Michael Henderson is a British freelance journalist and author of numerous books including Forgiveness: Breaking the Chain of Hate and All Her Paths Are Peace. He is convinced that forgiveness is like a muscle that must be exercised. He has gathered inspiring and edifying stories of individuals and organizations around the world who have sought to advance reconciliation among enemies and to bring about peace rather than sustain enmity. In the foreword, His Holiness the Dalai Lama writes:
"When something terrible happens, instead of finding some individual or group to blame, fostering hatred and a desire for revenge, we should try to take a broader view and consider the long term. Much more constructive than stoking feelings of resentment and revenge is to forgive and transform the negative event and its consequences into a source of inner strength."
Henderson has divided the book into segments on:
• Clash or Alliance?
• Reaching Out to "The Other"
• Moving Beyond Victimhood
• Taking Responsibility
• Creating Safe Space
• Acknowledging The Past
Each section also has commentaries by world leaders, activists, and peacemakers such as Desmond Tutu, the late Benazir Bhutto, Rajmohan Gandhi, Betty Bigome, Joseph Montville, David Smock, Donna Hicks, Margaret Smith, and Mohammed Abu-Nimer. A major emphasis in the book is to chart the great strides forward in the strained relationships between Christians and Muslims.
In a cogent quotation about the amazing nature of forgiveness, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks observes:
"In a world without forgiveness, evil begets evil, harm generates harm, and there is no way short of exhaustion or forgetfulness of breaking the sequence. Forgiveness breaks the chain. It introduces into the logic of interpersonal encounter the unpredictability of grace. It represents a decision not to do what instinct and passion urge us to do. It answers hate with a refusal to hate, animosity with generosity. Few more daring ideas have ever entered the human situation. Forgiveness means that we are not destined endlessly to replay the grievances of yesterday. It is the ability to live with the past without being held captive by the past. It would not be an exaggeration to say that forgiveness is the most compelling testimony to freedom. It is about the action that is not reaction. It is the refusal to be defined by circumstance. It represents our ability to change course, reframe the narrative of the past, and create an unexpected set of possibilities for the future."
When there are conflicts and major wars raging in every corner of the globe, it is encouraging to read about so many people who have broken the chains of hatred, violence, and revenge by reaching out to enemies. Among the mentors of forgiveness profiled in this book are a Tutsi survivor who has worked to rebuild Rwanda and advance the cause of reconciliation; a Christian pastor and a Muslim imam in Nigeria who are directors of an Interfaith Mediation Center; an IRA bomber and a victim's daughter; and the father of Daniel Pearl who honors the memory of his executed son through Jewish-Muslim dialogue.
Henderson also presents the work of grassroots organizations in hot spots around the globe working for reconciliation such as a toll-free telephone service set up by Parents Circle-Families Forum which enables Arabs and Jews to talk to people "on the other side." In the section on "Acknowledging the Past," there are some fascinating pieces on the apologies offered by the Australian government to the Aboriginal people and the British for the fire-bombing of Dresden. We also appreciated Henderson's inclusion of some documentary films, including Forgiving Dr. Mengele.
Early in No Enemy to Conquer, the author notes:
"Forgiveness has an image problem. It fosters so many misconceptions. Some withhold forgiveness for fear that they might easily become a 'doormat' for others; or that justice might not be served, and cruel people will literally get away with murder; or that forgiveness and apology, particularly in terms of injustices of the past, is just the latest caving in to political correctness."
Henderson makes a strong case for the moral and ethical firepower of forgiveness in public life. He answers the concerns of those who have a hard time with this spiritual practice, which is held in such high esteem by all the world's religions. We highly recommend No Enemy to Conquer and hope that it is widely read, discussed, and its lessons applied in communities around the world.