Unmasking Amnesty’s hope-filled realist

By  Lorraine Williams, Catholic Register Special
  • June 5, 2007

{mosimage}Dispatches From the Global Village by Derek Evans (CopperHouse, softcover, 192 pages, $23.95).

If you asked me today to name a sole companion on a desert island, my first choice — after my husband, of course — would be Derek Evans, former deputy secretary general of Amnesty International. Until now, he was only a name on mailings I would receive in return for my annual donation. But after reading Dispatches From the Global Village — a collection of 38 monthly columns he’s written for his village paper near Penticton, B.C. — I realized here truly was a man described in the foreword by a friend as a “gentle soul with a will of iron… an artist and a scientist” and one who, “in the midst of this global terror, introduces us to a diplomacy of light.”

Evans’ technique is to muse on his personal experiences and convert them into universal themes or principles. His themes are deeply human. In “Gardening,” chapter 21, while working in his garden he recalls the wonder of discovering a large rose bush in full bloom in the most wartorn part of Central Africa. His conclusion: “Perhaps the real work of gardening is cultivating our own ability to recognize beauty that surrounds us, and nurturing our willingness to share life in its fullness.” He manages to draw us into a “geography of being,” a phrase once used by writer Sebastian Faulks that inevitably develops our consciousness of the oneness, the interdependence, the potential splendour of the human race.

It’s difficult to select any one of the 38 chapters as better than another. Each is a gem. The reader contemplates Evans’ reflections on the search for peace in a fragmented world. For instance, during a meeting with Amnesty staff, the Dali Lama was so impressed with Amnesty’s goals that he commented: “I believe that the work all of you are doing — caring for the dignity of strangers, protecting their rights — is sacred. I believe it is more important than prayer.”

In “Dreams,” the author recalls his great uncle who became a professional hockey player, a man who realized his dream, then left when it was time to move on. This memory reminds him of the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book, The Sabbath: “The goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord.”

Evans is a hope-filled realist. He decries the financial and human waste of war — it costs the United States more than $10 million an hour to fund the Iraq war. He tells us how the concept of ceasefires apply to his general approach to conflict resolution: “A (ceasefire) needs to be understood fundamentally as a temporary arrangement. If it is to be anything more than an exercise in the art of holding one’s breath, it must be turned into an opportunity to help the parties move beyond the perpetual cycle of this win-lose game. Essentially, and somewhat ironically, that means using the period of the ceasefire to help the two sides accept the basic fact that, whether they like it or not, they are in each other’s futures, and must face the immediate and practical task of figuring out how to be in some kind of realistic and reasonable relationship with each other. . . . Strategies based on avoidance and compromise tend only to reinforce the win-lose power struggle.”

Evans rejoices not only in our attempts to think outside the box, but even to realize that we’re in that box. “We must take seriously the reality and significance of the world’s great spiritual traditions,” he writes. “We urgently need to discover creative ways of relating with each other in open, honest and respectful relationships.”

The chapter on “Burning” contains the author’s deepest convictions. “Real dialogue requires we recognize and be open to the fact we both may be changed in our discourse. The defense of human rights demands we commit to treating ourselves and each other with profound and passionate respect. The symbol for both interfaith dialogue and for the human rights movement is the candle — fire for giving light, not for burning.”

If I ever get to that desert island, I’d commend Evans for his compassionate view of humanity. But I would also talk to him about Amnesty’s recent endorsement of abortion as a “realization of women’s human rights” (The Catholic Register May 27). I have no knowledge of where he stands on this. Amnesty’s position appears to contradict Evans’ support of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states all people are to be regarded as human. I withdrew my financial support for Amnesty at the beginning of the year, when after writing twice in an attempt to dialogue on its then-proposed move in the direction of abortion support, I received no reply. I believe Evans wouldn’t shy away from such a dialogue. I have so much to glean from his insights, and I have some to offer him. Maybe together we could discover creative ways of thinking about these fundamental moral issues.

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