When Pat Magee walks into the House of Commons in London this week, some Members of Parliament will no doubt condemn the very notion of bringing the man who planned and planted the Brighton bomb into the heart of an institution he once tried to destroy.
The event, organized jointly by The Forgiveness Project and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Conflict Issues , on the day after the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the Grand Hotel, Brighton, brings together in dialogue Pat Magee and Jo Berry -- the daughter of the MP Sir Anthony Berry (one of five people killed in the blast).
As the founder and director of The Forgiveness Project -- an organization that explores forgiveness and reconciliation through the personal experience of victims and perpetrators -- I am not surprised that some have branded this a provocative stunt that will serve only to draw attention to a former IRA activist who received eight life sentences for the bombing and who has shown little remorse. Of all those who reside in the two chambers, it is Lord Tebbit, whose wife was paralyzed in the attack, and Lord Wakeham, whose wife was killed, who are likely to be the most affronted, particularly as Lord Tebbit has confessed to feeling "some personal ill towards Mr. Magee and all of his murderous friends and employers."
Unquestionably, when Magee, who was released in 1999 under The Good Friday Agreement after serving just 14 years, stands next to Berry in Parliament, the atmosphere will be tense, not only because of the symbolism of the location, but because there is always tension when these two meet -- difficult questions are raised and, despite an atmosphere of reconciliation and restoration, Sir Anthony's memory casts a long shadow. As Magee put it:
The dilemma for those of us creating a platform for men such as Magee is how far do we pursue a debate around understanding and forgiveness at the risk of offending those who have been most hurt.
"No matter what we can achieve as two human beings meeting after a terrible event, the loss remains and forgiveness can't embrace that loss."
Hearing the story of "the enemy" is part of the tension that moves things along and my belief is that these kind of difficult dialogues, which bring together victim and perpetrator, help to repair the harm done by humanizing violence -- that's not to say they make violence more palatable but rather help us to understand under what circumstances ordinary citizens resort to killing and what might be done to prevent it.
For this interview I spoke to Magee on his mobile phone in West Belfast as a face-to-face interview was not possible at such short notice. My first attempt to get through fails and I receive a text telling me that he's in a cinema with his son watching Aliens in the Attic and will call me back. When he does his voice is slow and measured. He is clearly anxious about coming to the Commons, not because he is worried about the media storm it might provoke but because he doesn't want to offend on this most significant of anniversaries. I have met Magee several times and believe him to be sincere -- both in his desire to make amends and his need to tell the truth. He is a quiet, unassuming man who appears shy when you first hear him speak -- perhaps because he is so careful with words, always mindful of how he presents himself in an effort to be better understood. On the other hand, there is no attempt to sanitize the truth and for this -- "for the fact that he doesn't try to make it all nice" -- Jo Berry says she respects him.
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