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Riflessioni sul Perdono, sulla Dignità e sulla Riconciliazione

Joseph V. Montville

1. I negoziati di pace, generalmente, sono incentrati sulle dimensioni politica ed economica. Quale è la Sua percezione della necessità di toccare aspetti più profondi e genuini della riconciliazione e come si può ottenere questo?

Traditional, formal diplomatic peacemaking approaches by governments, regional and international organizations tend to avoid the normative issues that nourish and drive the so-called intractable ethnic and sectarian conflicts. The demands for justice by the warring sides are considered self-centered, emotional and not susceptible to the rational process of bargaining for advantage and the art of arranging trade-offs. But the toughest conflicts are those where one or, usually, both sides have suffered traumatic losses in the past and in recent times. The people in the groups or nations in conflict are predictably and unavoidably emotional, irrational and obsessed with issues of justice. They are victims, and they display all of the symptoms of victimhood psychology. They feel vulnerable to attack. They fear and loathe their adversaries. Building trust between the parties is a Sisyphean task.
Any negotiating strategy that does not address the psychological needs of the victims and victimizers can only have a superficial effect on the resolution especially of ethnic and sectarian conflict. Thus the only practical approach to the so-called intractable conflicts is one that aims for the actual reconciliation of peoples and nations. Relationships need to be changed for the better. Ways have to be found to help adversaries face the historic burdens on their relationship, to help them present their historic grievances but also, especially, acknowledge the wrongs they have inflicted on the other side. A process must be established in which the losses of victims are recognized and made part of the public record for all to see.
The psychology of victimhood is an automatic product of aggression and resultant traumatic loss in individuals and peoples. The refusal of aggressors to acknowledge the pain of the hurts inflicted on victims, and therefore the absence of remorse by the aggressors, creates an overwhelming sense of injustice in the victims. A society, a leadership, a world, and, indeed, a universe the victims had heretofore assumed would shield them from harm have all let them down. Their new psychology would henceforth keep the victimized people highly suspicious and on permanent alert for future acts of aggression and violence. It would also make them strongly resistant to pressures to make peace before the aggressors acknowledge the victims’ losses and ask forgiveness for their violence. The victims’ collective sense of security in their identity, their self-concept, their basic dignity, and a future for their children have been dealt a devastating blow.
Thus when the love of the self is jolted either through threat, insult or, especially, physical assault, there is an automatic, fear-based psycho-physiological reaction. Scholars have described the fear-based stress response system of the victim as elevations in epinephrine, corticosteroids, and other stress hormones. This stress-response system can be mobilized by the sight of the aggressor, or hearing sounds associated with him or them, or simply through recalling from memory the original threat or attack.
Thus in victimhood psychology, the individual or group, which by definition has sustained traumatic loss, is overwhelmed with a sense of existential injustice, and yet, in the absence of acknowledgment and remorse from the aggressor, still fears further attacks. Memory sustains fear, which activates stress-related hormones, which overall mobilize individuals or groups into militance in defense of the self. In this high state of narcissistic rage, sense of injustice, basic distrust, and continual fear, it is little wonder that ethnic and sectarian conflict has always been and continues to be so resistant to traditional diplomacy and negotiating processes. As with individual victims of trauma, peoples and nations require complex healing processes to get beyond their psychological and physiological symptoms to become full partners in reconciliation and peacebuilding.
Peacemaking and reconciliation strategies often must deal with contemporary victims of traumatic violence and loss as well as members of identity groups or nations that have a memory of violent aggression in the past decades or centuries. Thus Jews in Israel might be recent victims of Palestinian terrorist bombings in buses or outdoor markets. But they also have an internalized memory of Christian oppression in Europe throughout the ages and the nightmare of the Holocaust. Catholics in Ireland have burned into their memory Cromwell’s genocidal aggression, repression, and degradation in the 17th century, the passive British genocide of the potato famines in the 19th century, and the experience of combat with the British police and army in the twentieth century. Palestinians share the collective Arab memory of humiliation by European imperialism starting with Napoleon’s landing in Egypt in 1798, and more specifically their own defeat, displacement, and expulsion when the Jewish state was formed in 1948. As China defines its future relationship with the rest of the world, it is haunted by the memory of humiliation by Britain in the Opium Wars of 1839 and 1856, and the futile Boxer Rebellion of 1899 against victorious Western powers. Japan’s “rape” of Nanking in 1937 only nourished China’s sense of victimhood and its determination under Mao Tse Tung to regain its self-respect and the respect of other nations by whatever means necessary.

2. Quali sono le condizioni nelle quali, al di là dell’assicurare gli interessi della parti in conflitto, può essere stabilito un processo incentrato su un senso di equità e dignità?

From the perspective of psychologically sensitive diplomacy and peacemaking, the challenge in dealing with victimhood psychology is that of reviving the mourning process, which has been suspended as a result of the traumatic experience, and helping to move it toward completion. Storytelling is a central part of the process, not only for the victim reconstructing the story, but also for the persons representing the aggressor group. This form of telling and listening can be accomplished in the in small, leadership dialogue groups. But truth and reconciliation commissions that permit storytelling can also achieve this goal in large, public settings. The distinguished South African jurist, Richard Goldstone, who was also a prosecutor in the International Criminal Court in The Hague addressed the fairness and dignity question in a speech at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1997.
The most important aspect of justice is healing wounded people. I make this point because justice is infrequently looked at as a form of healing—a form of therapy for victims who cannot begin their healing process until there is some public acknowledgement of what has befallen them…. In South Africa, how do we deal with the past? Should we brush it under the carpet? Why reopen the sores? In Rwanda, how can we deal with a country that suffered one million dead in a genocide? In attempting to answer these questions, the people who should be consulted more than anyone else are the victims. What do they want and need for themselves and their families? …One thing I have learned in my travels in former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and South Africa is that where there have been egregious human rights violations which have gone unaccounted for, where there has been no justice, where the victims have not received any acknowledgement, where they have been forgotten, where there has been national amnesia, the effect is a cancer in the society and is the reason that explains the spiral of violence that the world has seen in former Yugoslavia for centuries and in Rwanda for decades, as obvious examples.
The healing effect of truth and reconciliation commissions varies considerably from one set of victims to another. The family of the late Steve Biko in South Africa strongly criticized the provisions of the Truth and Reconciliation law that provided for impunity for military or police political torture or murder if confessed to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). And a recent unpublished memorandum from Wilhelm Verwoerd in South Africa quotes a black South African saying, “What really makes me angry about the TRC and [its chairman, Archbishop Desmond] Tutu is that they are putting pressure on us to forgive…. I don’t know if I will ever be ready to forgive. I carry this ball of anger inside me and I don’t even know where to begin dealing with it. The oppression was bad, but what is much worse, what makes me even more angry, is that they are trying to dictate my forgiveness.
Yet, for all its obvious imperfections, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made a major contribution to South Africa’s transition to majority rule. Storytelling had its impact. A program on National Public Radio in Washington, D.C. on September 15, 1997, carried a statement by one of the members of the TRC named Mary Burton, a well-known human rights activist. She said. :
”One of the amazing things is the effect that telling their story has on people…I think of three mothers, for example, of young men who were killed, who were really bowed down by not only grief but long grief; long, exhausted grief…They were witnesses when some of the police who were involved in the incident were questioned at a public hearing…. I still couldn’t understand exactly why it seemed to have such a transforming effect on them, because on the final day of the hearings they went home singing and smiling and dancing…. And one of them said to me: ‘Now everybody knows, my neighbors know, that my son was not a criminal. He was a freedom fighter.’ For years she had been looked at as the mother of a criminal, and now she could hold up her head in her own circles. And so for her it was the public acknowledgment that was important. ”

3. Quanto il perdono è essenziale alla dimensione della riconciliazione? Alla radice della Sua cultura politica e/o della Sua fede religiosa quali sono i principi che implicano o escludono il perdono? Quali versi o detti che fanno parte del Suo personale patrimonio spirituale possono, nella sua opinione, avere un significato universale

Forgiveness is a complex issue for psychological reasons related to an individual and group or nation’s sense of justice and security as discussed below. From the Christian perspective—my tradition—the exhortation to forgive those who have harmed us are explicit in the sacred literature.
Forgiveness is the principle and practice which brings together the Christian values of humility, love, compassion and mercy together with the renunciation of the material world. Forgiveness is a defining feature of Christian identity, which recognizes that humanity is deeply flawed and yet always within reach of redemption and God’s mercy. More than an ideal, forgiveness is central part of Christian worship and identity, and is prominently stated in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Having faith in God is related directly to God’s forgiveness of one’s sins, and one’s ability to forgive others (Luke 5:20; 7:47-50; Matthew 18:35) As God forgives, so are Christians expected to forgive. The Bible is clear on this point: Mark (11:25) warns that “when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Matthew reinforces the point:
If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
Jesus’ many examples of forgiveness provide models for Christians. Jesus even begs God to forgive those who had physically tortured and were killing him, for “they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). For those that do know what they have done, Christians are expected to confess their transgressions in full sincerity in order to be assured of God’s forgiveness and reward. It is the promise of God’s merciful forgiveness for the sincere repentant that distinguishes Christian belief.
The transformation of the heart, being so important to Christian faith, is essential to forgiveness. Matthew 18:35 asks Christians to “forgive your brother from your heart” if they are to receive the blessings of God’s forgiveness and find peace. So important is this principle that it is a defining feature of Christian practice. To be Christian means to forgive when asked by another in sincerity. Luke (7:47-50) describes the relationship between love, faith and the forgiveness of sins:
47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.
When Jesus was asked whether there were limits to such acts, if after the seventh time of bestowing forgiveness to a repeat offender that was enough, Jesus replied, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). Luke (17:3-4) reaffirms this:
So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him. (See abrahamicfamilyreunion.org “Ethics and Pro-Social Values in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam,” by Lynn Kunkle.)
What complicates the literal compliance with Christian requirements to forgive is the real world psychological resistance especially of large identity groups and nations to forgive those who have hurt them.
In cases of the effectiveness of forgiveness in individuals, psychotherapists have offered positive evidence. The greatest success was with adults who have suffered mental and physical abuse as children. This, among other things, severely undermined their sense of self-worth. The question is how does a person let go of past humiliation and injustice, his victimhood? Some therapists come to think that they become spiritual confessors. They listen to all the client wishes to say, suspend moral judgment, and exhibit tolerance and acceptance, thereby freeing their client to let go of past hatreds, including elements of self-hatred. What is clear is that the act of forgiveness is unilateral, a fact which is helpful in individual therapy, where the “aggressor” mothers or fathers may be dead, but unilateralism is rarely helpful in the resolution of political conflicts.
Some therapists have found that for some clients anger makes them feel alive and wards off the threat of possible emptiness in their lives. Further, many individuals see revenge as a signs of strength and forgiveness as weakness. Unilateral forgiveness begs many questions in ethnic conflicts which can only be based on a relationship with the adversary. Transforming a victimhood psychology into a normal relationship in political conflict requires interaction—essentially the negotiation of a new political and social contract between previous enemies.
There is support of the point by Judith Lewis Herman makes in Trauma and Recovery. In trying to work through the psychological impact of traumatic violence, victims may generate a fantasy of forgiveness—or be urged to forgive by outsiders. In this situation victims imagine that they can rise above their rage and “erase the impact of the trauma through a willed, defiant act of love. But,” Herman continues, “it is not possible to exorcise the trauma, either through hatred or love…the fantasy of forgiveness often becomes a cruel torture…. True forgiveness cannot be granted until the perpetrator has sought and earned it through confession, repentance, and restitution” (pp. 189-90).

4. Il perdono richiede qualche forma di pentimento da parte di coloro a cui il perdono viene offerto? Il perdono ha condizioni o è senza condizioni?

Clearly one of the most daunting tasks in the psychodynamic approach to international conflict resolution is to persuade victimizers or their descendants to offer meaningful, unambiguous and unqualified apology to the victimized group or nation.
Beyond the fact that meaningful apology requires moral courage, there is the inhibition that the victimized individual, group or nation might use the apology as a weapon to exact crippling reparations or to visit political revenge upon the leaders or body offering the apology. Many observers of the Turkish-Armenian case believe one of the obstacles to unambiguous acceptance by Turkey of responsibility for the 1915-16 massacres of Armenians is the fear that Armenians would demand massive financial compensation.
Despite the difficulties in carrying out contrition/forgiveness transactions between perpetrators and their victims, there are signs that the idea is becoming more powerful in the public discussion of the resolution of protracted ethnic and sectarian conflict. The American writer, Cynthia Ozick, joined the debate in the wake of the murder of Muslim worshipers by Baruch Goldstein, a deranged Israeli settler from Brooklyn, at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in February 1994. In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, Ozick urged contrition as a primary assertion of effective leadership, an example of the political power of sorrow, shame and grief:
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What is required… as an element of realpolitik is an understanding that mutual contrition, even more than the resolution of issues of acreage and border patrols, must be the next step in the [Israel-Palestinian] peace process…. Hardheaded politicos will no doubt scoff at the notion of mutual contrition as a way of… enhancing the negotiations. They will think it too soft a proposal, smacking of the useless high ground, unserious, devoid of pragmatism. But no way… can be more serious, more allied to truth-telling, more effective and more profoundly practical (New York Times, March 2, 1994, p. A15).”
No less a student of the meaning of Jewishness in the modern era than Hanna Arendt (1958) wrote that forgiveness was essential to human freedom. “Only through this constant mutual release from what they do can men remain free agents, only by constant willingness to change their minds and start over again can they be trusted with so great a power as that to begin something new.” Lawrence Weschler, a staff writer for “The New Yorker,” quoted Arendt and in an eloquence of his own wrote:
“True forgiveness is achieved in community: it is something people do for each other and with each other–and, at a certain point, for free. It is history working itself out as grace, and it can be accomplished only in truth. That truth, however, is not merely knowledge: it is acknowledgment, it is a coming-to-terms-with, and it is a labor (April 5, 1993, pp. 4,6).”
Cynthia Ozick, the late Hannah Arendt and Lawrence Weschler each in their distinct way have played a leadership role–literally showing the way–in trying to instruct the broad public in the essence of peacemaking. Each has recognized the difficulty for senior political leaders of consistently or even intermittently exerting moral leadership in the raucous and sometimes violent arena of politics. And so there seems to be a constant need for moral– lifesaving–leadership from other sectors of society.
Based on your experience on working with reconciliation and forgiveness what are the structure and activities you would offer for a universal council on reconciliation?
The inescapable lesson of this analysis of the burdens of history on ethnic and sectarian conflicts is that even the most brilliant negotiator can at best help make a temporary deal between adversaries unless he or she also advances a genuine process of healing the wounds of history. It is distressing, even tragic, that diplomats, most politicians, and almost all professors of political science and international relations are ignorant of this relentless reality. The scientific evidence for the critical importance of healing is available as are methods and processes for carrying it out. Political leaders can acknowledge publicly the moral debts of their nations; senior clergy can do the same for their followers. Historians can undertake their own truth commissions in reviewing and revising tendentious studies and textbooks the way French and German scholars did after World War II. Television documentaries and public affairs programs can address the burdens of history. Educational tourism for both sides in an historic conflict can help people to come to terms with the past, or even rediscover some shared past glories with their contemporary enemies. Poets, playwrights, painters, sculptors, and composers can use their media to communicate messages of atonement.
There have been brave, if fitful, attempts to integrate healing processes into formal peacemaking. The important gestures of British Prime Minister Tony Blair in asking forgiveness of the Irish people for England’s policy during the potato famine is an example. Another example occurred when the U.S. State Department’s Middle East peace team of Dennis Ross and Aaron Miller tried, unsuccessfully, to arrange for Yasser Arafat to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. in 1998. The diplomats thought that Arafat’s symbolic acknowledgement of the burdens of history on the Jewish people might increase Jewish trust in the peace process. Ironically, while Arafat was ready to make the visit, an official of the Holocaust Museum, unmoved by the gesture toward healing, blocked it.
But the struggle to raise public consciousness of the critical importance of actual healing in political relationships must and will continue. Perhaps the skeptics will be impressed finally by the efforts of the halt and lame Pope John Paul II. In the Jubilee Year 2000, exerting every fiber of his body to travel to the appropriate sites to acknowledge the moral debts of Christendom to its victims throughout the centuries: the Orthodox, the Muslim and Christian victims of the Crusaders, those savaged by the Inquisition, but above all to the Jewish people. Perhaps a new definition of realpolitik might emerge from these efforts that emphasize the essential role of reconciliation in diplomacy and peacemaking. Perhaps the idea of justice, in its broadest sense, will find its way into the thinking and agendas of diplomats and statesmen.
A universal council on reconciliation could and should coordinate all the appropriate official and unofficial actions of acknowledgement and contrition cited above—and hope that they result in a measure of forgiveness.

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