When Brazil Hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2014

This week in North Philly Notes, Philip Evanson, co-author of Living in the Crossfire, provides his account of being in Rio de Janeiro during the 2014 FIFA World Cup match between Argentina and Germany.

In June and July 2014, Brazil hosted the twentieth edition of the FIFA World Cup. The championship match was played in Rio de Janeiro on July 13 when Germany defeated Argentina 1 to 0 in double overtime.

These recollections were written in Rio de Janeiro immediately following the German victory.

My wife Regina and I watched the game on TV, thought it a good one with both teams giving their all though showing signs of exhaustion by the second overtime period which was to be expected. The play by play announcers and expert commentators agreed that the game rose to the level of a World Cup championship game. Of course, we were cheering for Argentina, or los hermanos (the Argentine brothers) as they are called here. But it appeared a majority of Brazilians perversely preferred Germany. One local sports writer called this a variation of the Stockholm syndrome. That is, following the unprecedented 7 to 1 massacre of the Brazilian team by the pitiless Germans in the semi-finals, the Brazilians went over to the side of their executioners. They cheered for the German, not the Argentine team. I even heard this from a neighborhood street kid or menino da rua. He told me he was glad Germany won, and asked what I thought. I said to the contrary, I wanted Argentina to win. His response: “Mas eles [the Argentines] são muito bagunceiros!” Bagunceiro is a word used frequently meaning messy, or having a penchant for disorder, that can also mean ready to fight, quarrel. Dona Maria, my 99 year old mother-in-law, uses it when talking about someone who allows things to be out of place, as for example, a shirt, or pair of socks when you want the item. Even worse according to Dona Maria: Bagunceiros are not bothered by the disorder or mess. They need to be called out. Seems our street kid was calling out the Argentines on his street.

GAME DAY. I went to a Zona Sul supermarket Sunday morning to ask if it would reopen after the championship game. This supermarket and most commerce except for bars and restaurants closed during games played in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã stadium, and of course during all matches involving the Brazilian team no matter where they were played. The answer I got: “No, we’re not closing at all. Brazil lost. Nobody’s interested in today’s game. We’ll stay open.” Of course, it’s not true that Brazilians had no interest in the championship game Argentina vs. Germany. They had been watching all the games, and held definite opinions about the qualities of different national teams. They certainly watched this one. But that Argentina, not Brazil, was playing in the final game, with a chance to win it all in Rio de Janeiro’s almost mythical Maracanã stadium (though the original stadium had been more or less demolished and rebuilt for the World Cup) seemed to have struck a tribal nerve. It was hard to accept. Argentina had been the great soccer rival for so many years. And rivals not only in soccer, but in South American politics, economics, even cultural production, though leaders in both countries have striven to damp down rivalry since the creation of Mercosul, a common market bloc of South American countries including Brazil and Argentina created in 1991. There were a few fights after the game in Copacabana which police had to break up. The fights apparently were caused by Brazilians who couldn’t resist taunting Argentines after the their team lost the game, perhaps in retaliation for the way Argentines were coloring seven fingers on their hands for the seven German goals. Some Brazilians made a point of celebrating with Germans in the presence of Argentines.

THE FAN FEST ON COPACABANA BEACH. The media estimate on Saturday was that 100,000 Argentines would be in Rio for the Sunday game. Copacabana was crowded with these visitors. They drove through the streets blowing horns, waving and shouting. Copacabana was the destination for Argentine soccer fans and anyone else who didn’t have a ticket for the game at Maracanã stadium. They could now watch it on a big screen mounted in the Fan Fest “stadium,” an enclosed area on the Copacabana beach stretching the length of a couple of blocks with the giant screen at one end. From what I could see, the space seemed large enough to accommodate as many fans as Maracanã itself, which is 78,000. Admission was free. The game started at 4, but large crowds were already arriving on the underground metro 3 or 4 hours earlier. I know because I went to the Cardeal Arcoverde station to take the metro shortly after noon. To get into the station, I had to pass through a cordon of police checking all bags and backpacks—both for people like myself entering the station, and for anyone leaving and presumably on their way to the beach Fan Fest. The train platforms at this station are deep underground and reached by three sets of escalators and stairs. Getting to them requires a long descent below ground level and the mountains that tower up in the city, which are among its famous identifying features. I arrived at the platform just as a train arrived. An enormous crowd mostly of Argentines exited singing, shouting, and chanting. It was Olé, Olé, Olé, Va! Va! Va! and much more that I couldn’t hear above the roar, comparable to the noise in a packed stadium. The Argentines seemed overwhelmingly greater in number than the Germans, though planes full of Germans had arrived Friday, Saturday and even Sunday morning. The atmosphere struck me as altogether friendly. I even saw Argentines and German posing together for group pictures and photographing each other. Some donned the others national flag. Flags are part of World Cup costumes, often draped over the shoulders rather like capes. Enterprising Brazilians were on street corners hawking Argentine and German jerseys and flags.

Layout 1PUBLIC SECURITY. There were reportedly 26,000 uniformed security workers on duty in Rio de Janeiro on championship game day. These included the heavily armed soldiers of the National Security Force, Rio state police, the Rio de Janeiro Guarda Municipal, the Metro police, and finally unarmed employees of private security companies. The ugliest confrontation was near the Maracanã stadium where manifestantes (protestors) were protesting the World Cup. Nationwide anti-World Cup protests in principal cities began months before the first game and continued into the last game, but they were small by the standards of the June 2013 mass protests in Brazilian cities that numbered millions. This protest counted only 300, but the anti-World Cup protests continually rattled authorities and almost always took place in an atmosphere of police intimidation and violence. Sunday’s championship game was no exception as the Rio state police including a cavalry unit moved against the protesters and journalists covering the protest. Police broke or destroyed some of their equipment. At least 10 people were injured with some taken to hospital. In one example of police overreaction, an entire middle class neighborhood was sealed off for a few hours when residents were not allowed to return to their homes.

AT THE END OF THE DAY. I took a final walk around my neighborhood in Copacabana around 9pm. The many Argentines I saw now made a subdued group. A large number were waiting on Avenida Princesa Isabel for buses and the return trip to Argentina. Like other Latin Americans who came for the games, many were duro or hard up. They couldn’t afford the hotels which in any event were fully booked. They camped wherever they could, many on the Copacabana beach, in tents, in vans or cars in parking areas made available to them. They surely spent less in Brazil than the estimated $2,500 average for visitors to the World Cup. Still they were valued visitors, and Eduardo Paes, the mayor of Rio, said his campaign for the coming 2016 Rio Olympics will aim first at attracting South Americans. The hotels have already made an agreement among themselves to hold down rates for the Olympics, though they likely will still be higher than anything poor Argentines, Chileans or other South Americans might be able to pay. And not only Latin Americans from South America. Thirty thousand Mexicans were reported having come for the games.

FINAL THOUGHTS. On Saturday afternoon a demoralized, lifeless Brazilian team played Holland in the third place consolation match and lost badly 3 to 0. Walking past my local newsstand, the jornaleiro (newsstand owner) gave a thumbs down gesture, and said: “Brasil já era. Temos que reformar tudo. Primeiro, saude e educação. Tambem tira os mendigos da rua, MAS PARA RECUPERAR. Depois futebol.” Translation: “Brazil is finished. We have to reform everything. First, health and education. Also, remove the homeless beggars from the streets, BUT IN ORDER TO REHABILITATE THEM. After this, soccer.” The phrase to remove homeless beggars and rehabilitate them stated so emphatically was perhaps in memory of poor, homeless Brazilians swept off the streets, and in the worst cases, disappeared by death squads largely comprised of police or former police officers. Significantly, soccer came last in the list of reforms.

POSTSCRIPT, JUNE, 2018. Brazil’s international soccer fortunes have risen dramatically since the historic 7 to 1 defeat. It was a matter of selecting the new coach Tite in June 2016. The national team won the 2016 Olympic gold medal in the Rio de Janeiro games defeating Germany 5 to 4 in a penalty shootout. There followed 8 consecutive victories over South American rivals as Brazil became the first nation to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. On the eve of the 2018 competition in Russia, Brazil occupies its usual place as one of the nations favored to win the Cup.

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Magnus Hirschfeld at 150: Sexual Rights and Social Wrongs

This week in North Philly Notes, Heike Bauer, author of The Hirschfeld Archives, blogs about Magnus Hirschfeld’s impact as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth.

This year marks the 150th anniversary since the birth of Jewish sexologist and sexual activist Magnus Hirschfeld. Born on May 14, 1868 in the small Baltic town of Kolberg, Hirschfeld, a trained doctor, is one of the founders of the modern homosexual rights movement in the West. He is best known today for his efforts to decriminalize homosexuality in Germany and for his foundational studies of what he called “transvestism,” a term he coined to distinguish gender from sexuality, anticipating the later trans vocabulary.

In 1919 Hirschfeld founded the world’s first Institute of Sexual Sciences. Housed in an imposing building in central Berlin, the Institute was a place for research, political activism and public education. Here Hirschfeld and his colleagues worked on all kinds of questions relating to sex and gender. The Institute was a clinic and research facility, hosted public talks, and provided sex education and counselling services. But the Institute was not only a place of work. It was also a home. Hirschfeld lived there with his partner Karl Giese; other rooms were rented out to permanent and temporary staff and visitors from around the world, most famously perhaps the American writer Christopher Isherwood who gave an account of his time at the Institute in Christopher and His Kind (1976). Hirschfeld’s widowed eldest sister Recha Tobias for a time hosted lodgers in her rooms at the Institute including the philosophers Walter Benjamin and Ernst Bloch, although they did not engage with the Institute’s activities. Another famous inhabitant, Willi Münzenberg, the press officer of the German communist part, similarly remained detached from the sex researchers, but his partner, the journalist Babette Gross, noted that the busy, reform-oriented Institute environment was a great place to conduct semi-secret meetings of the Komintern, the communist international.

Hirschfeld Archives_smThe Institute of Sexual Science encapsulates what was new about Hirschfeld’s sexological work: unlike his medico-forensic predecessors, he was overtly politically motivated, believing that science could bring about social change and justice. As a socialist who engaged little with party politics, his sexual activism focused especially on the decriminalization and destigmatization of homosexuality. Hirschfeld produced, for example, the first surveys about suicide among homosexuals, using the data to support his argument that persecution could make lives feel unlivable. On a more practical level, Hirschfeld and his colleagues supported those whose bodies did not match their assigned gender.

The Institute’s doctors were among the pioneers of ‘sex change’ procedures. One former patient, Dora, who was born Rudoph Richter, was employed at the Institute as a maid, providing her with a secure income whilst maintaining, as the historian Katie Sutton has pointed out, fairly bourgeois domestic arrangements at this in many ways radical home.

Given Hirschfeld’s focus on supporting those whose bodies and desires did not match the norms of their time, it is no surprise that his name has become a byword for sexual activism. Today there exist numerous LGBTIQ organisations that have adopted his name. In Philadelphia, for example, a Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund was set up in 2004 for HIV/AIDS activism and to support the LGBT community. In Germany, there is a Magnus Hirschfeld Society dedicated to his legacy whilst in 2011 the German state itself set up a foundation in Hirschfeld’s name, the Bundesstiftung Magnus Hirschfeld. It aims to foster ‘acceptance’ for people who are not heterosexual and stop the discrimination of LGBTIQ people.

The Bundesstiftung has organised a special ceremony to celebrate Hirschfeld’s 150th  birthday. Featuring scholars and senior politicians, its focus lies on Hirschfeld’s achievements, especially, as the related publicity material suggests, on his homosexual rights efforts. The Bundesstiftung recognizes elsewhere that sexual politics go beyond same-sex rights when it includes intersex people in its mission statement. While there is some debate about whether or not intersex should be included in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer rainbow, such visibility matters because intersex people still remain marginalized in many political debates. The artist DEL LAGRACE VOLCANO has long worked to challenge this absence in the VISIBLY INTERSEX project [http://www.dellagracevolcano.com/gallery/visibly-intersex-35548944]. In the U.K., a new exhibition entitled Transitional States: Hormones at the Crossroads of Art and Science, currently on display at the Peltz Gallery in London, asks questions about gender and the uses of hormones in defying or upholding social norms.

Such interventions are vital given that many intersex infants to this day are subjected to the violence of “corrective” surgeries that conform to social expectation rather than medical need and are undertaken without consent of the young person subjected to them. Hirschfeld did not see young children in his clinic, but he did gather a large collection of photographs of the genitals of intersex people. These photographs are reminders of the emphatic limits of Hirschfeld practice. They reduce people to their bodies. Hirschfeld’s related writings on intersex add little context about the persons under scrutiny, reinforcing their sense of isolation, which stands in marked contrast to the affirmative emphasis on community and collective identity that characterizes Hirschfeld’s work on homosexuality.

In my book, The Hirschfeld Archives: Violence, Death and Modern Queer Culture I turn attention to these today lesser-known aspects of Hirschfeld’s work. They complicate straightforward celebrations of his achievements. 150 years after Hirschfeld’s birth, it remains critical to remember that the struggle for homosexual rights was not a fight for social justice per se.

 

 

 

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A Q&A with Peter O’Brien about The Muslim Question in Europe

This week, we repost an interview with Peter O’Brien, author of The Muslim Question in Europethat appeared on the website, ISLAMiCommentary

by JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE and JULIE POUCHER HARBIN  for ISLAMiCommentary on FEBRUARY 8, 2016: 

Are Muslims embraced as part of the mosaic of Europe?  Or, are they considered and treated as outsiders, foreigners, and invaders?  Political Scientist Peter O’Brien deconstructs this issue in his new book, The Muslim Question in Europe: Political Controversies and Public Philosophies (Temple University Press, 2016).

“There exists,” he writes, “no great, let alone unbridgeable, gulf in outlook or lifestyle forever separating ‘Islamic’ from ‘Western’ civilization.”  He argues that there is not a “clash of civilizations,” but “clashes within Western civilization.”

O’Brien dissects the hotly-debated and contentious topics of headscarves, terrorism, and secularism (mosque-state relations) within the broad historical and political contexts of “intra-European tensions.” He argues that European Muslims should not be viewed “as a distinct group of political actors.” Rather, he states that European Muslims and non-Muslims both inhabit “a normative landscape in Europe dominated by the vying public philosophies of liberalism, nationalism, and postmodernism.”

O’Brien is Professor of Political Science at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.  He was educated at Kalamazoo College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He has served as a Social Science Research Council Fellow at the Free University in Berlin and as a Fulbright Professor at Bogazici University in Istanbul and the Humboldt University in Berlin.  O’Brien is the author of Beyond the Swastika (Routledge, 1996) andEuropean Perceptions of Islam and America from Saladin to George W. Bush (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

The Muslim Question_sm.jpgPeter O’Brien discusses his new book in this interview.

The Pew Research Center projects that Muslims will make up 8% of Europe’s population by 2030. How are Muslims changing the social and political fabric of Europe, especially considering the declining birthrate in Europe, which is much lower than other regions throughout the world?

Many reliable studies have found that Europeans of Muslim heritage think and live very much like their non-Muslim counterparts. However, a conspicuous minority of Islamist Europeans do resist and challenge in word and deed so-called “common” European norms and values. A minority (Islamists) of a small minority (Muslims) in terms of the entire population of Europe should not be able to affect much change in the social and political fabric of Europe. However, a growing number of Islamophobic politicians, parties and movements that exaggerate the influence of Islamists could, if empowered by voters, transform Europe into a considerably less welcoming place for Muslims than it has been thus far in the postwar era.

What are the major political controversies surrounding European Muslims?

My book devotes a chapter to each of the major controversies: the requirements for citizenship (or long-term residency); the headscarf debate; mosque-state relations (the level of state subsidies and support for Islam/Muslims); and countering the alleged threat of Islamist terrorism.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the wearing of the headscarf is akin to proselytization, if I’m not mistaken. And France seems to have the toughest restrictions on the hijab. Do you see French laws and interpretation of laïcité — seemingly at odds with freedom of religious expression —  changing at all?

Yes. The central thesis of my book is that because there exists no firm ethical consensus on such matters as the headscarf controversy, ultimately political contestation (in the courts, parliaments, streets) will decide the matter. Contestation means that current decisions will be challenged and likely (someday) altered. Keep in mind that before the ban was legislated in 2004, the Conseil d’Etat regularly nullified individual school bans on grounds that they constituted an infringement of religious freedom. Or consider Germany. In 2003 the Constitutional Court allowed a ban for teachers in public schools but reversed its decision in 2015. It would not surprise me if the hijab were highly in vogue in Europe among Muslim and non-Muslim women by 2025. I mean that somewhat facetiously, but the situation is that fluid.

How did your life and work in Germany and Turkey shape the perspective of your research?

Living in Turkey for the academic year 1995-1996 helped me to reject the neo-Orientalist stereotypes with which I was educated. Repeatedly residing in Germany for long durations over the last 35 years has prompted greater appreciation for the complexity of immigration as well as increased skepticism toward and even irritation with simplistic explanations and interpretations (some of which were my own).

Have you been to Germany and Turkey since the Syrian refugee crisis?  What have you observed?

I resided in Germany for five months in 2015. I witnessed much admirable generosity and goodwill on the part of Germans and non-Germans toward arriving refugees. Unfortunately, many politicians have been more interested in fomenting anger and resentment toward the newcomers.

German PM Angela Merkel is under increasing political pressure at home – especially since the attacks in Cologne – to revisit the country’s “open door” policy toward refugees. To many German citizens the danger to their society is very real. Do they have reason to be worried or are their fears overblown? Is it possible to put the “crisis” in perspective based on what you know of history and of Germany?

Based on separate figures compiled by Peter Katzenstein and Doug Saunders, I write in my book that a resident of Europe is 33 times likelier to die from meningitis, 822 times likelier to be murdered for nonpolitical reasons, and 1,833 times likelier to perish in a car accident than to fall victim to terrorist attacks, of which only one percent are committed by persons invoking Islam.

An estimated 13 percent of women in Germany experience physical assault at some time in their life. The problem of violence against women neither originated on New Year’s Eve 2015 in Cologne nor is perpetrated by (Muslim) refugees only. Needless to say, this sobering fact in no way minimizes or justifies the crimes against women committed in Cologne on that occasion.

Germany took in as many as 14 million refugees after WWII under conditions far less favorable than today. In 1990 the Federal Republic of Germany annexed a country of 16 million East Germans that had been extensively ruined by two generations of communist rule. With regard to the current wave of refugees, the Chancellor couldn’t be more correct when she insists “We can do this” (Wir schaffen das).

It seems that the ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis originated by Samuel Huntington (1996) is back in vogue?  Should we be wary of this?

Yes. Because it is reductionist it is highly misleading. It fosters the erroneous and politically dangerous view that all Muslims think and act alike and, moreover, in ways that “clash” with the purportedly central values of Western societies, such as rationality, civil liberty, democracy and the rule of law.

How can an understanding of the political philosophies of liberalism, nationalism, and postmodernism help us to look at the Muslim question and immigration in Europe?

My book shows that the most politically consequential ideological clashes in Europe are those between the public philosophies of liberalism (all should enjoy equal rights and freedoms), nationalism (the rights and needs of natives should have priority over non-natives) and postmodernism (what passes for right and wrong is always the result of political contestation). Two advantages stem from applying this conceptual lens. First, we can understand how these vying public philosophies contribute to highly contradictory, even self-defeating policies regarding immigration across Europe. Second, we see that the three ideologies divide Muslim as much as non-Muslim Europeans. The two groups do not represent differing monolithic blocs locked in a clash with one another.

British journalist Mehdi Hasan has written that “in some respects, Muslims are the new Jews of Europe.” (Huffington Post UK, May 29, 2014).  Are there strong historical parallels between what European Jews experienced in the 20th century to current conditions for European Muslims?

This commonly drawn parallel is more misleading than illuminating. Nowhere in Europe are virtually all Muslims —asylum-seekers, resident aliens and citizens — being disenfranchised, dispossessed and sequestered the way Jews were in Nazi Germany. More importantly, the systematic extermination of the European Muslim community is not taking place. Although there are some credible parallels between the everyday discrimination in many walks of life against Jews before the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 and against European Muslims today, the latter have far superior recourse to national and international courts to challenge violations of human rights.

Joseph Richard Preville is Assistant Professor of English at Alfaisal University/Prince Sultan College for Business in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  His work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, San Francisco Chronicle, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Tikkun, The Jerusalem Post, Muscat Daily, Saudi Gazette, and World Religion News.  He is also a regular contributor to ISLAMiCommentary.

Julie Poucher Harbin is Editor of ISLAMiCommentary.

Apologies for the past are political theater

In this blog entry, Ashraf Rushdy writes about the recent phenomenon of apologizing for the past and how it shaped his book, A Guilted Age.

On August 15, 2015, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologized for Japan’s aggression during the war and for its colonization of China and Korea. His apology was delivered on the seventieth anniversary of the end of WW II in the Pacific theater.

His apology, according to most commentators, used all the right words – and, in Japan, there is a significant difference in terms that express “deep remorse” and those that offer actual “apology” – but his apology nonetheless did not ring true.  The New York Times called it an “echo,” and the Japan Times referred to it as his “sorry apology of an apology.”  Partly, the effect of insincerity came from the fact that Abe was echoing previous prime ministers’ apologies and making it clear that he was part of a different historical trajectory.  He was, after all, the first Japanese prime minister born after the war, and he therefore belonged to that vast majority of eighty percent of Japanese who, like him, as he reminded us, were born to a postwar world.  So, even while he insisted in a repeated refrain at the end of his speech that Japan must “engrave in our hearts the past,” it was clear that he was tired of being haunted by it.  What he wanted was for future generations “to inherit the past,” but not “be predestined to apologize” for it.  The other reason that his apology rang as insincere is that he sent a monetary gift to the Yasukuni Shrine, which celebrates Japan’s military might, houses the remains of some of its war criminals, and represents to Japan’s neighbors precisely the kind of aggressive ultranationalist politics that led to their colonization.

It was an apology that the world expected, one on which Abe had certainly received a great deal of advice, not only from the panel he set up to consider the wording of the statement, but also from foreign media pundits and political figures.  Indeed, a few months before, no one less than German Chancellor Angela Merkel had urged him not to water down the anniversary apology and pointed out, in a perhaps unwelcome bit of comparison, that Germany had been able to “face our history” and apologize and therefore establish good relations with her neighbors.

Abe’s apology, then, like all political theater, was anticipated, scripted, advised, delivered, and then reviewed.

What does it mean when a politician offers an apology on behalf of a nation for that nation’s past actions?  How did apology become a recognized form in international relations – a diplomatic instrument in the same way as treaties, tribunals, and trade agreements?  That is part of the story I explore and tell in A Guilted Age.

Guilted Age_smIntrigued by this political development, and what it might tell us about the postwar epoch, I set out to discern how apologizing for the past emerged as a practice.  There are notable moments in that relatively short history that stand out for us: Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s apology on the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the war resonates as Japan’s most felicitous statement of contrition, and German President Richard von Weisacker’s on the fortieth anniversary quickly became the gold standard for political apologies.  I wanted not only to appreciate these important moments, though; I wanted to understand what these apologies were doing, and what led to the widespread belief that they could do this particular work. I wanted, in other words, to discern just what kind of political events and philosophical responses to them inaugurated a guilted age in which public apologies for the past could flourish.

As I undertook my research, it quickly became clear that we lived in a world awash in apologies of all sorts.  Corrupt politicians, scandal-prone celebrities, and rogue corporations regularly apologized to the public – and it was assumed that the public needed this confirmation of penitence.  What struck me was that these apologies differed in meaningful ways – and not just in the fact that some came across as more sincere and others as less.  They differed substantially in what they addressed.  I felt that it was important to make distinctions, and the one that seemed to me particularly salient was whether the event for which the apology was offered had direct survivors or not.  When Abe apologizes for Japan’s conduct during the war, the so-called Korean “comfort women” hear him, as do survivors of Japanese war camps.  When Pope John Paul II apologized for the Crusades, no one who heard his apology was directly affected by the event.  The historical event for which apologies have been offered – colonization, slavery, religious wars – assuredly have palpable and deeply significant effects on our modern world, but the apologies for them differ, in tone and meaning, because they are addressed in a different way to a different audience.  That distinction, then, between apologies that are for recent political events for which we have survivors (WW II) and older historical events for which we don’t, was worth making so we can better understand the different kinds of works these two distinct sorts of apologies do.

Having explored their origins, and made distinctions among the different kinds of apologies for the past, I set out to understand in just what ways we could understand what these apologies represent.  I focused on two topics.

The first has to do with what precisely an apology does.  Many commentators believe that an apology can undo the offending behavior.  Most of them – but not all of them – believe that this is true in a symbolic rather than a physical sense.  When I say I am sorry that I stepped on your shoe, I indicate that it was done by accident and not maliciously, and so you do not feel that you were targeted or disrespected by the event.  The effects of the event are changed; your rising resentment at being mistreated is derailed and changed to something else.  In that way, an apology can undo what was done.  The analogue statement is “forgive and forget,” which likewise sees the value of erasing the past.  Such an idea, of course, translates badly when we think of larger political and historical events for which apologies are offered; and I wanted to see just how this deep belief in the power of apology’s capacity to erase might residually affect what apologies for the past mean.

The second has to do with what an apology is supposed to express, namely sorrow.  There is a key ambiguity in that idea that politicians and other people with less power sometimes take advantage of by saying we are sorry for instead of being sorry that.  “I am sorry for your loss” means one thing; “I am sorry that I stepped on your shoe” means quite another.  One consoles by grieving, the other accepts responsibility.  That ambiguity is sometimes used deviously in political apologies.  When China demanded an apology from the Bush administration for the downing of one of its military planes, Secretary of State Colin Powell apologized by saying that America was sorry for the loss, but made it patently clear that the administration was not accepting responsibility for the event of the loss.  In other cases, though, the ambiguity appears to be more of an honest categorical mistake made by people who perhaps intuit that grieving is the more appropriate tenor for the occasion.  By looking at key moments in that history and examining some particular apologies, I show that apologies for the past that seem to express contrition are actually expressing mourning, and why that matters.

Apologizing for the past is a relatively new phenomenon, and one that bears our understanding better because it both has great potential and carries great risk. The past matters because we live in a world formed from it, and we need to figure out in what ways we can address it. Some have revered it, others reviled it, some see in it randomness, and others a discernible and meaningful pattern. To these older approaches, we can add those who wish to draw inspiration from it by being consoled that it is past, by redressing its ongoing damages, and, maybe, by atoning for it – and thereby claiming it – in words, gestures, and a mixture of celebration and grief.

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