In March we held two Forgiveness Conversations, one in London and the other in Bristol. The London event took place at St Ethelburga’s Center for Reconciliation and Peace and featured a screening of the timely and important documentary JIHAD:The story of the others. This was followed by a panel discussion chaired by counter extremism expert Ross Frenett who talked to filmmaker Deeyah Khan and one of the film’s main protagonists Abu Muntasir. Known as the “godfather” of the British jihadi movement, in the 1980s and 1990s Abu Muntasir recruited dozens of young men to fight in foreign wars.
At the event he spoke powerfully of having once held a worldview that thrived by creating an illusion of having a monopoly on the truth. He explained to a captivated audience how he came to understand that to counter violent extremism you have to have humility and not be afraid of uncertainty. “You have to introduce doubt, restore the balance and then look for alternatives,” he said.
Deeyah Khan spoke of growing up as a Muslim woman in Europe and being told that violent extremism was happening because of Islam. As an artist and filmmaker she felt the need to reveal the human experience and perspectives that enable this kind of behaviour to take place. “My goal is to see ourselves in the other. And to do that we have to admit to the ugliness and the beauty of ourselves,” she said.
In Bristol as part of the city’s Festival of Ideas programme we explored the theme of Long Shadows of the Past – surviving intergenerational trauma with three women who had been impacted by the 2nd World War in very different ways. Hanneke Coates is a survivor of the Japanese concentration camps on the island of Java where she was held for 4 years as a child; Dr Marian Liebmann belongs to a 2nd Generation group, which discusses how their parents’ connection with the Holocaust (in Marian’s case Jewish refugees from Germany) has affected them; and artist Angela Findlay talked about her personal process of discovering and coming to terms with the role played by her German grandfather, a decorated Wehrmacht General. The themes which kept emerging were those of guilt, shame, silence and forgiveness with all three speakers addressing the fundamental question – how do we restore relationships that have been so brutally broken?
Dr Duncan Morrow who for the past 30 years has worked to build reconciliation in Northern Ireland chaired the discussion. “Ordinary people can be part of a group that does extraordinary and terrible things,” he said, speaking poignantly about the impossible and yet essential need for forgiveness in a conflict where truth and facts are so often unobtainable. As one audience member put it, “Breaking the cycle of trauma is about breaking the cycle of silence.”
More Forgiveness Conversation will be taking place later in the year. To be kept updated, please join our mailing list.