segunda-feira, 17 de outubro de 2011

Justice from the Dark Side

By Ronald W. Nikkel

As protestors numbering in the tens of thousands marched and occupied financial and political centres around the world, I found myself resonating with their outrage against the injustice of economic exploitation. I too have been hurt by declining investment values while those who manage my meagre investment funds seem to profit ever more. Something is terribly wrong in the world when the gulf between the rich and powerful interests and the poor and powerless grows ever wider. Why should investment managers and wealthy financial institutions profit ahead of those who entrust them with their funds?

Last week, in the aftermath of another Christian church being burned in Egypt, Christians rallied in protest against the injustice they feel as an oppressed religious minority. Witnessing this injustice, many Muslims resonated with the Christians’ cause and courageously marched in public support and solidarity with their Christian friends and neighbours.

During his struggle for civil rights, Martin Luther King, Jr. was imprisoned for his public “disobedience” in protesting the injustice of inequality and discrimination suffered by African Americans. Writing from Birmingham Jail he observed prophetically that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”[i] When one group in society is allowed to suffer chronic injustice, society itself will be neither safe nor secure.

Plato, the Greek philosopher of the fourth century BC, said that justice is a quality of the soul – a virtue by which people forego their innate desire to taste every pleasure and to get selfish satisfaction at the expense of others. Writing at a time when Athenian democracy was on the verge of ruin, Plato wrote against the “amateurishness, meddlesomeness, and political selfishness which were undermining Athenian society.[ii] The city-state had become divided between the rich and poor, the oppressed and the oppressors; the only antidote to pervasive injustice in society was for “justice” to reign supreme. But the question is – what is justice? Plato spent much of his life working to describe and define the nature of justice as the fundamental virtue of a well-ordered society.

However, defining justice comprehensively is difficult, and one commentator suggested that in the end Plato may not have fully known what justice is, but he certainly knew what it is not. Some years ago I read a thought-provoking book entitled “What War Taught Me About Peace”[iii] in which the author explored an understanding of the nature of peace derived from his experience of its opposite - war. When it comes to justice, it seems to me as well, that injustice is far easier to define and describe than justice.

The words of injustice are many - oppression, transgression, exploitation, discrimination, segregation, inequality, inequity, partiality, bias, malice, prejudice, unfairness, violence, abuse, misuse, malfeasance, partisanship, favourtism, maltreatment, and many more. We so clearly see and understand what justice is not, especially when we personally suffer wrong from the attitudes and actions of other groups and individuals; or from discriminatory and exploitive bureaucratic, political, economic, social, and even religious “powers that be.” As a result, we are more prone to rail against the tangible injustices we know than to work for the justice we can’t fully comprehend. And so our criminal justice systems reflect society’s negative or punitive response to crime and injustice, much more than being a positive and pro-active process of developing a more just society.

For Plato, a just society was not simply comprised of just laws, equitable systems, and fair treatment, but one that is comprised of virtuous individuals. He saw justice as a societal virtue that cannot exist independently from wisdom, courage, and self-discipline, which are the virtues of the people in that society. Inasmuch as injustice reflects the immorality of people and society, justice reflects the moral character of society. Justice in any society is not only about how we respond to crime and treat offenders – it is comprehensively about advancing and protecting the wellbeing and peace of all people in that society.

Finally, remember that we cannot give what we do not have. If we do not love ourselves, we will be hard pressed to love others. If we are not just with ourselves, we will find it very difficult to look for justice with others. In order to become and remain a social justice advocate, you must live a healthy life. Take care of yourself as well as others. Invest in yourself as well as in others. No one can build a house of justice on a foundation of injustice. Love yourself and be just to yourself and do the same with others. As you become a social justice advocate, you will experience joy, inspiration and love in abundant measure.[iv]


[i] Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963 (Martin Luther King was a black civil rights leader & clergyman in the US)
[iii] Robert Muller, “What War Taught me About Peace” (Doubleday, New York, 1985)
[iv] Bill Quigley, Loyola University in New Orleans, is a well known social justice lawyer and activist (as quoted,


Ronald W. Nikkel, PFI President & CEO
Ron has served as PFI's president since 1982. Widely recognized as an expert on criminal justice issues, Ron has visited more than 1,000 prisons in every region of the world and met with church and political leaders, as well as criminal justice officials.

Ron's new devotional book Radical Love in a Broken World, featuring daily meditations, is now available on as is his previous book Your Journey with Jesus.

To Learn more about Prison Fellowship International, visit

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"...Quando um voluntário é essencialmente um visitador prisional, saiba ele que o seu papel, por muito pouco que a um olhar desprevenido possa parecer, é susceptível de produzir um efeito apaziguador de grande alcance..."

"... When one is essentially a volunteer prison visitor, he knows that his role, however little that may seem a look unprepared, is likely to produce a far-reaching effect pacificatory ..."

Dr. José de Sousa Mendes
Presidente da FIAR