Apologize, Apologize, Do Not Feel Free to Avert Your Eyes

Recently, Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa said it would be
"wonderful if [Mr. Obama] would apologize for the U.S.-led invasion of
Iraq on behalf of the American people."

Such an act would submit our nation to the power of forgiveness, which
is what Nelson Mandela did when he became president of South Africa.

Recently, Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa said it would be
"wonderful if [Mr. Obama] would apologize for the U.S.-led invasion of
Iraq on behalf of the American people."

Such an act would submit our nation to the power of forgiveness, which
is what Nelson Mandela did when he became president of South Africa.

Forgiveness may seem too simplistic and naive to do much good, however,
clinical psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela of South Africa has
studied how forgiveness helped her nation heal both victims and
perpetrators from the ghastly crimes of apartheid.

When individuals forgive each other, she said, a "transcendence of the
heart begins with a recognition that gross human rights violations were
committed." This is done by telling--and listening--to stories about
what happened to individuals in a particular incident.

An "empathetic repair" takes place where both perpetrator and victim
are able to encounter each other's humanity because each person has
exposed him or herself "to the naked face of evil" that is within
him/her.

What is most interesting in this dynamic is that through forgiveness,
the perpetrator has a vehicle for expressing remorse and suddenly finds
he has an opening to his conscience that he silenced long ago in order
to do evil deeds. In effect, he dehumanized himself while trying to
dehumanize another! By asking forgiveness, he re-engages himself with
those he wronged and thus "re-captures" his lost humanity.

Gobodo-Madikizela illustrated how this worked in an American setting.
Kim Phuc, now an international speaker and an ambassador for UNESCO,
was the naked Vietnamese girl running down a road screaming from the
napalm burning through her skin, as depicted in the 1972 Pulitzer
Prize-winning photo.

One day Kim spoke to a group of U.S. veterans and recalled the napalm
incident. She admitted that while "we can't change history, we can work
together to change the future." She added that someday she hoped to
meet the man who dropped the napalm.

Soon after her speech she received a note that said: "I am that man."
The man came forward and the two of them embraced with her sobbing: "I
forgive. I forgive. I forgive."

Gobodo-Madikizela noted that this encounter was "a gesture of so much
grace" and a "turning point of transformation." Here was a woman
reaching out to the man who had done an evil deed against her--and he
responded. And "there was no training involved, no 12-step program."

Gobodo-Madikizela is quick to point out that forgiveness does not mean
that the evil done is forgotten. Instead, she said that "the spirits of
vengeance must be transcended." In this way, a "moral humanity" sets in
where care, compassion and empathy free both victim and perpetrator
from the past and open them to healing.

"This is the beginning of hope," she said.

While we can't realistically expect President Obama to apologize to
Iraq, Americans everywhere can ask the people of Iraq forgiveness
through various acts of kindness and outreach. For example, we can
adopt various cities in Iraq as sister cities. We can devise programs
to connect with Iraqis. We can support our Iraq and Afghanistan
veterans in their own healing process for the violence they may have
committed. We can hold public forums, demonstrations, educational
programs to understand how and why our government encourages militarism.

Maybe, just maybe, with all our small efforts compounded, we could
start a movement that would compel President Obama to apologize for
Iraq and help our nation recoup its moral authority before the world.

The times are calling us to create a new era where citizens take the
initiative to do what our government can't do. Through forgiveness, we
not only begin the healing in ourselves but we cut a new path for our
democracy--together.