Can restorative justice work?
It’s a question with particular resonance as people on these islands struggle even to talk about how to deal with our violent past.
Last week, 4Thought.tv focused on restorative justice in a variety of contexts, featuring contributions from two men from Northern Ireland who were impacted by the Troubles: Richard Moore and Alistair Little.
In light of recent efforts to raise the level of public discourse on this island about themes such as healing, hope, forgiveness and reconciliation, it is worth tuning in to Moore and Little’s perspectives.
As a ten-year-old boy living in Derry in 1972, Moore was shot with a rubber bullet and blinded by a British soldier. In the video, Moore explains that he has now met the soldier and that, ‘we are good friends.’
He credits ‘the power of my parents’ prayers’ for his lack of bitterness and general happiness, despite what happened to him. He says:
I don’t need Charles [the soldier] to be taken to court or put in prison. But that’s a very personal thing. I forgive Charles. I forgive him unconditionally. And I learnt that forgiveness is not about the other person. It’s about you. It’s about your happiness. It’s about your peace of mind.
As a teenager, Little joined the UVF and shot and killed a man. He spent 13 years in prison. In the video, Little describes the murder and says that in participating in the violence that engulfed Northern Ireland, ‘you lose something of your soul that can never be restored.’
In my own particular case, forgiveness is not something that I personally seek. Approaching family members of those you have hurt is not something I feel morally that the person responsible has a right to do. And in many case those who do, it’s more about their need to move on with their life than about the family that they’ve injured. I don’t think there’s anything that can be done that can reconcile or restore the damage or the loss that’s a consequence of my actions.
As Moore and Little’s contributions begin to show, there are diverse perspectives on the possibilities and limitations of forgiveness for individuals.
Forgiveness becomes even more complex when we ask how it might happen at social or political levels. People will inevitably disagree about the definition of forgiveness, about how forgiveness ‘works’, and whether or not there can even be valid social or political forgiveness.
But are we capable of creating social and political spaces where individuals can ponder the possibilities for forgiveness? Can we find a way to live with the vast array of perspectives on the possibility for or even the morality of forgiveness?
Seeking out and listening to more diverse perspectives would be one way to start.