It is a strange truth that the actions of someone who I consider to be one of the most blatant warmongering individuals on the planet propelled me onto the path of peace.
In February 2003 I went on the ‘Stop the War’ march in London’s Hyde Park where over a million people tried to convince Tony Blair that invading Iraq was not something the British people wanted. ‘NOT IN OUR NAME!’ screamed the placards and yelled the protestors. With the war in Iraq imminent, I remember feeling a level of frustration and fury that I’d never felt about any political situation before. I was convinced that attempting to bomb Iraq into a democracy and removing its dictator from power would only make matters much worse.
But Tony Blair turned a blind eye to the largest political demonstration in London’s history and one million people’s anger had no political impact whatsoever other than to motivate and mobilise people like me.
From that moment on I felt compelled to do whatever I could to reinforce the counter-argument. Within the year I had founded a charity which collects and shares real stories of forgiveness as a way of building understanding around intolerance and enabling people to reconcile and move forward from pain and trauma. Anger was my spur.
There is often a false dichotomy between forgiveness and anger. Anger has its place on the path to peace. As Marian Partington, whose sister was one of the victims of serial killers Fred and Rosemary West, has said, “Forgiveness for me began with murderous rage.”
Anger is also the fuel of protest and protest has a long track record of improving lives and eradicating injustice. After the Charleston Church Shooting, when some victims’ families spoke instantaneously of forgiveness, a number of black activists pointed out that people needed to be angry because anger is a motivation for change and any refusal to accept anger as a necessary, positive human response was a dangerous excuse to ignore racism.
Anger has seeded great creative works too. We Are Many is a documentary film by Amir Amirani which in my mind is one of the most remarkable and yet overlooked documentaries of this decade. Remarkable because it documents a shift in the consciousness of humanity, and overlooked because there are still forces at work who seek to bury it.
The late Tony Benn’s final comments in the film explain perfectly the positive force of anger. Change can occur he says when there are two forces at work –“anger about injustice and optimism that you can make a better world.”
Amirani also went on the London 2003 march and his indignation at Tony Blair for refusing to listen to the demonstrators led to a 12 year project exploring the causes and consequences of the February 2003 global day of protest against the Iraq War. We Are Many is a hymn to protest and the most potent and accurate record that we have of the anti-war movement of that time.
To mark the 15th anniversary of 9/11, Stacy Bannerman adds her voice to The Forgiveness Project’s bank of stories. It is another forgiveness story that grew out of anger and moral outrage. This is more than a story about forgiving the brutal violence of her Iraq war veteran husband but also a story about forgiving the American people who supported a war based on lies, including the distortion that Iraq was in some way responsible for the September 11th terror attacks.
“I wanted everyone who supported that war to suffer,” she says. “I blamed the 76% of people in this country who wanted that war, and the 99% of Americans who sacrificed nothing for it. I blamed them for all of my friends’ kids who were killed in Iraq, or who killed themselves when they got back. I blamed them for the deaths of the military spouses I knew who had been murdered by their returning veteran.”
Bannerman’s transformation came through a realization that she couldn’t live the rest of her life controlled by the need for vengeance. Forgiveness is often a pragmatic choice, a decision to compromise and release your moral indignation. “I decided that being reconciled to what had happened was more important than being right about why it never should have occurred,” she says understanding that forgiveness will never change the past, but it can change the present, which is where the future starts.