Friday 6 December 2013
Truth and Reconciliation
Non-religionist tend to say condescendingly that, although the teachings of Jesus et al are fine ideals, in the hard real world they're not very practical. Nelson Mandela's life is a demonstration of how wrong they are.
Like many as the centenary of its beginning approaches I'm at immersed in reading and thinking, and to a small extent writing* about that great failure of politics, the First World War, and its aftermath, or continuation, the Second World War. How different the history of the last hundred years might have been if the victors of 1918 had set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission rather than concocted a treaty that would "squeeze the German nation until the pips squeak."
It is worth noting that neither of the two greatest political figures of the 20th Century, Gandhi and Mandela, was European or white: so much for the right wing white supremacists. Beside them our own great figures, Asquith, Lloyd George, Churchill, Attlee, Bevin, Bevan, become pygmies by comparison.
Margaret Thatcher, still the icon of the right, vigorously opposed sanctions against South Africa and regarded Mandela as a terrorist. And, while many of us were, at the request of the ANC, boycotting South African produce (in my case tinned pilchards in the early teaching years, plus wine as affluence increased) the young David Cameron took a freebie to South Africa, sponsored by a lobby group campaigning to have sanctions lifted.
So Mandela's life reminds us that, when Jesus taught us to "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, bless and curse not," and Mohammed, pbuh, Guru Nanak et at all said something very similar, he and they were and are on to something very practical. A tough call but one with the better outcomes.
*I've been helping a former colleague and a former pupil to write accounts of the lives of those Old Boys of our school who were killed in the First World War. My role has been modest: mainly précising accounts of their lives and deaths as reported at the time in the local paper.