Focus on the perpetrator

Country of My Skull is a nonfictional book by Afrikaner author Antjie Krog. It primarily deals with the findings of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that operated in the wake of the end of the apartheid system and before subsequent election of President Nelson Mandela in 1994. The motive underpinning the procedures of the TRC is better explained by its chair Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the documentary Long Night’s into Day: « we make the mistake of conflating all justice into retributive justice whereas there is something called restorative justice. » Such path primarily seeks truth, analysis, understanding, perhaps catharsis and ultimately forgiveness or at least some sense of closure not just simply expediently punishing the wrong doer and conveniently burying the past. In this case the cost is heavy: minimal reparation for the victim, around $200 and most importantly amnesty for the criminal who confesses, which is somehow an additional act of violence towards the victim.
Moreover, Country of My Skull is, to me, all the more interesting as it deals with a process that allows focusing, to a certain extent, on the perpetrators despite weak white participation. In fact, one of the most recurrent criticism I have regarding our approach to mass violence in history including slavery, colonization, the holocaust, apartheid, segregation and neocolonialism, is the lack of analysis of the criminal’s mind. Indeed, in my opinion focusing on the motives and reasoning – if there is any – that push the perpetrator of violence to do what they do is as important as uncovering the reality, the facts. Europe, for instance, largely failed to do so with the Nazi, they resorted to retributive justice in the Nuremberg trials. Nazis were somehow branded “monsters” or “anomalies” and cast out of humanity.
Moreover, Krog is not just chronicling and offering precious insight about the TRC. Her book is also autobiographical and self-analytic, which opens avenues for understanding the mechanisms at work when in a system of institutionalized violence what I call “the virtually non-evil numerical majority” allows an ‘extremist’ portion of their social group or race to commit what could be termed crimes against humanity while they just watch idly without feeling the need or mustering the courage to do anything about what is happening. Racial education of such key component of the population is crucial especially in countries like the US where they are the overall majority.
Well, it might or might not be too late for a TRC about slavery but, on the other hand, many actors – from both sides of the gun – of America’s own brand of apartheid are still alive…

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2 Responses to Focus on the perpetrator

  1. Anne Gulick says:

    Re treatment of Nazis as monsters, THE text that challenges that trend – a must-read – is Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem. A fascinating read alongside Krog, in fact.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anne Gulick says:

    And Mamdani’s When Victim’s Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and Genocide in Rwanda is another book to add to the list


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