Ethnography of evil

Assessing evil has been something trivial for the bigger part of history. Someone dies, someone kills; evil was visible. Quite so in the daily lives of many poor, alien citizens of a kingdom that wasn’t rightly named so. Let us take for example that one great Kingdom, the Empire that rules all, Great-Britain.

We go back in time, when the empire was at its peak. While the aristocracy was drinking the finest wines, and munching on the most exotic fruits, many of its citizens succumbed to various diseases, many times because of a combination of malnutrition and a general lack of hygiene (Levine, 2013). Indeed, we can assert that this was evil on a grand scale.

Having set the scene briefly, we now forward to contemporary times. Do we still see malnutrition, disease, and a lack of hygiene on the streets of Britain? Quite probably, yes. But do we still see it on the scale that we saw it in those not-yet-quite forgotten days of yesteryears? No, I’d like to think not. So has evil simply vanished?

Well. I would like to say that it did. But that would be inaccurate. When we take a closer look at British society – and indeed, anywhere else in the world – we will see that evil is still quite happy to exist. Evil, be it in the form of Shaytan, the Devil, Melek Taus, or any other equivalent, has flourished worldwide. It just shifted it shade from black to translucent.

As modern day society becomes increasingly connected, modern day evil becomes so too. Death and disease are still visible today, yet a more sinister evil is lurking right under the fabric of society. What this exactly can be, one can define for himself. Personally, I’d like to think of it as a combination of various principles (or lack thereof), and traditional malignancy.

Therefore, it seems to me that it would be a valid academic endeavour to combine the study of evil, forgiveness, and retribution, with that of anthropology. As evil is as human as any concept can be, anthropology is quite well-suited to investigate. Ethnography may be the key to a deeper understanding of the concept of evil, how it works, how it permeates, and ultimately, how it shifts shape in time, and location.

Having called for a renewed interest into the study of evil, there rests only one final thought for me to write down. Forgiveness can shape the world as much as evil can.

Work Cited: Levine, P. (2013). The British Empire: sunrise to sunset. Routledge.



Doing restorative justice in serious offences

Screen-shot-2014-08-14-at-17.19.33This piece is written based on an interview that two students of the Honors’ Program ‘Evil, Forgiveness, Reconciliation’, Jiannan Hou and Joske Willemijn Maria Schoemaker, conducted with Kristel Buntinx, a Leuven-based mediator who works for Suggnomè, the Flemish umbrella organisation for restorative justice.

The main defining feature of the Belgian restorative model is a non-diversionary approach used as a complement to the criminal process, called ‘mediation for redress’, a national programme which from 1997 until 2014 received funding from the Ministry of Justice, and is currently funded by the Ministry of Welfare. The Law of 2005 considers mediation as an offer (a right rather than an obligation) to victims and offenders, that can be done at each stage of the criminal justice process, including during the administration of the (prison) sentence, and independently of the nature and the degree of seriousness of the crime.

Mediation for redress is implemented in Belgium by two umbrella organisations, the Flemish NGO Suggnomè and the Walloon NGO Médiante. Both Suggnome and Médiante are independent non-for-profit agencies functioning outside the criminal justice system. The local mediators, present in each judicial district of the country, are (part time or full time) paid and professional employees. The mediators have a university degree in social sciences or humanities (often they are criminologists), and they receive their initial and ongoing training within their organisation once they are selected and hired. They are generally selected based on their attitude and on their knowledge of social and criminal justice related issues.

Based in Leuven, Kristel Buntinx’s main task is doing mediation in all kinds of cases, but given her long experience, she mainly works in serious offences. The cases can sometimes be referred to the mediation service by the judicial authorities, sometimes it is the initiative of the parties to contact the service, and sometimes the service contacts the parties with the offer. The procedures followed also differ often from case to case. The mediator organises separate preparatory talks to victim and offender, talks which can result either in video messages or in a direct, face-to-face meeting. If the parties want to sit together and face each other, they make a common agenda, decide the subject they want to talk about, and they can bring support persons. They are also informed to adjust their (sometimes too high) expectations towards the ‘promise’ of mediation. For example, victims are informed not to expect remorse from the offender (although it might come), and also to prepare for the worst situation. Only after they agree on these points, they can sit together and have the common talk.

This type of mediation, mainly because of the more serious nature of the crime and because of the non-diversionary focus, lies very much with the non-material aspects and the dialogue process between parties. These non-material elements, eventually together with a financial settlement, can be included in a written agreement between victim and offender, facilitated by the mediator, who after explicit consent by both victim and offender, can send the agreement to the referral body, mostly the public prosecutor. If the judicial authorities are informed, then the agreement (or the lack thereof) can, but does not necessarily, influence the further decision making process by public prosecutor and judge. The mediation process is fully confidential, and the parties decide through their agreement what they want the judicial authorities to know.

During the mediation process victims often realise that the offender is also human, and not a monster. The victims may end up being still angry with the perpetrators after the mediation, but the hatred usually is less, and that might be the first step towards forgiveness. Emotions cannot be forced, and have to come naturally. Forgiveness, as an emotion, therefore is something you cannot push. True reconciliation is a step beyond forgiveness and needs even more time and space. Reconciliation without forgiveness is empty and bears no fruits. Forgiveness always comes first, but reconciliation does not necessarily follow. Forgiveness is often a huge relief for both the victim and the offender. It may be the first step towards letting go and living on. Nevertheless forgiveness may not always be attained in our own lifetime. Kristel pointed out that sometimes forgiveness can be too big a step to take for those that are directly involved, and therefore sometimes relatives and friends that are closely involved, may follow the path to forgiveness after the passing away of either the victim or offender. Often it is lack of remorse that makes it nearly impossible for a victim to forgive their offender, because forgiveness presupposes serious acknowledgment of the guilt and accountability on the side of the offender.

The reasons for choosing mediation are often very different for victims and offenders.  Although rare, practical concerns to influence their case can be reasons for some offenders to opt for mediation. Most often feelings of guilt and remorse are the driving force. For victims a main reason can be to find this remorse. But often the main reasons that compel victims to attend mediation are to understand what happened, and also to speak their hearts, look the offender in the eye and get it off their chests.

The mediator, Kristel Buntinx made clear in her interview that not everyone welcomes mediation and mediation is indeed not for everyone and every situation, so it is important that it is not conceived as an obligation but as a right or an offer. It is key therefore to inform the parties very well on all its steps and outcomes. The mediator acts as a balancing figure, balancing the expectations, the power differences between the parties, and the outcomes. After our interview we were both very enthusiastic about the promises of mediation. We are convinced of its assets and encourage a growth of this instrument towards doing justice and reaching personal healing.

by Jiannan Hou and Joske Willemijn Maria Schoemaker

@photo credits belong to INSIDE THE DISTANCE (online): an interactive web documentary on restorative justice by Sharon Daniel.

Learning Old things in New Ways: A Conversation with Anthony Atansi

Rev Chukwuemeka1

The conversation with Anthony Atansi (hereafter AA), a Nigerian student in the Honors’ Program, was deemed the best way to capture the complexity of his background and the embodiment of his knowledge, especially when I became aware of his background as a chaplain in a federal prison in Nigeria. I was honored that he decided to share with me (and with all of us), his own search for meaning and knowledge. Brunilda Pali (hereafter BP)

BP- Anthony, can you tell me something about yourself and your background?

AA- I was born and raised in Nigeria, a country in West Africa, which has about 182 million inhabitants, more specifically in its South-Eastern part. I belong to the Ibo tribe, one of the three major ethnic tribes in Nigeria. I was raised up in a very Catholic Christian family and setting. It was also an environment that demanded and challenged one to the pursuit of excellence in life, becoming the best of what one can be. While my brothers and sisters have all studied in university and became respected professionals in different fields, I aspired and decided after high school to become a Roman Catholic priest. That aspiration and decision led me in 2002 after my high school education to enroll in the Seminary, where I studied for 10 years in a conjoint programme of philosophy and theology, meant to train one in and bring together rationality and faith. In 2012, I was ordained a priest, whose vocation in the service of the Church and humanity relies on four main pillars: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation. After my ordination, I was assigned to a local parish to get a first-hand experience in living out these long years of my formation. The local parish happened to be in the same area where one of the Nigerian Prison Services, the Amawbia-Awka prison is situated, and where I had worked for about 2 years as a chaplain.

BP- And I am very interested in your experience as a prison chaplain as you know, but can you first tell me what brought you to Leuven?

AA: During the time I worked as a chaplain I was assigned to be the assistant secretary to the diocesan bishop. He was impressed with my work and decided that I should go to further my studies. Meanwhile his former secretary, Rev. Dr. Lawrence Nwankwo, who is an alumnus of KU Leuven, suggested that I should be sent to KU Leuven. Also the priest who was to replace him, Rev. Dr. Michael Muonwe had just returned from his studies in KU Leuven, so we have a long tradition of educational exchange with KU Leuven. We have always known of the great tradition of critical thinking in this University, critical in the sense of honest rational inquiry, not cynicism or the kind that is undermining or demeaning to truth and faith. One could see this properly translated in the efficient and profound style and perceptiveness of the ministry and services of her alumni wherever they are working, whether in the institutions of learning or administration. Following then the approval of my bishop, I applied to the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies for admission; and by the grace of God and thanks to the great generosity of the Faculty, I was accepted to do my post-graduate studies in theology and religious studies. It gave me a sense of honor and fulfillment that I was going to be part of and benefit from the long standing and excellent intellectual tradition of KU Leuven.

BP- How does it feel to be here now?

AA- It has been very rewarding though challenging, but with hard work and determination, which the University encourages and inspires in us, I have been able to keep pushing on. The atmosphere particularly at the faculty is simply wonderful, amazing and quite interesting. It is first marked by a feeling of serious mindedness. You immediately sense this in its gigantic and well maintained structures and facilities. For instance entering into our faculty library, one cannot but have a sense of having come for a serious business. The various activities and study programmes which are excellently packaged and organised gives one the same sense. Interestingly too, the atmosphere in spite of this seriousness, is very friendly and cordial with the many persons one has to stay, live and work with – the brilliant and very inspiring professors, dedicated and highly courteous staff and very lovely and socio-culturally diverse students. With the students also you feel you are in touch with the whole world at our faculty; for we are quite many and diverse but we all get along well in our common search for meaning and purpose.

However, the most challenging part for me was first of all to make sense of the Western tradition, categories and experiences in which the theology is taught. It really takes a lot of time and efforts to reach back to the very depth of that tradition and to understand the context that often inspires the theological conversation. The other challenging task is to discuss and think about my faith from a certain scientific and academic distance. The approach towards religion and some theological issues is sometimes metaphysical, abstract rather than embodied in a way that allows for our faith-based epistemology. You see, I have always experienced and lived my Catholic Christian faith as one that is reasonable and that makes sense to me. I have always held it as true and as a reality that opens the door to a correct understanding of my own life, of the world and of humanity. The vision of faith is and has remained for me, the primal and one of the true and most sublime ways of looking at and making sense of the journey of life and the so many experiences of the human person. So you could imagine that it will not be so easy for me to take such a distance from it even in my present academic endeavour. I would rather prefer that my further and ongoing search for its reasonableness and meaning be done not from a distance but with it and from within it. This also marks a difference in my path with some other students who rely mostly on books and similar academic materials to make sense of their own learning process, while I am grounded in and being inspired by my faith and experience. In anyways, the challenge has been interesting and I am gradually getting on well with it. The struggle continues!

BP- This is very interesting Anthony. Would you see the required scientific or academic distance as detrimental to your faith?

AA: No. Not at all! I don’t think so. I am approaching this more in a framework of the search for a balance. Within my faith I have to be able to make sense to everyone. I think it will help me in the long run to think of my faith in more intelligible terms, and also communicate it as such in common terms. Thus, the content of the faith does not change, just the context for the thinking, speaking and trying to understand its content is what has changed for me. Hence, I am challenged to find and maintain a balance between the identity of my faith and its relevance. I feel I am being trained ahead of the situation that we shall still face in Nigeria and Africa, if not already facing. On returning to Nigeria after my studies, I feel I will be better equipped to speak and translate more intelligibly the content of the Christian faith in terms that it will make greater sense to the people.

BP- What steered your interest in the Honors’ Program on “Evil, Retribution and Forgiveness”?

AA- Several things at once. The very framing of the program struck a chord. I have always considered these themes in deeply “religious” terms. So a formalised, systematic, and interdisciplinary inquiry beyond the religious appeared to me very appealing. God in my context is always brought in first when dealing with issues of evil, forgiveness and retribution. What do I mean by this? Often in the face of evil, which calls for a more constructive and engaging attention, or even in situations that might eventually lead to forgiveness and reconciliation, the immediate response you will find is one that is dominated by the God-factor of love and mercy. As such, people in the name of God often shrink from taking responsibility for and becoming proactive in handling issues that might be considered evil or ones that are related to retribution, forgiveness and possibly, reconciliation. This kind of response stifles the concern and demand for justice and responsibility. To give you an example, in the prison where I had worked as a chaplain, there was a case about a young man who had raped a very young girl. The discourse and framing of the aftermath was immediately one of sacramental confession, forgiveness and reconciliation between the family members, while I was convinced and thought that shouldn’t be the starting point in dealing with issues such as that. I thought the young man needs to be called to book and that the needs of the young girl and the impact this had on her life has to be taken into account first. So we must begin with something like justice and end up with mercy. Justice alone until the end can be too crushing, but also mercy alone might risk becoming cheap and abused.

Another reason for which I enrolled for the program was its interdisciplinarity. I was curious to know about the other disciplines, their contributions to the conversation. In similar vein, I wanted to really learn what a theologian can bring to issues that will involve other disciplines and how these other disciplines, in turn, would appreciate the voice of a theologian. And I must say that I am not disappointed or intimidated in the program. A theologian can still be part of a broad and interdisciplinary conversation and still make sense to others from other disciplines. This raised my confidence as a theologian and religious scientist. It is also interesting that I could listen to and understand quite clearly the insights from other sciences.

BP- Can you tell me something about your experience as a chaplain and also relate that to the interview you conducted some time ago with the Catholic chaplain in the prison of Wortel (Province of Antwerp) Marc Van Laere?

AA- The role of a chaplain in prison is extremely important, both in the Nigerian context and as I gathered from the interview with Marc, also in the Belgian context. Faith and loving presence cum encounter of course is what makes the difference for a chaplain’s vocation. The role of a chaplain extends beyond offering of sacrament; it goes right into the personal lives, issues and experiences of the prisoners. Regardless of their religious belief, the chaplain represents for most of them a father, brother and friend figure. Somebody they can always turn to, somebody that listens to them, somebody present, somebody that calls them by their names, not by numbers or deeds. It is also an important figure that inspires a hopeful sense of future in the lives of these people, that gives some sense to the existence and experience of the prison as a place of transformation and renewal. Beyond all this, often the role of the chaplain extends towards real lifeworld support, including legal, material and emotional assistance. It can even be considered a disruptive actor within the prison system precisely because it extends the borders of an ‘imagined’ sacramental provision.

BP- We attended the course together, and there were many insights gained and perspectives learned. Although it would be difficult for me personally to come up with one in particular, can you think of one thing that has really stayed with you?

AA- Oh yes, I have been particularly affected by the class on forgiveness. There two things made a strong impression on me: the first was that forgiveness, whether the need to forgive or to be forgiven, is a journey. One is gradually led to it. It is not just an automatic imposition or obligation that follows in the face of evil. Secondly, that forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things. The latter does not just follow from the former. That one forgives does not immediately demand that one should be reconciled to the other. They might sound common sense, but they are not common insights from a religious or even theologian’s perspective. Often, forgiveness and reconciliation are thought together, and especially in my local context, the image of forgiveness is a hug, which means that one cannot claim to have forgiven unless one also gets reconciled with the other. So one can imagine what a relief it is to think of them separate. And again from a faith-based perspective, forgiveness is conceived often as an obligation, as a one-time deed, so thinking it as a journey instead gives it a lifeworld meaning, it becomes a real process for real people.

Forgiveness – three insights for a new understanding


When we think of forgiveness, many images come into our minds. We might think of the prayer “Our father” or the processes of reconciliation in Europe after World War Two (for example between France and Germany). One could also mention the current Holy Year of Mercy, that was started by pope Francis in December 2015. It is hard to define the term forgiveness comparing these images.

I would like to depict here three main insights gained during the lecture held in the Honors’ programme by professor Roger Burggraeve on forgiveness as an instrument to deal with evil. These insights seemed to me decisive for a better understanding.

At first, forgiveness is a healing process of the relationship(s) between people that is enabled when victims (can) forgive their perpetrators, persons who hurt them physically, verbally or did something else bad to them. This is probably common sense, but according to Burggraeve it is not the main point! Primarily and above all, forgiveness is a healing process of the soul of the victim. It is a key element of the necessary process of restabilization of the interior life that is hurt and disordered.

Secondly, forgiveness does not necessarily include reconciliation. They are two different terms and processes, as especially highlighted by the priest and psychologist Jean Monbourquette.[1] To forgive somebody does not mean that a former friendship or partnership will and has to be rebuilt again and that everything of the other is accepted and life continues as before.

Thirdly, while Christians think that they have to forgive, because of their faith, for example when praying “Our Father”, they feel themselves obliged to forgive, Burggraeve emphasised that forgiveness is not a moral obligation but a gift; a gift by people to one another and in the context of faith by the spirit of the Lord.

To conclude therefore, forgiveness is first of all an intimate process that starts inside one’s soul. To forgive does not mean to reconcile, although it is a necessary step that leads towards reconciliation. And finally, forgiveness cannot be a command or an obligation, but belongs to the register of the gift. These results may help people not to exclude themselves from the curing power of forgiveness but to be more open for its gifts, for the gift of mercy.

[1] See: Jean Monbourquette, How to forgive – a step-by-step guide, Ottawa 2000.

Anselm Demattio

The Healing of Truth

film-zuluHow do we deal with large scale Evil? The post-WWII world has seen its share of gross human rights violations and when a society overcomes such an era of oppression it is vital that it comes to terms with its past. Coming to terms with a plagued past is of course no easy task. In stories we may encounter the idea of Evil being vanquished by Good, with a new, brilliant society rising out of the ashes of the old one. The reality is that a great part of the population is scarred, questions remain about the fate of loved ones and tensions between social groups continue to exist. If left unresolved, such a society may never move beyond its gruesome past.

The process of dealing with these gross violations of human rights plays an essential part in the political transition from an authoritarian, oppressive regime to a democratic society and is aptly named transitional justice. Four core elements of transitional justice have been brought forward: Truth, Accountability, Reparation and Reconciliation.[1] Here, I want to talk about the one element that seems to me the most fundamental of all: the Truth.

Atrocities committed by an authoritarian regime are generally covered in a veil of secrecy. While this is bad enough for victims and relatives during the time they actually occur, there is also the risk that they may never be fully known or understood. The effect of this not-knowing, the uncertainty about the fate of a loved one, can take hostage of a life. The wounds caused by this ambiguous loss are unfortunately not of the kind that is healed by time; instead the pain lingers on until people are able to find closure and start a proper mourning process. It’s the Truth that can set these people free, however painful it may be to learn about the fate of their husband, their child or their parent.

On a societal level, too, clarity about the past is necessary to pave the way towards the future. A past that is uncertain is open to interpretation and consequently to abuse. On both sides different versions of the past may be constructed and handed down to next generations, living in denial or carrying deep grudges, ready to be exploited by those craving conflict. What is needed is the disinfecting light of the Truth to enable communication that breeds progress; otherwise even a century’s worth of time will only leave you bickering about numbers and semantics.

In short, the revelation of the Truth after atrocities is absolutely vital for a number of reasons: most importantly, it is a necessary condition for the start of a proper mourning process for relatives and for the society as a whole it is the common past created by the Truth, though painful, that can serve as a basis for a common future. In the process of transitional justice Truth is the necessarily primary step, it is the conditio sine qua non on which the whole process is built. Without the Truth, how can those responsible be held accountable, how do we know who is entitled to reparation and how do we build reconciliation that isn’t mortgaged by the past?

Ignace Vuylsteke

[1] E.G.M. Weitekamp, K. Vanspauwen, S. Parmentier, M. Valiñas , R. Gerits, How To Deal With Mass Victimization And Gross Human Rights Violations. A Restorative Justice Approach.

Duty to know better? On evil in ignorance



One thing I personally wonder about is whether there can be evil, in the broad sense, in ignorance. There is then still a difference between doing a bad deed out of ignorance and failing to prevent a bad deed out of ignorance. We are more inclined to see the first one as still a bad thing, because something bad has been done, but we might be reluctant to call this really “evil”. A person who is out hunting and accidentally shoots a young child because he didn’t know it was a child has done something bad, but we would be hesitant to call him evil. In the second case, we might be reluctant to view this as bad at all, because how can you prevent something from happening if you didn’t know about it?

Nevertheless, the ancient Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato did think there is evil in ignorance. Their moral views are known as “Greek intellectualism”. They were of the opinion that if we know what is good, we will automatically be and do good. There is no way we can know what is good and still do the wrong thing. Therefore, for them there was no such thing as “akrasia”, acting against your better judgement. Someone who did a bad thing was simply someone who lacked insight into what is good. You could in other words only commit evil if you were ignorant. Teaching people what is good would also make them good human beings.

Aristotle disagreed and said you actually can act against your better judgement, but that didn’t settle the discussion yet. You can act against your better judgement, but can you act in an evil way if you have no judgement at all?

A famous example of this, which also featured somewhat in the film The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, is the excuse of many Germans after World War II, who claimed they simply hadn’t known (Wir haben es nicht gewußt). By maintaining that they didn’t have a clue, they tried to escape (moral) judgement, because how can you be judged for not doing something about the concentration camps if you simply didn’t know about them? This is the second case I described above, where you fail to prevent an evil out of ignorance.

The problem with this is, of course, how you can tell the difference between the naive ignorance of a child like the young boy Bruno in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and the willful ignorance of a Nazi officer who also claims that he did his duty while simply not knowing what was going on. Maybe their ignorance was also just naïvety? In that regard, could there be a duty (for adults) to know better? When rabbi Benjamin Blech criticized The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, he certainly seemed to think so, mockingly stating “as if passivity in the face of evil was sinless”. He seems to equate ignorance with plain passivity, which he then considers as (some sort of) evil.

Can you be a good person who simply didn’t know any better? Or can you only be a good person if you do in fact know better and then choose to act a certain way? It was not at all my goal to give an answer to this difficult question here, merely to make the link between the moral questions that were already made in Antiquity and the moral question of the Holocaust. This remains a difficult topic, which continues to puzzle people many years later.

Shari Dedier


Foster_Bible_Pictures_0054-1_Joseph_Kissing_His_Brother_BenjaminThroughout the Bible a lot of stories can be found with regard to forgiveness and reconciliation. With regard to the Old Testament we spontaneously think of the Joseph story where Joseph forgives his brothers for selling him as a slave to the Ishmaelites (Genesis 45,9–11;14–15). The theme of forgiveness is also attested in the New Testament and is especially known from Matthew 5,6 (And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors [1]), a verse imbedded in the Lord’s Prayer. In this modest contribution we will focus on a particular verse in the Book of Proverbs, which is attested differently in two different manuscripts i.e. the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT) and the Greek Septuagint (LXX). In the LXX version of the text the verse is Prov 15,28 and in MT it is Prov 16,7 [2].

MT writes אתו ישלם אויביו-גם איש דרכי יהוה ברצות (When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him [3]). The Hebrew אתו ישלם אויביו (his enemies to be at peace with him) conveys the meaning of forgiveness. ‘Being at peace with your enemies’ means that you do not have to be friends with your enemies or that you do not have to renew the relationship that has been broken. Looking at the Hebrew text we can argue that God is the one who makes the enemies at peace with the righteous. The verb of the clause, יַשְׁלִם, is a hifil imperfect 3rd masculine singular. The subject of this verb must be a singular masculine form as well. The only singular masculine noun in this sentence is יהוה (God). God brings about forgiveness.

The LXX attests a different sentence: δεκταὶ παρὰ κυρίῳ ὁδοὶ ἀνθρώπων δικαίων, διὰ δὲ αὐτῶν καὶ οἱ ἐχθροὶ φίλοι γίνονται (The ways of righteous persons are acceptable to the Lord, and through them even enemies become friends [4]). We can see that the LXX translator translated his Hebrew Vorlage (i.e. the Hebrew text he translated into Greek) in a free way. It seems that the translator wanted to go further than just mere forgiveness, which is attested in the Hebrew text. He is speaking about reconciliation with the enemies (οἱ ἐχθροὶ φίλοι γίνονται; the enemies become friends) i.e. the renewal of a relationship that was once broken by the infliction of evil.

The LXX version differs from the MT version of the Biblical text. With regard to our topic we can make a twofold conclusion. (a) We can see that the LXX translator tried to radicalise his Hebrew Vorlage by talking about reconciliation instead of forgiveness. (b) The one who brings about forgiveness or reconciliation differs in the two versions. In the LXX version the ways of the righteous brings about reconciliation, whereas in MT God brings about forgiveness. Which one is the most preferable reading? Are we willing to become friends with our enemies and go beyond forgiveness?

Bryan Beeckman

[1] Translation based on the King James Version.

[2] There are lots of transpositions of verses in the different versions. The present author’s own text-critical analysis of Prob 16,1-7 has shown that this can be explained due to different versions of the text that existed next to each other, texts which were of equal value. The LXX translator had a different Vorlage than the Vorlage of MT. These text differed in verse order.

[3] King James Version.

[4] This translation is based upon the NETS-translation of Proverbs made by J. Cook. J. Cook, Proverbs in A. Pietersma & B. G. Wright (ed.), A New English Translation of the Septuagint. And the Other Greek Translations Traditionally Included Under That Title, New York, NY; Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007, 621-647, p. 635.

Is criminal justice about social justice?


What is the role of criminal justice system in relation to issues of social justice? Critical scholars Paddy Hillyard and Steve Tombs have argued that one of the consistent effects of criminal justice systems is the reproduction and exacerbation of social and economic inequalities. Whether we agree with the extent of this affirmation fully or partially is a matter of perspective, but casting a look at the prison population and at the history of the criminal justice system confirms at least a suspicion that maybe our criminal justice systems are not (only) systems created to deliver justice.

I think the ‘participatory justice’ idea of the Norwegian criminologist, Nils Christie, reflected through the development of the restorative justice movement has a great potential to support both our investigation on the link of criminal justice and our convictions and policies. Articulating a position of conflict as a common property of the people and the society, Christie has argued that the ‘conflict-participation’ is the way to develop endless ‘norm-clarification’ techniques that will constantly discuss and question the ‘law of the land’. It is in this clarification and dialogue that, in my opinion, lies an opportunity to bring in more social-structural discussions within the criminal justice system.

The restorative justice model has the biggest ‘dissensus’ potential to challenge the accepted norms, but also to reflect on why a certain act came about. A quick look at the evolution of current restorative justice practices in some Anglo-Saxon countries unfortunately indicate that some restorative practices run the risk of ignoring the connection between the individual level and broader social issues in crime, whereby the principle of restoration for example in youth justice practices is used as yet another way to hold young delinquents responsible for what they have done.

This is clearly an undermining of its own potential. Precisely to its dialogic and participatory potential, restorative justice has a crucial role in balancing the social and individual responsibility, in maintaining a balance between the context and the deed. It has the intrinsic power to bring these tensions more actively to the foreground within the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system should be more aware of the role it plays in maintaining, facilitating and strengthening processes that affect the broader domain of social justice. That is not to say that it cannot intervene in individual crimes, but at the same time it should be more critical of its own position within the society it promotes.

It’s the acknowledgement of its active role in broader social issues and a reaffirmation that crime and criminality is the result of a shared responsibility between the individual and the society. We should in other words be able to come to a dual thinking that condemns the act of wrongdoing, but also ask how did it came about? This would change our notions of responsibility, from strictly individual and retrospective oriented, into social and prospective. Restorative justice and its notion of ‘restoring the future’ can be an important idea of justice that contributes to this.

Michiel Lippens

@photo credits: Sharon Daniel (Public Secrets)

Head-hunting with culture’s blessing

The concept of cultural relativism means that an individual human’s beliefs and activities should be understood by others in terms of that individual’s own culture. In anthropology, we do not demonize other cultural practices, but instead try to understand why people do what they do, within the context of their own culture. We do this even when within the context of our own culture, their practices might seem strange or horrific.
The Ilongot of northern Luzon in the Philippines, for example, have a thought-provoking ritual. It is head-hunting, something that is undoubtedly conjured in the minds of many people in the West and elsewhere as an unexplainable act of violence. Surely it must be reprehensible to cut off a man’s head? 
As the Ilongot experience a great loss (e.g. the death of a son, the loss of a wife, …) they feel a very strong anger. The Ilongot channel this anger in the desire to go head-hunting. This is done in group, and involves trekking to other parts of the country, where they set up an ambush for unsuspecting passers-by. When successful in the killing of a person, they cut off his head and throw it away. They do not take it as a trophy. In this act, they also throw away their sorrow and rage; it is a cathartic moment. 
Head-hunting acted therefore as a catalyst for the cessation of personal and collective mourning for the community’s dead. However, in 1972, the central government declared martial law, and firing squads for head-hunters were established. The Ilongot stopped their head-hunting with great sadness. In 1974, they began to see evangelical Christianity as a new way to alleviate grief. However, they still lust to the days of head-hunting, seeing it as a fundamental cultural praxis.
When Renato Rosaldo, together with his wife Michelle, studied the Ilongot in the late 60’s and mid 70’s, they did not understand the primal desire to go head-hunting. It was only years later, in 1981, that Renato Rosaldo began to understand the rage that the Ilongot felt in bereavement. 
Rosaldo recorded the Ilongot as saying that “[their] heart aches as it does when I must look upon unfinished bachelors whom I know that I will never lead to take a head.” This refers to the fact that older men lead younger men and help them take their first head. Because of the ban on head-hunting, many younger Ilongot never got to wear the red horn-bill earrings they would receive upon their first head. 
In our own European cultures certain horrific practices are almost forgotten, like witch hunting. Seen as a threat to society, women thought to be witches were brought before special courts, and often burned at the stake. Besides these practices, when diabolizing the practice of head-hunting in what are thought to be ‘uncivilized’ tribes in the world, we forget that head-hunting occurred in Europe until as recently as the 19th century in places such as Montenegro, Croatia, and western parts of Herzegovina. Ireland and the Anglo-scottisch border regions knew the practice until the end of the Middle Ages. Moreover, during World War II and the Vietnam War, American troops occasionally collected the skulls of dead Japanese, and Vietnamese as personal trophies, as souvenirs for friends and family at home, and for sale to others. Surely the Ilongot would not have been able to understand the purpose of that horrific behaviour.
Jannes Zwaenepoel

Evil in everyday life


What images does the word “evil” evokes in our minds? A horrible scene of people suffering or dying en masse? Or a criminal mastermind who, without feeling any pity or remorse, plans such suffering? Possibly one of the darker events of European 20th century history, World War II and Auschwitz will come to mind. However, evil can also be ordinary, and we can consider the applications of the paradigms of good and evil to less extreme circumstances in our daily lives.

In “Ethics, Forgiveness and the Unforgivable after Auschwitz”, Didier Pollefeyt speaks about the three paradigms of evil as being diabolicisation, banalisation, and ethicisation. I would like to approach the core of the three paradigms by considering an example that concerns us all, and which we can therefore easily relate to: ‘cheating’ in a couple relationship. Basically, according to the three paradigms there are mainly three ways we can regard the one who ‘cheated’: as immoral, amoral, and moral.

In the first approach, we consider the cheating partner as the evil or wrongdoer, diabolising him or her. A person is therefore reduced to his or her (evil) acts. Someone does evil because s/he is evil. This creates a “we-them” dichotomy, where we “good people”, cannot possibly neither understand why other “bad people” do evil, nor possibly contemplate any possibility for forgiving the act. Clearly, this view fails to take into account any circumstance and human complexity, including the possible ‘guilt’ of the person who has been cheated, or the goodness of the person who cheated (for example cheating can also be seen as an act of love towards another person, and lying to one’s partner as an act of protecting him or her).

Alternatively, evil, or rather the evildoer, can be banalised, rendered ordinary, without an essence, and therefore amoral. Not only there is nothing diabolical about him or her, but s/he is one of us, rendered evil only due to banal circumstances. The cheater under this paradigm can even be seen as a victim of his or own hormones, nature, lifestyle, or environment, without the possibility to have a moral choice. Thus s/he can be excused by saying ‘all (wo)men cheat’, or ‘everybody today cheats’, and so on, disregarding the moral dilemma of lying to a person one loves, or failing to commit to a relationship. This person is beyond forgiveness because s/he is considered to be innocent.

Finally, the evildoer can be considered ethicised: for one reason or another, s/he believes that s/he is doing the right thing by doing evil. The person in our example might believe it is right or even desirable to cheat on his or her partner, maybe because s/he holds on to an ethical system where cheating is considered to be good and therefore s/he considers himself fully moral. In this case, the ethical good can be considered to be faithful to one’s feelings and drives rather than to one’s commitments. This person is also beyond forgiveness because s/he does not believe to have done anything wrong.

Of course, these approaches are necessarily schematic and therefore also artificial. In reality things tend to overlap most of the time. But nevertheless, they are able to capture the main reactions we usually show in the case of cheating. I also wanted to show that “evil” and the study thereof is not limited to extreme circumstances or horrible moments in human history, but it can be applied fully to our daily lives and our interpersonal relationships.

Bram Maeschaelck

@Illustration by Neil Webb