This is the season of the apology. On the 26th September this year was Yom Kippur, the holiest of all the Jewish festivals. As a Jew, I fasted on Yom Kippur and spent the whole day in Synagogue. But the day is about more than just fasting; it is about saying sorry. Yom Kippur means ‘Day of Atonement’ and, on this day, we reflect on our sins from the past year – with people and with God and we do our best to repent for them. It is said that if we truly repent then God will forgive us; this does not, however, mean that we are forgiven by our fellow man.
This year, Yom Kippur seems to have fallen in the season of the apology; in the past few weeks we have had Obama apologising to the Islamic world, Nick Clegg apologising to those who once supported the Liberal Democrats, the Police, Government and FA apologising about the Hillsborough tragedy and Grünenthal apologising for the defects caused by its drug Thalidomide in the 1950’s.
I believe that it is good to apologise, but only when that apology is sincere, I also don’t believe that it is right to apologise on behalf of others. Barack Obama’s apology was not the good sort. He has no right to apologise for the ‘work’ of another man, even if that work is causing offence to those intolerant of freedom of speech. I’ve seen the trailer that has caused so much harm and whilst it is tasteless, the President of the USA has no right to apologise for it. Indeed, it is harmful for him to do so. One of the greatest freedoms that we in the West possess is the freedom of speech and this does and indeed SHOULD include the freedom to offend. Stephen Fry agrees with me…
By being an apologist and saying sorry to these Islamists, all that Obama is doing is saying that it is OK to murder, burn and pillage if you feel that you have been offended. But this is wrong; if you feel offended then retort with words or be the bigger man and Obama should bear in mind that by apologising on behalf of the West he is legitimising violence and delegitimising the freedom of speech.
This moves me on to insincere apologies. Insincere apologies are at their best irritating (Nick Clegg) and at their worst downright offensive (Grünenthal). It is quite hard to tell whether or not the Rt. Hon. Mr Clegg meant his apology or not, but it felt like electioneering and as insincere as so much else that he and other career politicians come out with. The apology from Grünenthal over Thalidomide was also insincere, but whereas Nick Clegg’s apology would merely have irritated students in the UK (and the 15 other LibDem voters), the Grünenthal apology is downright offensive. Thalidomide was a drug that was offered in the late fifties to pregnant women who were suffering from morning sickness and had trouble sleeping. Unfortunately, the drug caused severe birth defects such as half formed limbs, and yet the company which manufactured this drug had never apologised until earlier this month. Their apology, however, was not unreserved -as it should have been – but they threw into their apology the statement that the symptoms could not have been detected. Apologies are not conditional and all that this statement did was upset those affected by thalidomide poisoning. Insincere apologies are not apologies; they are something said out of convenience and because of this they are wrong – an apology should be unreserved and fully repentant and should not be part of some sort of electioneering scheme.
Then there is the Hillsborough incident. There were so many apologies that it’s hard to know what to think of them all. To me, they mostly seemed sincere – the police and FA have both accepted responsibility and the government genuinely seems to feel bad about what happened. Does this make it ok? Well, I firstly think that a key step of apology is to correct that mistake in the best way possible, and therefore I believe that anyone key to the deaths that day should be prosecuted. The same goes for those who covered up any evidence which proved how badly the police behaved on the day. The FA too has shown their willingness to change, and their rules on stadium numbers etc have been tightened up since the disaster. However, ultimately it is up to those who are related to the people who died to decide whether or not they accept these apologies. These, I don’t think were insincere, but they are certainly very late in coming and prosecution must occur.
I believe that the apology is a fundamental part of humanity. I think that people can change and if they are truly sorry for their past actions then they should be forgiven. But it is not right to apologise insincerely and nor is it right to apologise for your countrymen, perhaps irresponsibly, airing their freedom of speech. It is important for us to look at ourselves and reflect on our flaws, which is what Yom Kippur is all about, for in doing this we can work on them.
Apologise, but only if you mean it.