Walk where you will

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Freedom fighters fought for a free choice, for a life where you have an option, an alternative, and can follow any path you want.

guest column: Fr Oskar Wermter SJ

It would appear that those who led us along that path are now frightened, even terrified by their own boldness.

“Either you vote for the party, or not at all,” I heard. We have been told before that a revolution cannot be undone just with a little pen.

In other words we have now our “one man/woman-one vote”, but no free option.

Freedom is a risky business. You cannot grant liberty, and yet retain complete control.

In a free society I am offered a chance, but I may also have to accept failure. There is no guarantee of success.
I can only appeal to fellow citizens, there is nothing I can impose on them, nothing I can enforce like in an autocracy, or else I would end up as a dictator. Have the fighters fought for freedom for all or for their own power only?

Parents have to open up space for children to develop. That is risky, but necessary. “Playing it safe” means we do not trust freedom, opt for complete control without incurring any risk.

Freedom is not freedom if it does not create space for all. It is not freedom if it does not give us room to disagree even with our liberators.

Human beings have been created as persons endowed with that gift of freedom. If they are deprived of that gift their very humanity is mutilated. They end up as slaves, mere tools, robots.

Political success is not just winning elections by hook or by crook, enjoying power, surrounded by wealth and luxury. It means developing the human and personal excellence of all citizens, especially the young ones, to its fullest extent. This cannot be done without giving space to qualities like courage, independent thinking and developing initiatives for the good of all.

Autocrats without tolerance and respect for people with guts will not produce a daring, inventive, creative people, but timid slaves.

A nation that has been raped, brutalised and humiliated, how will it react? It will try to pay back in the same coin. Violence will increase, hate speech will be like oil feeding the fire, fuel to heat up the anger.

War and violence will never restore justice and freedom, but fill the world with more cruelty.

The democratic vote is a nonviolent way of settling power disputes. Instead of bloody conflicts between armed combatants, there will be non-violent participation in dialogue and conversation. All too often we want to bring an end to a war by crushing it with yet more violence, put out the fire by pouring yet more oil on it. That can never be a solution. To violence we must respond with non-violence. To hatred and malice we do not respond with malevolence and spite, but with unarmed, non-violent encounters at a round table, ready to talk and negotiate a compromise. That must be our aim.

War veterans are not to perpetuate war. Maybe they had no choice. But armed conflict should cease as soon as possible, and be settled by non-violent means. Of course, being fighters they are tempted to conduct politics forever by means of armed violence, unaware of any non-violent alternative.

This truly prophetic vision has not yet been realised.

“They will hammer their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into sickles. Nation will not lift sword againstnation, no longer will they learn how to make war.” (Isaiah 2:4) Casting ballots, holding peaceful elections, accepting the results without fraud or rigging, preferring sickles to spears, i.e., working instruments to lethal weapons — all this is a sure pathway towards non-violence and justice without bloodletting.

Is this Utopian, unrealistic, mere fantasy? We tend to believe that war, weapons, violent conflicts, xenophobia, nationalistic – ethnocentric hatred are just natural, inevitable human phenomena. We lack the faith, the confidence, the boldness to walk the road of peace.

We are frightened by our own past, by the blood spilled during Chimurenga and Gukurahundi and all the other wars that we survived. We refuse to even remember (“forgive and forget”) the victims who long for a final resting place in dignity and peace.

Did we really fight for freedom, for an alternative way of life, and to give our children more space? Or did we just want to gain power for ourselves and control over everybody else?

“Gukurahundi” and other crimes against humanity are like very heavy burdens weighing us down, keeping our hearts and minds shackled. To be liberated from these heavy loads that keep us down and imprisoned in the past we need to walk the path of reconciliation and even forgiveness if that is at all possible.

Just “forgetting” is no option. The demons of hatred will not let go of us. They will keep reminding us of our debts and demand repayment, revenge. They will never tire of disturbing our conscience and refuse to grant us peace.

We ourselves cannot grant ourselves forgiveness. Mercy is a divine gift, given only to the humble. Forgiving is an act of liberation.

Forgiveness says: I will not haunt you with revenge. I will not demand evil to be paid for with more evil. I will not imprison you in your past, condemning you to be haunted by your painful memories.

We have not yet confronted our memories, allowed our conscience to speak. But that would be the path towards liberation from memories that torture us.

Are we really looking for liberation from those demons and are we prepared to pay the price of humbling ourselves, facing up to the truth and being freed from obsession with guilt?

If we no longer deny the truth, no longer try to run away from it, we will no longer walk in the dark, frightened. The truth will free us from terror. We will no longer walk in fear.

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