Carole St. Laurent's blog

Forgiveness saved his life - can it save the world?

Tonight, as I was cooking dinner, I browsed my list of podcasts and chose CBC Ideas. I clicked today's show, and was surprised to hear the voice of my friend, Jean Paul Samputu. Jean Paul Samputu is the man who gives me the most hope of anyone in the world that forgiveness is humanly possible, even after the most vicious atrocities.

Jean Paul Samputu is a Rwandan, and he lost numerous members of his family in the genocide. What's even more shocking, his best friend and neighbour was the one who killed them. The unspeakable loss, and learning who caused it, was more than Jean Paul could bear. He told me he almost lost his life drowning his sorrows (and memories) with alcohol for years. The thing that saved him was forgiving his friend.

 

“Jean Paul Samputu is the man who gives me the most hope of anyone in the world that forgiveness is humanly possible, even after the most vicious atrocities.”

 

The thing that made forgiving the man he had vowed to kill possible was finally accepting the fact that forgiveness was for his own healing, not for the killer's. It didn't minimise the atrocities. It didn't condone them. It didn't mean the perpetrator should not be prosecuted. It meant that Jean Paul could finally move on with his life because he had redeemed it from hatred.

The second half of the program is an interview with Payam Akhavan, author of the Report on the Work of the Office of the Special Advisor of the United Nations Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide (2005), Chairman of the Global Conference on the Prevention of Genocide (2007), co-producer of the documentary film “Genos.Cide: The Great Challenge” (2009).

Akhayan's research confirms that we need to prevent genocides before they happen - when they are just words - by combatting hate speech, radical people-group identification, and dehumanisation of the other. He counts the prevention of genocides in Burundi and Macedonia as silent successes of prevention, while lamenting the difficulty that even global human rights experts have acting on prevention before there is physical violence to condemn. Unfortunately, there are numerous situations today in which radical "us and them" ideologies are causing or condoning human rights abuses and killing.

 

“Forgiveness is the most powerful underutilized weapon against terrorism and atrocities.” Jean Paul Samputu

 

Years ago, Jean Paul Samputu told me, "Forgiveness is the most powerful underutilized weapon against terrorism and atrocities." In fact, we created a website to promote his dream of a global "forgiveness campaign" to share his conviction - and miraculous example - of forgiveness, wherever it was needed in the world. Today, I wish Jean Paul was speaking to the Islamic State, counteracting their social media campaign, promoting peace in Israel and Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan, and countless other countries.

As believers in peace, the least we can do is forgive more quickly and generously in our personal lives. Then, we can lend our voice honestly to the truth that our common humanity far outweighs our political, religious, or ethnic differences, wherever our heart is leading us to speak the loudest.

Listen to the CBC Ideas program, Rwanda Reconciliation, and learn more about the impressive speakers

Listen to Jean Paul Samputu's music (I'm listening to it as I post this)

Two Boys, Two Dreams

I saw two films at the Jayu Human Rights Film Festival today, both first-person accounts from eloquent boys. Faridullah's Day Off was a touching account of a young boy from Afghanistan who dreams of going to school, instead of the brick factory, when the muezzen's call to prayer awakens the family each day. Rising in the darkness, the whole family - from the 5-year-old daughter to the father - march to work in the barren, exposed wasteland in which they make bricks. Debts for food and shelter since their house was bombed will probably keep Faridullah an indentured worker his whole life.

"Other children hold book and pencils. I hold a shovel," says Faridullah. "I'm tired of being tough. But I'm doing my best."

Wiping his brick-dusted cheek with his dusty hands, he falls asleep to dream of owning a restaurant with a garden. He and his sisters would eat well and enjoy life, giving free meals to people who couldn't pay. I pray his hard life doesn't harden his generous heart. His final advice to children - "Working is good, but only work part-time, so you can study." May a generous soul give him that chance.

 

“I'm tired of being tough. But I'm doing my best.” Faridullah in Faridullah's Day Off

 

Serendipitous Day in Haifa

Sculpture of woman holding dove by Ursala Malbin, Peace Garden, HaifaAfter visiting the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa, which closed at noon, I had no itinerary. I started walking down the hill.

“Lady, lady!” A stranger was calling me from a car.

“Yes?” I answered.

“Abraham said you needed a tour guide.” Abraham was the Kenyan security guard at Baha’i Gardens I’d been speaking with about his faith.

“Actually, I do. What do you suggest?”

Chaim gets out a map and points out the possibilities. We decide on an itinerary and a price. I enter the cab, grateful for Abraham’s initiative, and the bonus of seeing the historic town of Akko today. It’s much more efficient to travel with a local guide and dedicated transport.

Our first stop was aptly named the Peace Garden. A Jewish sculptor from Germany, Ursula Malbin, donated the sculptures years ago. I especially like the one of a woman holding a dove – a beautiful expression of peace.

Divine Appointments

Baha'i Gardens and HaifaOn my second day in Israel, I sought my own peace. My plan was to meditate at Baha’i Gardens in Haifa, renowned for its beauty. A Baha’i friend described to me years ago in Toronto; today I can finally see it.

With ample time, I adventurously decide to travel by bus and train. While I feel illiterate in this land of signs that I can’t even decipher the letters of, friendly Israelis explain that I need bus #5, not 5A. As the minutes — and 3 more 5A buses go by — I get anxious about time.

At the train station, trusting that hand signs and “Haifa” sufficed to buy me a return ticket that I can’t read, I realise that I just missed the train. My anxiety increases. I counteract it by thanking God for missing the train, praying that God will redeem the time with divine appointments.

The youngest soldier I’ve ever seen drops his pack in front of me. Unused to seeing soldiers, especially ones who look like teenagers, I try not to be obvious in my stare.

“Hello,” I say, hoping this is a divine appointment. I would love to talk to an Israeli soldier.

“What’s your thing?” Peace.

Jaffa port, IsraelOn my friend’s recommendation, on my first evening in Tel Aviv, I walked through Jaffa port. Alighting at the clock tower, the street bustled with open air restaurants, kiosks, groups of teenagers, wandering couples. The sight and sound of the sea attracted my eye. I went to investigate, and capture the light with my camera.

Meandering around the coastline, I came to a harbour where boats were moored and men were fishing. When tiny lights on their lines submerged, they knew they'd caught a fish.

“Do you like what you see?,” a stranger asked, following the eye of my lens to a pile of nets.

“Yes,” I said, appreciating the colours and contours of net and boat.

“What’s your thing?,” he continued.

“Peace,” I replied.

Maybe humour is spiritual dancing

I hoped I'd sleep for 24 hours after my 24 hour overnight flight, but I awoke suddenly and finally after 8 hours. I opened the curtains to my first view of Tel Aviv in daylight. The bright sun reflected brilliantly off the white buildings. I craned my neck to peek west from my north-facing window and saw the Mediterranean sea.

Tel Aviv view from hotel Tel Aviv view from hotel

On my way to Israel

At 11 PM I board the first plane and settle into my seat. I'm on my way to Israel.

What's Going On? Caitlin Clark's powerful poem about Ferguson

One month ago, Michael Brown was shot dead in Ferguson, Missouri. That an unarmed black teenager was killed by a police officer charged to keep the peace is a tragedy. That tanks and tear gas were used to quell protests against the shooting in the democratic United States of America is a travesty.

Listening to radio and TV reports, I felt as though I was living through the civil rights movement of the 60's. The incident, and subsequent suppression of citizens' and journalists' rights, were dismaying. Then I heard Caitlin Clark recite her powerful poem about the crisis. It moved me to tears over breakfast.

Listen to Caitlin Clark recite her poem to Marvin Gaye's civil rights anthem, What's Going On

Who's listening to the children?

We've heard a lot in the news recently about the unaccompanied migrant children from Latin America, who feel so threatened by gangs and violence at home that they make the treacherous journey to seek safety and asylum in the United States. The conditions that these children face at home is tragic; no one, let alone children, should face such day-to-day violence that they feel safer fleeing from home and country alone than staying with their families. I am distressed that when they do make it to "safety," the US government is more concerned about deporting than in protecting these vulnerable children.

But as I've followed the issue and listened to the discourse, there is a striking omission - who is listening to the children? Everyone is talking about them, but it seems that no one is talking with them. So not only are their human rights for life and security threatened; their right to be heard is being violated as well.

A Literary Human Rights Defender Dies

Nadine Gordimer, South African author and human rights defender, died yesterday, at age 90. A prolific writer, Gordimer published over 30 books, as well as short stories depicting the consequences of apartheid and alienation.

Gordimer was a member of the African National Congress, fought for Nelson Mandela's release, and once it was realised, the two became good friends.

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