What I learned from life-long justice work

A CONFESSION OF A JUSTICE FREAK

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I learned a few lessons from my involvement in justice work. It began in Vancouver in 1958 fighting for justice for Japanese Canadians. It continued in South Africa, and Palestine.

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These are the lessons I learned:

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1. Justice will prevail eventually, no matter how hopeless the situation may look. Ian Smith, Rhodesian Prime Minister, who declared unilateral independence of white ruled country illegally, said, "Majority rule will never come next year, in ten years…. not in my life time." But the majority rule did come. Apartheid was demolished, too. During the mid-seventies’ I regularly attended the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva on behalf of an international N.G.O. During those days, the Commission had three regular items on the agenda: they were dictatorships in South Korea* and Chile, and Apartheid in South Africa. They are all gone.

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* Many people forget that South Korea was under dictatorship for many years until Kim Dae Jung was elected President.

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Justice will prevail.

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2. However, justice work is hard work. Not many people love you when you are a prophet, because you say things that are hard for many people to accept. Remember the days when anti-Apartheid and disarmament movements were thought to be communist inspired, because we were saying things inconvenient to industries. And we were attacked in the media. Government bureaucracy and politicians looked at us with suspicion. It felt hopeless. The struggle seemed to have lasted forever. Prophets do not produce visible results when you want. When advocacy work does not produce results, you must remember many prophets of old mostly remained a voice in the wilderness. But that didn’t shut them up.

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Justice work can be a lonely work. Prophets were lonely.

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3. Even when some goals of justice seem realized, be prepared to be disappointed Look at Zimbabwe now. I almost regret the euphoria of 1980 when the first democratic election was held in Zimbabwe. I was so happy in March, 1980, when general election was held in Rhodesia, and Zimbabwe was created with Robert Mugabe as Prime Minister and Canaan Banana as President. Soon enough Mugabe brought in North Korean army and slaughtered Matabele in the south, and deposed Banana to become President himself. Euphoria soon dies down as human reality sets in. Do not expect a perfect resolution when an apparent system of injustice is eradicated. Humans do not bring about a panacea. God alone realizes justice ultimately. As soon as the first democratic election was over in 1994, Desmond Tutu warned of new black elitism. "Any black man with a house will be the next target," he said.

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Our justice work is an ongoing process. God only brings ultimate justice.

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4. When one is engaged in the work for justice, one must make sure that one is firmly grounded on a spiritual foundation. A struggle for justice without a spiritual base leads to inhumanity. In 1971, I was horrified to hear venomous language of hatred at a students’ anti-government rally in Lesotho, when the defeated government declared the election nul and void, and established South Africa supported dictatorship. Because you see injustice around you all the time, you are rightly angry a lot of times. And anger can overtake you. Anger makes you hate enemies. But you realize that justice and hatred are oxymoron. Justice work must be motivated by compassion and love, not by hatred. Also if you are angry a lot of times, you will pay an enormous price personally and in your relationships. Anger and hatred destroy you and your relationship with your loved ones.

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Only by compassion and love can we participate in God’s work for justice. It’s a spiritual work.

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5. Injustice hates justice. So, justice work inevitably begets martyrs. Isn’t that the story of Jesus? Several friends of mine died in South Africa and in the Middle East; people like Steve Biko and Kameel Nassr. All the friends who died in the struggle for justice loved life. True martyrs never seek deaths. To call a suicide bomber a martyr is a completely wrong usage of the word. Jesus did not commit suicide. He prayed for the cup to pass him by. But sacrifice is inevitable in justice work. It’s not a fashionable game for a middle class.

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Justice work is serious. There is a price to pay. But it is not suicidal, because it is based on love of life, of oneself and of others.

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October 24, 2006

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Lethbridge, Alberta

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