Is Forgiveness Stupidity?

Is Forgiveness Stupidity?

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

When Nadine Collier, the daughter of Ethel Lance, one of the Charleston shooting victims, said, "I forgive you" to the murderer, some people judged her words to be "inappropriate," "awkward," and judged the daughter as "ignorant" about race issues. Some people believe that forgiving the murderer is a proof of submission to the white supremacist system.

These arguments can be found in this article by Yesha Callahan, or this piece by Xolela Mangcu, the author argues that forgiveness never changed anything in the South African context. On this Nigerian discussion forum, some even equate forgiveness to "stupidity" and "cowardice." I disagree. I believe forgiveness is the most powerful tool to end the spiral of violence. Those who say "don't forgive, shoot instead" are using those same arguments expressed by the NRA.

Citizens of Charleston know what they are doing. So were change makers like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Fannie Lou Hamer, which David Remnick accurately describes as the "least naïve people imaginable and (...) hardly weak" Families perfectly understand that this massacre is a symptom of a much deeper problem. Criticism without action is useless: "There ain't time to cry. It's time to change," said Stephen Grant, 32. "It's time to step up by destroying racism." These are proofs that forgiveness is not condoning or forgetting. Forgiveness transforms the victims into healers and builders. It's a huge step forward. And that's massive. It's a proof they are not cowards, but rather the stronger.

We need to understand that some people have been too much hurt by the consequences of centuries of imperial, colonial and globalizing violent policies, to the point anger and rejection are their only tools left. We need to understand that there's a part of the world which has been deeply wounded. And the anger, the resentment are legitimate. But at the same time, we need to go beyond. From an era dominated by geographic, physical and social colonisation (which is far from being over), the world has entered an era of mental and psychological colonisation. And there is only one way out from this dreadful system: awareness, understanding and positive action.

The media, some US politicians, and many haters would have loved Charleston to burst into violent riots. Instead, citizens responded with love. Citizens of Charleston just replied: "we're not falling into your trap." And what is that, if that's not being strong? Forgiving is joining forces. It's making perspectives shift, not destroying or harming people. It's a hard work and fight, but it's possible:

First, forgiveness is not the sole property of the white supremacist and colonial Christian heritage. Islam, which came to end the horrific system of slavery in a society rotten by tribalism and racism, puts a huge emphasis on forgiveness. Forgiveness allowed to turn the greatest enemies of early Muslims into powerful friends: Abu Sufyan and Hind, who slaughtered many of Prophet Muhammad's relatives and close friends, later became the strongest allies of Islam and close friends to the Prophet.

Second, people argue they need to "show a strong nerve," and that "anger has been a driver for many revolutions that actually benefit the marginalised"; but there's something inaccurate in these statements. Although anger has been an element, and a valid sentiment, anger never made a difference per se. Rather, the key is determination and persistence. People like Malcolm X did not impact most solely for their fiery speeches and criticism of the system (these are the tip of the iceberg) but thanks to thorough work at the grassroots level over the years.

Here is the powerful story of Jo Berry who reconciled with Pat Magee, the man who killed her father in the Brighton bombing in 1986. They have been both invited to places like Lebanon, Rwanda, Israel and Palestine. These are countries torn by conflicts that invoke religious, cultural, political, and ethnic elements. And people listen and learn from her, a white British lady, because the issue goes far beyond race, culture, religion or politics. It's a humane, social, emotional and psychological issue. Pain has no colour, no religion, no political party. Neither does healing. And it is not being colour blind (which is the wilful ignorance of differences) to talk about common emotions we share.


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