We have to forgive to be forgiven

September 10, 2015

Let him who is without sin, throw the first stone.

As most of you know, I was a death penalty lawyer for many years. I discovered that no matter how many people my clients killed or how depraved their acts, there was something vulnerable, something human about them with which I could connect. Sometimes it took awhile to find it. Who are you is a wiser question to ask than why did you do it. Patience, openness and a willingness to listen without judging the answers are invaluable skills. Many clients told me that I was the first person in their lives who showed a genuine and nonjudgmental interest in getting to know them. They told me that answering my questions helped them to discover themselves. I know this to be true: Even though people may commit evil acts, no one is evil.

When we demonize others, we demonize ourselves.

On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people during a Bible study meeting in the Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, South Carolina. He is white and they were black. He entered the church with murder in mind and asked to attend the meeting. They welcomed him.

Last night, Lester Holt of NBC News interviewed Felicia Sanders, who was present and survived the shooting, together with her 11-year-old granddaughter. Her 26-year-old son, Tywanza, died while attempting to shield Susie, an elderly relative, with his body.

In a matter of seconds, a moment of quiet prayer turned into a massacre.

“We were just about to say the prayer to be released,” said Felicia Sanders, one of three people who survived when a gunman opened fire during Bible study at her Charleston, South Carolina, church on June 17.

“He caught us with our eyes closed. I never told nobody this.”

Roof allegedly committed the murders to retaliate against blacks to redress crimes that blacks had committed against whites. No, he did not know whether anyone he killed had committed any of those crimes.

This crime is difficult to comprehend and I am not aware of any evidence that Roof was psychotic or delusional when he opened fire.

I was struck by the friends and family members of the victims who appeared at Roof’s initial appearance in court and told him that they forgave him, despite their overwhelming grief.

Under similar circumstances, I believe most people would want revenge.

Felicia Sanders is an extraordinary human being. She said one more thing that all of us should take to heart and never forget.

“We must forgive to be forgiven.”

Prosecutors announced earlier this week that they intend to seek the death penalty if the jury convicts Mr. Roof of murder.

Felicia Sanders disagrees with that decision. She wants him to live a long time in prison and reflect on what he did and why he did it.

 


Tsarnaevs: Why did they murder the innocent?

March 27, 2015

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wrote a note in pencil on an interior wall of a trailered boat in which sought refuge after the Watertown shootout. He attempted to justify killing innocent people with the following words,

“The U.S. Government is killing our innocent civilians but most of you already know that. As a M [bullet hole] I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished, we Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all. …”

“Now I don’t like killing innocent people it is forbidden in Islam but due to said [bullet hole] it is allowed.”

He is wrong. The Prophet, whom he revers, prohibited killing the innocent.

From the Islamic Supreme Council of America:

The Prophet sent the following message to his military leaders who were setting forth in the way of Jihād to stop hostile advances and defend Muslim territories:

Advance in the name of Allah, with Allah, on the pattern of the Messenger of Allah . That means do not kill the elderly, infants or children and women. Do not exceed the proper bounds. Gather your spoils and make peace, “and do good. Lo! Allah loveth those who do good.”

The Prophet passed by a woman who was killed and said, “She was not engaged in fighting.” The Prophet then sent to the Muslim leader Khālid ibn al-Walīd the following message, “The Prophet orders you not to kill women or servants.”

This was to show the reason in the prohibition of killing her was due to the fact she was not with the fighters. The inference here is “the reason we fight them, is because they fight us, not on the simple principle that they are disbelievers.” This is clear evidence the woman was not a fighter and the Prophet prohibited her killing. From the strong expression the Prophet made, going so far as to send a letter to his topmost military commander, we see how concerned he was to prevent any such incidents, and to insure that every single Muslim warrior was aware of the rules of combat.

The question arises here: when someone explodes a bomb or commits a suicide attack in a public place, how many innocent women, children and elderly people are killed? If for one woman’s death, the Prophet scolded his top general, Khālid ibn al-Walīd, what then about killing twenty, thirty or even hundreds of non-combatants, some of whom may even be Muslim?

Just as the Messenger of Allah forbade the killing of women and the young he forbade killing priests.

The first caliph Sayyidina Abū Bakr aš-Šiddīq’s commandment to the leader of the first Islamic military expedition after the Prophet was:

…No hermit should be molested…Only those should be killed who take up arms against you.

So we see from these various narrations of the Prophet ―and there are many more like them―that the Prophet prohibited the Muslims to fight anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, even if they are unbelievers, if they are not transgressors against the security of the nation.

This shows that terrorist acts, in particular suicide attacks which kill indiscriminately, are utterly unacceptable forms of combat, even during valid combat authorized for defense of the nation.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev needs to come to an understanding that his God, whom he calls Allah, does not approve of what he and his brother did. He has an opportunity in this lifetime to atone for what he did, but he is running out of time. A good place to start is the penalty phase of his trial.

With not just his life, but his soul at stake, he must reject self-deception, own what he did and admit that it was wrong. His actions and his note are offensive to his God and he must admit that too and plead for mercy.

The prosecution will likely rest on Monday after the Medical Examiner, Dr. Jennifer Hammers, concludes her testimony about the deaths of Lu Lingzi, a graduate student from China and the child, 8-year-old Martin Richard. Court recessed yesterday for the weekend after Dr. Hammers concluded her graphic testimony about the death of Krystle Campbell, a restaurant manager from Medford, MA.

I am going to pray for him to find the light while there is still time.

I am also going to pray for the jurors because, despite the law that permits them to sentence him to death, no human should kill another.

Let us all pray for the victims whose lives changed forever the day the bombs exploded. May they find peace in this lifetime.


Forgiveness at the heart of Mandela legacy by Leonard Pitts Jr

December 16, 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013

Good morning:

Leonard Pitts, Jr., is one of my favorite op/ed writers. He writes for the Miami Herald.

This is his editorial for today.

Forgiveness at the heart of Mandela legacy

Every once in a very great while, we get these people who rise above the confines of self. Nelson Mandela was one of those. He navigated his life by the polestar not of self but of freedom, and in so doing became the founding father of a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal.

It is not that he was a perfect man. “In real life,” he once wrote, “we deal, not with gods, but with ordinary humans like ourselves: men and women who are full of contradictions, who are stable and fickle, strong and weak, famous and infamous.”

But if Mandela was heir to all those imperfections of humanity (and of course, he was), he was also able – when his country and the world needed him to be – to make himself greater than the sum of his flaws.

If you doubt that, imagine for a moment a different scenario. Imagine a Nelson Mandela who came out of prison after 27 years and seethed with fury. Imagine a Mandela who sought revenge against a white minority government that branded him a terrorist and stole so much of his life for the “crime” of wanting, and fighting, to be free. Imagine a Mandela who used the force of his legend and his moral authority to do what that government had long feared he would: issue a war cry, set black against white. The waters of the South Atlantic Ocean might still be running red.

Now, consider what actually did happen:

Mandela forgave. He forgave the government that segregated him to the margins of society and made him an outsider in his own country. He forgave the jailers who tried to break his body and spirit during his long incarceration. He forgave his country for hating him.

Not only that: When he completed his remarkable rise from South African “terrorist” under the apartheid regime to South African president in a new multiracial democracy, he made it a point to reach out and reassure nervous whites that they still had a place in the new nation now taking shape. And then there was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Formed in 1995, it provided a forum for the airing and investigation of human rights abuses committed under apartheid – both by its defenders and those who fought against it. It was also tasked with making recommendations of amnesty for victimizers and reparations for their victims, and with constructing an authoritative and official record of what happened.

The process was imperfect – the military leaders of the apartheid regime refused to partici-pate, the post-Mandela government was slow to act on the commission’s findings. Still, it provided a visionary blueprint for the handling of human rights abuses and reflected a sophisticated understanding of a fundamental principle that escapes many of us: The victims can never be whole and never be healed until they are heard.

One can only speculate – and with no small bit of envy – how this country might now be different had it ever understood, as Mandela’s country did, that there can be no reconciliation where there is not first truth. But then, the United States operates under a different credo: Ignore it and it will go away.

“Now he belongs to the ages.” What Secretary of War Edwin Stanton famously said of Abraham Lincoln when the 16th president died, President Obama repeated of Mandela. And so he does. Now history – South African and international – moves on without the man who did so much to shape it and bend it toward good.

But the legacy he leaves will shadow that history, always. And that’s a reason for hope at a time when such reasons are in desperately short supply.

It is easy to be dismayed when one surveys the American political scene, as one listens to the nattering of mediocre minds unable to conceive of any cause higher than ideology or self. But in Mandela’s long and singular life, we are reminded that it does not have to be that way.

Selfishness is a choice. Mandela refused to make it. And the world is a better place because he did.


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