Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Peace Comes After Forgiveness

This blogger reprints the remarkable story of a Frenchman who was captured and imprisoned by the cruel Khmer Rouge regime responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of children, women, and men during an orgy of violence paralleled only by a handful of genocides in the history of humankind. In the end, he needed to forgive his erstwhile tormentors and look at their humanity to attain inner peace....

As a song says, " Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. .. " But, as the story suggests, peace cannot begin to grow without forgiveness, hard as it may be to do. And world peace, being the sum total of our individual inner peace, can only be attained by each of us proactively facing our demons of bitter, unforgiving hearts and letting go of our nurtured, fertilized, chronic anger... and forgiving those who have oppressed and tortured us physically, emotionally, sexually, and mentally.... even as 1) we would have no part of them in our present lives and 2) they stand to be justly penalized in the proper court of law.

The New York Times

February 17, 2009

Op-Ed Contributor

My Savior, Their Killer


Phnom Penh, Cambodia

AFTER 10 years of detention, Kaing Guek Eav, alias Comrade Duch, is to appear today before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was arrested in 1999, after 20 years of living incognito, for crimes committed on his orders as commander of the Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh from 1975 to 1979, when the Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia and were responsible for the deaths of more than a million people.

I was his prisoner for three months in 1971, in a camp known as M13 hidden in the forest of the Cardamom mountains. I had been doing field work in the Cambodian countryside, searching for ancient Khmer Buddhist manuscripts, when I was ambushed by Khmer Rouge militants fighting Cambodia’s American-backed government. I was accused of being a C.I.A. spy and sentenced to death.

Duch was in charge of the jungle camp, both my jailer and my prosecutor. I was kept in chains and interrogated daily by him. Somehow, during the strange dialogue that began between us, he became convinced that I really was just a Frenchman who wanted to study Buddhist texts. Duch undertook to secure my release. My two Khmer assistants did not have the same good fortune: despite Duch’s promise to me, they were executed soon after I left the camp, as so many thousands were in the years to come under his meticulous supervision.

I did not see Duch again until 2003, in the military prison in Phnom Penh. Conditions there were rudimentary, but the general feel was not that of a jail. I remember that he had the same look of determination that he had had 32 years earlier, though the smile that he had occasionally flashed when he ruled over my fate was gone.

In the whirl of conflicting emotions provoked by seeing him again, I asked him: “How are things here? Is it all right?” Compelled to repeat the question, I felt its incongruity: the executioner was now on the other side of the gate, as I had foreseen in my dreams, in the place once occupied by his victims.
In July 2007, he was transferred to one of the eight cells in the detention center that is part of the vast complex where the war crimes court is based and where his trial will take place. I visited him there. At the time, he enjoyed the relative comfort of his new surroundings. Four other elderly Khmer Rouge leaders were also incarcerated there. They were well cared for; food, cells, a television room, a visiting room — everything was in conformance with international rules, enough to make the guards jealous.

But Duch may today regret having left the tedium of the military prison. After years of stalling, and many months of thorough preliminary investigations, the trial that so few people wanted is about to begin. The sound of the preparations for it rings out in the detention center as if it were an execution.

The death penalty, which Duch ordered at least 12,380 times, does not exist in United Nations-backed tribunals like this one. His condemnation will not have the too-familiar instantaneousness of the Khmer Rouge hoe striking the back of the neck, but his sentence will be long and relentless.

The worst that he risks, however, is not imprisonment itself, but seeing his reasons for living disappear. His life now revolves around the visits from his children, a right that was denied to his victims, and his faith in the judicial process — a process that did not exist at Tuol Sleng.
Duch does not raise any objection to his trial. In his heart lie the same fears that haunted each of his victims — ancient fears that have never ceased to haunt mankind. Thus he has admitted his guilt, bowed over and humbled by the horror of what he has done.

Last February, Duch was led, with his consent, to the scenes of his crimes. The visit was a shock for all who witnessed it. This major judicial step took place in an atmosphere of intense, palpable emotion.
“I ask for your forgiveness — I know that you cannot forgive me, but I ask you to leave me the hope that you might,” he said before collapsing in tears on the shoulder of one of his guards.

I was not there — it was a closed hearing — but those who were reported that the cry of the former executioner betrayed such suffering that one of the few survivors of Tuol Sleng screamed out, “Here are the words that I’ve longed to hear for 30 years!”

It could be that forgiveness is possible after a simple, natural process, when the victim feels that he has been repaid. And the executioner has to pay dearly, for it is the proof of his suffering that eases ours.

Let us not fool ourselves. Beyond the crimes that Duch committed against humanity, those of the Khmer Rouge will also be judged. And beyond the crimes of the Khmer Rouge, the capacity of the tribunals to mete out justice will be tested, as well as our ability to judge man himself, and history. We shall all be at the trial — not just as judges, but also as victims, and the accused.

The genocide of the Khmer Rouge will be judged as a “crime against humanity,” a crime against ourselves. As such, Duch’s guilt exceeds his immediate victims; it becomes the guilt of humanity, in the name of all victims. Duch killed mankind. The trial of the Khmer Rouge should be an opportunity for each of us to gaze at the torturer with some distance — from beyond the intolerable cry of the suffering, which may veil the truth of the abomination. The only way to look at the torturer is to humanize him.

François Bizot is the author of “The Gate,” a memoir. This essay was translated by The Times from the French.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company•

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ex-Convict for Peace

Ex-Convict for Peace

On the night of Tuesday, February 3, 2009, U.S. Public Broadcasting Station ( PBS ) Thirteen.org , a TV station purely funded by the American public and foundations with very little commercials, featured, under its Independent Lens series, Adjust Your Color, giving us the remarkable life of African American 2-time Grammy-Award winner radio/tv host Petey Greene in a nutshell.

Petey was born in a blighted neighborhood in Washington, D.C.. His father was a con artist and his mother was a prostitute. He was brought up by his loving grandmother who served as an anchor in his life. In 1960, he was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to an 10-year prison term at the Lorton facility in Virginia.. While there, he used his gift with words and sense of humor to ease his way out of trouble and earn his role as official prison disc jockey, entertaining both his fellow inmates and the bored security officers with his raw, “ shock jock “ style which was to become the template for later generations of radio talk show hosts like Howard Stern who would consider him a “ genius. “ They liked him so much in prison that he would not let him go!

Upon release after parole on good behavior, he went straight to D.C.’s WOL-AM Radio’s Dewey Hughes ( to get a job ) who reluctantly helped him. One surprising day, the D.C. residents heard a familiar voice on their radio.. He called a spade a spade and urged his fellow D.C. natives to give up alcohol, drugs, crime, and venereal disease which have all victimized him. One of his memorable quotes was, “ I had no problem drinking; but I had problem stopping. “ His long prison stay also made him resolve never to go back again as he watched young men being sexually abused by older inmates.

Mr.Greene inspired people to do better, one of whom is the famous boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard who, at 14 years old, heard Petey urged him on radio to keep it up as he was working for his Golden Gloves tournament. They later became friends.

Mr. Greene commanded so much respect later on that he was invited to one of President Jimmy Carter’s Gala dinners in the White House. Later, he told a newspaper that he stole a spoon as souvenir to afflict the comfortable, so to speak. He also amusingly remarked there was too much artillery ( 3 spoons, 3 forks, 3 knives ) at the dinner table. He was not afraid to speak truth to power.

He later had a national audience when he became a pioneering tv show host on Black Entertainment Television ( BET )…. reaching out to people of all colors.

But what really struck me as his seminal contribution for peace was his singular appeal over radio to the Washington, D.C. community to stop the mob violence in the aftermath of the horrendous killing of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968. Here was a man with no official government position, no temporal power, no army, no police forces… and he single-handedly stopped the breakdown of law, order, mayhem, and destruction in the nation’s capital. Among other things, he said we become “ old men “ when violence visits our neighborhood. He appealed to the heart of his fellow citizens and he connected at a crucial time.

When he died in the winter of 1984, some 10,000 mourners returned the favor and honored him during the funeral, braving the cold, what observers said was the biggest crowd ever for an unelected person in D.C. !!! Now, that’s leadership for peace. But he always looked back to his grandmother who gave him love as a young boy.

Something to ponder: How can I make my little corner of the world a more peaceful place to live in? Is there someone who needs my understanding and care so he/she can have inner peace; thus, have insight into his/her life... and find new direction/purpose?

Blessed are the peacemakers; they shall be called children of God. – Beatitudes

Works of love are works of peace – Mother Teresa

Friday, March 13, 2009

Be Still... When the World is in Chaos

“ Be still and know that I am God ”( Psalm 46:10 – KJV )

It is inconceivable to live in a complex, chaotic world without guidance and direction from another being who knows better, which implies he/she has greater wisdom/knowledge, hence higher power ( knowledge is power, right? ). Along with it is the implicit trust we place on that person everyday that he/she will take us to the desired place or goal or destination. Let's take a few examples to illustrate the point. We want to travel to another location and we either drive a car, take a cab, or ride on public transportation. Either way, we generally trust that the car will run smoothly, the GPS will tell us the direction correctly, the cab driver will not screw us, and the train or bus will take us there on time. I chuckle as I write this essay as I recall a fellow bus passenger asking a New York's Metro Transit Authority ( NYC's equal of LRT ) driver whether he was going to Jackson Heights. With a wry smile, he answered, " I hope so... " Contrary to popular belief, New Yorkers won't eat you alive... a far cry from the turbulent 60s and 70s.

You've probably heard this before, but it's worth repeating. If we believe in a Creator, as I think you do ( a quick argument for the existence of a Creator: if I told my friends that the BMW car parked in front of my apartment manifested itself accidentally out of random chaos – and not made by a sophisticated, intelligent, artistic designer/engineer, they would probably take me to the psychiatric emergency ward ), then it is logical that he would leave in place a system akin to an operations and maintenance manual we get, together with our mobile phones and cars when we purchase them, to optimize our operating system called life. On a rational or conscious level, this Manufacturer or Creator or Source or God would have to have it in writing to preserve it for generations to utilize it, and not start from scratch. People used printing presses in the early days, now burn CDs, type on MSWord, or download videos/mp3s to produce these manuals. Christians call theirs the Bible, Taoists term it the Tao Te Ching, Jews have their Torah, Muslims their Q'uran, etc...

But the Christian quote, Psalm 46:10, goes even one level beyond the conscious or rational level ( deeper or higher, however you call it, from the metaphysical point of view ), that is, the Super-conscious or Divine level - beyond words- where mystics, poets, inventors, scientists, super athletes, healers, wise persons, transcendent leaders dwell - the language of silence, where unity dwells and division melts; where judgment collapses, and " they " becomes extinct and " we " is the " in " thing. Peace becomes not just possible but turns practical in ordinary life with nary an effort stronger than lifting a feather of a sparrow. Time and space collapse; hence, anxiety and impatience dissolve, for how can they exist without time? Stress is no longer a reality as the formless spirit within one's being expands because space is no more. Absolute freedom reigns. Is it possible? Yes! I let it be one afternoon for a few minutes... and it was heaven...These words are just puny attempts to describe them. It helped that I read Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth... in silence...

In deep humility, I share this with those who care to open their hearts, minds and spirits. Can you experience the same zone of peace? Yes, you can!!! But you need to be still… and perhaps accept our imperfections, and just be ourselves, not be somebody else. Then, maybe we can recapture that sacred moment I felt one frigid winter morning in early February this year: found God, myself… and peace.


Monday, March 9, 2009

We Are One/ Loving One's Neighbor/ It Starts with the Consciousness Beyond Labels

38 This is the great and foremost commandment.
39 The second is like it, " YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. "

" We are one (hu)man. " - Ralph Waldo Emerson


In this day and age, it seems easier to love God but difficult to love our neighbors. In fact, the current trend seems to be to hate, ostracize, or minimize at the least those who disagree with our views about our philosophies in life or even in such trivia such us fashion tastes, dismissing them as FOBs ( fresh off boats ), ghetto, rednecks, clueless, unpatriotic, not the real America, corny, not-us ( " them " ), etc.. The implication is they are second-class citizens, or worse, lesser human beings. This, then, is the root of all human conflict: WE FAIL TO SEE THE ESSENTIAL IDENTITY / OURSELVES AS FELLOW BEINGS COMING FROM THE SAME SOURCE / GOD / HIGHER BEING however we call HIM /HER. We get stuck with our ( external ) human forms manifesting in different ways, depending on when and where we happened to be born or residing, subject to external variables such as culture, language, nationality, tradition, clothes, food, laws, transportation, climate, weather, housing, possessions, titles, temporal power, fame, popularity, achievements, works, etc... That must be mine to be me... that piece of empty lot I will never develop... or barren desert... or that stock certificate I cannot bring to my grave

As a result, each one of us separates oneself from others and creates a wall. An incessant need for accumulation cannot be far behind, setting up a fertile ground for greed and fierce competition and survival of the fittest.... the law of the jungle soon follows with high-tech weaponry. This is where humongous egos evolve and wars are waged. The Wall Street crash, the Iraq War, the Middle East conflict... The stakes are higher, because, the human race has, for the first time, the capacity to annihilate the entire planet earth and every human being in it.

But if I remind myself that I am a spiritual being, eternal, unchanged, even by death ( O, death, where is thy sting? ), coming from that Great Spirit, the greatest energy source, I do not need any external French designer label to define my identity and feel good about it because it's been ( my identity - spiritual being ) there all along... and every other being is my equal, my sister and brother; hence, I can love her / him easier any time of day or night, though there be recession or depression or war.... because there is that deep abiding peace in me which the world cannot give, and which it may never understand.....

A prince in pauper's rags is still a prince; so is a child of God.... always a child of God, and the only identity and label I need.... for me and my neighbor.

Peace to all who read this....