The Goodness, the Beauty, the Laughter and the Courage

Desmond Tutu

Former Archbishop of Cape Town, and winner of Nobel peace prize 1984

Sunday December 30 2001

The Observer

 

Things could have been a great deal better this year, but things could also have been a great deal worse. When you read a story about children being escorted to school by armed soldiers, you would not have been surprised if the story was describing something happening in South Africa. But it was something that happened in Northern Ireland.

And if you'd heard there were vicious race riots, you would not have been surprised if it was describing something happening in South Africa. It's not South Africa where those race riots have taken place - it's England. Which doesn't mean that we in South Africa don't have our problems, but on the whole it's been extraordinary to see people who have been alienated by law from one another for so long - people who were not allowed to marry, people who were not allowed to go to the same school - doing these things as if to the manner born. I think we have a great deal for which to be thankful.

Regarding the world in general, one condemns as roundly as one can acts of terrorism against innocent civilians. I would have hoped the World Trade Centre attack would have been an instance when the civilised world would demonstrate that they didn't see this as an act of war but as a criminal offence. It could then have been dealt with by a police action, to bring to book those who were involved either in its execution or planning.

This is one of best arguments for the international criminal court. What distinguishes civilised countries from their opposite numbers is the rule of law. You don't operate on the basis of hunches, or even very strong suspicions, or even self-incriminating evidence. The course of law insists on evidence being provided that will be scrutinised meticulously and dispassionately by people considered to be relatively unbiased. The evidence must then be sufficient to convict the miscreant beyond reasonable doubt.

I don't think we have operated in that fashion here. The action in Afghanistan should have been directed by the United Nations and if, quite rightly, we consider that what made the terrorist act so reprehensible was the fact that innocent civilians were targeted, we can't turn round and then say we didn't intend to kill innocent civilians in Afghanistan, that they are "collateral damage". It is an obscenity to say of people who are killed that they are collateral damage. America would not take happily to someone saying that the people killed in the twin towers and in Washington were collateral damage. They are not.

I would hope that the international community would take a step back, especially the United States, and consider that it is being given an opportunity. An opportunity to demonstrate that its greatness lies not so much in military or economic strength, but in its commitment to freedom and compassion; its commitment to recognising that the individual is of infinite worth.

Why is it that so many people in the developing world are left unhappy about the way the United States has operated? The fact that they used to support dictatorships - Marcos in the Philippines, Savimbi in Angola, where we've still got a war going on, and of course the Contras in Nicaragua. They didn't care about the human rights records of those they were sponsoring as long as those countries sided with the United States against the Soviets. In a way they were producing the monsters who are haunting them now.

One of the good things that has emerged from this is that the world has realised that we are actually one; no country can go it alone in combating terrorism. It is something that has to be done by the whole world coming together. The Americans are incredibly generous, and we have benefited as a family from the generosity of various American people. They are warm-hearted and can be compassionate, and those are the attributes that America should seek to export, not the fact that they can be trigger-happy and that they have military might they can deploy as and when they feel.

I think that the world is increasingly starting to be aware that we really are a global village, and that, as somebody has said, if a butterfly flutters its wings in the Amazon forest, it can set off an explosion on the other side of the world. We are interconnected, whether we like it or not. God said that he created us as family, so we can recognise that we are sisters and brothers, and that there are no outsiders. And the day we recognise this, we will realise we cannot spend the amount of money we spend on arms when a minute fraction of that would enable us to feed, to clothe, to provide clean water for God's children everywhere.

Until we are a world that recognises that we have to share, as families share, we will constantly be surprised that there are huge pockets of resentment, of anger, and that a few seem to benefit from globalisation and the rest have to pay a very, very heavy price.

But I am increasingly hopeful that this is dawning on more people. It's wonderful to discover just how many Americans have been unhappy at the response of their government and have called into question the rightness of what has happened. There are very many courageous people standing up.

I think that because this is a moral universe, then right will prevail, goodness will prevail, compassion will prevail, laughter will prevail, love, caring, sharing will prevail. Because we are made for goodness. We are made for love.

For myself, I would just like to have time to enjoy my grandchildren and to see good people prevailing. There are so many good people and so many beautiful things, and I want to be able to luxuriate in contemplating the goodness, the beauty, the laughter and the courage that is in the world. May 2002 bring all that you long for. God bless you.

Interview by Simon Hattenstone.

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