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Forgiveness: breaking the chain of hate.

Forgiveness: breaking the chain of hate by Michael Henderson BookPartners, Oregon, 1999 ISBN 1-68151-050-0

Twenty years ago there were few books available on forgiveness; now there is a spate of them. Michael Henderson's is one of the latest, and strong as well as intriguing because he puts together many disparate peoples and histories, ranging from the problems of the Aborigines in Australia, the Good Friday Agreement and other initiatives between Britain and Ireland, to attempts to overcome racial and ethnic attitudes in North America and Africa. He has filled his narrative with individuals too, some unsung, some famous like Nelson Mandela and Pope John Paul II, who has often admitted his church's failures or asked forgiveness for them.

Henderson is a bold writer, with a background in journalism, so perhaps is incautious in some statements. Early in his book he claims that Mandela-like attitudes seemed to appear in profusion in 1998, with apologies from the United Church of Canada to native Canadians for abuse in churchoperated schools and an apology from Italy to Ethiopia for its occupation in the 1930s. But some will want to question his listing of an apology from Tony Blair for Britain's role in the Irish famine of the 1840s, because the Prime Minister only admitted to the Irish his sense of regret. Similarly President Menem of Argentina only expressed regret for the Falklands/Malvinas conflict in the British newspaper, The Sun, despite that paper's headline suggesting the President had made an apology. Indeed, Henderson himself admits on p102 that `President Menem was criticized for his expression of regret because it might be interpreted as an apology', although on p16 he has asserted, `the President of Argentina apologized to the British for the Falklands/Malvinas war'.

Clearly, as he assembled his material, Henderson found he was dealing not only with forgiveness but with its relation to history; to contrition; to justice; to apology and to reconciliation. Later, too, he found the need to write about the relation of forgiveness to reparation as he documented the financial arrangements made by the US to Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II and their descendants.

Henderson admits forgiveness is hard, but so is the alternative. Forgiveness can be found in all faith communities, he explains, citing the Dalai Lama's attitude to the Chinese who have so abused Tibet; the change that occurred in Mahatma Gandhi's grandson over the assassination of Pakistan's Prime Minister, Liaqat Ali Khan, which he had initially welcomed; and the work of Jews, Christians and Muslims at Open House in Israel. Here he tells in some detail the story of this house in Ramle, once owned by an Arab family, then--after their expulsion--acquired by a Jewish one, and now turned over by the daughter of the first Jewish occupant to peace and community work in the town.

Always something of a mystery, forgiveness is also a gift, indicates Henderson, citing a Bosnian priest. It can transform and ennoble people. Indeed, hatred can be replaced by love. As he starts his survey of many of the world's trouble spots, he admits that there is a `link between personal and institutional forgiveness' but leaves the social and foreign policy implications `to those who are better qualified to tackle the subject'. He does concede, however, that politicians have been `nervous about forgiveness', perhaps, I suggest, because of, possible demands if wrong-doing by the state is admitted?

In one area, Britain and Ireland, Henderson does venture forth, claiming that `Repentance and apology alone cannot assure forgiveness or guarantee a settlement that lasts. But it is hard to think that a settlement is possible without it.' He is at his best when recounting stories like National Sorry Day in Australia, where attempts are being made to heal the wounds between the Aborigines and the Europeans who went there, and the personal encounter between Eric Lomax and Nagase Takashi from Japan, who had been involved in Lomax's experiences as a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II.

I personally wish he had given clear references for his sources but am glad he draws attention to the heights of grace some attain. But lest some consider such heights unscalable, he ends his resume with the Clean Slate Campaign from Oxford, and its suggestion that any individual can take one wrong in his or her life and put it right.

Available from BookPartners Inc, PO Box 922, Wilsonville, Or 97070, USA, price $18.45 including postage, or from Grosvenor Books, Tirley Garth, Tarporley, Cheschire, CW6 0LZ, UK, Price [pounds sterling] 11.50 including postage.
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Publication:For A Change
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 2000
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