MAR 15, 2016
4:30 PM - 5:30 PM
Some maintain that the twentieth century saw more death and destruction than all previous centuries combined. Mass genocides, deadly wars, and the creation of biological and nuclear weapons designed to wipe out masses of people instantaneously are but some of the pieces of evidence used to support this claim. Others make a far different argument, saying that we are currently living in the most peaceful time in history, demonstrated by severe declines in bloodshed and the widespread condemnation of such pernicious acts, with terms like “crimes against humanity” gaining ubiquity. According to this latter position we are in the midst of a global movement toward an acceptance, and even embrace, of a universal code of morality, a basic understanding that all people, regardless of social identity, have inherent human rights by virtue of being part of Homo sapiens.
Whether arising out of societal progress or a necessity to combat increases in violence, the last half-century has seen innovations in the field of inter-communal reconciliation; new, powerful reconciliation and forgiveness rituals have emerged. In a globalized world this has the potential to rapidly transform the way people relate to one another, especially in places with a dire need for inter-communal healing. Some countries have begun taking ownership over cruel and oppressive past wrongdoings, not only admitting guilt but also committing themselves to not repeat these transgressions. One country currently engaged in this process is Australia.
On February 13, 2008, as his first official act as Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd formally apologized to the country’s indigenous communities for their prolonged maltreatment. In particular, in “the Apology” Rudd brought attention to Australia’s infamous “Stolen Generations,” countless Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) children kidnapped from their families by the government and placed with whites in an effort to “modernize” and “civilize” them. But one of the nefarious ways indigenous Australians have been treated since the early days of Australia’s colonization, many consider these government-sanctioned abuses to be not just a major component of Australia’s historical underbelly, but a form of social and cultural genocide. Rudd acknowledged the repeated, heinous actions carried out against indigenous Australians, which were approved and implemented as recently as the 1970s. Representing Australians at-large, he conceded that successive governments inflicted pain, suffering, and degradation upon indigenous Australians, causing incalculable emotional and physical damage.
In asking indigenous Australians to forgive the unforgiveable, to begin healing the unhealable, Rudd also looked ahead, adding “The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by mov[ing] forward with confidence to the future.” In this action, the Australian government began an incredibly ambitious process of reconciliation and forgiveness. But was the Apology successful? (What does “success” even mean?) What has it meant to indigenous Australians? To those of non-indigenous descent? If it was successful, can it be reappropriated to other places? To all countries in desperate need of a framework to heal their past? Or just to those in a ‘post-conflict’ phase?
Aaron J. Hahn Tapper
Aaron J. Hahn Tapper, the Mae and Benjamin Swig Chair of Jewish Studies at the University of San Francisco, is the founder and director of the school’s Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice. An Associate Professor in USF’s Department of Theology & Religious Studies, his research focuses on the intersection between identity formation, social justice, and marginalized groups. Co-editor of Muslims and Jews in America: Commonalities, Contentions, and Complexities (Palgrave-Macmillan 2011), along with Reza Aslan, and author of Judaisms: A Twenty-first Century Introduction to Jews and Jewish Identities (University of California Press 2016), Hahn Tapper recently spent six months in Australia as a Fulbright Senior Scholar conducting research on the February 2008 formal apology delivered by former-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to the Australian indigenous peoples. Note: Hahn Tapper is neither a legal authority nor scholar of the law. He is an expert on inter-communal reconciliation and conflict transformation and a long-time practitioner and theorist in these fields.