Ashley Belohlavek: Forgiving Those Who Don’t Care

In my past response papers, I have alluded to different stains of injustice on our world history, like the Holocaust or Apartheid. Genocides and injustices that beg the question, “How in the world can this be forgiven?” Deep down, I don’t think they can be, or at least it’s understandable if one cannot bring themself to forgive such a devastating crime against humanity. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t try. We’ve spoken a lot in class about forgiveness in the absence of true repentance, and we actually never come up with a single, solid solution. How do you forgive someone who doesn’t care enough to take accountability for their wrongdoing? By focusing on a couple specific instances of disregard for man-made tragedy I hope to determine whether forgiveness is applicable or helpful to those who hurt others without regret.

In our last few sessions, we attempted to answer some very hard questions. Can an entire ethnic group of people forgive a nation that refuses to acknowledge that their people mindlessly killed so many of them for no reason other than their ethnicity? Should someone who has suffered permanent emotional and physical trauma be allowed to avenge herself legally? We really aren’t sure, but that’s why these situations are so complex. I struggle to conceptualize the idea of unconditional forgiveness as I feel like it creates further harm by letting a bad deed go unchallenged. For instance, we talked about Armenian genocide and Turkey’s continuous denial of their part in this horrific event. A similar issue that I’ve been thinking about during these conversations and readings has been Holocaust denial largely in the U.S. as of late. During his recent commemoration of the Holocaust, “President” Donald Trump did not even acknowledge the Jewish community, those who overwhelming suffered the most during the Holocaust, which claimed several million Jewish lives. Later, his press secretary Sean Spicer went on to say that Jewish people were not the only group of folks who suffered during the Holocaust. No, this is not inherently false, but to act as though Jews were not specifically targeted more than any other group?? That is complete denial of the anti-Semitic carnage that Germany caused. Even more, Neo-Nazi groups have been openly holding private events and parties and the U.S. government has not bat an eye at this.

In class, we pondered if the global Armenian community could possibly forgive Turkey’s violence against them, despite Turkey’s complete refusal to admit that they did wrong. So now my question is, is it possible for Jewish folks to forgive Holocaust deniers who actively perpetuate the same anti-Semitic behavior that blossomed into the Holocaust several decades ago? In my opinion, absolutely not. Anthony Bash mentions a couple heartbreaking scenarios in which someone decided to forgive their wrongdoers without repentance, and each strikes me as evidence that unconditional forgiveness does not necessarily mean coming to terms with tragedy. For instance, Bash talks about a man whose daughter died in his arms, succumbing to injuries due to a bomb strike. The man says he forgave whoever did this to his daughter, but Bash notes that he died with the same excruciating pain of his daughter’s death that he had when it first happened. Of course, it makes sense that this man was riddled with pain for the rest of his life over the loss of his daughter, but I think this goes to show that forgiving does not always help us move on from our grief.

This may be a different situation, but I think it draws some parallels to this idea of forgiving Holocaust denial as well as denial of the Armenian genocide. Can we expect folks who have historically been massacred to forgive those who have the audacity to say their plight isn’t real? Both the Turkish government as well as the U.S. government are currently refusing to acknowledge these factual, horrific events for what they were. Of course Turkey actually caused the Armenian genocide while the U.S. was not the perpetrator of the Holocaust, but their passivity to Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism has clearly led to a rise in anti-Semitic thought and activity in this country in a very short period of time, as well as rabid Islamophobia. We may think that coming to an agreement to move on from the past is what’s best for peace and from causing further injustice, but this leaves room for the past injustice to regain sentiment and come back to wreak more havoc. There is no easy answer, but I do not think that forgetting is an option. We even discussed if a partial apology could suffice. Maybe Turkey could build a beautiful museum commemorating Armenian lives and accomplishments with the only catch being that they would not acknowledge the source of Armenian death. But, isn’t that the whole point? Remembering what happens when lives are deemed expendable or less than others for a reason as trivial as birthright? Recognizing the humanity of all, not some? Pretending the regard for human life didn’t happen is incredibly hurtful and insulting, so this sort of “half-apology” really doesn’t solve the problem at all.

There is no absolutely right or wrong answer to any of the questions I have posed, but they all involve some kind of bargained forgiveness. But the big question is, is that forgiveness at all? If someone is truly sorry, why should they have to negotiate with someone on how much they actually did wrong? If the U.S. is so supportive of the Jewish community, why is it sitting back while Neo-Nazis threaten to bomb Jewish community centers and desecrate Jewish cemeteries? For mass injustices such as these, true repentance is a must. Just as with the Jewish community, Armenians, too, cannot forgive people who do not wish to be forgiven. That may relieve emotional baggage for some, but it will not stop genocidal sentiments.

Works cited:

Bash, Anthony. 2007. Forgiveness and Christian Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.