make them fear us.  Over the years since, it has cost us many more deaths, vast wealth and indebtedness, tremendous limitations of our freedoms, loss of respect even from our allies and the confirmed enmity of much of the deprived world.  Many people had hoped that the new Administration might definitively change that, but the world has been much disappointed by us even since.

Would a wiser policy have served us better?  Accountability, yes, there must be, but it need not necessarily involve exclusively military means, and we should always explore any possible alternatives.  I submit that a policy that regarded the humanity of our adversaries, heard their grievances and addressed them, sought always to assess and honor their human aspirations and treated them with the full respect that they were denying to us would have brought us to a better place in our relation to the world.

Many years of working with every party to the Northern Ireland conflict confirmed me in believing in such a policy – for my own conduct, for the various governments and the protest movements, many of them violently militant, which were involved.  From the start – for me in 1972 – I made a supposition that I would be dealing, not with psychopaths, but with persons who put their own lives at risk for the sake of their communities, however wrong-minded they might be.  I had to respect them even when they were a danger to myself.  Over the course of the hunger strikes of 1980-81, I represented the view that these hunger strikers, men who were using their own bodies as weapons against the powerful, were winning over all efforts to repress them.  In subsequent years, in frequent visits to all the politically segregated H-Blocks of the Long Kesh prison, I argued always that none of the Northern Ireland communities really had a life before them if they did not learn to accommodate one another.  That sounded like a low level of reconciliation but it was the essential.  My mantra in these conversations was that they all needed to become the guarantors of one another’s difference.  I firmly believe that the initiatives for the ceasefires and negotiations came from the militant organizations; that their leadership had to make the decisions but that the serious thinking and planning took place in the prison – as it had in South Africa, as one may hope it is happening now among Palestinian prisoners.  Prisons are wonderful places for planning wars.  But once the resolves are taken, or even adumbrated, they are also wonderful places for planning peace.

In the Balkan wars I found it hard to get a finger-hold on any ways of peace until the tide of war turned, in 1995, with the NATO bombings, against the Serbs.  Then I argued that it was the Catholic moment, that the whole climate of the war could change if the Catholic Croats would make it clear to the Serbs, of the Krajina and other areas, that they would be welcome to live safely in peace.  Seeking a way to appeal, quickly, to Croatian and Bosnian Catholics, as such, I wrote to the Holy See in the hope that the Pope would rally Croatian bishops to that cause.  I made similar appeal to Croatian Muslim and Serbian leadership.  Later, during the Kosovo stage of those wars, I traveled with Rev. Jesse Jackson to persuade Milosevic to release three American prisoners he held, hoping it would reopen a way of diplomacy in a situation where there was none, but only bombing.  I have urged comparable things in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in Lebanon and with the Kurds of Iraq and of Turkey.

For major-power policy of the United States, we should observe how the Cold War with the Soviet Union was brought to a close, with large measures of wisdom and forbearance from both sides.  For decades on end the world lived with the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction that the end could come at any time.  We used to be told how many times over our weapons could destroy all life on earth – I was always more worried about the first time.  We spoke of deterrence and of containment.  But the better angels of both sides kept telling us that we could not do such destruction to one another.

Eventually, it was the humanizing of one another that worked the magic.  We had such ploys as Peaceful Co-Existence, which could mean ping-pong, could mean opera and ballet.  A Kennedy and a Kruschev, a Reagan and a Gorbachev discovered one another as their colleagues in bringing about a safer world.  The United States outspent the Soviets, but more important was that each discovered the other as part of a world that they must share.  We could all breathe easier, and for the decade of the ’90s forgiveness and reconciliation seemed reasonable topics to engage our thought, until, with 9/11, the climate changed again and the dominant theme became revenge.

What does it demand in our humanity to activate such activities, such responses?  It would be discouraging if it required that we all become models of generous response, but leadership counts.  A Gandhi among millions of people, a few of whom imbibed his spirit as far as they could, worked wonders and won the freedom of India.  Nelson Mandela, from his prison, inspired a country and a people to search for a peace that is still incomplete.  In Northern Ireland’s prisons, a Gusty Spence became the catalyst, not only educating his Protestant fellow prisoners to understand the resources of their own history but to open the dialogue across the barbed wire with the Catholic prisoners as well.

To forgive an adversary means to realize that what he is saying and doing makes sense to him, and that I need to understand what is behind it, in his experience, in his culture.  Ignatius Loyola, founder of my Jesuit religious order, speaks of saving the proposition of the other, of taking him seriously enough to wrestle with his proposition: not to convince him to abandon it, but so that “understanding his proposition rightly he may save it.”

If I am to dedicate my life to winning all the arguments, my mind has closed and I will never again learn anything of value.  If I struggle with the adversary in this way, that understanding his proposition rightly he may save it, both he and I will have learned enormously and have created a relation of mutual respect, recognition of one another’s full humanity, that will be the making of the peace.

Questions for Discussion:
1. Is it necessary for both parties to make the effort to understand, but not necessarily agree with, the other’s world view?

2. Is there a difference between forgiveness and acknowledging the reality, (if not the validity) of an adversary’s point of view?

3. In what ways, if any, does forgiveness differ on a personal scale vs.  international level?

4. Can forgiveness ever co-exist with military action?

Discussion Summary

Since the question was in two parts, I assumed most readers would rather favor the idea of forgiveness, but would be more interested in the second part.  How could we make such a thing possible?

The discussion pointed to two other questions.  Several respondents  wanted to know how you deal with the hard cases: a Hitler, or a Stalin or his hard-line ideological successors, a Pol Pot or an Al Qaeda.  Someone even threw in Mr. Ahmedinejad.  They seemed quite beyond the pale.  That’s a could-we? question.  The other is a should-we? question.  Ought we really go this extra mile, or is it better to show our determination and get the victory we would like, particularly on critical questions that still lie before us.

Could we?  I’m not convinced that World War II, “the good war,” was truly necessary.  Surely, once it actually came to the final crisis, there was no way out, but the Appeasement history of the previous years, even from the initial march into the Saarland, was poor response to the threat Hitler posed to Europe.  Firm insistence on law at those points might well have halted the course toward hostilities.  That may not sound very conciliatory, but it ought to have been a way to have stopped the rush to more and more provocations.

Much more important, though, was to recognize the injustice of the vengeful policies that were adopted at Versailles.  The same kind of punitive treatment of Germany was seriously proposed to Truman after the Second World War.  Surely his establishment of the Marshall Plan was a better alternative then, and something on those lines after World War I would have spared us the tragedy of the ’30s and ’40s.  Even after the advent of Hitler, recognition of the wrongs being done to Germany and an offer to reverse them in response to an abandonment of his lawlessness might well have sunken the Führer in his tracks.  Hitler had to have a following.  If his people’s true grievances were being met, he would not have had it.  Surely, in dealing with any conflict, it is better that the true rights and interests of all parties be met and preserved rather than that any one should triumph and be able to reduce the other to subjection.  Most of us are tempted often to want to see the adversary prone beneath our feet, but those are not our better angels speaking.

In my essay I made much of the effort to understand the mind of the adversary, to find what was valid in his viewpoint and learn how to address it, even going so far as to appeal to the Praesupponendum of Jesuit Founder Ignatius Loyola, making it our aim to “save the proposition” of the other rather than condemn it as false.

Releasing our adversaries or offenders from accountability will never serve our purpose, as this is an abandonment of justice.  Yet the very system of justice is open to modification in the direction of restorative justice, a justice that concerns itself with the restoration of relations rather than merely with the determination of guilt and the assignment of punishment.

Taking this in terms of our actual experience, we did much better with the Soviets, who were surely as much a threat as Hitler.  Our long Cold War with its policy of containment was unforgiving enough, but did maintain our restraint in face of the overwhelming threat of Mutually Assured Destruction.  The eventual solution did come in the form of mutual understanding – Kennedy and Kruschev, Reagan and Gorbachev – with real respect.  We had our hot-heads who wanted to describe it as “we won,” much like those in Northern Ireland who wanted to describe the degree of reconciliation they achieved in those terms.  What was at work was in fact forgiveness.  For the decade after that we remained aware of this, through all the turmoil of Ruanda and the Balkan wars, until 9/11, when the craze against Muslims turned our society back to revenge.

Turning to the should-we question, what difference would a worldview attuned to a culture of forgiveness make in our current foreign policy?  We are all deeply committed to the safety and welfare of Israel, this because we know we have need of forgiveness ourselves for our failure to do more for Jews during the Holocaust.  That is to our credit, and an index of the necessity of Justice is in any such culture.  Have we a comparable commitment to justice in the case of Palestinians?  Our commitment to Israel is merely self-indulgence to ourselves if we assist Israeli governments in policies of injustice that are ultimately suicidal for themselves.  We have insistent voices that want to prohibit any talk of containment, the policy that brought such ultimate success in the Cold War, in the case of Iran, but prefer that we should deliver ultimatum after ultimatum, one more unacceptable than the other, until we have developed excuses that seem to us adequate to knock them over.

We like to think of ourselves as Realists in our foreign policy, a course that sets us inevitably on a quest for power.  For a country as powerful as ours, that is effectively a quest for Empire.  Empires all fall.  If we are truly solicitous for the good of the United States, a policy of forgiveness would serve us much better.

New Big Questions:

1. Has it become the habit of American policy to refuse negotiation or a search for understanding with a threatening country or force?

2. Has American security been damaged by our insisting on military confrontation with a threatening force rather than seeking negotiation or searching for understanding?

8 Responses

  1. erborris says:

    I found this article extremely interesting and have thought a lot about how can we support the ideas of forgiveness within a society and how they shape people’s attitudes and the possibilities for acting on these ideas. I am currently doing research and writing a book on how groups in conflict with one another can truly learn how to forgive one another and be able to live side by side with one another not as enemies but as people who can co-exist together. How do we teach leaders and policy makers to view the world with forbearance and wisdom? Is it possible to set up structures within society that support forces of forgiveness? What can we do to help shape public opinion to support the ideas of forgiveness. Raymond Helmick, S.J. I applaud you in starting this dialogue and would like to know what else you have said on this topic. Eileen

    • Raymond G. Helmick says:

      Dear Eileen Borris — I’ve heard much of “Global Peace Initiatives” and admire your work.  I ssated to write a reponse to your comment bu went looking for the URL to my own webpage, and consequently lost the response I was writing without having first posted it. 

      The webpage is, and I refer to it because much of my own writing, which has consisted more in direct correspondence with the leading figures in connflicts than anything else, is there, uner the heaading “Conflicts.”  Only occasionally have I published books in the area, all of which are mentioned in the bio posted here: a 1975 privately published Social Planning book on Northrn Ireland, a 1990 book (in French) that contains two years of correspondence with Raymond Edde, who would have been chosen as president  by the Lebanese Assempbly in 1988 if he had not been vetoed by the Syrians (La question libanaise selon Raymond Edde – Paris, Cariscript, 1990), the 2001 book which I edited, along with Rodney Petersen (Forgiveness and Reconciliation – Templeton, 2001), and a 2004 book on the Middle East (Negotiating Outside the Law – London, Pluto, 2004).

      My habit has for many years been to approach always those who are regarded  as most trouble, on either side, in any conflict and open a fully respectful conversation with them.  I have no ptience with the proposition that one should classify people as good or evil and refuse to talk withthe bad ones.  People in these conflicts have put their own lives at risk fiore what they understand as the vital interests of their own community, and much as I am opposed to the violence they are exercizing I must respect that.  What they are dong makes sense to them, even if it is unjust to others.  I need to understand how that is so and plumb their outlook on their situation to find where their interests are common to those of their opponents.  A conversation, held with all sides even if report of the another side’s thinking has to begin at second hand, always leads to the discoverty of a menu of options.

  2. Floyd Alsbach says:

    Question 2 first.  The foreign policiy of different countries cannot be congruent (as in coinciding exactly).  Even with a world wide gov’t (a concept I do not endorse) various regions would have different aims.

    Question 1:  Forgiveness in foreign policy.  For the most part those who fought in the major wars of the last century hold no grudge against their enemies and so in this sense there is forgiveness.  However, I think that the primary function of gov’t is to protect & defend its citizens.  Therefore a gov’t that “forgives” a violent attack (turns the other cheek in essence)  is not fullfilling it’s primary function and ceases to be a legitimate gov’t.  Simply put a gov’t is not a private individual and cannot act as if it were on any level.  In other words,basically Machiavelli was right.

    • Raymond G. Helmick says:

      Dear Floyd Alsbach,

      Thanks for your questions.

      Taking your Question 2 first, I wouldn’t endorse a world government either.  Not only are we quite different, and all entitled to be ourselves, a single world government would really suppress that entitlement.  We’d have to rebel against it.  That’s basically the lesson of one of my favorite books, Thomas Mann’s “The Glass Bead Game.”  Once thngs are really fixed in place, we need to break out and do new things.

      Cooperation between governments and peoples, though, should be a matter of enabling, recognizing and guaranteeng the freedom of those differences.  Our UN system is not designed to be a world government, has in fact no jurisdiction over anyone.  It’s function is to be a forum in which nations and peoples can come to agreement.  We foil the system any time we try to make it a coercive instrument of our own policy.

      On your first question (second!) we have a mixed bag of responses on the part of those who’ve been through the wars.  In the case of the First World War, the response was very punitive.  The allied countries at Versailles were out for vengeance, and brushed aside the Wilsonian proposals of reconciliation.  The same was  true after the Franco-Prussian War of 1869: the French losers never gave up on regaining Alsace-Lorraine.  

      A lot of his advisers were pushing Truman in 1945 to do the same punitive thing to Germany again, but with the Marshall Plan the United States produced a Europe of forgiveness and mutual help.  That brought about a period of vast prosperity for all.  We Americans, after demanding that we always crush and humiliate our adversaries (Unconditional Surrender) are inclined to act that generously when we win a war.  When we lose one, as in Vietnam, we tend to sulk for a long time.

      When a people has been attacked, of course it is a reuirement of government that it protect the safety of its people and respond.  Thatr’s the very basis of a Just War theory, tht when there has been an ijusti=ce we are responsble to restore justice.  Return attack, however, is not the only option as a way of responding.  Our objectve, instead of being how to juistify a war, can be how to establsh a Just Peace.

      Traumatizing the enemy is the way to set up a cycle of vengeance.  It makes a difference  whether we respond with a question: — why should this happen to us? — or whether our question is about what in the experience of the other (the enemy) has led them to act so: — why them?  That seems never to have interested Mr. Machiavelli.

  3. formeriraqhostage says:

    Dear Ray, SJ,

    We discussed once or twice my confusion over your explanation about the Presupposition…but when I rephrase it in my mind, it is NOT a matter of saving a bad proposition held by an opposing party, but a matter of first showing respect for the person(s) holding such proposition, then acknowledging that each party’s proposition (including our own) comes from what they believe is a legitimate place, then trying to find even a smidgen of common ground upon which to begin the arduous task of building a new relationship, perhaps a new understanding, and maybe even new propositions all around.   Surely “saving” the other’s proposition cannot be acknowledging that Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and laundy list of others, necessarily came from a place that can be “reconciled” with the most fundamental common aspects of our humanity.  I do not think our task is to save a person’s proposition at all costs.  This is “a nonsense,” as my friend the Polish underground hero and later Georgetown University professor Jan Karski used to say. 

    I don’t know what to say, for example, about Khaled Mashal’s weekend tirade about taking over Israel, other than posturing as usual.  His proposition sounds like Saddam’s threats to burn half of Israel, like the Iranians, like…well, you know.   Does this mean I have to even TRY to assume he is serious in his proposition, which is reminiscent of so many other hyped-up threats and counterhreats from both sides?  Surely not. But as some who know him, or about him, or as any number of aggrieved Palestinian Arabs mights attest, the grievances are not “unreal.”   I would ask who does he represent when stating these grievances–and who is he against?  The answers may reveal more about the essence of his proposition.  Does he purport to represent the historical population of the region who’ve been all mixed together, in at times more and at times less peaceful coexistence over the millenia? What about the Christians of this region, who are disappearing at the hands of not only Islam, and Judeo-Israeli government policies, but benign neglect by their own global “church?” 

    Barham Salih, one Iraqi Kurdish leader of, let’s just say, many stripes (note: my past work to  create an academic center for study of Kurdish issues gives me some insight into this), announced this past week that Kurds will try to carve out some new territory from the imploding Syrian state, saying “Our time has come after so much suffering and persecution” (as quoted in the NY Times), as if this proposition justifies throwing more gasoline onto the already white-hot conflagration.  How much “discernment” does it take, or should it take, to discover whether his proposition is one deserving of any respect.   Yes the Kurds, like all peoples throughout all time, have suffered, but have cause suffering.  But where is the foregiveness to be given or gotten from in this situation?

    Your work in Northern Ireland has been very instructive to me as I still work out the threads of my own involvement in intractably difficult and often senseless situations (maybe being Catholic prepared me for this), first as a civilian taken hostage in Iraq in 1990, brutally mistreated, but later willing to work with international organizations to try to make some sense of the so-called reconstruction of Iraq.  As you know, I’ve carried this further as an international lawyer involved in training law students around the world–and really making a difference, changing lives, opening new horizons for these younger folks.  Your former student and our mutual friend, the late Igantius Ikunza, SJ, of Kenya–another place we have these issues to confron–was key to my understanding an entirely new level of now only social justice in Africa, or Catholic Social Teaching as applied in East Africa, but of the very essence of the need for foregiveness, based on understand the other.  The very Jesuit way of meeting people where they are–not where you would like them to be, or where you are, or where anyone thinks they should be–to go back to Ignatian spirituality as one guide to this discussion. 

    I was happy to learn a lot more about this last year when I was able to pull down the broadcasts from the BBC while you were at the Spirituality and Healing Conference in Dublin.  In your work since the 70s in Belfast, you, as at the conference, you’ve called the Protestant and the Catholic leaders to task, showing how peace will arise only when each/all sides take the time–more than take time, actually–invest the intellectual and, harder still, emotional and spiritual capita–through proper discernment–to understand and “validate” sometimes abhorent positions. Validating does not mean accepting as your own moral compass.

    As I learned over the years, though, we can have a nice discussion about policy and theory without having the slightest effect on the real world.  Augustine in his Confessions, I think, talked about the difference between ecclesial theology and academic theology this way–look at the forest from afar, and then try to walk throught the woods on a nice, proper (Church-prescribed) path, not straying over the lines, or risking getting ensnared by the lurking beasts waiting to savage the “propositions” of your faith, versus taking the risk of getting down to ground level, getting dirty, bloodied, and maybe even maimed or killed.  Isn’t it necessary, however, in the effort to discover the flaws in one’s own proposition–by seeing that there are in fact others out there–and perhaps coming to an “inspired” or higher understanding of  one’s “true” proposition–to enage in the dirty work, be willing not only to see people where they are, but understand why they are there, and try to find a common way forward–beasts of the forest will always be out there.

    SO, my entry into this discussion, colored by experiences in Iraq, in Washington, with the Jesuits, with Kenya, with the infinitely consoling music of JS Bach, with Catholic guilt, white guilt, survivors guilt, but also with, I hope, humility, is not an academic’s analysis, not a grassroots, in the trenches response, but that of a son silenty seeking, and beliveing, as Henri Nouwen preached at the Crystal Cathedral years ago, that we are all God’s beloved sons and daughters.  We meet others, indeed ourselves, where we are, if this be true.

    The answers to your four discussion questions are rooted in a much deeper level of thought and action than I am capable of, but it seems to me that foregiveness, even of one’s self, is so very, very hard.  And necessary.  Even if the other side does not acknoledge it, or offer it.  Military action can exist or not, foregiveness is still possible, if you choose it.  

    Simplicity of the Gospel message? Not quite.  According to Matthew 5:39-41, Jesus says: If any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give him your cloak as well. If any one forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. But in context of Jewish customs of the times, these do NOT have the same meaning as they may appear today.  (Look it up.)  But they do offer a glimpse of another level of understanding: that which preserves the proposition of the other yet finds a non-violent and just way forward.    

    • Raymond G. Helmick says:

      Dear Friend, former Iraq hostage,

      Yes, of course I know who, but I see you’d rather not use a name.

      You have the point, quitrea accurately, of that saving of the proposition.  It’s not to save the perverstiy of it, but to see where the person is coming from, realize that that is a real place, and respect the person whose experience that is and remains.  The saving of the proposition, “so that understanding it rightly…, ” is to find sense in a life, and if I do take the trouble to struggle through his having had that (authentic) experience, I as well as he (she, the other) will both be changed and have learned much.

      Hitler, Stalin, Mao, the rest of your laundry list of dangerous predator types: there is a way to deal even with these.  The problem we confront wtih them is that they are not in fact leading with their authentic experience (which is truly their “proposition”), but are instead trying to manipulate and trap us and all their victims with things that are not their authentic humanity.  They do, of course, have an authentic humanity behind all that, which it would be valuable to find.  But for their traps and victimization, I find the advice of Roger Fisher in his classic “Getting to Yes” book some of the most valuable, when he outlines what he calls “negotiation Ju Jitsu,” turning the manipulators’ tricks against them.  They will be infuriated, of course, but they will have lost the hand.

      I have, as you know, my own experience of Khalid Mish’al, and I was as shocked as you were by his Gaza speech.  I had been along to see Yasser Arafat as early as 1985 and saw and discussed much with him over all his remaining years.  I had the example of Professor Herb Kelman of Harvard before me at the time.  I had talked my intention to see Arafat through with State Department people and knew how valuable Kelman’s meetings and assessment of Arafat had been to everyone at State.  None of them, of course, were permitted to do that themselves at the time.  And my own discussions with Arafat — they were about his accepting the three famous “presuppositions” that the U.S. and Israelis were demanding before they would talk with him — made possible further discussion contacts with Israelis — Yirzhak Shamir, leaders of several Israeli political parties, Yitzhak Rabin — a wide conversation involving many Israelis, Americans, Palestinians whom I wanted to see become conscious of the roots of one another’s thinking and convictions.  I’ve long believed that, if all these parties had been talking to each other over the several decades in which such conversation was prohibited, we would have resolved the Middle East conflict long ago.  We would never have had the experience of car bombs, suicide bombers or several other unpleasant things.  Lebanon would have been spared invasions in 1978, 1982, 1993, 1996 and 2006, and there would be no Hezbollah or Hamas.  It’s always important to know where such developments come from and what they represent in the experience of the perpetrators.  It opens the way to talking with them.

      After travelling the Middle East with a delegation led by Rev. Jesse Jackson in 2002, I had entered into a correspondence with the then leader of Hamas, Sheikh Yassin, about a cease-fire in which he had already been interested, which in fact then happened and which held firm for some years.  When, in 2006, Hamas won (quite fairly!) the Palaetinian election early that year, I insisted to Rev. Jackson that, on a repeat visit we were already planning, we must start in Damascus and see Mish’al.

      We had a long conversation through the wee hours of the morning with him and four members of his Political Bureau.  We wanted to know what he really wanted: it was very plainly a Palestinian state defined by the 1967 borders  We asked his interntions about Israel: did he mean to destroy it?  By no means, he had no such intention.  In a deep conversation such that I couold not question the integrity of what he said, he told us one of the things he was most proud of in Islam was that, through the centuries of Christian persecution of Jews, Islam had been their refuge.

      We asked, then, would he recognize the legitimacy of the Israell state, as Arafat and the PLO had done.  His answer was, first, that it was not the time for that.  When pressed, the reasons became clear.  What the Palestinians had done in Oslo, recognizing legitimacy of the Israel state as one that would live at peace with a Palestinian state alongside it, as had already been done in the 1988 PNC in Algiers, and what the Israelis had done, recognizing, in the very words of  the Arab League at Rabat in 1974, that the PLO was the sole legitimate representative of he Palestinian people (implying therefore, but only implying that the Palestinians were a people deserving of legitimate representation), had not been symmetrical, as it must be — recogning Palestinian ehtitlement to a state.  And to recognize the legitimacy of a state of Israel led to a question: where is it?  Does it have actual boundaries, which it recognizes itself, or does that recognition imply that Israel is entitled to take whatever it wants? 

      I came away convinced that Hamas, if treated with respect and admitted into the circle of necessary negotiators, would play a positive role in making a just peace.  I was able to confirm that through many subsequent episodes, including, among the very public ones, an interview Mish’al gave to Charlie Rose in 2010.

      This was a very different Mish’al speaking than the one who spoke in Gaza the other day.  Which is the real Mish’al?  I’m familiar with the casual way any Palestinian, any Arab, any Muslim is suspected of saying one thing in English to a Western public and another thing in private in Arabic to his own associates.  This, however, was no hugger-mugger speech given in hiding to this own supporters, but a super-public occasion where he would be quoted by all the world’s press.  I suspect what we were hearing was simply the rage, his own and his Gaza audience’s, at the way the lives of Palestinian civilians had been blown away  by Israeli forces, as a normal thing over all these years and during the events of the previous weeks.  I would not classify him with the monsters of history or take this as the definitive Mish’al yet.

      I won’t try to comment on all the insightful observations in your comment.  I was cheering for you as I read along.  I do know Walter Wink and his reading of the Gospel passage about turning the oher cheek, throwing in the tunic to go with the cloak and walking the other mile.  There is insight there, knowledge of the mentality of ancient times and profound commitment to non-violent resistance to oppression, but I believe the face meaning of that passage does hold as well.

      Ray Helmick, S.J.

      • formeriraqhostage says:

        Dear Ray, SJ: 

        As you recognize I don’t wish to use my name–maybe a good decision given the many “typos” I made (early this morning, or probably now, late this afternoon), but really because I’m still involved in a few delicate matters that involve giving and forgiving, reconciling with or forgetting (or at least silencing) certain echos of the past.  Not living in the past, but of it–my riff on that  expression you know: “in this world but not of it.”

        Since Templeton, and we, are interested in the Big Questions (and I hope, long answers), then I would go further.  As I alluded to, we each have a seemingly very personal experience or perception of “the situation”–the world we inhabit, the shadows on the wall of the cave–based on our deeply entrenched, perhaps even hardwired from birth, biases, beliefs, creeds, dogmas, customs, semiotically-induced, ethno-linguisticlly determined (or whatever jargon is current) traits and characteristics. Yet, it is possible to agree that, as Gods beloved sons and daughter, or at least as the creative creation of an awesome Creator, we are also as one.   Our experiences are at once the same and different–not unlike subatomic particles, or some cats, last I heard–alleged to be both there and not there at the same time. 

        I don’t know if those particles have free will, or if we do either, but we do have some common understanding, of what is right and wrong—and from this comes,  I think, our ability to be willing to even HAVE a conversation about forgiveness.   As I asked above, the difficulty for me is forgiving how, and from where?  No need to go into theories of justice here, but Amartya Sen  (in The Idea of Justice, I think) laid–or restated, it is better to say–part of the cornerstone of the big question of why it is so hard to forgive (ourselves, others, historical characters, our mothers, our fathers, or (fill in the blank). He appears to believe that we should be optimistic–or at least try to be–about achieving hard things.  He quotes the opening of Dickens’s Great Expectations–“In the little world in which children have their existence, there is nothing so finely perceived and finely felt, as injustice”–and uses his own example of three children having a dispute.  (Schopenhauer also had his monkeys.)   Anyhow, it would seem that, having this innate sense, we should also, ab initio, have the ability, and even desire, to correct injustice, which may sometimes be as simple as forgiving the other (the Lord’s Prayer, forgive them Father, they know not…).  Why is this not so easy?  If the Gospel message is so clear that we must become more like a child (Matthew 18:4, Mark 10:15, Luke 18:16-17), then with child-like wisdom, should we not be able to forgive?
        (Maybe in part it is because, as anyone who has had children, or indeed has been a child, knows, the flip side of this child-like behavior is sometimes incredible cruelty?  I like to think because the critical faculties to discern when to pursue the right or wrong action have yet to develop, even though the ability to pursue either course is already there.)

        I’ll end this with something that came to mind, which is that forgiveness is only possible if we choose it, or recognize it, as a kind of first principle and foundation upon which we do the hard work, the dirty work, as I said.  One of my Kenyan law students, “Catherine,”  who is also a poet of great gifts,  referred me to the following when we talked about forgiveness as a virtue, and a chore. The author is said to be one Dawna Markova, with whose work I am not familiar, but who seems to be a California based life coach or some such thing, who (being charitable here)  “reflects” Jesuit spirituality, Socratic thinking, certain Psalms, scriptural parable of the sower, and much else besides:

        “I will not die an unlived life
        I will not live in fear
        of falling or catching fire.
        I choose to inhabit my days,
        to allow my living to open me,
        to make me less afraid,
        more accessible,
        to loosen my heart
        until it becomes a wing,
        a torch, a promise.

        I choose to risk my significance;
        to live so that which came to me as seed
        goes to the next as blossom
        and that which came to me as blossom,
        goes on as fruit.”


        • Raymond G. Helmick says:

          Dear Friend, unnamed, well known,

          We’re in very deep now,  You’ve brought us right bck to Immanuel Kant: one person’s conduct as model for all.  I’m embarrassed to think so.  We do know instances where one person’s conduct has been a massive influence on others — Gandhi, Mandela, King — generally bigger fry than the undersigned.

          I should remind us, though, that we are talking about the foreign policy of nations, especially big ones like ours (no one is yet bigger).  What can a nation’s responsible parties do when their nation is under attack?  As you and others point out,  they don’t have the option of turning the other cheek. 

          It is the very heart of Augustine’s teaching on war, the root of all Just-War thinking, that when we find anyone — person, nation — under unjust attack (aggression), we are responsible for the Restoration of Justice.  We are tempted, as persons and as nations, to say: ” None of our business” and turn away, at least when it is someone else, to say “”Now isn’t that too bad!  and what’s for dinner?”  That’s quite shameful, even when it’s our country turning away from Ruanda (which we declared “Not a genocide.”).  It is different, of course, when we find ourselves the victims.  Accountability there must be.  Someone working as I do to the persons and organizations engaged in violent conflict can make the personal decision: if there is danger to life, and a “right of self’ defense” exists, I don’t choose that it should be the other’s life that is forfeit, better my own.  But a nation can never make that decision.

          Yet the response to Augustine’s irrefutable premise does not have to be violence, or war.  All the subsequent development of Just-War theory has been an effort to place limits on the vast license Augustine’s premise gives us.  The well-known criteria are all aimed either to prevent the war or to restrain it if it once exists.  Among those criteria is “necessity”: making sure that there is no other option but violent resistance.  Exhausting every possible alternative is the way to do this.  When we study the behavior of nations — and persons — faced with these choices, it becomes evident that they usually don’t want to find an alternative.  What they want is to hurt each other.  It is a commonplace to try to offer some phony alternative to an adversary — that’s the meaning of ultimatums — so that we can say that we tried alternatives and they failed. 

          The great liberation leaders of our time have learned and taught that non-violent resistance is in fact a more valuable tool than any amount of violence.  Yet, for a nation, that is a viable alternative only after the nation is captive and unable to mobilize any other kind of resistance.  We have therefore to be very inventive in discovering other alternative ways to restore justice.  Surrender, or turning over yet more (the cloak to go with the tunic) is then dishonorable.

          Discovering those alternatives, then, is the real task of nations undergoing critical challenges to their peace.  To go along simply with our anger and thirst for vengeance is fundamental weakness.  We do better to dedicate ourselves to principles of Just Peace than to parse our conflict situations to find excuses to call our response a Just War.