September 22, 2018

Forgiveness in International Relations

By Israel Rafalovich.

The argument about war and justice is still a political and moral issue.

Decisionmakers and victims alike have to examine the moral issues of warfare and at the same time, with the growing awareness of religion, pay attention to the status of religion on the subject of forgiveness in international relations.

The questions that arise are: what is the role of forgiveness and religion in international relations? And, how can we deal with tough issues in international relations through forgiveness?

In today’s world it is more and more clear that war and peace do not present a simple dichotomy.

Countries do not say to each other “I forgive you”. In international politics asking for forgiveness is not something that happens spontaneously, but is a rational decision that comes after a long process and sometimes an emotional motive drives the request for forgiveness as well as political pragmatism. More than anything else, forgiveness is a conscious choice. In politics it is never about forgetting but about remembering in a certain way.

This is also the significance of image. A country that has committed a moral wrong in the past would ask for forgiveness because it wants to show its citizens and the world a different image and therefore will also engage in the ethics of forgiveness. Forgiveness has hardly been a traditional value in world affairs, as there is a kind of resistance in linking politics with forgiveness.

Forgiveness as a political strategy has rarely appeared, until lately, on the diplomatic scene. The concept is foreign to most secular philosophies, not only because forgiveness is mostly consigned to personal matters, but also because of our geopolitical times.

Let’s make it clear, forgiveness cannot be imposed, it is a process as justice plays a large role in the political forgiveness process for there is no real justice without forgiveness. Public confessions of wrongdoing and the request for forgiveness have been rare in modern history. But, at the same time, never before has there been an era of public contrition for mistakes and atrocities of the 20th century.

The Pope has declared that the Holocaust was an “indelible stain” on the 20th century. The fact that his statement was delivered in Israel shows how remorse can be a function of politics. Forgiveness has a marked effect and can open doors to remarkable instances of reconciliation and has the potential of being enormously influential in international relations of the 21st century. In several of the world’s centre-stage conflicts, forgiveness has made an entrance, helping repair broken relationships in fractious societies.

Many conflicts of the past decade are rooted less in the intangible thing of religion, ethnicity and group identity.

Forgiveness has a spiritual component and involves acknowledgment, contrition and forgiveness. It cannot be imposed and depends on our acknowledgment of the power and depth of God’s love. This is the aspect which connects us with a higher mind, our spiritual essence of who we truly are. It requires from politicians inner strength, maturity and the willingness to see a situation from a different angle.

They have to be able to develop empathy for their enemies and not invest themselves in dehumanising their enemies.

Forgiveness has to be possible in politics if there is to be any hope of former enemies being able to co-exist as members of the international community. We learn the need to forgive and be forgiven from our experience of living together with others. In forgiveness we affirm our readiness to act anew and to establish new relationships. When we do achieve the goal of being neighbours to people who were once our enemies, then we will see forgiveness in politics in action.

In order to see things from a different angle we have to accept the belief that there is a spiritual basic goodness in each of us and this gives us the ability to love and recognise our connection with humanity.

This inner spiritual touch is the one that makes it possible for us to view the world we live in in a different way. The spiritual will to forgive frees us to do the emotional work of forgiving for it has to do with uniting people through practical politics. The behind-the scenes efforts of religious organisations are aimed at not just reaching agreement but at healing the wounds that are the root of any conflict.

Forms of informal diplomacy had involved religious or spiritually motivated organisations such as the Quakers in Nigeria, the Mennonites in Central America and Catholics in Zimbabwe. The challenges we face in the 21st century are severe and societies will have to undergo changes if we want to be able to face the challenges that lie ahead of us.

Forgiveness is an important factor if we want to achieve a lasting peace. Otherwise, we will hear only the voices of scepticism. The readiness to forgive will create possibilities for truth-telling and the courage to take political responsibility.

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About the author: Israel Rafalovich, is a journalist now based in Brussels who has 51 years of experience with international in Tel-Aviv, Brussels, Bonn and Washington, DC. He covers the Europe and the European institutions and writes a weekly column on international Relations.

Israel Rafalovich, is currently writing a book on the subject of forgiveness in international relations.

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