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November 23, 2007

To forgive or not to forgive – what we have to learn from Rwanda

by quaesitor

The editors of The Week magazine are a shrewd bunch. Last week (edition on 17 Nov), in the People section (p10) they placed an item about fashion demigod Karl Lagerfeld immediately above an article about a remarkable Rwandan women, Immaculée Iligabaiza. That juxtaposition said more than 1000 column inches ever could.

Lagerfeld’s vicious streak

By his own admission, Karl Lagerfeld is “a very superficial person. I like what is on the outside – and by this I mean clothes,” he told Geordie Greig in Tatler. The couturier, who has been creative director of Chanel for the past 26 years, owns 70 ipods and 2,400 shirts (mainly white); he dusts his ponytail with powder every morning, and when he goes out, he is accompanied by a posse of assistants and bodyguards, all chicly dressed in black suits, like himself. But if Lagerfeld’s loves are superficial, his hatreds are anything but. “I take a physical pleasure in revenge, often in a vicious way,” he says. And he will wait as long as it takes to pay back anyone who has wronged him. “When people think it is all forgotten, I pull the chair away – maybe ten years later. They do not even know it is me who in the end kills them. I am very dangerous for that. Do not touch me – I will most definitely touch you.”

Forgiving genocide

The quality of mercy was not much in evidence in Rwanda in 1994, when about a million people, mainly from the Tutsi tribe, were murdered in the worst genocide in living memory. But for Immaculée Iligabaiza – a young Tutsi who lost her entire family in the killings – forgiveness was her only path to peace. “If you do not forgive, you kill yourself,” Immaculée, a staunch Catholic, told Louette Harding in The Mail on Sunday. “To forgive is not easy, it is a process. I wished for forgiveness, and, well, let us say my body didn’t jump to obey.” Which is hardly surprising, given what had happened to her. Hunted by death squads from the rival Hutu tribe, Immaculée, then 22, had taken refuge with a Protestant pastor. When international troops restored order in the region three months later, she emerged to learn that her father had been shot, her mother hacked to death, and her brother caught in a crowd that was sprayed with machine gun bullets. The ringleader of this savagery had been a local businessman, who Immaculée knew; she had even played with his children at school. Believing it was what her family would have expected of her, she resolved to visit him in prison. “He was sobbing,” she said. “I could feel his shame. I reached out, touched his hands and said what I’d come to say: ‘I forgive you.”

Thank God there are people like her and that our world is not full of Lagerfelds.

 

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