The Dangers and Impossibility of Forgiving and Forgetting
Or: Fuck Religion; What Guyana Needs Is Justice!
Minster of Human Services and Social Security, Jennifer Webster recently told the women of Guyana that they needed to ‘forgive and forget’ Attorney General Anil Nandlall for his derogatory language towards a young female reporter(http://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2015/04/03/nandlall-recording-may-haunt-ppp-in-elections-ramsammy-admits/). Nandlall was heard on tape calling the journalist a ‘thing’ and trying to convince another man to procure her for his uncle to have sex with (what the young woman might have thought or wanted was never considered by the Attorney General). Although there were multiple and sustained calls for his resignation, Nandlall received no sanction from his superiors in government and continues to hold the top post in the judiciary of Guyana. In her most recent defense of Mr. Nandlall, Minister Webster stated that- “In life, many of us do things,” and “If you are a Christian, you have to forgive and forget.” As a Guyanese woman, as a feminist, and as someone who works regularly with women and children who are the victims of abuse, I found the Minister’s statements horrifying, ignorant, and most of all extremely dangerous.
Bland platitudes like ‘forgive and forget’, ‘leave it to God’, and ‘God is in charge’ are what people say when there is no hope of receiving justice on the earthly plane. It is pap that is shoveled down people’s throats to stifle their cries for accountability. It is the cultivating of passivity and the silencing of critical thinking.
The fact is that those who see women as mere ‘things’ to be used for men’s sexual pleasure and who blatantly disregard the importance of consent in sexual activity are dangerous, plain and simple. That is the mindset of sexual predators, too many of whom roam freely in the streets of Guyana today. Such people are not fit to hold public office. They deserve only condemnation, not to be defended. When such persons remain in positions of power and are defended by other powerful folk, the rule of law is fundamentally undermined and compromised, with the message being sent to all other sexual predators that they have company at the highest level of society and they too can engage in such depraved actions without any punishment. Apologizing and professing remorse after being caught and cautioned by your mother rings hollow; the fact that such statements were uttered in the first place reveals volumes about one’s beliefs no matter how much whitewashing is attempted afterwards.
The fact is that Guyana today is an extremely dangerous place for women and children (and many men as well). This is the end result of years of valuing might over right, of perpetuating oppressive stereotypes that preach female submissiveness and subordination to male domination, of not valuing open and non-violent communication and conflict resolution, and not teaching these skills to the youth. Today, many men do in fact believe that women, girls and children are simply objects for them to do what they will with, regardless of what the girl, woman, or child may want or agree to. Rape, sexual assault, and other violent crimes are widespread, with babies and the elderly also being brutalized regularly.
Justice is scarce. Corruption is rampant at all levels, with the police and other authorities who are supposed to be enforcing and upholding the law often taking money to look the other way, lose the paperwork, or otherwise act to ensure that perpetrators walk free. While some of this massive corruption simply has to do with inefficient systems, low salaries and underpayment of public servants, a great deal of it also revolves around the fact that crimes against women and children, especially those at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale (ie poor people) are not taken seriously enough. It’s almost as if sexual violence is expected, the norm, “just” a ‘rite of passage’ that a Guyanese woman/girl/child has to endure. Their suffering is ignored by those in power; their bodies disposable.
By promoting ‘forgiveness and forgetting’, Minister Webster seriously undermines the Guyanese judicial system and the rights of all Guyanese to attain justice when they have been victimized. Her call to forgive and forget shows a sickening lack of empathy for the victims and more concern for the victimizers. For it are the perpetrators who benefit the most from the crime being forgotten and forgiven. Forgiving and forgetting gives victimizers a free pass; it does not force them to rethink their negative behaviors or to do anything differently. How though, are the mothers whose children are raped and murdered to forget those lives and losses? How do women and children who are maimed and brutalized simply forget that abuse while they struggle to cope with missing appendages or limbs, a damaged sense of self and security?
The fact is that abuse and violence leaves scars on people’s bodies and minds that can linger for lifetimes. While some may find some measure of peace in forgiving and forgetting, what may work for one individual on a personal level cannot be held up for all and certainly cannot be used to shape national policy. The fact is that the judicial system in Guyana is not based on religious tenets but on rules that have been established by the larger society and its designated representatives. For a Minister of government to promote her personal religious beliefs over the secular laws of the land is troubling. Her action could encourage other individuals to prioritize their own personal codes of conduct over the nation’s laws, to enact their own form of justice, and simply to ignore the national laws they don’t like. In retrospect though, this is already largely the case in Guyana today; it is an outlaw society in many regards. Minister Webster’s comments, sadly, are simply a reflection of a lawless nation run amok.
In conclusion, even if the act of forgiving and forgetting does help some persons, the fact is that this does not happen magically. Often, those affected will need intensive counseling in order to reach that place of healing. However, with less than half dozen trained psychologists in the entire public health sector of Guyana today, Guyanese in all regions are woefully underserved. The fact is that most victims of violence and abuse in Guyana do not receive any or sufficient counseling. Minister Webster, with responsibility for the portfolio of Human Services and Social Security, should be acutely aware of this deficiency. She should be working as hard as possible, with the Ministries of Health and Education to foster and train more mental health professionals. She should be working to educate her colleagues in government as well as the general public about the importance of consent in sexual activity, as well as the serious negative effects of misogyny and the objectifying of women. She and her colleagues should be working to wipe out corruption, to ensure justice and accountability at all levels, and that the systems are working to benefit the people of Guyana. Until then, until there is justice and accountability for all Guyanese, there can be no forgiving or forgetting.