Screening of “Beyond Right and Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness”
Global Indy SPEA Scholars Alena Jones and Jonathan Lounds attended the Center for Interfaith Cooperation’s screening of “Beyond Right and Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness” at the Indiana War Memorial. Read their reports on the event.
Reviews of Beyond Right and Wrong
The War Memorial downtown is a massive building with only a few major rooms – a museum, a theatre, and an impressive shrine room that takes up the entire top floor of the building. If asked, many Indianapolis residents can offer a vague description of what the memorial is and what it contains, but few have actually been in it. Charlie Wiles, a member of Veterans for Peace, says it’s a common misconception that the war memorial is meant as a memorial of a specific war. It’s not – it’s meant to commemorate the sacrifice of soldiers who died in combat and to honor all American veterans. That purpose extends to things like peace advocacy, according to the general who runs the memorial, and peace advocacy was the goal of a March 18th documentary screening and panel discussion sponsored by the Center for Interfaith Cooperation, the Kurt Vonnegut Library, Veterans for Peace, and the IUPUI School of Social Work. The film – Beyond Right and Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness – is an examination of the effects of conflict, both on the victims and the perpetrators of violence, and how conflict can become reconciliation. It follows multiple individuals from different conflicts – an IRA bomber and the daughter of a bystander one of his bombs killed, two fathers – one Israeli and one Palestinian – who both lost daughters in the Israel-Palestine conflict, a Rwandan woman and the man who murdered five of her children during the Rwandan genocide – talking about their path to learning to live with the violence they had done or had had done to them. The panel discussion following the film included individuals who had backgrounds mirroring those of the individuals presented in the film – Siobhan McEvoy-Levy, the daughter of IRA sympathizers from Northern Ireland; Gadi Boukai, a former officer in the Israeli Defense Forces; and Kizito Kalima, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide. The panel discussion covered what role identities play in conflict (as well as reconciliation), creating a moment of reconciliation between opposing groups, stopping the cycle of violence, educating political leaders, inspiring people to take action, and mitigating the effects of historical narratives.
Although not very well-attended, the event was a meaningful examination of what can be done in the aftermath of a conflict to restore the integrity of both individuals and communities, and the importance of peace activism and forgiveness in stopping and preventing conflicts. Of particular interest to me and broad applicability to U.S. current events was the discussion that followed the moderator’s question, “What role do identities play in conflict and/or reconciliation?” Gadi Boukai, the Israeli panelist, said that identities provide logic for violence – what we must remember is that identities are essentially meaningless. It doesn’t matter if you’re Israeli or if you’re Palestinian; when your innocent child is killed in the conflict, you feel the same pain. In the words of author David Mitchell, “all boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended.” Siobhan McEvoy-Levy, the Irish panelist, first zeroed in on the juxtaposition of cultural narratives as the main culprit of conflict, but also mentioned pervasive cultures of violence – longstanding family or ethnic feuds, the “soldier-not-terrorist” narrative of the IRA – as a major player. She noted that we can tell when structural social change has occurred because the stories we tell start to change. The Rwandan panelist, Kizito Kalima, focused on how structural violence and feelings of antagonism and opposition between groups can be used as a tool of oppression by outsiders. All these observations seem especially relevant in light of recent Indiana current events; after the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, much of the state was polarized between criticism and support, fear and scorn. Indiana has not suffered violence at anything near the level of Rwanda, Israel, Palestine, or Ireland, but reactions in this smaller-scale conflict were very similar – us/them, Democrats/Republicans, fundamentalists/gays thinking; feuding cultural narratives about which side of history this puts us on and what it means for different groups who are concerned by possible repercussions; and most of all stirred up attitudes of antagonism between the majority political establishment and the LGBT community that had been dormant for most of a year, ever since deliberation on HJR3 – Indiana’s attempt at a constitutional ban on marriage equality. While these sentiments have not exploded into physical conflict, we see the same attitudes that have fostered and exacerbated much larger conflicts. Repairing the public relations damage that has been done to our state – both in terms of national perception and citizen trust in our elected officials – requires us to absorb the steps for change offered by McEvoy-Levy, Boukai, and Kalima: we must stop seeing one another as sides in a fight, recognizing the fears that inspire our erstwhile opponents to anger. We must begin to tell different stories about hopes, fears, and the kind of state we want to be. We must not allow our differences to divide us so we can be set against each other instead of coming together to define an acceptable solution to all our fears. While on the surface a documentary about wartime atrocities and how people come to terms with them may not seem to have any relevance to Indiana, the narratives of fear and freedom swirling around the Religious Freedom Restoration Act allow us to integrate the lessons offered by those who have suffered great violence, and to transmute fear into something else entirely.
The Center for Interfaith Cooperation in Indianapolis hosted a screening of the documentary Beyond Right & Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness at the Indiana War Memorial on Wednesday, March 18th. The Common Theme Project, Find Your Voice: Hear My Voice, Veterans for Peace Indianapolis Chapter 49, and Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library sponsored the event. Following the screening there was a panel discussion which included prominent local experts on the theme of justice and peace. Approximately, twenty five people attended the event including the host and sponsors.
The film Beyond Right & Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness is a film about reconciliation between perpetrators of violence and the victims of that violence. The film highlights the stories of reconciliation between a daughter of a terrorist bombing victim and the terrorist responsible to the bombing from Northern Ireland, a father whose daughter was killed by a suicide bomber in Israel, and a mother of five children who were slaughtered in the Rwandan genocide and their murderer. It took an in depth look at the consequences of violence on for everyone involved, and it was personally very moving. I had a chance to speak at the event and told of an experience I had during combat in Afghanistan. Because soldiers are both perpetrators and victims of violence, it gave me a unique perspective on the film and panel discussion.
Overall, the event was a success. However, attendance was poor considering the high quality of the film, panelists, and venue. The majority of the event participants were individuals who are already involved with the topics discussed. Even though the topic of the event was interesting, it failed at attracting a plurality of voices. The host and sponsors of the event realized this shortcoming and it was brought up during the panel discussion. An audience member mentioned how much they enjoyed the film but wanted to know how to make other people interested in the topic and social justice issues in general. The panelists seemed to fumble on this question and attributed the low of participation in lack of concern younger generation had about these issues. Unfortunately, many studies have shown that younger generation are just as civic minded if not more than previous generations. Although shifting the blame to the younger generation’s apathy about issues facing world is easy, it is a mischaracterization of the real problem. Grassroots and social justice advocates in Indianapolis, such as the ones hosting this event, need to come up with creative ways to inform more people about their events. Circulating a flier to a handful of organizations email lists is clearly not enough to really engage the broader community. What ends up happening is we create an echo chamber of ideas where the same core group of community members show up event after event and we fail to communicate our message to the public. This is not meant to be an attack on the leaders in these sponsoring organizations, but instead, an honest assessment of a serious issue facing the organizers of such events.
Nevertheless, even though the participation at such events is not ideal, it is still important to host them. The organizations working on the issue of peace in Indianapolis need to continue their work, because we never know what kind of ripple effect such events will have. Nevertheless, as community organizers, we need to develop new strategies for reaching a larger audience and come up with creative ways to engage the community in the topics we feel passionate about. There is much the public can benefit from if we can increase the participation at powerful events such as the Beyond Right and Wrong Film screening.