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Portraits of Reconciliation
April 5, 2014 5:48 AM   Subscribe

Twenty years after the Rwandan genocide, reconciliation still happens one encounter at a time between perpetrators and survivors.
posted by nevercalm (31 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
The genocide was twenty years ago, but I can vividly remember the horror of listening to BBC broadcasts. Those photos are amazing. I can't imagine going through the reconciliation process like that.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:10 AM on April 5


These are really powerful, though it is important in a lot of ways to interrogate the completeness of the broader narrative they present.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:28 AM on April 5 [4 favorites]


It's striking that all but one of the photos, the perpetrator is male and the forgiving victim is female. One wonders if these cases are representative nationwide, and if so, what can we infer about this. I am not qualified to say.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:41 AM on April 5 [4 favorites]


I'm one of those people who forgot about Rwanda, yet after this post and that of infini last week, the healing of Rwanda fascinates me. Maybe I'm biased because of the articles that I have just read, but on many fronts progress seems to be rumbling along.

I'm take a look at this (again from the article infini posted):
"And to visit Rwanda, it’s not an entirely unreasonable assumption. The country is clean, safe and developing at a dizzying speed. It is one of the few countries in Africa likely to meet almost all of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals next year — a list of eight targets agreed to by all countries in 2000 that includes halving extreme poverty and providing universal primary education, all by 2015."

Maybe I'm being completely naive, but there are no attacks of retribution, no cockroach war lords trying to seize power, an from the article above, a sense remorse by the attackers and forgiveness by the victims.

What's happening in Rwanda that's allowing people to progress this way, and also in B/H-Serbia and (hopefully) Sri Lanka? Yet places like the DRC, Syria, etc, it seems the people can't get over their hatred for each other? Is it culture? weariness? lack of access to weapons? remorse by the perpetrators?

I mean, shouldn't sociologists, and psychologists and government officials from all over the world be flocking to Rwanda to see what's making things work here so that the same "formula" can be applied everywhere? (now I'm being naive, assuming that foreign governments actually want peace!)
posted by bitteroldman at 6:53 AM on April 5


Well, one of the things that's happening in Rwanda is an authoritarian government which severely restricts political freedom, assassinates political opponents, and muzzles the press. I think (though I don't know) that in a lot of cases the truth and reconciliation process has advanced social cohesion and done a lot to keep Rwanda functioning on a local level. However, Rwanda is still a pretty traumatized country with a pretty circumscribed and potentially dangerous political sphere. Plus the government has done more than its share of participating in and prolonging the conflict in Eastern DRC keeping the region unstable. Rwanda has developed incredibly quickly and rebounded incredibly amazingly, but taking it as a perfect model of reconciliation and peace really is naive.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:12 AM on April 5 [7 favorites]


It's striking that all but one of the photos, the perpetrator is male and the forgiving victim is female. One wonders if these cases are representative nationwide, and if so, what can we infer about this. I am not qualified to say.

Based on what I've read, although I could be wrong, often men were killed and women were raped (violently and repeatedly) so there just aren't that many men around to do any forgiving and, frankly, I don't know why the women would.

Infini posted an article about the Genocide recently and there was a section on the children born of these rapes and how traumatized their mothers were and the kids themselves and the guilt they both feel towards each other; I couldn't read the entire article, it was just so hard. The whole thing is so horrifically awful it's hard to think about; that sounds obvious but it's so scary and awful and upsetting and terrible and, with apologies for being cliche, there just aren't even words to talk about it.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:38 AM on April 5 [3 favorites]


I believe in forgiveness. I also think that I'm not sure what we're supposed to do with movements that idealize how those who forgive are more ideal than those who don't. What I mean is, there's a lot of cultural pressure on survivors to be forgiving and they get treated as good survivors, heroes, for being forgiving whereas those for whom the pain continues or the anger or both are seen as lesser humans.

I think the process of forgiveness for horrible deliberate acts is and should be complicated and not an assumed process survivors must facilitate for there abuser/attacker.

What's more once there has been forgiveness what then? Is it really expected that the perpetrator is invited over to dinner, allowed back in the same social circles? Is everything supposed to all be ok, the same as it was?

Because this is often asked of survivors, idealized and romanticized as the solution to healing horrible acts and I find it problematic that it's on survivors to make all these horrors ok.

I find restorative or transformative justice to be very uncomfortable in terms of what it asks of survivors and the way it seperates out the bad survivors who don't want to reconcile or be buddies with their perpetrator from those who are willing to do so. I personally am someone who feels very bad for perpetratoes, especially those who seem to be remorseful, and I happen to want healing for them.

And yet it really bothers me when people EXPECT that this is how I or anyone should feel because it's added many extra layers of horror to my experience to BE involved in the pain of those who have abused me's guilt and sorrow and remorse and tried to help them heal from it. It's a gross position to want survivors to help carry that weight. I want SOMEONE to do it, and I think it should be optional and permitted for survivors to be part of that if they want, but I don't that that aspect of this should be idealized.

I have gotten letters from one abusers wife when I stopped contact with him (because he's continual apologies over the years are painful for me despite that I have forgiven him over and over) about Jesus's forgiveness and compassion ...

I guess I really love that they are trying to heal as a nation, and I certainly relate to those who want to forgive--- however I feel like how we understand what's going on with that as outsiders needs to be more nuanced than "Those who forgive are advance and good and those who are in too much pain to participate in such a things are less advanced or not as good"

IT's actually very common for people who are victims of abuse and violence to forgive totally andcompletely. And keep on interacting with people who have harmed them greatly. And if we really think that's beautiful, we might want to rethink how much responsibility and blame we put on survivors of abuse who continue to love their abusive partners and stay by their sides. Is that a bad thing? Certainly it's easy to say "Well that's enabling" but what is or isn't enabling is much more gray than that.

Years after my abuser had stopped abusing me and I have forgiven him, he did the same thing. And I thought well it was my fault, I let him in my house, I forgave knowing he can't control himself. Where does the fault lie when we put this much responsibility for survivors to make everything ok again? I can do that and I have done it over and over. I can make everything ok again, in fact most of the time I feel very positive feelings toward a lot of people who have done horrible things to me or others, I worry about them, I hope the best for them.. I feel angry when I think of the things they've done, but I still care about their welfare.

I just wanted to add a less positive perspective to this, despite that I am naturally a forgiver--- being that way has added a lot of pain to my life. I want to see healing in nations were terrible atrocities have occured so I like this in many ways, I'm just.. I'm not sure this is the ideal, it reminds of stockholm syndrome and the bonds people form with those who harm them somehow. Like, maybe some of that is real love-- but it's complicated by many factors, many of which are not rosy nor should be idealized as "The right way to be a survivor"
posted by xarnop at 8:05 AM on April 5 [20 favorites]


I mean, shouldn't sociologists, and psychologists and government officials from all over the world be flocking to Rwanda to see what's making things work here so that the same "formula" can be applied everywhere? (now I'm being naive, assuming that foreign governments actually want peace!)

The Kagame government has the blood of millions on its hands from its role in the Second Congo War. Its major national security achievement is that it took Rwanda's bloody civil war and turned it into a bloody foreign war instead (unless you're Congolese). Another group of people who would benefit from studying it are the other dictatorships of the world, few of whom are so skilled at getting good PR in the western press.

Yes, the domestic economic achievements are real enough, but I don't know that that really balances against one of the more effectively totalitarian governments on the continent and being one of the major state sponsors of the single deadliest war since World War II.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:19 AM on April 5 [4 favorites]


xarnop, I agree wholeheartedly with what you say, and I hope that I didn't give the impression that people who forgive are "better" or "heal better" than those who don't.

The decision to forgive is a very personal one, and I wouldn't judge anyone for making the decisions that they do. In fact to me, the "whys" are more important than the "whats". Yet we judge on the final result all the time - it's lazier, but easier that way.

still, from an impersonal, or a high-level, "helicopter" view, doesn't non-retribution (whether it's forgiveness/acquiescence) have the potential for societal advancement (however you might define that) compared to retribution and revenge?

And yes, despite these advancements, the personal stories are not reflective of this at all - as was reported in the article infini posted to as well as ChuraChura reported, there continues to be a lot of hardship and not enough support (i.e. six psychiatrists serving 11.4 million Rwandans), and I'm afraid one, two, maybe three generations of Rwandans will be cheated of life's opportunities.

I realize that societal progress is clearly not a reflection of personal progress - never has been, never will be.

I guess my wishful optimism, and naivete made me conflate both.

And thanks for the links about how the Rwandan government isn't all butterflies and ponies.

Sigh...
posted by bitteroldman at 8:57 AM on April 5


Man, I can't even imagine. I was raised Catholic and so while I don't believe in that I still have the belief in sin...
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 9:05 AM on April 5


"still, from an impersonal, or a high-level, "helicopter" view, doesn't non-retribution (whether it's forgiveness/acquiescence) have the potential for societal advancement (however you might define that) compared to retribution and revenge?"

This is a good question and I'm not sure the answer is as clear as we would like. Accountability is sometimes painful for people who have done wrong, and sometimes even painful for the people they have harmed. I would like a world where we all hold hands and sing kumbaya and rainbows swirl around us and everything is ok and anytime anyone makes a mistake everything is fixed and it's all ok! I like that idea. I love everyone including wretched people who have done horrible things.

I just have found that forgiving and loving people no matter what has tended to be very bad for me. It's one thing to NOT seek revenge. It's another thing to expect survivors to faciliate emotional healing and reconciliation for the people who harmed them. I'm not sure the latter is as useful as it is romantic for people to think about especially for christians (or other spiritual visions of unconditional love and forgiveness) who like to daydream about being a martyr and admiring people who let themselves be tortured with love in their hearts.

I feel like some of the cultures I've been in that espouse forgiveness of abusers are actually just more friendly to abusers than survivors. It's not uplifting the society so much as it allowing everyone to think there is a happy ending often at the expense of survivors.

So I think there is room for forgiveness to fit into a a positive cultural force, I also think there is room for that narrative to make things much worse for survivors and to facilitate a very comfortable environment for abusers.
posted by xarnop at 9:11 AM on April 5 [5 favorites]


Personally I absolutely want to see good services for abusers/criminals, and ways to help them participate in society and have acceptance and kindness and healing. I also strongly believe in undertanding the factors that lead to people being abusive, having personality disorders or harmful behavior or a lack of empathy-- what family environments, what environmental exposures (lead, other chemicals? food allergies, food scarcity, lack of sunlight?), what cultural variables and pressures all add up to people who do these things? The blame should not be carried by individuals alone, we need to understand what pressures were on the person as well because asking the disabled to be at fault for their disability is wrong. We need to make sure we are cleaning up the messes that cause people to have problem behaviors to begin with while understanding there is of course the potential for people to just choose harmful behavior for no good reason (what we might call "the evil!").

I just find the aspect of the survivors themselves being seen as the manner healing is happening for perpetrators as problematic, or how the culture itself is healing-- not that it happens but how it's FEATURED in this series as the means of healing for perpetrators. I'm not sure what we're supposed to get from that as onlookers, like, ok that's... nice? That's a model we should aspire to?

I remember reading the story of the christian saint who loved her rapist and loved him and forgave even as she was dying because he killed her. This is so beautiful! And so yeah I tried to carry out that kind of forgiveness in my life.. just forgive everyone and love everyone as they are no matter what they do! Turn the other cheek!

Come to find out not only was I doing it wrong but apparently a huge portion of people see abused people as at fault for it, and ESPECIALLY at fault for being so forgiving. In fact they see the abused person as almost as bad as the person who did it, certainly someone worth seeing as less than, damaged, psychologically inferior.. I just... find these two parallel cultural narratives worth examining especially because in my own life I've seen them both held by the very same people and selectively applied depending on the slant of the story or whether they want the survivor to be portrayed as the heroic forgiver or the gulty shameful bad enabler who is at fault for all the abuse that happened to them because they let it happen.


I just feel like this is a great thing to examine because perhaps we could help families coping with domestic violence better if we examine whether forgiveness and acceptance works or how much prison time/accountability needs to be part of the process for it to not just be enablement. This is of course comfortable to see because these were not family members so therefore forgiving them is seen as heroic and there's no complication about whether to incorporate them back into family life- but if they should be so forgiven then why shoulden't criminals be incorporated back into their families? If we can really have this kind of transcendental healing, then why keep criminals from their famlies?

I feel like restorative justice whitwashes over how harmful the model of "everything can be healed with the power of love" can actually be when applied as a sort of universal for all kinds of behavioral harms. I WANT to be on board with that model because I mean it, I ache for people who have done wronga nd feel bad about it.I think often they literally are not even at fault- factors way beyond their control had taken over their behavior and impulses and they weren't really a "free agent" if anyone is. I just think aspiring to use models of healing like this NEEDS to be challenged to really prioritize survivors and not just use them (again) to create a sense of feel good that is actually very hard on survivors without acknowledging that reality.
posted by xarnop at 9:41 AM on April 5 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure it's plausible to use any of the same tools in analysing Rwanda as one might use when talking about individual abuser/abused relationships in Western countries.

This is not only a story about abuse but a story about endemic racism and genocide. It is a story about a minority group having no choice but to live in the same villages and towns as the majority, when that majority are practically all guilty of horrific historical genocide on those very minority people and their families who are still living next door.

I don't think it is comparable to abusive situations that are individual and personal. This is about an entire country. How does a country recover from such a thing? Can they?
posted by emilyw at 10:42 AM on April 5


This is not only a story about abuse but a story about endemic racism and genocide. [...] a story about a minority group [...]

As long as we're deconstructing narratives, the history is too blurry and fluid for terms like racism and minority to be have the kind of authority we usually use to judge.
posted by tychotesla at 11:21 AM on April 5 [1 favorite]


As far as I can tell this story was written by a westerner for westerners (I tried to look up the authors background but it wasn't easy to find so correct me if I'm wrong.) This was written in english for an american publication. (As far as I could find it's something like 4% of Rwandans speak english).

The narrative that healing is taking place by survivors forming bonds with perpetrators was chosen when many other aspects of healing in rwanda could have been portrayed such as the many organizations that are helping survivors cope with the aftermath, support each other, and rebuild their lives or get ongoing support if needed. I feel like these photographs were taken and featured because they are sensational and appealing to an American audience that certainly has been influenced by many of the Christian narratives about absolute forgiveness of sin through any wrong deeds acted upon you, as well as new age spiritual teachings about the power of love to solve all things.

It could be that rwandans themselves believe that healing can and should take place through survivors forming bonds with their perpetrators however I would question whether the values of christianity which apparently are over 90 percent of Rwandans aren't themselves driving this and that is a very western concept of coping with abuse and traumatic acts of violence.

The christian narratives seem to be within the survivors stories themselves about God and the devil... so our western narratives that may have been brought to rwanda and how they play out in western nations relationships to understanding why violence happens and how we should all heal from it are worth considering.

It appears that survivor support is so limited that many of the survivors talk about needing the support services of the perpetrators to help care for them. This is a VERY complicated thing to espouse as a positive template for healing, that many victims say they needed to forgive because they needed help and the perpetrators were offering helping services. Again getting the Stockholm syndrome vibe, these people need help and the former perpetrators are offering it, that is a complicated thing to as a survivor to be part of and I wonder if that's really helpful for the survivors or it just creates a nice narrative for the people trying to push restorative justice and reconciliation attempts and wanting to see this particular kind of healing as a sign things are fixed.

I'm not saying this isn't the best method they have to deal with this mess, I'm just saying it sounds very hard on survivors and like if there were more resources available this might not be the best way to hope for healing or to talk about what healing should look like. I'm a fan of forgiveness and I think it's great when people can find love and understanding through terrible things, or understand that sometimes people do terrible things especially under the influence of abusive authority/ life factors/social pressure and forgiveness is great. In fact I think each of thse individual stories is personal, and perfectly fine. It's just this story when put together in this way features this form of healing as the manner in which rwanda is healing-- and yes it has a very restorative justice vibe to it (which I think has been westerners doing work to try and get restorative justice into rwanda's reconcilition processes.)

I like the idea of restorative justice, so I don't say all this to say it's not worth using, I just have personal experience with people using it and spreading it and using survivors to prove how great it is in a way that I think often doesn't serve survivors or creates a cultural narrative about what survivors should do that needs to be actively challenged.

Sorry if I'm rambling, and yes my perspective is western but really anyone commenting on this who is not from Rwanda will be mostly guessing using their personal experiences and understanding of what is happening in the region.
posted by xarnop at 12:20 PM on April 5 [2 favorites]


I've been to Kigali. Yes, the streets are clean and paved. In quantifiable ways it is miles ahead of other African capitals. But there is so much sullen repressed anger in the faces of people I saw there, and the yawning chasm between the privileged classes and the poor who are their servants is terrible. It looks nice and stable from the outside, but there is so much going on below the surface that could turn to riots in a heartbeat.

Also, so many people were involved in the massacres that it's basically impossible to punish all of them, even if one could invent punishments appropriate to their crimes.The Kagame government ended cooperation with the ICTR for even the most responsible persons. What expectations could victims have that their neighbors who "only" hacked men and boys to death with machetes before raping women and girls and burning down houses have for justice? Is it really forgiveness, or is it grim acceptance that these people are just never going to be made to answer for what they've done?
posted by 1adam12 at 12:34 PM on April 5 [4 favorites]


there just aren't that many men around to do any forgiving and, frankly, I don't know why the women would.

Because without it, the country would still be embroiled in civil war, like so many others. Forgiveness here is not a Christian virtue, it's an absolute necessity for social survival.

To be unwilling or unable to forgive is an expression of privilege: you have enough people in your life that you can afford to throw some of them out. That doesn't mean refusal to forgive is bad---I would like *more* people to have privileges, not fewer---but it is, like clean water, a luxury many cannot afford.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 4:13 PM on April 5 [1 favorite]


I feel like restorative justice whitwashes over how harmful the model of "everything can be healed with the power of love" can actually be when applied as a sort of universal for all kinds of behavioral harms.

To the extent that we're talking about things that people actually do and not only moral or normative attitudes, I don't think that's the model in operation in restorative justice. I agree with the very wise and humane things you've said about putting pressure on survivors of trauma to forgive. I'm just unsure how much that applies to this situation, or to the model of restorative justice.

It seems to me that restorative justice, as a program or agenda or justice, distinguishes itself by emphasizing the role of the perpetrators in healing the social rifts caused by their actions; it doesn't demand that victims forgive, although it tries to secure a set of conditions under which they will be able to. There could certainly be people or institutions who pressure survivors in that way, even under the color of restorative justice, but obliging people to forgive doesn't seem to be one of its tenets. Or am I wrong? I don't see it.

I WANT to be on board with that model because I mean it, I ache for people who have done wronga nd feel bad about it.I think often they literally are not even at fault- factors way beyond their control had taken over their behavior and impulses and they weren't really a "free agent" if anyone is. I just think aspiring to use models of healing like this NEEDS to be challenged to really prioritize survivors and not just use them (again) to create a sense of feel good that is actually very hard on survivors without acknowledging that reality.

I think this is where individuals traumas and collective traumas diverge, empirically and phenomenologically: one reason that things like civil war or genocide are so traumatic is that, to put it rather tritely but I don't think inaccurately, the social fabric becomes frayed under those conditions, and restorative justice tries to re-knit that back together, even if it's only contiguous again in a formal or symbolic way at first. It seems to me that individual traumas have a different relationship with social solidarity and cohesion.

It seems that restorative justice does prioritize survivors, pretty explicitly. They have a great deal of social power, as wronged parties, and restorative justice seems to want to use that power to ameliorate the specifically social and collective character of trauma. But I'm not familiar with cases where their forgiveness is compelled, which might just be my ignorance talking. Are there any specific events you're thinking of, or is your objection to a subtle pattern that's maybe slightly below the surface?
posted by clockzero at 4:49 PM on April 5 [1 favorite]


Related post.
posted by homunculus at 6:53 PM on April 5


What expectations could victims have that their neighbors who "only" hacked men and boys to death with machetes before raping women and girls and burning down houses have for justice? Is it really forgiveness, or is it grim acceptance that these people are just never going to be made to answer for what they've done?

From what I've read, the survivors of the genocide whose families were slaughtered and homes destroyed have by and large received little or no restitution and have been forced to try and eke out lives without the supportive kin networks that comprise a large part of the social safety net in Rwanda. Traumatized and alone, they seem to be at a material disadvantage and really in need of support from their communities, and it's likely imperative to their survival that they be considered members of the community. Their communities are filled with perpetrators, however.

"Forgiving" their perpetrators is a way for victims to gain access to the community and therefore to necessary social support -- social support that is especially necessary to them because of the consequences of the genocide. Because the "forgiveness" is tied to the reconciliation process that is supposed to restore the community and social stability essential to the genocide survivors' safety and security, I think that the pressure on them to "forgive" becomes coercive. That's not to say that no victims *feel* forgiveness; many might, I don't know. But whether they truly feel it or not almost seems irrelevant when, regardless of what they feel, they're under coercive pressure to "forgive" in order to survive.

Personally, I see no reason to forgive something that is still happening or might still happen. I don't think that it's practically feasible to forgive when that legitimate fear is still present, and even if it is feasible, I don't think it's desirable to forgive at that point regardless, because the forgiveness only allows a destructive status quo to continue long past the point that its shown itself destructive. Since the victims are still alive and the suffering from the consequences of the genocide still continues in Rwanda, I don't think that forgiveness is something that should necessarily be lauded let alone pressured or coerced.

In the link, [paraphrase] when one of the perpetrators asked his victim for forgiveness, she told him that she still needed a house and would forgiving him get her a house -- he brought a bunch of people over and built her a house and she forgave him. In a way, that's the best story of the bunch, because she at least did get a house for her forgiveness. In another way, it's the most appalling, because she shouldn't have to forgive anyone in order to get a house -- she is owed a house to replace the one that was unjustly destroyed.

I hate violence and don't have much of a heart for it, but I also think that going back to the status quo, or even a "better" version of the status quo is something to be avoided at all costs after a genocide. The genocide proved that the status quo was deeply, fundamentally *wrong.* This reconciliation process seems to be an attempt to get Rwanda to a version of its status quo, albeit one with cleaner streets and a higher GDP, and I don't think that was the best tact to take -- though I'm too ignorant to suggest a better one.

Related post.

If anybody hasn't read it, I want to second homunculus's link. Améry has important things to say about genocide and life/rebuilding after torture and genocide.
posted by rue72 at 8:23 PM on April 5 [5 favorites]


This squicks me out for exactly the reasons rue72 brings up. Requiring people to forgive these horrific acts in order to gain access to a social safety net or even just to have a house to live in could be seen as just one more horrible act of victimization.

I can tell you that if someone hacked apart my family and then asked me to forgive them I'm not sure if I could refrain from a violent reaction. And I wouldn't blame any of these people if they did the same.
posted by Justinian at 2:58 AM on April 6 [1 favorite]


Requiring people to forgive these horrific acts in order to gain access to a social safety net or even just to have a house to live in could be seen as just one more horrible act of victimization.

I don't think it's so simple. My understanding (as someone who has never been there nor seriously studied the situation) is that the restorative justice approach is an attempt to put another option on the table that is based (at least in part) on existing village approaches to resolving conflict, rather than being based on the western punitive court model, and is meant to break and prevent a cycle of retribution. Other models for responding to those crimes also contain victimization and are also deeply problematic -- this is not a choice between perfect options.

But, as ChuraChura notes above, there is a very particular cultural and political context here: Rwanda is incredibly densely populated and has a long history of tight social control. This recent article in the Times suggests how embedded that control and authoritarianism is:

You can hear it in our maxims. “Intero nyirurugo ateye, niyo wikiriza” means “the tune the head of the household begins is what everyone in the house sings.” “Umwera uturutse ibukuru bucya wakwiriye hose” means that orders from above spread quickly, in the form of rules. “Order” and “law” translate the same: “itegeko.” A “law-giver,” an “order-giver” and an “authority” are each an “umutegetsi.”

This culture of unquestioning deference existed before the genocide. Its role in 1994 has been noted before. What is less noticed is that it persists today — in less lethal form, but not without dangers for the future.


The restorative justice program is embedded within that deference to authority and as a result is as good or bad as the greater system. It is, at the very least, an attempt to resolve the basic fact that there were an enormous number of perpetrators and that victims are going to be living in close contact with perpetrators for the rest of their lives.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:36 AM on April 6 [2 favorites]


[One comment deleted. Already a tough subject; go ahead and make your points but there is no call to make it personal.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:06 AM on April 6


I can tell you that if someone hacked apart my family and then asked me to forgive them I'm not sure if I could refrain from a violent reaction. And I wouldn't blame any of these people if they did the same.

Yes, most people are unable to refrain from a violent reaction after suffering such violence. Which is why so much of the world is embroiled in endless cycles of tit-for-tat slaughter. That is precisely what restorative justice is trying to break.

Yes, it does require victims to acquiesce to living among those who victimized them in awful ways, and that's very painful. But you know what else is painful? Murderous feuds of the kind that have swallowed up so many countries for decades, or even centuries.

It's fine to say "Gosh, I wouldn't be able to forgive that." But please understand that while it's fun to indulge such thinking from the safety of your desk, people who actually have to survive in the aftermath of a civil war have been victimized by exactly the attitude you are expressing.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:42 AM on April 6


I think it's important to draw a distinction between something that happens between individuals and something that happens at a country level. For a society to stabilize it has to move on. If you can't move on, you have to find a way to either exist in the society or leave it. There's no other option.

Anyway forgiveness, whether between individuals or among an entire society, is healthy for everyone. You don't forgive your perpetrator for his or her sake, you forgive them for your own sake, because walking around with hate in your heart is tiring. It doesn't mean you have to be that person's friend, or ever see them again if you don't want to. It doesn't mean forgetting. It just means letting go of obsessing about the hurt you felt.
posted by bleep at 2:55 PM on April 6


I don't personally believe in violence for revenge purposes at all. I also think there's a huge difference between asking people to remain peaceful to their enemies and to providing their enemy with a healing experience of forgiveness. It's not for the victims this is done, really it's for the welfare of perpetraters and their families.

It's a service survivors might provide to their community but it's at their expense it's not FOR them, unless they are specifically in a place where that fits their actual needs. Sometimes it doesn't and that's not because they are inferior victims, they just don't heal by feeling like everyone accepting and making nice with rapists and murderers is a great thing or even necessarily the "Right" thing.

The whole "you're hurting yourself if have any negative emotions toward your rapist" is a thing that should never be laid on another victim ever as far as I'm concerned. Anger is a healthy reaction to horrific harm and it has to come out-- however it doesn't have to come out through violence, and it can in fact co-exist with empathy for people who have done such harms. One can choose not to harm one's attacker and even care for their welfare while still feeling their actions are worth being very angry about.
posted by xarnop at 5:10 PM on April 6 [3 favorites]


African Arguments: Not My Worst Day: Reflections On Rwanda, 20 Years On
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:38 AM on April 7


Rwanda: Has reconciliation by legal means worked?
Unthinkable Tableaus
Why does Pieter Hugo’s “Portraits of Reconciliation” make us “speechless”? Leave us with “no words”? Why might we find it “stunning”? “Powerful”? “Inspiring”?

I find it disturbing, and I think this is the best thing you can say about it: if these photographs provoke and unsettle you, then Pieter Hugo is doing something interesting with his camera, and he is not simply telling the wish-fulfillment story that victims of great violence can just get over it and move on. The New York Times, by contrast, seems to want to tell the latter story, a story of resilience and human strength, and especially the story of women forgiving the men who assaulted them:
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:56 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


Thank you, yes, that Unthinkable Tableaus piece is excellent and very nicely illustrates my discomfort with this project.
posted by Justinian at 2:13 PM on April 8


"If the word “rape” occurred in the New York Times article—if we remembered all the women who were left alive so that they could be sexually violated—then these photographs would look different than they do, I think. We might find ourselves looking at women being photographed next the men they are forgiving—demonstrating with gestures of bodily intimacy that they had been forgiven—and we might be repulsed at the idea that a rape-victim would have to hug her rapist and forgive him, for national progress."

This.
posted by xarnop at 5:37 AM on April 18


Rwanda and the NY Times: On those images by Pieter Hugo pairing perpetrators and victims of the 1994 Genocide
“Portraits of Reconciliation,”–the photo-essay commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide–published recently in the New York Times, is a deeply disturbing piece of journalism. Profoundly banal, the subtitle states, “20 years after the genocide in Rwanda, reconciliation still happens one encounter at a time.” Repetitive and reductive, the narrative reduces violence to a set of meaningless outbursts, while it simultaneously fashions forgiveness in the Christian vision of redemption. A self-assured narrative of reconciliation, forgiveness and transformation, the photo-essay depicts a world organized around binary preoccupation: Hutu and Tutsi, Good and Evil, Victim and Perpetrator, and Redemption and Liberation.
posted by ChuraChura at 11:12 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


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