Arjuna Nagendran


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In the aftermath of war, genocide, or exploitation - Forgiveness helps more than justice.

Saw a fantastic TEDx talk today about the reactions of people after the ends of wars and genocides.. Examples from north Uganda, Sri Lanka and countless other conflicts worldwide.

What do you feel is the best way to address peoples' suffering?

Retribution from the judicial system? Or simply to forgive your enemies and move on?

Interested for opinions on this one..

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    Oct 14 2012: We should as much as possible not to mistake forgiveness with condoning evil. To condone evil is simply to ignore it, to treat it as if it were the normal or acceptable order of things.
    However, forgiveness needs to be accepted as well as offered if it is to be complete, and a man or woman who admits no guilt can accept no forgiveness.
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    Oct 16 2012: I think that a more clear distinction is required in your source questions. Fair judicial retribution is not revenge but an expression of cherishing humanity, human life and human values for those who suffered by war crimes or lost their lives.

    IMO, anything done blindly is wrong. Revenge can be very blind and that’s why it’s wrong. But also blind forgiveness is wrong. Blindly forgiving anybody who committed horrible crimes is very wrong. Retribution by judicial system is very necessary against those who committed war crimes or other crimes during a conflict. But this retribution should be restricted only against those who were actively involved in committing those crimes, including those who had instructed to commit those crimes or openly endorsed them.

    This type of judicial retribution is not revenge but a justice. But the retribution should not be turned inclusively or blindly against all the individuals of that crimes-committing side, because if so, it becomes revenge.
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      Oct 20 2012: I agree, judicial retribution is indeed necessary - the major purpose really serving as an example to others, to ensure that others realise that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions and that those who suffered can see this too.

      I think the punishment of the individual does not accomplish very much, they may change they may not, depending on multiple factors. They are also people of this world, and in my own opinion (against capital punishment) therefore also deserve a chance at rehabilitation, if not freedom to move outside of jail.

      The choice not to be specific in the question was deliberate. In the sense that when I refer to "peoples'" suffering, this can be interpreted as the suffering of the individual or the collective victiims.

      Judcial retribution, I feel, offers benefit for the collective victims of such crimes; however, IMO I believe that forgiveness is what will help the individual the most.

      Hatred of anything only serves to cause yourself to suffer further.
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    Oct 14 2012: Forgiveness is a goal. But there is a process to get there including the process of retribution and restoration. The underlying problem is not addressed if justice and retribution are not enacted.

    Look at what happened to Native American peoples. Genocide. When their lands were taken, treaties were drawn up. But because there was no retribution for the theft of the land, the treaties were disregarded or broken, over and over again. Reservations became smaller and unsustainable to the peoples regulated to them.

    When genocide failed, again because there was no retribution, the government tried assimilation. Many Native young people were sent away to boarding schools. Children lost the ability to understand what it meant to be part of a family and their parents lost the ability to learn how to parent. Not to mention the loss of culture.

    Again, no retribution and boarding schools were expensive, assimilation continued with the Indian Adoption Project. Native children were placed in adoption into other families, the poverty and conditions on the unsustainable reservation were unhealthy. Sometimes the children were taken based on quotas of how many male children were needed or how many female children could be placed.

    Native people complained but again there was no retribution. The law thought it was a good idea to place Native children in Native homes so the Indian adoption project was overturned in 1978.

    But again, no retribution. The lost children were lost. I wish I could say that the practice of taking Native children from their families has stopped but it has not. It continues today.

    Forgiveness is not possible because there has been no retribution and suffering continues.
  • Oct 15 2012: I say forgiveness.

    I probably sound to idealistic, but here it goes!

    To want the need for revenge is natural, because we all desire justice. However, I think that the line between justice and retribution is really blurry. But the distance I draw is that in justice, you are not in the state of mind that your oppresor was in when he/she caused pain to the victims. When you want retribution or revenge, you really are not any different from the passions of your oppresor.

    Just because you forgive someone, though, does not mean you are apt to erase the consequences of their actions; after all, there are consequences for everything you do.

    Retribution and revenge solve nothing, and if you give in to it, all you do is go around in a never-ending circle of pain, regret, guilt, and anger. The only way to break that is to forgive. It provides closure for both sides, and provides a new fresh start for both sides as well.

    For me, there should consequences if someone killed others, but it should not vengeful. Justice must be done as peaceful as it should be, and try to restore the individual to his full humanity. If he/she does not wish so, then this individual would be too much of a threat to others, and it would be our responsibility to keep this individual away from society. In short, the judicial system should be built to demonstrate our humanity, and the loss of the individual own self. Not the other way around.
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    Oct 14 2012: forgiving is entirely personal decision and it takes a lot of guts to do so.. but i think war criminals must be tried, apprehended, and punished to the extent of their crime.. what message it would send if they are not punished? you listen to war crime stories and its so horrible, you can't stand it (Bosnian war crimes).. Justice is something that might decrease the pain a little.. If no justice, then people might become revenge seekers themselves, taking matters into their hands..Even more disturbing is that these people might end up in company of wrong counselors..coz your mind doesn't work the same..
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    Oct 13 2012: There are the nations, cultures, or social groups involved in an atrocity, and then there are the individuals responsible for planning them and carrying them out. I believe that healing is best achieved by extending forgiveness to the former and justice to the latter.
  • Oct 13 2012: "What do you feel is the best way to address peoples' suffering?

    Retribution from the judicial system? Or simply to forgive your enemies and move on?"

    General pardon, except for those who committed war crimes, so you get a pardon if you were just a fighter fighting the other side's fighters, but you go to jail if you tortured, raped, maimed or killed civilians.
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      Oct 14 2012: Things are not always so black and white..sadly they usually aren't.

      Would you apply the same decision to child soldiers? Should they go to jail for killing civilians/torture/rape?

      Who is the victim when a conscripted child soldier kills a civilian? I would probably argue both.
      • Oct 14 2012: "Would you apply the same decision to child soldiers? Should they go to jail for killing civilians/torture/rape?"

        They should be tried, punishment will depend on your country's justice system (for example it may try 17 year olds as adults, or not, as long as it is consistent with the way civilian criminals are being prosecuted).

        "Who is the victim when a conscripted child soldier kills a civilian?"

        Since when does conscription mean you have to kill civilians? If you're talking about being forced to kill at gunpoint then that's something for the courts to figure out (were you really forced, did you have a chance to rebel? etc...). In any case you should not be allowed to walk free just because there is a possibility you were forced, once it has been established that you did commit the crimes it falls on you to show that you were forced. Otherwise it would be sloppy justice and you would see that suddenly everyone says they were conscripted.
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          Oct 14 2012: When I talk of conscripted child soldiers I talk of those in the ongoing wars of the Congo, or the previous one in North Uganda - Children are kidnapped from their parents, boys "brought up" in guerrilla armies to shoot machine guns with rewards of drugs and alcohol. These children did not volunteer to join, they are children, they are easily influenced and are just as much the victims of war. There is no "choice" to kill in that scenario, you either do as everyone else does, or you may face the same destiny as other victims.

          And if that the war ends and a child is now 18 or 19, would you try them for war crimes if they were conscripted at the age of 10? You expect them to prove they were forced, but really shouldn't it be for us to prove that they were not?

          It's all to easy to look a the victims of war as just those who are shot, but the psychological effects can ruin just as many lives if not more - I think a distinction must be drawn between war lords who start anti-government movements and soldiers, especially those conscripted as minors.

          I recommend watching the film: Blood Diamonds. It is Hollywood but does give a good depiction into the way children can be influenced by war when they know nothing else..
      • Oct 14 2012: "When I talk of conscripted child soldiers I talk of those in the ongoing wars of the Congo, or the previous one in North Uganda"

        I'm sure the courts will sort that out. It would be completely unfair for the courts not to give a verdict on the general case of the abducted, drugged child soldier, because a kid who steals his neighbors car does get prosecuted. It is important for the people to see that the system really weighed the problem in a proper court of law and did not just hand out a pardon because that would be the easy thing to do. I have no doubt most child soldiers would still be acquitted (perhaps in one mass trial) in the end, but the process is very important.

        "And if that the war ends and a child is now 18 or 19, would you try them for war crimes if they were conscripted at the age of 10?"

        I don't know any legal system that works that way, people are tried based on the age they had when they committed their crimes, not the age they have at the time of the trial.
  • Oct 20 2012: What amazing teachings Gandhi has left for us as gifts. I am not surprised that this quote is by him. Thank you Arjuna!
  • Oct 19 2012: Upon thinking about this a bit more, I would say that forgiveness helps those who have suffered and have survived but justice helps society avoid perpetuating more suffering. And so, it seem that forgiveness and justice and are best blended with a measure of both.

    I like what Yubal Masalker had to say about fair, judicial retribution being distinctly different than revenge.

    There is a saying that "An Eye for an Eye makes the world blind" It is important that justice be practiced in an effective manner to end suffering and not to inflict more suffering as vengeful punishment.

    There are times when there is no justice, as in my case, and so for me, forgiveness has been paired with a dedication to work for justice for others.
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      Oct 20 2012: Hi Juniper,

      Great quote - the saying is attributed to Gandhi, adaptation of the original "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" :)

      I think your view here is closer to what my feelings are about this issue. A blend is required - but I feel that judicial retribution really has the greatest role for society and victims as a group.

      For the individual, as I said in my response below to Yubal Masalker, I think that working towards forgiveness is really the best thing to relieve their suffering.
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    Oct 17 2012: Forgiveness is the way, from all standpoints. It's far less expensive to forgive than to sue. Even if we don't believe in "rewards in heaven".

    The only reason to pursue justice is to stop evil being done to other people. My approach is to forgive personally, but to let the justice system do its job.
  • Oct 16 2012: I am in agreement with Imri.

    I think that forgiveness ... it is easier to said than done. Yet "Hatred can never cease by hatred" ... and the second part of that is that "hatred can only cease by love" ( a Buddhist saying.) As a person who has survived significant abuse, I speak for myself in saying that my own process of personal healing has come by working through the anger ( and even hate) acknowledging the damage done, processing as much as possible about the trauma, being open about my past and not keeping secrets form those that I choose as friends and family and also ... perhaps most importantly, trying to understand what happened, the people involved, their stories to find some type of peace and come to some level of forgiveness. I do not have any contact with these people and I do not think that it is necessary .. for instance, as an example ... for someone who has escaped a P.O.W. camp, I do not think it is necessary to get back in touch with the individual "prison guards." It is important to work for justice to help those left behind .. in fact, I think this is critical. For me, the forgiveness is something that I do for myself and for the people in my life today. I forgive the "prison guards" but I do not need to send them a "thank you" note.( I hope that makes sense. )I do what I can to protect others form the type of suffering I have survived. I personally get involved if I am able to intervene directly to help others in my community ( youth or other targets of domestic violence.) I am also committed to advocating for human rights, in general.

    I think that it is hardest when the oppression is still continuing. It is hard to forgive what is still happening and so, if there is little that I can directly to help a specific situation, I will help where my efforts can make a difference. It s important to use what power we have to make positive changes in the world. This is very healing. Forgiving ourselves (for our humanity) is essential.
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    R H

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    Oct 15 2012: I am of the opinion that we seek retribution because our pain is too great. We want to inflict what has been inflicted. We want the perpetrator to experience what we experienced. In that there is a form of balance. There is equality. We have given in the measure we have received. We feel justified. One tradition says 'an eye for an eye'. Another says 'turn and offer the other cheek'. Modern 'justice' has created the imprisonment industry - so we have virtually 'killed' them socially and have created sub-groups and underground or 'rebel' societies. We say 'they deserve it' (this also applies to the international stage). But what are we accomplishing in all this? Balance? Enablement? Enemies? With these solutions, are we not just creating our own future? If we seek a balance, who have we charged? If we enable, who have we doomed? If we 'send them out', where do they go? Justice is tricky in an unjust world. I'm not sure, but I believe humans are the only known species that 'remembers' and seeks retribution. Again, I could be wrong on this point.
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    Gail .

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    Oct 14 2012: Forgiveness is a difficult concept for most to get their heads around. I doubt that most can "forgive" the oppressor. For me, personally, I don't think that I have the ethical right to "forgive" someone. It is not mine to judge.

    This being said, the best way to help a people recover is to get the most dangerous out of the public arena. Just the sight of them or the sound of their voices brings up the horrors all over again. A rape or abuse victim will recover more quickly if the rapist is not allowed to roam the streets any more. I think it's the same thing with war.

    This being said, I recently started studying the state of the world that created the causes of WWI and WWII, and though Hitler went way too far, I can finally see the logic of what he did. I still don't see the morality of killing people - whether in war or not - but in understanding the thought process that went into his decisions, I was able to summon up compassion.

    I still don't understand the cruelty, and I hope I never do. But for the sake of the victims of those crimes against humanity, the perpetrators should not be allowed to walk freely among them.
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    Oct 14 2012: forgivness is very important .

    there is a old saying in china Vengeance has a way of rebounding upon oneself.

    think this time if i win the war .without forgiveness ,there must be another .and go on and .how can we end it and give people peace and stablty .

    and there is a forcast that there must be a war between china and japan.and acrodding to what i see and deal .i think there is a big possibility ,many people in chian can not forget what japan brings us the pain during the ww2 .

    i think we need to do something about it .and i dont want to see that happen .
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    Oct 14 2012: When we talk about crimes especially like genocide then I think criminal or master mind must be punished but other nations must not start genocide of other one like now a days how powerful nations are doing.

    So far forgiveness is concerned, here in our society we say that forgiving only suits who have power to take revenge. One thing more forgiving is good thing but only when it abolishes the crime not when it remains.
  • Oct 13 2012: I think that forgiving is not needed, why should one forgive a crime? But, and that is important, people should not waste their life on blaming people for crimes they never done.

    What i mean is, we have a lot of places on the planet where generations are continuously wasted on fighting their grandparents wars, and that is a crime too. When you lost a battle, you lost-face it. When you can't fight this fight on your own, then you should not waste your children and force them to fight for you.
    • Oct 13 2012: I know what you mean, it's such a waste when conflicts go on for generations, not because the side that originally won the war is horribly oppressing the other side, but because the latter side is too stubborn to admit defeat (they'd rather send their kids to their deaths than just accept a passport with another color).