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.