Commemorations


Just wanted to get a couple of thoughts in:

Yesterday (November 10) was the 523rd birthday of Protestant reformer Martin Luther. Tomorrow (the 12th) is the 189th birthday of Baha’i prophet Baha’u’llah. Sandwiched in between is the day designated by the United States to honor the veterans of our wars. Two minutes of silence.

Two significant events occurred within the last week or two No, I’m not referring, this time, to elections in the United States, nor to the resignations of the Secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Republican National Committee.

  • P.W. Botha died at his home, age ninety years. Nelson Mandela released a statement giving him honor.
  • Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death by hanging. The current Iraqi prime minister called for him to be executed soon, before the completion of further legal proceedings.

Botha was the political leader of South Africa during some of the waning years of apartheid, and was responsible for keeping Nelson Mandela, who in those days was called a terrorist and a Communist by officials in the United States, in jail. Just to review a bit, while apartheid was in place the prevailing conventional wisdom was that whenever political reform would come about in South Africa, it would in all probability be with violent revolution, a bloodbath of reprisals on the part of the long-oppressed black majority against the white minority which was the ruling class. That this did not happen is due in no small measure to the introduction of the concept of reconciliation into the public discourse of that nation, and thus, also, the world.

Reconciliation is a biblical word and a biblical concept. I knew a pastor from Washington, D.C., who traveled to South Africa on a number of occasions to urge a course of reconciliation upon the religous and political leaders, both white and black, of that country. No doubt other voices were doing the same, and as the events unfolded, something called a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to mediate disputes, uncover wrongdoings, set the record straight, arrange wherever possible for restitution, and peaceably arrive at resolutions without recourse to retaliations or reprisals.

In Iraq, a different course of action has been pursued. The few voices calling for reconciliation were shouted down early on, on fears that somehow it would lead to wrongdoers not getting their just punishment. The former political leader of that country is extremely unlikely to be allowed to retire a free man to private life and live to a ripe old age. And a bloodbath is occurring, with violent reprisals against his former party by the newly enfranchised majority, with no end in sight.

Democracy came to one country by a process of intentional nonviolent reform that envisioned a path to forgiveness and full participation, and the man formerly labeled a terrorist and locked away for more than two and a half decades as a danger and a threat to peace became a senior statesman. In another country, the semblance of democracy has been imposed by bloodshed, hostile action of a foreign power, resulting in an escalating cycle of violence that threatens the whole region. Reconciliation is desperately needed, not as a nice wishy-washy liberal afterthought to be brought in after all the bad guys are brought to justice, but as a proven, practical way of bringing an end to conflict and making a real path to justice possible.

The survival into old age of P. W. Botha was a small price to pay for the restoration of a nation.

What will the execution of Saddam Hussein buy?

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