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Political Forgiveness

by Russell Day

essay by Maggie Helass Volume 1, number 8, Winter 2004 The terrain of political forgiveness is in the early days of exploration-its cartographers will be revising and refining their maps for a long time. So argues Russell Daye, a United Church of Canada minister who is currently lecturing in the Department of Theology and Ethics, Pacific Theological College, Fiji.

The evolution of international human rights has been marked by truth commissions operating in Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia-usually in the period of transition from a less to a more democratic government.

Daye, author of Political Forgiveness-Lessons from South Africa, cites the current strife in the Middle East, the land struggles in Central America, the communal violence in India, the massacres in Afghanistan, and the civil wars in Central Africa as examples of fresh twists and turns in old stories of opposing interests, unequal power relationship, and ghosts of violence past. (In his Afterword, Daye includes post 9/11 developments as another chapter of the same old story.)

“Perhaps the most remarkable illustration of this point is the seemingly endless series of hostilities in the Balkans. To quote Donald Shriver: ‘The world cringes at a Serb’s willingness to kill a Muslim in revenge for ancestors who fought the Battle of Kosovo in the year 1389’ .” Political forgiveness is a new realm of ethical thought, growing exponentially with the need to end stubborn conflicts and heal wounds-especially with weapons of mass destruction now on the market for anyone who can afford them.

Apologies on behalf of governments, churches and other institutions have become a part of public discourse. Beneath the surface of these healing processes and acts of contrition lies a common theme-the need for forgiveness. Daye rhetorically poses the question why social and political forgiveness has not been a larger part of public discourse, and suggests three sticking points-


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