On the morning of 11 July 1985 we awoke to the news that the Greenpeace flagship, Rainbow Warrior, had been blown up and sunk in Auckland Harbour. I was shocked, dismayed, angry and devastated. This was not an example of the type of world I wanted. It quickly became apparent that this was the work of French agents and two of them, Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur, were caught and tried. But another ten French agents were never captured and never brought to justice.
Now, thirty years later, one of those remaining ten agents, Jean-Luc Kister, has spoken to the French investigative organisation, Mediapart, and on New Zealand television for the first time. In those interviews Kister said that “…it is time for me to express my profound regret and my apologies.” He went on to say that he wanted to apologise to the family of the man (Fernando Pereira) that was killed in the blast, “especially to his daughter Marelle.”
The apology may be thirty years in the coming, but as Peter Wilcox, the captain of the Rainbow Warrior that fateful night, commented, “it seemed sincere to me. Perhaps late in coming, but sincere.”
The question now for those of us involved in social justice issues, especially for those of us who had connections (even tenuously) with this act of state terrorism, becomes: can we accept Jean-Luc Kister's apology and can we forgive him?
Peter Wilcox remarked that he “did not think it was for me to forgive.” Certainly Wilcox did not lose a father, as Marelle did (she was 8 years old at the time), but he did lose a friend, a colleague, and he did lose a ship. Whether Wilcox is able to forgive Kister for these loses is up to him and his conscience.
However, the bigger question is the role of forgiveness in the advocacy and activism of social justice campaigners.
Lets first be clear about what forgiveness is not. Bishop Desmond Tutu perhaps knows more about the act of forgiveness and the power that it has than anyone on the planet. He oversaw the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa following the collapse of the apartheid regime. In his book, The Book of Forgiving, written with his daughter, Mpho, he identifies five things that forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is not: 1. forgetting, 2. weakness, 3. a subversion of justice, 4. quick, nor 5. easy.
A further misconception about forgiveness is that it is offered to the offender by a victim, and that in some way it is an exoneration of a harm committed by the offender. Yes, forgiveness may be offered to the offender, but equally, perhaps more importantly, forgiveness is something that the victim offers to themselves. Louise Hay said it well when she stated that:
“The act of forgiveness takes place in your own mind. It really has nothing to do with the other person.”To Forgive is not to neglect Justice.
Jean-Luc Kister, along with another DGSE diver, Jean Camas, planted those two bombs on the hull of the Rainbow Warrior. They set the timers. They knew what they were doing. They were responsible for the sinking of the ship. They were responsible for the murder of Fernando Pereira. Forgiveness does not deny this, nor does it wish to subvert the course of justice. Peter Wilcox is right to attest that “justice has not been done.” Justice and forgiveness however, are not conflicting notions.
How many of us can forget that the Rainbow Warrior was bombed? Marelle Pereira cannot forget that her father was murdered in an act of state terrorism. The Greenpeace organisation cannot forget that it lost a ship and a comrade. The people of New Zealand cannot forget that their sovereign borders were infiltrated by another nation and an act of terrorism committed in their largest harbour. Nor should we all forget. But forgiveness does not mean that we do so.
Desmond and Mpho Tutu claim that there is nothing that cannot be forgiven and that no-one is undeserving of forgiveness. These are challenging claims. Yet, those of us seeking a more just, a more peaceful, a more sustainable world need to work with these claims. We must accept the challenge that the Tutus have given us.
The habitual response to being harmed, individually or nationally, is to seek retribution, to want to punish and do harm back to our offender. Doing so only leads us into the vicious cycle of harm – pain – retaliation – more harm and so on …. an endless cycle. Within that cycle we end up rejecting our common and shared humanity. Plus, we become trapped not only within the cycle but also by the debilitating emotions of anger, resentment, bitterness and hate.
It is up to those of us campaigning for social justice to show a better way, to point to a more compassionate future. The power of forgiveness is one way of doing that.
Can we forgive Jean-Luc Kister? Each one of us must answer that for ourselves. Me? I haven’t yet, but I’m working on it.
1. DGSE: the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, the French intelligence service.
Addendum: The French Greenpeace organisation, in response to the latest revelations, issued a statement that says “we would like to insist that French town halls, and particularly that of Paris, the capital of France’s major political decisions, that Fernando’s memory is properly and fully honoured, as it should be, with a road or a square named after him.”