Rejecting “Us versus Them” in the Aftermath of Paris

Französischer Dom in Berlin Nov 2015

The day after the attacks on Paris, I had a spaghetti dinner in Prenzlauerberg (a neighborhood in the former East Berlin) with a German man I am just getting to know. We talked about our concerns that these deaths would lead to more escalation in political violence, especially actions by the U.S. and member states of the EU that could lead to more deaths.

But we are an unusual pair of people to be having this conversation. He is a former member of the Red Army Faction (RAF), and I am an American whose only brother was killed by the Red Army Faction in 1985 as part of an attack on the US airbase on Rhein-Main (my dinner partner was already serving time in prison for other deaths at the time). Continue reading “Rejecting “Us versus Them” in the Aftermath of Paris”

What Would My Mother Have Said About Birgit Hogefeld’s Clemency?

I was working away from home when I heard that Birgit Hogefeld had been denied clemency again via a Yahoo News story. It’s strange to me that it’s even news here in the U.S., since my brother Eddie was murdered by the Red Army Faction almost 25 years ago, but then I could see from the comments why: it gives people something to be angry about. I found most of the comments appalling — calls for her to be tortured or killed. I posted a reply:

I am Edward Pimental’s sister, Kathleen.

Most of the comments here insult and demean my family and my brother’s memory. We are not just an excuse for you to express your contempt of people, or to describe ways to torture or inflict harm on someone.

Everyone in this story has a family who has to deal with the long term consequences of this act of terrorism — including the families of RAF members. Keep *all* of us in mind before you make your comments.

My family was wounded forever by the callous contempt for human life that the RAF leaders showed when they plotted and carried out the bombing. Adding more disrespect for human life only deepens the tragedy.

Your calls for torture, disrespect and vengeance are at best useless, and at worse, they drag us deeper into a world where people are killed to make a political point, and leave a grieving family behind.

If you want a world without terrorism as badly as I do, stop acting like life is cheap, and that anyone who disagrees with you should be tortured and killed. That was the justification for my brother’s murder, and the world is a worse place as a result.

The first response was from someone who was rather unkind (and for some odd reason, seemed to blame my family for World War II), and said “F** your family.” But other than that, most of the direct replies to my post were kind and thoughtful, and I am grateful for that.

I’ve found myself wondering what my mom and I would be talking about if she were still alive. When Eva Haule was released from prison in 2007, we talked quite a bit, and at that time, she was torn. On the one hand, clearly we still missed Eddie, and we weren’t done with our grieving. But also, she recognized that this other person also had parents — who were probably missing her and were relieved that she was out of prison — and she knew that no amount of suffering by anyone else would make our family whole. But there wasn’t agreement among all of us about what made sense at the time. Not that the German government seems to care what we think anyway… it’s more about what we tell other people. So we didn’t offer much in the way of public comment.

My mom had already, for many years, been grateful that neither of these women had been executed for their role in Eddie’s murder and the bombing of the airbase (as might have happened if the crime had taken place here, instead of Germany). But when my mom and I were hanging out at the hospital in 2008 before she died, we had a few occasions to talk about Eddie’s murder, and the folks connected to it.  At that point, it was important to my mother that she not pass from this life harboring any anger or resentment towards anyone.

We talked about how “forgiveness” may not have been the right word, but she didn’t want to wish ill on anyone — not these folks, and not their families. I encouraged her in this line of thinking… too much has already been taken from us by this murder for me to hand over any more of my humanity by wishing ill or doing ill to any of these folks. My mom seemed to find some comfort in that, especially toward the end of her life.

Nelson Mandela is credited with saying, “Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your enemies.” At the end of her life, my mom and I agreed that we didn’t need or want the poison of resentment or vengeance in our lives, and that the world didn’t need it either.

Yes, I am Edward Pimental’s sister

The Associated Press tracked me down for their news story about the release of Eva Haule, one of the Red Army Faction members convicted for my brother Eddie’s murder in 1985. She has been locked up since 1986, and is being released Tuesday.

I only had a little time to talk to my mom on the phone before we issued a statement from the family. We agreed to focus on what we agree on: that we love Eddie, we still miss him, and we’re still grieving. But, apparently, we are all taking different lessons from his murder. I won’t go into that more now, but here’s a link to the AP story as it appeared in the Army Times :

http://www.armytimes.com/news/2007/08/ap_redarmy_release_070817up/

It’s weird to hear yourself on tape

KBOO has posted a clip of three of us who testified last week at the Portland City Council in support of the Department of Peace. I don’t know how long they leave audio content up, but the audio file is posted here. I know it sounds like I was about to cry the whole time… I probably unnerved the City Commissioners some. I was really nervous, though — they kept looking at me! Anyway, mostly it’s all a blur.

But, now I have a copy that I can study to improve for next time. Note to self for future: breathe before the first word, breathe frequently throughout testimony. Allow myself to sit up straight. Breathe more.

Here’s the text I was attempting to read from (I had to trim it a bit because they encouraged me not to read from what I had written):

Testimony for City Council August 8, 2007
In support of Department of Peace Resolution

I decided to come to City Council because today is the 22nd anniversary of my brother’s murder in an act of political violence in 1985, when I was 15 and he was 20 years old. For much of my life since then, I have found ways to work to prevent violence, and as part of that, I’m here today to ask you to add Portland to the growing list of cities supporting the Department of Peace.

Although my brother’s murder was unique in that it was politically motivated, it unites me with millions of people across our country who have lost loved ones to other acts of violence — domestic violence, violence connected to drug addiction, or to economic desperation. This experience is far too common in our country, in our state, and in our local community. It’s part of why we need more national work for peace.

And part of why I call Portland home is that peace work is part of the fabric of our city. We are home to one of the oldest domestic violence programs in the country, and a newer program that supports family members of murder victims in the African-American community. We are host to youth anti-violence programs, neighborhood dialog programs, international relief work, sister city programs. From programs with local to international impact, Portlanders keep ourselves busy working for peace.

The Department of Peace proposal carries with it the potential for us to fund peace development in a way we’ve never seen. With a Cabinet level position that directs and more importantly, funds peace work from the federal to the local level. I’m asking you to support this legislation because down the road, it has the potential to add resources to many extraordinary organizations working for peace in Portland.

There will be some folks who will say we can’t create this Cabinet level position, that because a Department of Peace does not exist now, it can’t exist. They will especially say that cities calling for the change can’t make it happen. But local commitment makes all the difference in anti-violence work. Just over 20 cities have already signed on, making Portland a leader if we sign on now. This proposal may take a while to pass, but the time to act is now to give it momentum and reflect our city’s commitment to peace.

I am proud to be a Portlander, a city where so many of us who have experienced violence now find ways to work for peace.

I hope you vote to support this resolution, to position Portland as a leader in this national movement and reflect our city’s commitment to peace.