Being just is inhuman.”

We don’t do a lot of straight-up links to non-academic papers here at AUFS. But when we do, I like to think we have very special cause. For my money, Susie Linfield’s essay “Living with the Enemy” more than meets my definition of “special cause.”

As an essay, I think it kind of loses focus near the end. But as a whole, I find it nothing short of stunning. If nothing else, I’m hopeful that it gets more people (myself included) reading Jean Améry. The essay itself is positively riddled with heartbreaking poetry. E.g., quotes like:

“The tortured person never ceases to be amazed that all those things one may… call his soul, or his mind, or his consciousness, or his identity, are destroyed when there is that cracking and splintering in the shoulder joints… Only through torture did he learn that a living person can be transformed so thoroughly into flesh.” (Jean Améry)

Revenge and reconciliation are often posited as opposites, with justice as the mediator between the two. But the Rwandan victims understand—far more wisely than either perpetrators or theorists—how inadequate all these purported solutions are; each fails to address, to heal, to unmake, or even to lessen the crime of genocide and the unending pain it causes. For the so-called survivors, genocide is the crime with no sentence, the problem with no solution, the crime with no end. “What’s the use of looking for mitigating circumstances… ?” asks Berthe Mwanankabandi, whose parents and eleven siblings were murdered. “What can you mitigate? The number of victims? The methods of hacking? The killers’ laughter? Delivering justice would mean killing the killers. But that would be like another genocide… Killing or punishing the guilty in some suitable way: impossible. Pardoning them: unthinkable. Being just is inhuman.”

That last sentence, especially, just stands out to me in such a stark, haunting way. I do wish, though, that Linfield had dwelt on that thought longer, esp. as so much of what precedes it is read through Améry, who seems absolutely consumed by the fundamental injustice of forgiveness & reconciliation. This, to me, is something worth thinking much more about.