Beyond Right and Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness
A movie review by Dr. Giles Fraser
The Guardian and The Church Times Review, London, England – Patrick Magee killed Jo Berry’s father on October 12, 1984. He was the notorious IRA Brighton bomber; she is the daughter of Sir Anthony Berry, former Tory MP for Enfield, Southgate, England. They were an unlikely pair to be mingling over the canapés in an upscale London hotel.
The occasion was the first London screening of a new documentary film, Beyond Right and Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness, which examines extraordinary stories of forgiveness in Northern Ireland, Rwanda, and the Middle East.
Some of it was almost unbearable to watch: the Rwandan woman whose five children were massacred in church is approached by their killer, who asks for forgiveness; the now-grown-up Irish schoolboy who was blinded by a rubber bullet meets the British soldier who fired the round; the Israeli and Palestinian families who meet, despite having all lost children in the conflict.
One of the stories in Beyond Right and Wrong tells how Magee traveled across England in 1978, planting 16 bombs in various cities and, then again, in 1984, when he blew up Brighton’s Grand Hotel during the Conservative party conference, killing five people. Magee eventually served 14 years in prison, released in 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday agreement. Jo Berry’s forgiveness of Magee is quite extraordinary, taking huge courage and emotional poise. And she admitted to me that she sometimes goes for a walk on the beach in north Wales and smashes rocks against each other in frustration. This is a safe detonation of the anger she feels inside. She says that for all to move on and reclaim a more peaceful future, these feelings have to be left on the beach.
Too often, forgiveness is construed as miraculously having positive feelings towards the person who had harmed you. This understanding is, I suspect, an impossible fiction. But what is not impossible is the refusal of revenge, the refusal to answer back in kind. Beyond Right and Wrong examines powerful stories of ordinary people in Rwanda and Israel/Palestine who have let go of perfectly natural punitive instincts in the name of a brighter tomorrow, one not trapped by the hatreds of the past.