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December 29, 2016

Interfaith groups discuss genocide

The Student Union hosted an interfaith panel discussion Monday, November 3, titled Genocide, Reconciliation, Forgiveness, and the Search for Meaning in the Face of Evil.

The discussion brought together speakers from different spiritual and religious traditions. The panel was seated in the order the traditions came into existence. The audience consisted of about thirty people, with mixed age groups represented

The first speaker was Leonard Fourhawks, who, according to the pamphlet distributed at the event, is a Mohawk and Northern Cheyenne Indian. He is a storyteller and lectures on Native American tradition and history.

Fourhawks spoke of an ancient Native American chant that says “only the rocks will survive.” Because of this belief, Fourhawks stated, “no matter what atrocities brought down upon us, we will be here.”

“People come up to me often and apologize for the pain their ancestors caused the Native American people,” said Fourhawks, “but the people who need to apologize are dead,” he continued, “the ancestors of the perpetrators should not have to apologize.”

According to Fourhawks, genocide is caused by intolerance, “ignorance and lack of understanding,” in his words. He went on to say that governments could be blamed, but still, “government is just a bunch of flawed people.”

Rabbi David Seidberg, who teaches Jewish theology, spirituality, ecology and Jewish spirituals through his website, spoke next, addressing the genocide of Jewish people in the Holocaust.

“The only people who can give forgiveness are the Holocaust survivors themselves, and the ones I have spoken with say that they can never forgive the Nazis,” he said.

“Who the Jewish people can forgive are the enablers, for instance the Catholic Church,” said Rabbi Seidberg, “[The Catholic Church] was complicit with many of the atrocities of the Holocaust.”

The Rabbi pointed out that after the Holocaust, the Catholic Church has made steps to reconcile its relationship with the Jewish Community.

“This is a Jewish value called teshuva, which means repentance,” said Rabbi Seidberg.

“The citizens of nations fully share the burden of stopping future genocides,” he said. “The question is, what are we willing to do to stop it from happening in the future?” he questioned.

“Many thought, including myself, that it was the advanced technology of the Germans’ that enabled them to conduct mass killing on that scale,” said Rabbi Seidberg, “but [the genocide in] Rwanda showed us that genocide could be carried in a large scope with just machetes.”

“Humans have the will to commit genocide,” he continued, “even if we have never felt that will it is in every one of us and we must address it.”

After Rabbi Seidberg, it was Sister Clare Carter, who according to the event pamphlet is ordained in the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Order, and is a member in the Leverett Peace Pagoda. She has participated in many local and regional peace walks.

Sister Carter opened with a Buddhist prayer, using a drum and chanting. She spoke of the teachings of Cambodian Buddhist Maha Ghosananda.

According to sister Carter, Maha Ghosananda’s family was killed by the government of Pol Pot, during the genocide in Cambodia in the 1970’s.

Sister Carter explained how Maha Ghosanada’s teacher saw his pupil crying over the death of his family. “His teacher told him to practice being mindful for the day you can truly be useful to your country,” said Sister Carter, “Maha Ghosandanda did this by helping his nation heal with peace walks and the use of spiritual teaching after the war.”

After Sister Carter was finished, Reverend Chris Carlisle took the microphone. Reverend Carlisle is the Director of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts and has been the Episcopal chaplain at The University of Massachusetts since 1983. He is also the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Intelligent Design.

“Everyone is capable of violation and forgiveness,” said Reverend Carlisle.

Reverend Carlisle was instrumental in bringing Reverend Desmond Tutu to UMass in 1992.  He quoted Reverend Tutu during the panel discussion, stating “to forgive is not just to be altruistic, it is the best form of self-interest,” he quipped. “It is also a process that does not exclude hatred and anger, these emotions are all part of being human,” he continued. “You should never hate yourself for hating others who do terrible things: the depth of your love is shown by the extent of your anger.”

The last speaker was Dr. Ali Hazratji. Dr. Hazratji is the president of the Hampshire Mosque in Amherst, and was president of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts from 1990 to 2007.

Dr. Hazratji gave an Islamic perspective of how to deal with injustice.

“In Islam, one is taught [when dealing with injustice], to stop it with your hand, if you can’t do that, stop it with your tongue, and if you cannot do that hate the injustice in your heart.”

“This world is not paradise,” said Dr. Hazratji, “it is a place of trial and tribulation.”

This discussion was sponsored by the Office of Jewish Affairs, STAND: A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition, Western Mass Darfur Coalition, Student Union Art Gallery, UMass Arts Council, Graduate Student Senate, Student Government Association and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.

Other events concerning genocide will continue to occur during the month of November.

There will be art exhibits in the Student Union Art Gallery, November 2-13. Tuesday, November 10th at 7:00pm a discussion titled “Genocide: From Justice to Prevention” will be held in the Commonwealth Room of the Student Union. “Cambodia Remembered: Angkor Dance Troupe and Monkey Dance Film” will be presented Sunday, November 15 at 3pm in the Bowker Auditorium.

Bobby Hitt can be contacted at

One Response to “Interfaith groups discuss genocide”
  1. As the principal organizer of Tuesday’s interfaith discussion (“Genocide, Reconciliation, Forgiveness and the Search for Meaning in the Face of Evil”), I’d like to thank you for your thoughtful coverage. This was a difficult topic and a challenging program, and I applaud the author for his good work in capturing the central points.
    I also want to correct two factual errors: First, the Jewish speaker was Rabbi David Seidenberg (not “Seidberg” as stated in the article). Second, Rev. Chris Carlisle, the Episcopal chaplain at UMass, is also the Director of Higher Education Ministry for the [Episcopal] Diocese of Western Massachusetts (and not the director of the Diocese itself).

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