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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 April 2015

Paul J. Zwier*
Professor of Law, Emory University School of Law


This article discusses Paul Ricoeur's moral philosophy as a tool for the mediation of international disputes. It argues that Ricoeur's hermeneutics provides a lens to examine how a mediator can use language to explore with representatives of the disputing parties a deeper sense of their histories as a pathway to creative imagination and problem solving. It shows how even, and perhaps especially, religious disputants can be led into a more profound sense of the complexity of their identity and history, in order to discover the sense of urgency and responsibility that opens disputants to imaginative steps toward peace and reconciliation.

In addition the article discusses Ricoeur's clear-eyed view of forgiveness as an important correction to modern-day uses of truth and reconciliation commissions. With this better understanding of the meaning and conditions of forgiveness in hand peacemakers will be able to help disputants design processes that are necessary for a lasting and just peace.

Finally it briefly discusses the challenges to applying Ricoeur's hermeneutics to international conflicts.

Copyright © Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University 2015 

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1 I wish to acknowledge and thank the lay theologian and philosopher John Huss for leading me through a careful reading and understanding of Paul Ricoeur's hermeneutics.

See especially Ricoeur, Paul, Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination, trans. Pellauer, David, ed. Wallace, Mark I. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995)Google Scholar; see also Kearney, Richard, On Paul Ricoeur: The Owl of Minerva (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004)Google Scholar. Not everyone is a fan. Some have found it hard to find a common thread in Ricoeur's work. See, e.g., Kaplan, David M., introduction to Reading Ricoeur, ed. Kaplan, David M. (New York: State University of New York Press, 2008)Google Scholar. Kaplan sees in Ricoeur's work more of a response to a set of philosophical problems than an answer to them. He does find a unity in Ricoeur's work that describes a “thin but continuous thread” about the capability of humans. Kaplan, introduction to Reading Ricoeur, 4 (internal quotation marks omitted). He quotes from Ricoeur himself concerning the thread:

The man capable . . . of speaking, acting, narrative and narrative himself, taking responsibility for his actions . . . but also remembering and forgetting, making history and writing it, judging and being judged, understanding his human condition, through the painstaking work of interpretation and translation, which is a way to say something again but differently. And capable also, at the end of a long lifetime journey, or realizing, through the difficult experience of forgiving, that humans are worth more than their actions and their faults and that the climax of wisdom is the capacity to be amazed by the splendor of the simple fact of being alive as human beings . . . as we are taught by those simple masters, the lilies of the fields and the birds in the sky.

Ricoeur, Paul, Memory, History, Forgetting, trans. Blamey, Kathleen and Pellauer, David (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2004), 505–06CrossRefGoogle Scholar, quoted in Kaplan, introduction to Reading Ricoeur, 4.

2 Ricoeur, Figuring the Sacred, 323–29; Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 96–97.

3 Ricoeur, Figuring the Sacred, 85, 323–29; Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 96–97. Kearney writes of Ricoeur's thinking about forgiveness:

Before [forgiveness] occurs it seems impossible, unpredictable, incalculable in terms of an economy of exchange. There is no science of forgiveness. And yet this is precisely where phronetic understanding, attentive to the particularity of specific evil events, joins forces with the practice of patient working through—their joint aim being to ensure that past evils might be prevented from recurring. Such prevention often requires pardon as well as protest in order that the cycles of repetition and revenge give way to future possibilities of non-evil. This is a good example of Ricoeur's claim that forgiveness gives a future to the past.

Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 97.

4 The representatives are forced to anticipate whether victims can and will forgive before they can know whether the victims will be able to forgive. See, Heather Elko McKibben, “Negotiating Agents and Bargaining Processes: Maximizing Member State Interests in COREPER” (unpublished paper prepared for the European Union Studies Association Conference, Montreal, Canada, May 17–19, 2007),

5 Particularly helpful in this regard will be the newly released Belfast Guidelines on Amnesty and Accountability. Transitional Justice Institute at the University of Ulster, Belfast Guidelines on Amnesty and Accountability (Belfast, Northern Ireland: Transitional Justice Institute at the University of Ulster, 2013)Google Scholar. The institute recommended that amnesty be granted only with preconditions, including the following:

a) submitting individual applications b) surrendering and participating in disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes c) participating in traditional or restorative justice processes d) fully disclosing personal involvement in offences, with penalties for false testimony e) providing information on third party involvement with respect to offences f) testifying (publicly or privately) in a truth commission, public inquiry or other truth-recovery process g) testifying at the trial of those who were not granted or eligible for amnesty h) surrendering assets illegitimately acquired i) contributing materially and/or symbolically to reparations.

Ibid. 17–18.

6 Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 1.

7 See ibid.

8 See Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 13–15. Ricoeur's early philosophical work was heavily indebted to the phenomenological philosophers of the early twentieth century, and he established himself as a leading authority on phenomenology with his translation and commentary on Edmund Husserl's Ideen I. Thompson, John B., editor's introduction to Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences, by Ricoeur, Paul, trans. and ed. Thompson, John B. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981)Google Scholar, 2. Ricoeur's engagement with and critique of Husserl (who is generally considered the founder of phenomenology) can be seen in the introduction to his early work, Freedom and Nature: The Voluntary and the Involuntary, trans. Kohák, Erazim V. (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 2006), 334.Google Scholar

9 Kohák, translator's introduction to Freedom and Nature, xiii.

10 Ibid., xiv.

11 Kearney, On Ricoeur, 2.

12 Ricoeur, Paul, The Conflict of Interpretation: Essays in Hermeneutics, ed. Ihde, Don (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1974)Google Scholar, 11. To at least one commentator, this is more than an insight about phenomenology, and constitutes an epistemological insight, or one about knowing. See Petit, Maria Villela, “Thinking History: Methodology and Epistemology in Paul Ricoeur's Reflections on History from History and Truth and Time and Narrative,” Philosophy & Social Criticism 14, no. 2 (1988)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Professor Petit derives Ricoeur's epistemology by integrating his work History and Truth, trans. Kelbley, Charles A. (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1965)Google Scholar, with the later Time and Narrative, vol. 1, trans. McLaughlin, Kathleen M. and Pellauer, David (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984)Google Scholar. Petit sums up the connection as follows:

The foregoing is a very succinct survey of Ricoeur's approach to the methodology and the epistemology of history in the first volume of Time and Narrative. But “thinking history” for Ricoeur means going far beyond these levels of reflection. As the third volume of Time and Narrative demonstrates, the epistemology is itself an essential though subordinate step in a project whose ultimate aim is a hermeneutics of the historical consciousness. Within this horizon, the historical and the fictional narratives assembled are considered as essential contributions to the refiguration of the field of human action and suffering, in other words, to the refiguration of our historical condition. This refiguration has necessarily an ethico-political dimension, a dimension which has always been the telos of Ricoeur's thinking on history.

Petit, “Thinking History,” 155–56.

13 Ricoeur, The Conflict of Interpretations, 11–12, 27–29. It is worth noting that Ricoeur's hermeneutic approach has its origins in approaches to resolving the problems of multiple meaning that emerged in biblical exegesis. Ibid., 11; see also Kearney, On Ricoeur, 20.

14 Ibid.; see also Thompson, editor's introduction to Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences, 15–17.

15 Ibid, 28–29.

16 Ricoeur, Paul, Temps et récit, vol. 3: Le Temps raconté (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1985)Google Scholar, 311 (hereafter cited as TR), cited in Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 60. I am relying on Richard Kearney's translation of Ricoeur's Temps et récit, vol. 3: Le Temps raconté found in Kearney On Paul Ricoeur. Kearney cites his own translation of Ricoeur's work as “Ricoeur, TR.”

17 Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 60. To the extent that modernism seeks to cut the ties to the past it loses its ability to formulate a path to its ideals: suppressing the notion of progress for a utopia cut off from reality. Ibid.

18 Ricoeur, TR, 313, quoted in Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 60.

19 Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 62.

20 As an example, a family counselor dealing with children who are in conflict might ask, “What do you think your parent would want you to do about this problem in the future?” Or, “Do you think your parent would want you to go on fighting about this?”

21 Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 63.

22 Ibid., 64.

23 See Paul Ricoeur, “Hermeneutics and the Critique of Ideology,” in Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences, 63–100. Ricoeur seeks to mediate between Gadamer's backward look of inherited pre-understanding and Habermas's forward look of communicative action, with a view to finding norms of validation as operative both within historical dialogue and as a limit-idea, which also serves as a regulative ideal. Kearney, On Ricoeur, 65; see also note 27 below.

Again, in a family counseling setting, a mediator might see Ricoeur's point to prompt the following: “I know you feel like your parent wanted you to have the property because you were the oldest boy, but do you think that was fair to your younger sister?”

24 For example, a sacred text seems to describe a historical event and attribute to God not only a victory against an enemy, but also an act of genocide against the civilian population of that enemy. How ought God's favor toward a person in that tradition interpret that tradition today?

25 Ricoeur, TR, 228–58, cited in Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 66. Ricoeur finds support for this move in the philosophy of Kant, Heidegger, and Gadamer. See Heidegger, Martin, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, ed. Churchill, James S. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1962)Google Scholar; see also Gadamer, Hans-Georg, Truth and Method, ed. and trans. Weinsheimer, Joel and Marshall, Donald G., 2nd rev. ed. (New York: Continuum, 1993)Google Scholar. Ricoeur's insight helps explain why the language of problem solving or interest-based bargaining can have such a transformative effect. The language shifts the parties from winning and beating their opponent into thinking about a future that they may share. Instead of thinking about a zero-sum game, they think about a future of possibilities, in which each lives in community within his or her group and with others.

26 Ricoeur, Paul, The Symbolism of Evil, trans. Buchanan, Emerson (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), 1214.Google Scholar

27 Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 40–41.

28 Ibid., 42.

29 Ricoeur, Paul, From Text to Action: Essays in Hermeneutics, vol. 2, trans. Blamey, Kathleen and Thompson, John B. (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1991)Google Scholar, 177.

30 Ricoeur, Symbolism of Evil, 15; see also Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 45n25.

31 See Ricoeur, Symbolism of Evil, 12–14. Ricoeur also discusses what he calls oneiric symbols. Oneiric symbols are like the meaning that individuals ascribe to dreams. They remember and interpret the dream as containing messages from God, or of cosmic importance, or of subconscious meaning that caused the dream “facts” to occur. In other words, oneiric symbols interpret dream images as manifesting the sacred in the psyche. People act on oneiric symbols. For example, the three Wiseman of scripture were moved in a dream to seek the “Christ Child.”

Oneiric imagination works by seeing dream images as concealing and revealing meaning, deforming and disclosing intentions, or expressing a sign through a saying desire, to be understood as a passion for possibilities not yet realized. A hermeneutics of suspicion encouraged by psychoanalysis can help us to discriminate between those images that are merely a return of the repressed and those which serve as symbols of an eschatological horizon of possibility. So understood, dreams provoke rational interpretation, but such interpretation never exhausts their surplus of meaning. Still we are to recognize the formalized, transparent, and technical language of the contemporary era and distinguish it from the hidden, sedimented traces of meaning embodied in and seeking to emerge from language. Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 48.

32 Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 43, citing Ricoeur, Paul, Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation, trans. Savage, Denis (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1970)Google Scholar.

33 Ricoeur, Symbolism of Evil, 14, quoting Bachelard, G., La Poétique de l'Espace (Paris, 1957)Google Scholar.

34 Ricoeur, Paul, The Rule of Metaphor (London: Routledge, 1978), 199200Google Scholar; Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 51.

35 Ricoeur, Paul, Time and Narrative (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 1:8082Google Scholar; Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 54–55.

36 Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor, 207–08; Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, 1:80–82.

37 Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor, 207–08; Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, 1:80–82.

38 Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 53.

39 Ibid., 55.

40 Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 55; see Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, 1:80–82.

41 Ricoeur, Paul, “Life in Quest of Narrative,” in On Paul Ricoeur: Narrative and Interpretation, ed. Wood, David (London: Routledge, 1991)Google Scholar, 23, quoted in Richard Kearney, “On the Hermeneutics of Evil,” in Kaplan, ed., Reading Ricoeur, 84 (emphasis added in first instance).

42 These examples are drawn from discussion between some Palestinians and Israelis concerning negotiations over the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Hrair Balian, The Carter Center, discussions with the author, Atlanta, GA.

43 Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 100–01. This anchor distinguishes Ricoeur's understanding of the historian's task from other (especially French) philosophers of his time. Ibid., 103.

44 Ricoeur, Figuring the Sacred, 289–92.

45 Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, 3:187.

46 Paul Ricoeur, “Dialogue 5: On Life Stories (2003),” in Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 160. Kearney includes in the book a number of such “dialogues,” which are interviews with Ricoeur.

47 Ibid.

48 Ricoeur, Figuring the Sacred, 111; see also Levinas, Emmanuel, Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence, trans. Lingis, Alphonso (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1978)Google Scholar, 115.

49 Levinas, Otherwise than Being, 112, 128–29. The creation of meaning in language comes from the specific human production of new ways of expressing the objective paradigms and codes made available by language.

50 The language of interest-based negotiation was first used by Fisher, Roger and Ury, William in Getting to Yes (New York: Penguin Books, 1983)Google Scholar, and was then adopted by the Harvard Negotiation project as the basis a new language for negotiating.

51 Menkel-Meadow, Carrie, “Toward Another View of Legal Negotiation: Toward a Structure of Problem Solving,” UCLA Law Review 31, no. 4 (1984): 754842.Google Scholar

52 Ibid., 768.

53 Ricoeur, “Dialogue 5,” at 165.

54 Ibid., 161.

55 Ibid., 165.

56 See ibid., 166. Yet conflicting traditional narratives within a single tradition might be used as reasons for continued conflict; thus, Ricoeur still needs to describe how to select narratives of liberation and equality over narratives of conquering and destroying. Missing from Ricoeur is guidance for how one might select narratives of liberation and equality over narratives of conquering and destroying.

Ricoeur scholar Richard Kearney locates Ricoeur's philosophy in the context of other philosopher theologians. Ricoeur rejects philosopher Karl Barth's anti-metaphysical Protestant lineage in favor of a recovery or retrieval of an Aristotelian metaphysics of possibility and actuality (not metaphysics of substance) as a way to an ontology of the many meanings of being, coupled with a biblical and un-Greek understanding of being as being with, being faithful, and being with one's people, as exemplified in Exodus 3:14. Ibid. Ricoeur's phenomenology of being able seeks to develop an ethical ontology beyond Heidegger's ontology without ethics and Levinas's ethics without ontology, ibid., 167, playing itself out in a differentiated “phenomenology of ‘I can speak’, ‘I can act’, ‘I can narrate’ and ‘I can designate myself as imputable’ (imputabilite).” Ibid., 168.

Beginning with Aristotle but thinking along with Spinoza's and Leibniz's different sense of “possibility,” Ricoeur ends this dialogue with a sense of “possibility as a dynamic tendency or inclination.” Ibid., 168 (emphasis added). Ricoeur suggests the viability of a certain retrieval of medieval thought in its attempt to think God and being in terms of each other. Perhaps the God of the Bible or the Allah of the Qur'an and the God of Being are not absolutely irreconcilable. Ibid., 169. Ricoeur's work with history specifically and with narrative in general lead him to transcend the historical hermeneutic bias in favor of understanding over explanation, as is captured in his maxim “To explain more is to understand better.” Quoted in Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, at 3. This includes explaining alien meanings to understand ourselves better. Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 5. “Meaning . . . involves someone saying something to someone about something.” Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 4. Ricoeur complicates this dialogical model by noting how intersubjective relations are mediated by social institutions, groups, nations, and cultural histories, forming contexts for both the texts and meanings given to fundamental beliefs.

Texts as written incorporate meaning, which becomes autonomous—not constrained by original intention, original reception, or initial situation referred to. Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 5.

57 Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 54.

58 See generally Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil; see also Ricoeur, Paul, Evil: A Challenge to Philosophy and Theology, trans. Bowden, John (New York: Continuum, 2007).Google Scholar

59 Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 91.

60 Ibid., 93–94. Philosophers have long struggled with how to reconcile the existence of evil with an all-powerful, omniscient, wholly good God. To Augustine evil entered the world through human action alone. To Leibniz, the principle of Sufficient Reason accounts for the judicious balancing of good with evil in this the best of all possible worlds. To Hegel, ultimately all that is real is rational. It is the real and rational response to what has happened before. Jung argued for a residual inscrutability of evil. Ricoeur finds Kant's move away from a speculative to a practical discourse on evil the appropriate response to both speculative excess and an irrationalism of the “dark side of God.” Ibid., 93.

61 Ibid., 94.

62 Zwier, Paul, Principled Negotiation and Mediation in the International Arena: Talking with Evil (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, chapter 1.

63 Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 5.

64 Ibid.

65 Ibid.

66 Ibid., 6.

67 Ibid. To Ricoeur writing is in a dialectical relation with reading which eventuates in action in a world.

68 Ibid., 7–8. Ricoeur's hermeneutics of suspicion (a critique of false consciousness) exemplified by Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud is balanced with a hermeneutics of affirmation, which admits and explores an irreducible surplus of meaning grounded in the fundamental human desire to be, which, if it is to be opened up requires deciphering the masked workings of desire, will, and interest. Ibid.

69 Ibid., 8.

70 Bernard Dauenhauer and David Pellauer, “Paul Ricoeur,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta (Summer 2014),

71 Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 171.

72 Ibid., 172.

73 Ibid., 173.

74 Discussion by Ricoeur of the impact of belief in a Creator God on narrative and how it ultimately creates the space for the work of the imagination toward the ends of love and liberation runs all through his book Figuring the Sacred. See, for example, pages 31, 94–99, 102, 121, 131–35, 217–30, 236–48.

75 See, e.g., Ricoeur, Figuring the Sacred, 297–99. Note that Ricoeur also describes a philosophical basis for the creative imagination that underlies the hermeneutics of religion in the thinking of Kant, Rosenzweig, Heidegger, Husserl, and Levinas. Ibid., 75–126. As such the key for a mediator to unlock the imagination in a conflict involving non-monotheistic disputants lies in the philosophical ideas of the “other,” the mind, and memory. See Plantinga, Alvin, God and Other Minds: A Study of the Rational Justification of Belief in God (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967).Google Scholar

76 Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 175.

77 Ricoeur, Figuring the Sacred, 100–01.

78 In a well-known passage in her book The Human Condition, Arendt, Hannah wrote, “the discoverer of the role of forgiveness in the realm of human affairs was Jesus of Nazareth.” Arendt, The Human Condition (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1959), 212–19Google Scholar. By showing that forgiveness has in it the idea of the “fallenness” or imperfection shared by all of humanity in relationship to a perfect God, Nicholas Wolterstorff defends, from the argument that pagan ethicists also wrote of forgiveness, Arendt's claim that the idea of forgiveness originated with Jesus. Wolterstorff, Justice in Love (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2011), 162, 178–90, 251–256Google Scholar.

In Islam, forgiveness is something Allah does after a person confesses or recognizes his or her sin to Allah, then dedicates him- or herself not to repeat it, and does whatever he or she can within reason to rectify the harm he or she has done to others. Qur'an, Surah al-Zumar, Surah 39:53, 54. Then Allah will forgive. Sheikh ʿAbd Allah b. ʿUmar al-Dumayjî, “Allah forgives all sins . . .” Islam Today, accessed October 5, 2014, This concept of forgiveness is the same for Sunni and Shiite followers.

For Jews, reconciliation with God comes from adherence to God's law. Above all, contrition and compassion are the indispensable coefficients of all rituals of forgiveness, whether they be expiatory sacrifices, Leviticus 5:5–6, 16:21; Numbers 5:6–7, or litanies for fasting, Joel 2:12–14; I Samuel 7:5–6. The Day of Atonement is a day to make oneself right with God by sincere confessions of wrongdoing and making atonement for what has been done. Leviticus 16. Part of getting right with God is to be right with one another. See Mishnah Yoma 8:9 (“Yom Kippur atones for transgressions between a person and God, but for a transgression against one's neighbor, Yom Kippur cannot atone, until he appeases his neighbor.”). So some believe it important to ask for and give forgiveness, especially around certain seasons of the year.

For Christians, God is said to forgive sin through the reconciliation that occurs through the death of God's son on a cross. Forgiveness is something that God does, or that God's son, Jesus, grants. In these situations since God is believed omniscient, God already knows a person's sins before they are confessed. Inherent in God's forgiveness is an understanding that God has made a fair determination of the circumstances or facts that constitute a person's sin. God then is willing to forgive when one sincerely confesses their sin and looks to commit him or herself to make amends for what he or she has done. See Wolterstorff, Justice in Love, 161–63, 257–82.

To some Christians, forgiveness becomes more difficult where forgiveness is said to come from the church. Forgiveness can be gained through the mediation of a person or an institution. Some Christians believe the church has been delegated such authority from God. For these Christians, it may involve a process of confession and penance, and then an institution, through a designated person with authority, the priest, then grants forgiveness on behalf of the church (and God). To die forgiven may even require a ceremony of last rights, so that final sins can be absolved. More recent understandings of Catholic faith have dropped the requirement that a priest, on behalf of the Catholic Church, administer extreme unction as a condition of the ultimate forgiveness of sins. See Baltimore Catechism, Question and Answer 271, In cases where forgiveness is given through the church, priest, or through last rights, there are some essential features to forgiveness: that the person confesses their sins and sincerely asks for forgiveness. Again there seems to be a dual requirement of a coming clean or confession of the real guilt of the party, followed by a judgment about the sincerity with which the confession is made. Often some form of penance or payment is also necessary. At a minimum the person being forgiven may need to be penitent. Wolterstorff, Justice in Love, 172–73.

In Christianity, there is a variety of beliefs about the church's role in forgiveness. For Reformed Christians vis-à-vis the sin of humans against God, it is something only God does, and does freely, and by his grace. Wolterstorff, Justice in Love, 251. Yet, regardless of differences in beliefs about how to obtain God's forgiveness, for Christians it is also something they are taught is due between Christians, and even those not Christian, extending to those they are in relationship with. The duty to forgive resides in the commands of Christ found in the Lord's Prayer: to forgive others as God has forgiven you. Wolterstorff, Justice in Love, 163; Matthew 6:9–15. But what might this mean and how might a mediator explore with those religiously so inclined whether they may want to forgive?

It is clear from Jesus's command to forgive, that forgiveness can be seen as being granted by individual victims to the one who caused them harm. Beliefs about how and why God chooses to forgive those who have violated his law may guide an understanding of how to forgive others. Wolterstorff, Justice in Love, 207–20. One needs to learn about how and why a person has harmed another. Then that person needs to sincerely make confession. Restitution is different. Christian theology teaches that Jesus serves as the payment or substitute for the crimes committed, but God nonetheless chooses to then treat sinners as blameless. Here it looks like some other payment or substitution may be required. Then humans are commanded to forgive.

Ultimately then, human forgiveness can be patterned to the religious in terms of God's will. It can be viewed as if it is called for or required by Allah, Yaweh, or by the command of Jesus, or out of the example of Jesus' death for the forgiveness of sins of the world.

79 Wolterstorff, Justice in Love, 165. Even a cursory review of twentieth-century philosophy shows that there is no easy consensus on the idea of God containing in it the notion that such a being would want us to live in peace, shalom, or harmony with each other. Ibid.; see also Biggar, Nigel, “Forgiveness in the Twentieth Century: A Review of Literature, 1901–2001,” in McFadyen, Alistair and Sarot, Marcel, Forgiveness and Truth (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2001).Google Scholar

80 Wolterstorff, Justice in Love, 169. Biblical passages do suggest that God forgets sins and removes them “as far as the east is from the west.” Psalm 103:12. On the other hand, biblical descriptions of God as omniscient suggest a contradiction or paradox in God's nature in this regard.

81 Here I borrow heavily from chapters 15 and 16 of Wolterstorff's Justice in Love.

82 Murphy, Jeffrie G. and Hampton, Jean, “Forgiveness and Resentment,” in Forgiveness and Mercy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990)Google Scholar, 21, cited in Wolterstorff, Justice in Love, 165.

83 Swinburne, Richard, Responsibility and Atonement (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 85, 87n8, cited in Wolterstorff, Justice in Love, 165. In this initial discussion I use Swinburne's definition of forgiveness but try to keep cognizant of the “feelings” aspect of forgiveness in making recommendations for mediators to help the parties see the need for monitoring of any settlements that depend on forgiveness. In fact, the “feelings” aspect of forgiveness may be why the sustainability and practical workability of peace that depends on truth and reconciliation commissions are so difficult to achieve.

84 Here human forgiveness might be seen as being different from God's forgiveness, because God might choose to forget, or remove the transgression out of mind (as far as east is from west). Again this forgiveness may be God choosing to treat the person as if not responsible even though God, being omniscient, does not forget what was done.

85 Baron, MarciaJustifications and Excuses,” Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law 2, no. 2 (2005): 387406.Google Scholar

86 Pinker, Steven, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (London: Penguin, 2012), 488–89.Google Scholar

87 Ibid. Pinker calls this the “Moralization Gap,” that is, the gap between what really happened and how the victim retells what happened. Ibid., 490.

88 See, ibid., 491.

89 Zurbuchen, Simone, “Vattel's Just War Theory and the Law of Nations,” History of European Ideas 35, no. 4 (2009): 408–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

90 Ibid.

91 Ibid.

92 The law contributes distinctions in this regard that may be helpful in providing the ability of the parties to do this reframing. Victimization may occur because of a mistake. It may occur as a result of negligence, or of gross negligence, or may be intentionally done on the mistaken belief that it is the “only” way for the defense of other innocents to be secured. It may be truly evil or indiscriminate. In that case it may be virtually impossible for the “reframing” to occur.

93 Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature, 488–96, 506–07.

94 I see it necessary to deal with this distinction between adjudication and mediation in part because of what might be imbedded in human history and experience of the common law. If looking at chimpanzees for clues of how humans have evolved to their resolution of disputes, then surely the common law also provides insights for the conditions of justice and then forgiveness.

95 On this point I draw from arguments made by my colleague Tim Terrell. Terrell argues in his article Confronting the Legal Meaning of Religious Faith: Wringing Universal Values Out of Pluralism Itself,” in “The Foundations of Law,” supplement, Emory Law Journal 54, S1 (2005): 337, 342–43Google Scholar, that human beings, as humans, must have limitations or they would be God. This argument may not work for Hindus, who believe they have reached the higher divine state. Still Hindus, too, believe that their divinity frees them from the body and liberates them to choose to rise above fear and even self-preservation. Rao, Sastri Shakuntala, trans. The Bhagavad Gita, (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1959)Google Scholar; Kalidas, BhattacharyyaThe Meaning and Significance of Social Revolution and of the Idea of Progress in Hegelian, Marxian and Indian Philosophies of History,” Contemporary Indian Philosophies of History, ed. Mahadevan, T. M. P. and Cairns, Grace E. (Calcutta: The World Press, 1977), 6192.Google Scholar

96 See Ricoeur, Paul, “Critique of Religion,” in The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur, ed. Reagan, Charles E. and Stewart, David (Boston: Beacon Press, 1978), 213–23Google Scholar, cited in Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 29 (“The problem of false-consciousness could only appear by way of a critique of culture where consciousness appears in itself as a doubtful consciousness. But . . . this doubt can only work through a totally new technique which is a new method of deciphering appearances. This deciphering will enable us to grasp what we have to say about demystification: What distinguishes false-consciousness from error or falsehood, and what motivates a particular kind of critique, of denunciation, is the possibility of signifying another thing than what one believes was signified, that is, the possibility of the masked consciousness. Consciousness is not transparent to itself . . . but a relation of conceal/reveal which calls for a specific reading, a hermeneutics. The task of hermeneutics has always been to . . . distinguish true sense from the apparent sense, to search for the sense under the sense . . . There is then a proper manner of uncovering what was covered, of unveiling what was veiled, of removing the mask.”).

97 In my argument I rely not only on moral philosophy but also on both psychology and theories from evolutionary biology that humans seem to be able to use ceremonies and rituals as part of a process that can lead to forgiveness. Evidence from the fields of evolutionary biology and game theory suggests that forgiveness is possible and may be helped along by rituals and ceremonies of forgiveness. Yet the exact conditions for the emergence of forgiveness have been left for further research and explanation. This paper seeks to examine those further conditions using the mediation/adjudication paradigm, which seems to be important for peaceful resolution of disputes. Experience with mediation/adjudication in the domestic forum provides valuable insights in this regard. See, for example, Long, William J. and Brecke, Peter, War and Reconciliation: Reason and Emotion in Conflict Resolution (Boston: The MIT Press, 2003).Google Scholar

98 American Psychological Association, “Forgiveness: A Sampling of Research Results” (originally compiled for the occasion of the 59th Annual DPI/NGO Conference United Nations Headquarters Midday Workshop, Forgiveness: Partnering with the Enemy, 2006, Reprinted 2008), 31.

99 Ibid., 26–33.

100 Ibid., 31; see also Staub, Ervin, “Constructive Rather than Harmful Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Ways to Promote Them after Genocide and Mass Killing,” in Handbook of Forgiveness, ed. Worthington, E. L. Jr. (New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2005), 443–60Google Scholar; see generally Staub, Ervin, Overcoming Evil: Genocide, Violent Conflict and Terrorism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).Google Scholar

101 Staub, Ervin et al. , “Healing, Reconciliation, Forgiving and the Prevention of Violence after Genocide or Mass Killing: An Intervention and Experimental Evaluation in Rwanda,” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 24, no. 3 (2005): 297334CrossRefGoogle Scholar. One such process could be a truth and reconciliation commission. While not the focus of this paper, our study may also provide some modest proposals for better ensuring the workings of truth and reconciliation commissions as vehicles to a just peace.

102 Ibid.

103 For example: “Elizabeth Loftus (1997) reviewed 30 cases selected at random from 670 claims submitted to the Washington Victims Compensation Program. Twenty-six had ‘recovered’ a memory of abuse through therapy. All 30 were still in therapy after three years, 18 for more than five years. After treatment 20 were suicidal compared with three before treatment began, 11 were hospitalised (cf. two before treatment), eight engaged in self-mutilation (cf. one before) and marriage break-up occurred in almost all. It appears that in these cases, recovery and abreaction had serious adverse effects.” Brandon, Sydney, Boakes, Janet, Glaser, Danya, and Green, Richard, “Recovered Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse: Implications for Clinical Practice,” British Journal of Psychiatry 172, no. 4 (1998): 303CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.

104 Bunker, Barbara Benedict, “Managing Conflict through Large-Group Methods,” in The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice, ed. Deutsch, Morton and Coleman, Peter T. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000)Google Scholar, 566.

105 Wolterstorff, Justice in Love, 55.

106 Ibid., 167. Wolterstorff describes the prerequisite context for forgiveness as follows: a victim can offer forgiveness only when that person did that victim wrong, the victim rightly believes that person was to blame, the victim continues to remember the deed and who did it, continues to condemn it, and feels resentment or some similar negative emotion for the act directed at the person who was to blame for committing it. Ibid.

107 Recently the International Criminal Court (ICC) has dropped charges against Uhuru Kenyatta, president of Kenya, after it decided that it did not have sufficient evidence to proceed against him for his actions in fomenting violence in the aftermath of Kenya's 2007 elections. Some see the ICC's failure to prosecute to be the result of Kenyatta's refusal to cooperate and intimidation of witnesses testifying against him. Marlise Simons and Jeffrey Gettleman, “International Court Ends Case against Kenyan President in Election Unrest,” New York Times, December 6, 2014, A7. As a result, perhaps the principal disputants could take the chance, or gamble that the ICC would likely not have the interest from the international community, or the political will, to follow through on their jurisdiction.

108 Here again, I draw on the wonderful insights provided by Wolterstorff's Justice and Love. Challenges to forgiveness from justice go to the heart of what it means to mediate peace as opposed to adjudicate the resolution of a dispute. In other words the challenge to Ricoeur's theory is a jurisprudential philosophical challenge that comes out of the logic of the law, or “rights” based theory. Especially in those cases where what is required is that either one or both of the parties “forgive” the other party and put the past behind them in exchange for the end of the conflict, there will emerge a tension between peace and justice. Experience suggests that making peace may be at the cost of doing justice, Wolterstorff, Justice in Love, 161; thus, making peace will seldom seriously redress the violation of rights that the parties have endured. In other words, we are exploring whether a mediated settlement ever works out the tension between peace and justice, and therefore enables the parties to make a lasting peace. In a way, Ricoeur's task is similar to that taken on by “process” theology in its attempt to resolve the tension between biblical interpretation and experience, or, as Ricoeur would say, between traditions and the future. Process theology is a derivative of John Whitehead's process philosophy. See generally, Epperl, Bruce G., Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed (New York: T&T Clark, 2011)Google Scholar. (This is the best in-depth introduction to process theology available for nonspecialists.) I think Ricoeur does resolve this tension, but as Ricoeur explains, the connection is orchestrated only if the parties see the possibilities raised by the poetic symbols imbedded in historical discourse and the demands of justice.

109 See Habib, Adam, South Africa's Suspended Revolution: Hopes and Prospects (Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2013)Google Scholar.

110 Ibid.; see also Sahil from San Diego, “Peacemaker Hero: Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela,” My Hero, last modified October 1, 2010,

111 See above, part II, “The Challenge to Mediating Disputes: Between Justice and Forgiveness.”

112 Take for example, Syria. President Assad would not submit to the mediation process, and now the situation has been exacerbated by the possibility of his use of chemical weapons. Now that Syria's involvement in a peace process seems to have been coerced by the Russians, new opportunities to mediate a peaceful settlement may again be presented with the United Nation's involvement in dealing with Syria's chemical weapons. “Syria Says it ‘Welcomes’ Russian Proposal to Place Chemical Weapons under International Control,” CBS News, September 9, 2014,; cf. Michael Singh, “On Syria, Diplomacy and Coercion Are Not Mutually Exclusive,” The Washington Institute, May 14, 2013, (opining Russia will only push so hard).

At the time of this writing a peace conference has been called by the United Nations, to be mediated by UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, to see if he can help the parties attain peace. At the time of this writing a peace conference has been scheduled between the parties in Geneva for January of 2014. Nick Cumming-Bruce and Rick Gladstone, “Talks on Ending Syria's Civil War to Begin in January,” New York Times, sec. A11, November 26, 2013. At the same time, the conditions (including whether Assad will be allowed to attend) for discussing peace are being negotiated between the United States, Russia, and Syria and no agreements have yet been reached. Nick Cumming-Bruce and Rick Gladstone, “Diplomats Fail to Agree on Details for Syria Peace Talks,” New York Times, November 6, 2013, A6. But will any settlement be sustainable without forgiveness being a necessary part of the process, and will any agreements to forgive be truly just?

113 For example, Palestinians in Gaza have refused even a cease fire because they demand some recognition of the fact that, by refusing to adequately open its border, Israel has subjected Gazans to prison-like conditions since Israel withdrew in 2003. Israel similarly has refused a cease fire because of the repeated use of rockets by Gazan rebels on Israeli civilian targets during this same time period. Moreover, in Syria there are so many rebel groups, with so many diverse agendas, that using a mediation approach seems overly complex. The temptation is for someone to step in like a parent with children and dictate how the parties should behave. Again, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with whom is Israel to negotiate? The Palestine Liberation Army? Hamas? The Muslim Brotherhood? Egypt? Iran? Syria? Jordan? In Syria, is the Syrian government negotiating with the original rebel groups formed during the time of the Arab spring? With later-arriving Kurdish groups? With Al Qaeda? With the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria? Governments of sovereign states seem unlikely to mediate after a group has used suicide bombers who kill innocent civilians or shoot rockets at civilians in cities. How can a government get justice for these acts of violence without exacting punishment? But the same can be said of the governments' actions. How exactly will rebel groups in Syria get justice for victims of the government's use of poison gas? How will they get justice for blockades of economic goods at their borders that for years prevent its citizens from rising above poverty? How will they all get respect from the government for their religious differences and not open a Pandora's Box that their religious views be imposed on others not sharing their beliefs? In conflict in the Middle East between rebel groups, how will Shia and Sunni religious and tribal differences be reconciled? What protections will there be for those of different faiths? One might argue that a mediation process will never be able to address these difficult and important obstacles to peace.

114 The author serves as a consultant for The Carter Center on a peace conference that has been supported by funding from the Norwegian Peace Foundation and the United Nations to bring together various stake holders in the Syrian conflict to attempt to imagine Syria after the conflict is over. For decades The Carter Center has worked behind the scenes in Syria first to try to coordinate efforts to make peace between Syria and Israel, and then to help facilitate the end of violence between Hamas, the Palestine Liberation Army, and Syria over the conflict in Gaza. Since at least 2010 The Carter Center has been identifying various groups and their representatives from Syria to bring to Zurich to engage in an imagining conference on Syria post-conflict. Though the focus is primarily on constitutional options that might be used, the conference also provides a forum in which to explore Ricoeur's methods in a real-world setting.

115 In the case of the Syrian conflict the parties will need to see how each puts cosmic importance into the stories they tell about each party's past. Assad's representatives will likely describe how his father and his Arab Baath Socialist party took power in an effort to fight a common enemy, Israel. See International Council on Security and Development, “Syria, A Way Forward (2012), 34–37, 43, After losing the Yom Kippur War, Assad's father was tasked to continue to try to support the Palestinians and at the same time control a volatile religious divide between Shia and Sunni. From Assad's perspective, the current civil war has evolved. While some say it grew out of the Arab Spring, Assad sees it as a fight between Assad's tribe, the Alawites, affiliated with Shia Muslims, and a group of breakaway Alawites looking for more freedom, joined by Sunnis, some of whom are associated with Al Qaeda and other radical groups. Ibid. It is true that the insurgents are a loosely affiliated group called, in part, the Free Syrian Army. Ibid at 66–72. The insurgents have since been joined by others who have seen an opportunity to promote a religious war. In the main these are radical Sunnis. In response to the threat from this coalition, support for Assad now comes from both Iran and Hezbollah Lebanese, who are predominately Shia. Ibid., 54–55, 88.

The Sunni side is also complex and evolving. The Sunnis make up large segments of the populations of Iraq and Egypt and portray themselves as being unfairly oppressed by the military governments there. Disaffected Sunnis in these countries are drawn to join the rebels in Syria, where they see an opportunity to advance their cause. Sunni opposition in Syria draws support from the Saudis and other Gulf states. Ibid., 82–83; see generally Line Khatib, Islamic Revivalism in Syria: The Rise and Fall of Ba'thist Secularism (London: Routledge, 2011)Google Scholar.

116 “Syria Peace Talks Struggle in Switzerland,” Aljazeera, January 28, 2014,

117 Tom Crick and Hrair Balian, The Carter Center, discussions with the author, Atlanta, GA. Experienced mediators are often troubled about what to do with a party's opening statement of its positions about how it sees the dispute and what its positions are about and what it wants in order to settle the dispute. These opening statements are sometimes called “clopenings”—a play on words used to describe the two times—the opening and closing statements—when a party representative addresses the decision maker, whether judge or jury, in a common law trial. In an international mediation the parties' representatives often make one presentation that includes the parties' proof about what has happened to them in the past that includes their legal or moral arguments—including violations of their fundamental rights as individuals and groups—and what they are entitled to in the settlement of the dispute.

Some schools of thought suggest these “clopening” statements are counterproductive. All the talk about rights and justice sets up irreconcilable conflicts and a logic that can lead the parties to choose continuation of war to the hard work of making peace. Too often representatives of the parties become stuck in the trap of identity politics. After making an impassioned plea for their side's victims, they feel that if they make peace with their enemy, they have dishonored the innocent lives lost in the past, and in process they often feel that who they are as a group has been diminished by even a willingness to talk and listen to the other side's view. “Give me liberty or give me death!” “I would rather die than forgive and forget what has been done to innocent brothers, wives, children, and parents, caught in the violence of the past.”

Thus, some argue that it is better, instead, to avoid the psychological effects of making such statements and start with a mapping of the conflict, that is, to first identify all the parties or stakeholders in the dispute, then identify shared needs for cessation of conflict. These shared needs typically include security, economic development, food, education, health care, and justice for past wrongs. The next step in this “opening statement-less” approach would be to then identify obstacles to obtaining those shared needs. According to this approach it is better to never give the parties the chance to state grievances, as they only harden into positions and demands that are counterproductive to building the relationships needed to engage in problem solving.

On the other hand, the practice of starting mediations with the parties giving an opening statement persists. This is because even with a mapping approach, the parties will eventually get around to discussing what obstacles stand in the way of reconciling differences. Inevitably the parties will discuss the justice of the matter, that making peace raises difficulties in addressing that which is due the victims and their families for what has been done to them. So, while not now an opening statement, at some point each side should make a statement of a demand for justice for what has been done to innocent victims by the opposing party in the past.

These statements of the case for justice are now believed to serve a number of conflicting purposes. On the one hand these statements can be useful as a way for each party to hear how the other side sees the dispute. As in a classic adversarial process, each party can then challenge any part of the dispute that it thinks has been misrepresented or mistakenly communicated to the mediator. It sets the parties in an adversarial mode, challenging their opponent's case, and arguing that whatever was done was done with the intent to protect their own group from violence done to their innocents. On the other hand, the case statements may serve to help each side listen to the other side, and thereby show respect, and perhaps a little empathy, especially if they respond by restating the important facts the other side has presented and by expressing empathy—at least as far as recognizing the sincerity with which the other side may see the facts.

These latter purposes are all the more important in facilitative mediations, where the mediator is a neutral and does not make findings of fact or rulings of law. Rather than adjudicate the dispute, the facilitative mediator facilitates communication and helps the parties explore their options. In this facilitative role, it is less important for the mediator to learn all the relevant facts, than it is for the parties to somehow be led into a process whereby they can start to work together to find resolutions to their problems. The psychological purpose of the case statements then seems to be of paramount importance. It gives the parties the sense of empowerment from having presented their cases, having been listened to, and having been heard, and so may legitimate the party from the status of terrorist or outsider, to victim or person with rights that need vindication.

Perhaps they are included in the mediation process in a domestic setting simply because many mediators are former judges, and are accustomed to hearing the party's factual summaries and legal arguments before deciding the dispute. They are also used in the context of domestic litigation with focus groups to get an efficient read from the focus group about how it sees a dispute. Combining elements of storytelling with argument, the focus group can help the parties predict how a jury might see their dispute.

118 American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution, Task Force on Improving Mediation Quality: Final Report (Washington, DC: ABA Section of Dispute Resolution, 2008)Google Scholar, 8.

119 Hrair Balian and Tom Crick, The Carter Center, discussions with the author, Atlanta, GA.

120 Ibid.

121 Examples of identity mediations include the mediations involving Northern Ireland, over a Palestinian State, and more recently, in Sudan.

122 Pruitt, Dean and Olczak, Paul, “Beyond Hope: Approaches to Resolving Seemingly Intractable Conflict” in Cooperation, Conflict, and Justice: Essays Inspired by the Work of Morton Deutsch, ed. Bunker, Barbara Benedict and Rubin, Jeffrey Z. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995)Google Scholar, 83.

123 Barbara Benedict Bunker, Managing Conflict through Large-Group Methods, 566.

124 Ricoeur's hermeneutics provides a better understanding of why the language shift from position bargaining to problem solving can be transformative. Second, it provides support that the process of exploring the identity narratives of the parties is vital to helping them imagine into the future a way of being and can be liberating. It facilitates the raising up of an examination of creative problem solving as a way of stimulating the imagination to explore new possibilities. Finally, it helps put on the table the possibility of forgiveness that is incentivized by potential for gains that can come about by choosing to treat the other as not being fully responsible for the harm that has been done to victims of their actions.

As noted earlier, problem-solving mediators often urge the parties to use the language of problem solving, or interest-based negotiation, without really understanding what such a shift in language may bring about. The parties to disputes are most often naturally interest-based bargainers. They see the dispute—who rules Syria—as a zero-sum game. They bargain over ways for one to rule Syria in order to ensure each side's power to rule and exercise control over the country.

Imagine you are UN mediator Brahimi, President Jimmy Carter, President Bill Clinton, or some nongovernmental organization mediator called to mediate between the parties in Syria. You need to be aware of how your instincts regarding where and how to start might lead you astray. You would also need to be aware of how using Ricoeur's concepts of tradition, traditions, and a tradition, might help you bring about a better process.

Your instincts might make you expect to start talking at the point of asking the parties what they are willing to do to make peace. Yet such a starting point places the parties in an adversarial posture. The question presupposes a game being played between the parties over the goods available to each side. Such a game is thought of as a zero-sum game. The mediator wants to eventually transform this game into a win-win game, where the parties see advantages to more goods if they can learn to be in relationship with each other.

Where the game is framed as each side trying to give up as little as possible and get as much as possible in return, the focus will be on protecting, posturing, and survival. Assad wants to stay in power and protect his group, and maintain its members in their privileged positions in society. The insurgent groups want the same things: they want security for their groups, as well as power, and freedoms in those areas that are keys to their identity. See Leenders, Reinoud, “How the Syrian Regime Outsmarted Its Enemies,” Current History 112 (2013): 331–37Google Scholar. Therefore, while Assad argues for the role of the Alawites in maintaining a secular peace between Sunni and Shia religious groups, the religious groups represented in part by their most extreme members (who may feel they have earned a seat at the table because of the sacrifices they have made in the civil war) will argue that Assad has lost his right to rule and they must control the new Syria.

125 Ricoeur, Figuring the Sacred, 68–72.

126 Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, 67.

127 Ibid.

128 Ibid.

129 See above note 50.

130 Menkel-Meadow, Carrie, Dispute Processing and Conflict Resolution: Theory, Practice, and Policy (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003).Google Scholar

131 Harvard Law School, Program on Negotiation, accessed on October 19, 2014,

132 Katz, Tal Y. and Block, Caryn J., “Process and Outcome Goal Orientations in Conflict Situations: The Importance of Framing,” in The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice, ed. Deutsch, Morton and Coleman, Peter T. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000)Google Scholar, 279.

133 The work of Acemoglu and Robinson gives authority for an argument that totalitarian regimes are a principal factor in creating cycles of violence that usually lead to the nation's failure. Acemoglu, Daron and Robinson, James A., Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty (New York: Crown Publishers, 2012), 398402Google Scholar.

134 Terrell, “Confronting the Legal Meaning of Religious Faith,” 337.

135 See Oskar N. T. Tomas, James Ron, and Roland Paris, “The Effects of Transitional Justice Mechanisms: A Summary of Empirical Research Findings and Implications for Analysts and Practitioners” (University of Ottawa, Centre for International Policy Studies, CIPS Working Paper, 2008),; Long, William J. and Brecke, Peter, War and Reconciliation: Reason and Emotion in Conflict Resolution (Boston: MIT Press, 2003).Google Scholar

136 Thomas, Ron, and Paris, “The Effects of Transitional Justice Mechanisms,” 12–13.

137 At a recent meeting of concerned Syrians sponsored by The Carter Center, the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre/Norsk Ressurssenter for Fredsbygging, Swiss Peace, and the Danish government, there was much discussion of whether victims of Assad's secret police could ever forgive the Assad regime for what they or their family members had experienced. Few were willing to forgive, and many confessed that they were not sure, after what they had experienced, whether they could ever forgive. One surprising explanation for their refusal to discuss forgiveness was candidly expressed: many blamed themselves for not having acted earlier or for not having the courage to be more fearless in the face of oppression. Transferring their feeling of self-blame towards Assad was, in a way, self-protection. In addition, they worried that forgiving required forgetting, something they knew they could not do.

138 United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, Final Report (December 13, 2013), (reporting UN findings of Assad's use of chemical weapon outside Damascus on August 21, 2013; in Northern Syria, at Khan al-Assad on March 19, 2013; and in the northwest town of Saraqeb on April 29, 2013); see also, Somini Sengupta and Rick Glandstone, “U.N. Reports Attacks Using Chemicals in Syria,” New York Times, December 13, 2013, A12. The report notes that Syrian governmental officials deny using chemical weapons in what they describe as a rescue operation in Khan al-Assad, after Al Qaeda took over in Khan al-Assad threatening civilians there. The UN report is based on its investigators' interviews with area doctors and various individuals involved in the area, as well as victims.

139 Peacemakers can provide for reconciliation in the following ways, drawn from the Transitional Justice Institute at the University of Ulster, Belfast Guidelines on Amnesty and Accountability (Belfast, Northern Ireland: Transitional Justice Institute at the University of Ulster, 2013)Google Scholar:

  • Design adjudicatory processes to later sort out the justice issues.

  • Rely on a truth and reconciliation process, but one that will have specific moral protections in place for victim forgiveness:

    1. 1.

      1. Providing a separate mediator for mediating between specific actors and their victims

    2. 2.

      2. Increasing forgiveness potentiality with mediation that employs Ricoeur's use of history that in turn taps into the creative imagination. (This is especially important for religious victims who may see their particular identity as being part of a Creation story where they are called to be responsible to God's creation.)

    3. 3.

      3. Providing victims a forum to judge the sincerity of these actors confessions of guilt

    4. 4.

      4. Providing victims the opportunity to make the decisions whether to forgive. Such decisions will need to be reached by consensus of the victims after the full mediation process has been employed.

  • Ensure future access to an adjudicatory process for future grievances. This may be a community adjudicatory process, but one that will make determinations on findings of fact, and setting punishment according to victim/community decisions about the type of punishment. Forgiveness could be a feature of these forums and specifically suggested by the peacemaking process as an option that could promote long term integration.

  • Remove these actors from the community and separate them in a way to ensure that the victims will not ever need to live with them.

  • Allow victims to opt for a community-based reconciliation process that is triggered by the perpetrator's willingness to confess guilt, and then provides for a process for assessing remorse and relies on a ceremony of forgiveness.

  • Try using representative forgiveness and using symbols of confessions of guilt.

  • Finally, the peacemakers might be asked whether they are willing to give up on ever sorting out the justice issues in a gamble that people will forget about the past as they get focused on their future. Yet this option will need to be explored with a clear eye for the later violence that the parties will likely experience.