seeds of hope



The British Attorney General, speaking at the end of the 1945-6 Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals:
'The state and the law are made for man that through them he may achieve a fuller life, a higher purpose and a greater dignity'.

What went wrong? What is needed for the state and the law to work? Or do you think that it's not the state, or even the law, that leads people to fuller, more purposeful, dignified lives, but other things, or other things as well? (And if so, what could they be?)

A journalist working in Belgium:
'I cling to my religion, culture and language, and I am determined that my children, half Asian and half European, should know as much about their faraway motherland as they do about their father's Europe. But Europe is my heart and soul. I speak at least two European languages better than my mother tongue. Look around: Europe is a vibrant mixture of cultures, ethnic groups and religions. It is diverse, multicultural and multicoloured. But many Europeans close their eyes to the epic changes taking place in their communities, refuse to come to terms with the new minorities living in their midst. It's clear that the EU needs all kinds of skilled immigrants to run its information technology industries, pay for pension schemes for a rapidly ageing population, and generally keep the European economy powering ahead. Perhaps one day I will be able to feel genuinely European, proud to belong to a new, tolerant and diverse Europe. For the moment I have to watch from the sidelines.'

What is the problem for the Europeans with closed eyes? What alarms people about 'diversity'? (And does it make a difference here whether a man or a woman is speaking)

A political prisoner in China, released in 1997:
'How do we bring about changes in political rights? From inside as well as outside the country. I spent long dark years in prison, but I never acknowledged that they had a right to curtail my freedom of speech. By standing firm for years, I won small victories: they allowed me to have some books and newspapers. Even as an insignificant political prisoner, in a small way I achieved something.'

How is freedom of speech suppressed? How can one resist that suppression? Are there in fact things that ought not to be said, or things we ought to choose, or agree, not to say? How important are the steps to freedom taken by each individual, insignificant or not?

A Polish journalist:
'Having read and signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is like having tasted the fruit from the tree of knowledge. Governments everywhere not only know that suppressing rights is wrong, they have to acknowledge the wrong and realise that others are aware of it too. The Declaration also dramatically draws attention to its NON-application, and the incapacity of the international community to enforce it.
Indeed, human rights often seem to be involved in trade-offs: murderous dictators are able to strike deals with patron states by giving up slaughter and having a blind eye turned to their "ordinary" human rights record as a reward. or human rights are off-set against commercial interests, or Security Council voting patterns. Yet without the Declaration all this would be considered the normal stuff of politics; now it is seen as shameful, and in need of justification. Thank God for small mercies.'

Do you know what the Declaration of Human Rights says? What is your own view of what human rights are or should be? What is needed to make them available to everyone? If that isn't possible, why isn't it?

A writer on religion and morality:
There's all the difference between forgiving and excusing.'
A Palestinian human rights lawyer:
The act of forgiveness carries a lot of power. It is an assertion of one's dignity to have the means and ability to forgive. It may be difficult to understand, but I think if there is to be peace, there has to be forgiveness.'
A black human rights leader:
We get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of starts. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.'

What is the difference between forgiving and excusing?
Forgiveness leading to peace: is it difficult to understand?
Getting rid of enmity: how?

The British Chief Rabbi:
'Civilisation lives by memory. What we forget, we can repeat. What we remember, we can guard against. Only by handing on to our children what we have learned, often at great cost, have we a chance of turning history into a narrative of hope instead of an endless cycle of hatred and bloodshed....What the Holocaust must teach us is not what it means to be a Jew, but what it means to be human - and to acknowledge the humanity of others.'

There are some things that are good to remember. 'What it means to be human' can be creative and kind: what memories do you have of that?

An American war reporter:
'We free worlders elect our governments freely, so we are responsible for what they do in our name. If governments were better, wider, more in touch with real life, citizens would not have to spend so much time educating and restraining them....
Watching the peace movement grow in numbers and competence, I see it as a talented citizenship. Citizenship is a tough occupation which obliges the citizen to make his or her own informed opinion and stand by it. Progress in human affairs depends on accepting, generation after generation, the individual duty to oppose the evils of the time. The evils may change but they're never in short supply.'

Right. Where will you start?



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