WORLD Forum 2007 Facing Violence - Justice, Religion and Conflict Resolution
Argent Hotel, San Francisco
Some thoughts on the conference
This World Forum is the first one presented by the RockRose Institute, a local Bay Area group, and right off the bat I must say that they are working at a very high level. They are thoughtful and have worked hard to set the correct tone for the conference with music from various parts of the world, fabulous multi media and images. It is well organized, and running very tightly - it is even on time!
The first in a series of conversations on the dais was with Elie Wiesel. The interviewer was Stan Unger, a local radio personality in San Francisco. He had one of those seemingly manufactured voices that almost felt disembodied. But I thought (and so did John) that he asked great questions, and that Mr Wiesel, and the other panelists who came up later really didn't address. His questions about facing violence were fairly practical ones - the "how-to questions", that may actually be impossible to address.
Elie Wiesel is such a small and seemingly fragile man. I began to think about how impossible it must be to predict who might survive such deprivation as he did. I imagine there were many who looked stronger, but who could not endure what he had. I was touched by how he spoke if children, and how he still held hope as a possibility. And how he values the time he has because so many of those he knew had so little. It was good to be in the same room with him. Then later he was joined by a young woman who survived the Rwandan genocide, and a Rabbi who does a lot of work in Africa.
On a less happy note one of the things I noticed most strongly was how done I am with taking the hit for "America". There were a number of references to Rwanda, and how Clinton did nothing to stop the genocide. (This is in fact true, and Clinton admitted as much and apologized to the Rwandan people.) But it also belies the historical context - he was reeling from the Somalia "Black Hawk Down" fiasco, and he was dealing with a hostile Congress. The question I was left with was: Where were the Europeans while Rwanda was descending onto hell ?
Then there was a moment when I thought back to many conversations I have had with various people in the Whitman community about the multiplicity of stories we tell ourselves as we make up our worlds, and figure out how to get through the day. The wonderful young woman, named Joy I think, had a marvelous smile that seemed to have guarded the floodgates that are holding back an ocean of suffering. Her story - what little she told of it - was truly horrifying. At one point she attempted to explain how the genocide could happen. Centuries ago Rwanda was a peaceful and prosperous country. Then in her frame some time ago the evil came from Europe. The colonial powers carved up Africa (certainly true enough) and over time the country devolved into chaos and violence.
Like I said, the colonial powers from the last few centuries certainly created a historical context for much of what is happening in Africa, and the Middle East for that matter. Yet, at the same time it is also true that the Europeans are gone, and now Africans were and are killing Africans.
The gift that this young woman gave me in that moment was the realization of how quickly I am given to creating a story of the evil that is "out there". Not a new realization to be sure, but it was more powerful this time. Maybe because hearing her tell her story in that way, I found myself eager to forgive her because there was really nothing to forgive.
More later. Thoughts and impressions about dialogue and beginnings and such when I have had a chance to chew on the events of the day.
[Update: On the evening of the first day of the conference, Elie Wiesel was attacked in the hotel elevator by a man who was evidently stalking him for several weeks. Mr. Wiesel managed to get away from the assailant unharmed. The SF Police took Mr. Wiesel to the airport immediately after the incident. The incident is still under investigation.]