First of all, there is something I must make clear. That is, I am most certainly not a scientist. So forgive me, if my views and theories are not backed up by data. That is the happy prerogative of the lay social commentator – or, dare I say, politician – to be able to cherry pick random areas of debate and pontificate without substantial evidence.

I have spent more than half my life working for NBC news, mostly in places like Gaza, places where conflict is shown as a natural state for men – a need for a stated enemy passed down through generations. Places where the dangers of religious dogma are written in blood. Where the excuse for war may usually be religion, but is, in fact, all about power, and fear forging ethnic or tribal divisions that manifest themselves century after century in cycles of violence. It is a job that has carried me through a kaleidoscope of events. Allowing me to witness many of the most important moments of the last quarter of a century first hand. To see the human spirit at it is most tested. And to draw lessons from those experiences.

In recent years, much of my life has been spent in Baghdad, a place that reminds you that good health can never be taken for granted. That life can throw at you all sorts of things you could do without… often when you are not expecting them.

When my mother gave us news of my father John, from that moment, every single action, performed by every one of us, every single day, would be coloured by that news: he was suffering from Huntington’s disease – a condition I, like most people, had never heard of. It was, I was told, incurable – untreatable. And more than that, genetic. I had a 50/50 chance of having the faulty gene that caused the disease, and if so, the disease would most likely develop in me in the next ten to fifteen years. My first reaction was incredulity. I had spent my working life immersed in the misery that nature, as well as men, can inflict on the human race. But it had never occurred to me my family could be a victim. Then, as the reality of the news began to sink in, I could feel the independence, I had spent so long cultivating, fall away like a silk cape from my shoulders, leaving me with a vulnerability and fragility I had not known in adult life.

My father was a career soldier with extra-ordinary humanity. It inspired my mother to insist on nursing him personally till his death. The only battle of his life he lost, was with the dehumanisation of Huntington’s. The problem with trying to describe the horror of this disease is that you run out of superlatives in portraying what is worst about it. You might think that dying with a tube down your throat acting for your stomach because it can no longer process food would be the worst thing imaginable. No. Far worse is the loss of dignity that comes for a once proud man to watch friends and family wince as his body and mind become twisted till unrecognisable – as a soul inside lets out a cry for help that no-one can hear and weeps a tear that no-one can see. But even that is not the worst. No. I know for certain my father would have willingly suffered all of that a hundredfold, if he could have been spared the worst pain by far, which was to know he could pass that nightmare on to his sons. My brother John is five years older than me. He studied law at Oxford and joined one of the most prestigious law firms in Britain. Now, before meeting his neurologist, he practices walking in a straight line because he knows she will ask him to do it, and it is very difficult for him.

My profession has exposed me to an unnaturally large number of dead and injured people. more than a dozen wars, four earthquakes, and more suicide bombings than I can count have left me with more visions of death than anyone would wish for. And that affects your priorities as well as your perspective. I learnt, for example, that the most valuable human quality, is humility. Because none of us is immune from disease or disaster, and we are all the same flesh and bone. In the weeks following the tsunami in South East Asia three years ago, I spent many days at the temples along the coast of Thailand where thousands of bodies were laid out for identification. Now I do not want to go into too much detail about what happens to a body after a week in tropical heat. But suffice to say one result was that we, and the forensic scientists, and even the relatives of the victims, knew that among those bodies were both poor fisherman from the Andaman coast as well as wealthy businessmen from London, or Stockholm, but I swear to you, none of us could tell one from the other. Do not think that because you may now have good health, that research into diseases like that which has struck my family, is not relevant to you. The families whose lives are destroyed by dementia, represent a community hidden by its own shame, and made transparent by a vacuum of self esteem – but a community far larger than people realise. Think of this – right now 127 million Europeans have one or more brain disorder, costing our health services, by the way, 400 billion euro a year. By middle of the century, it is reckoned that as much as half the population of Europe will have some form of dementia when they die. Most of them, of course, will come from the one-third of the population who will then be over 65. That statistic includes, by the way, anyone in this auditorium still alive then, who is now over the age of 24.

Now, 25 years of watching men kill each other – and it is always men, by the way – has taught me another truth about them. That is, that human beings lose their moral compass, their social equilibrium, if you like, when you take two things away from them: dignity and hope. Now I think we have already shown the vacuum of dignity that those suffering dementia feel. But what about hope? Do they have it? Well, the answer to that lies in the hands of the legislatures, executives and other people who have a say in the way our societies treat the infirm in the 21st century. Because, yes, we could be at a pivotal moment in medical history. The disease that has destroyed my family, for example, may hold the answers to many questions of the future for all of you. Because it can be predicted genetically before it becomes symptomatic. In the future, it is possible that most other diseases could also be predicted through genetic mutations, and treated pre-emptively. Just last month, trials of gene therapy with HIV patients were described by scientists at the University of California as ‘exciting’ and ‘highly promising’. Those trials involved modified stem cells, a field at the threshold of untold promise – a fact recognised by the new US administration, which has already shown its intent to repeal archaic legislation. So, what stands in the way of this historic chapter in medicine being embraced? Well the two strands of society that usually inter weave into a tapestry of blindness – fear and lack of communication. Let’s start with the stem cell debate. Here I want to refer to a man whose 200th birthday was celebrated just last month. Charles Darwin’s Origin of the species, the foundation of biology, was, of course, dismissed by the Church as heresy when it was published 150 years ago. Last September, the Anglican Church apologised to Darwin, quote, “for misunderstanding you, and by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still�?. There could be something to be said for suggesting that religious zealots should stay quiet on a subject it will take them a century and a half to understand. But then, as Darwin himself said: “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge. It is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that a problem will never be solved by science�?. The Catholic Church has been less ready to apologise to Darwin, the Church that derided Darwin for “insulting the dignity of the human species�?, the same Church that refused to criticise slavery until 20 years after Darwin’s death, a man who had spent his life detesting and campaigning against what he saw as a real crime against human dignity.

Prejudice, you see, is usually born out of fear of the unknown and on the other side of that coin, communication leads to understanding, and understanding dilutes fear. The vacuum left by fear can be filled with hope. I spent many months in the anti-apartheid battles of South Africa in the 1980’s and then during Nelson Mandela’s release and the first democratic election that followed. In 1996, I was in Cape Town for the start of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – with its chairman, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He was appalled at what was uncovered at that commission’s two-year investigation but he also described what happened there as a “vision of hope for our time�?. Over in Northern Ireland, it was that whole South African peace process, according to the IRA, that provided the template for the peace process there. And you know what? Last September, Iraqi leaders met secretly in Finland with delegations from the National Party and ANC from South Africa, and from the IRA and Unionists in Northern Ireland to learn from them how to move a peace process forward. Team work – and communication.

So how do we apply that lesson to improving care for of the less fortunate among us? Well, one way is to understand more fully, that their needs go beyond anti-depressants. We must, for example, redefine our attitude toward mental illnesses, so that the millions who suffer, can come out from the shadows. Many people at risk of developing Huntington’s disease, are not available for essential clinical trials of compounds that may be able to treat the symptoms of my disease. Why? Because, not only do they naturally fear the outcome of a test, but they also fear the repercussions from other people or organizations being privy to that information. Legislatures must protect the rights of these people, in order to give them reassurance. We must do everything we can, to remove the reason why they put off the test, and, incidentally why I did. fear.

I have learnt to recognise fear – I have seen it more times than I wished on the faces of people about to die, and I have felt it myself. In march 1996, in the last days of the war in Yugoslavia, I was captured with a camera crew by a renegade platoon of Mujahideen guerillas. We were very unfortunately driven into a clearing in the so-called ‘Doboi pocket’, where they had made their camp. As the sun set and the Mujahideen began a call to prayer, they fired a salvo of missiles at the Serbian lines that were two miles to the North. I was by the door of our armoured car and could see the blood splattered wall where 2 overseas development workers had been blindfolded and shot the day before. The young fighter who had held an AK 47 to my chest for the last five hours, took the pin out of a grenade which he then held to my head while he closed his eyes and prayed to Allah. That, is an experience of real fear. But not that moment, nor any other I have experienced, in-stills more fear, dread, and terror, as Huntington’s disease in the end, though, I did take that test. And discovered that the disease that took my father and is now inflicting on my brother the same terrible decline in his prime, will take me, as well. So three years on from my test, is it any easier? I wish it was. I am utterly terrified. Not an hour goes by, when I do not picture how my quality of life will drain away, question how I will afford care, fear that however much my friends might now promise they will always come and see me, that they won’t really want to – just like I did not want to see my father when he lost the ability to converse with me. Every time I take the dogs for a walk, I wonder if this will be the time I realise my coordination has started to fade? And will I be able to dance with my baby daughter on her 16th birthday? That time bomb is real, present, and desperate for all of us who know we have a disease like Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

Every day, thousands of European men, women, and children slip into the cauldron of despair which is that point where there’s no longer the hope that the research of scientists like those here, might bear fruit in time for them. It is our duty to do everything we can, to improve communication and access to information among those researchers. You do not have to be a scientist to work out that if all laboratories, and indeed individuals, working separately on finding treatments for disease around the world can have access to each other’s information the whole of their efforts will be much greater than the sum of the parts. We in Europe should follow the example of the public library of science in the US. The Open Access model gives unrestricted, free distribution, allowing, say, the findings of a researcher here in Brussels, to be accessed freely by a scientist in Beijing. Scientific importance, not profitability, is the sole consideration for publication. But we also need public access hubs, that would also allow families access to information about scientific developments, without having to pay hundreds of dollars to scientific publishers. Of course, we will also need to find a way to make these highly complex scientific matters accessible to ordinary people like me. Not easy, but, with the right application it can be done. We must demystify the science to engage the families and the scientists together, a communication that will dilute fear, encourage participation, and convey to families, hope. Do not underestimate what the work of the scientists and researchers means to the millions around the world who suffer from these diseases, and the even greater number who care for them, as we scour the newspapers and internet for any fragment of news from their laboratories. Scientists are understandably wary of raising false hopes, but understand, that in a world of total darkness, the very faintest glimmer of light, emboldens the human spirit to go on. We must also allow these scientists the right to make mistakes. As Niels Bohr said: “An expert is someone who has made all the mistakes that can be made, but in a very narrow field�?. And, I would add to that, a great expert is one with the courage and wisdom to know that mistakes have to be made, and used to climb upward, like broken bricks piled against a wall. Now what else might stand in the way of hope? What about funding? Will the shockwaves felt by economies round the world stand in the way of progress? I believe not. In the years during and after the American great depression, creative talent in the USA grows as in no other period in the last century. As great minds turned away from the financial institutions, that were now on their knees, and focused on more noble goals. It was the golden age of design. And a new breed of scientists were led by Albert Einstein with the mantra that we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. That, in his words, “a man’s ethical behaviour should be based on sympathy, education and social ties, not religion�?. You see, you might think that people suffering material losses may be less inclined to prioritise the less fortunate among them. My experience is the opposite. Affluent societies tend to get distracted by the more material matters – cars, gadgets, how much their house is worth. When they are reminded of the relativity of all that, and the fickleness of it all, they tend to focus once more on the more constant priorities of life – family, friendship, health, love, dignity. In the immediate aftermath of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 – when the vacuum of order was filled with unspeakable atrocities – I went to find out what had happened to the country’s mentally ill during the war. Now when I left that fly and disease infested bedlam, my first reaction was to think that the words ‘God-forsaken’ could never have been more apt. But on reflection, I realised that in fact someone’s God could not have been more manifested than in the power of human courage and si
ple love and goodness that nurse showed. It is in the darkest moments that the greatest qualities of the human spirit shine, and in doing so, they give us all hope. It is in the nature of human beings, especially women, to care for the infirm and strive to make them better. No single body – political or religious – has the right to impede that instinct. Not just for the sake of the victim, but for the carer or clinician or physician or scientist. There is of course the argument that all science is relative anyhow, and why not, just save resources from caring for the sick and let God, or natural selection, sort them out. If the Nazis had won the war, I would not be standing here, because they advocated euthanasia for people with my disease. A 1938 poster – a splendid piece of propaganda for the Nazi compulsory euthanasia programme – shows a doctor with a man with Huntington’s and the words: “This person suffering from hereditary defects costs the community 60,000 Reichsmark during his lifetime. Fellow Germans, that is your money, too” but this eugenic interpretation of Darwin’s theories would have the old boy rolling in his grave. In fact, he was very clear on this issue. The balance of dependency, he said, is part of our social axis, allowing the growth of the instinct of sympathy, which he called “the noblest part of our nature�?. He would have been very proud of those trying to find a treatment for my disease. Huntington’s has had the almost unique power to challenge the human spirit, because of its terrible paradoxical mix of finality and perpetuity. Finality for its individual victims, and perpetuity for the misery it imparts on a family. But the greatest evil has been the way in which it sucks hope into a vortex. But it has not defeated that human spirit, because the very best of humanity surrounds it. I have seen those qualities in the people I have come into contact with around the world who are part of this battle. It is why I am standing here now: the superhuman patience and tirelessness of the families and other carers and the extra-ordinary devotion from the scientists and clinicians that surpasses all logic.

In the last century, Winston Churchill said that a society should be judged by how it treats its prisoners. In the 21st century, I believe, societies will be judged by how they treat their mentally ill. Any person, or organisation, that stands in the way of those who might offer better quality of life, will have their conscience to reckon with. And I pray for their sake, that neither they nor anyone in their family suffers from one of the ailments whose treatments they impede. If their path is clear, it is within the reach of today’s scientists to change what is perceived as unchangeable, because the human spirit is capable of anything. In 1991, after the Gulf war that did not remove Saddam, I went to the Iranian border with Iraq after rumors that Kurdish refugees were spilling across it. What we found was a sea of humanity pouring over the mountains, a million people – mostly women and children – running from Saddam’s chemical attacks in the North of Iraq. It was winter – bitterly cold and the sights would never have been believed, had there not been a cameraman with me to record them. But the image imprinted in my mind till the day I die was one particular girl of about 12, she was clambering over the rocks, focused on survival, her face dripping with freezing mud, on her back, her younger sister, three or four years old, unconscious and barely alive. She had carried that child almost ninety miles. All humans are capable of far more than you can ever believe.

For brilliant people like those scientists in this hall, a better world created by a vision of hope really is within reach. It may be too late for me, but on behalf of today’s children, those who have not been born, and those whose lot it will be to care, for them I say to you: if ever this body – the largest transnational electorate on earth – had a moral responsibility, it is to allow them the freedom to give the millions who have till now made up a lost European community, dignity and hope. To use the words of President Obama: “Hope – hope in the face of difficulty, hope in the face of uncertainty, the audacity of hope! In the end that is God’s greatest gift to us. A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead�?.

“Il punto di vista di un laico�?

di Charles Sabine, Corrispondente, NBC News

Vi ringrazio per la cortese presentazione e per avermi invitato a questo convegno che spero sia di buon auspicio. Prima di tutto, c’è un punto che vorrei precisare:io non sono assolutamente uno scienziato. Quindi mi scuso se le idee e le teorie che esporrò non sono supportate da dati. Ecco la fortunata prerogativa di cui gode il commentatore sociale laico e, se posso permettermi, il politico:avere la possibilità di scegliere a caso gli argomenti di discussione e di sentenziare senza prove effettive.

Ho passato più di metà della mia vita a lavorare per la NBC News, principalmente in posti come Gaza, posti dove il conflitto viene considerato una condizione naturale degli uomini, un bisogno reale di un nemico ufficiale tramandato di generazione in generazione. Si tratta di luoghi in cui i rischi dei dogmi religiosi si scrivono nel sangue, dove il pretesto per la guerra viene spesso fornito dalla religione, ma, di fatto, è tutta una questione di potere e di paura, fattori capaci di inventare divisioni etniche e tribali che si manifestano, secolo dopo secolo, attraverso cicli di violenza continua. Questo lavoro mi ha trascinato in un caleidoscopio di eventi, concedendomi l’opportunità di essere testimone oculare dei più importanti avvenimenti degli ultimi venticinque anni del secolo, di osservare l’animo umano profondamente messo alla prova e di ricavare importanti insegnamenti da tali esperienze. Come potete vedere, negli ultimi anni ho passato gran parte del tempo a Baghdad, un luogo dove occorre continuamente ricordare che la buona salute non è mai scontata e che la vita può gettarti addosso tutta una serie di cose di cui faresti volentieri a meno, spesso proprio quando non te l’aspetti.

La mia famiglia cominciò a non darla più per scontata dal gennaio del 1994 quando la mamma ci informò sulle condizioni di nostro padre John. Da quel momento, ogni singola azione compiuta da ognuno di noi, ogni singolo giorno sarebbe stato condizionato da quella notizia. Era affetto dalla malattia di Huntington, una patologia di cui io, come la maggior parte della gente, non avevo mai sentito parlare. Mi dissero che si trattava di una malattia incurabile, senza possibilità di guarigione e per di più di origine genetica. Avevo un 50% di probabilità di avere anch’io il gene difettoso causa della malattia, e, in quel caso, molto probabilmente avrei contratto il morbo nel giro dei prossimi dieci o quindici anni. La mia prima reazione fu di incredulità. Avevo passato la mia vita lavorando immerso nelle sofferenze che, tanto la natura quanto gli uomini, sanno infliggere all’umanità, ma non mi era mai venuto in mente che la prossima vittima sarebbe potuta essere la mia famiglia. Poi, quando la notizia cominciò ad avere i contorni della realtà, sentii l’indipendenza che avevo coltivato per tanto tempo cadere dalle mie spalle come una mantella di seta, lasciandomi così vulnerabile e fragile come non ero mai stato prima nella mia vita da adulto.

Mio padre era un soldato di carriera dotato di un’umanità fuori dal comune e fu per questo motivo che la mamma si ostinò ad assisterlo personalmente fino alla morte. L’unica battaglia che non riuscì a vincere nella sua vita, fu quella contro le disumane condizioni imposte dalla malattia di Huntington. Cercare di descrivere l’orrore di questa malattia rimane problematico, poiché i superlativi non bastano per spiegare i peggiori effetti del morbo. Verrebbe da pensare che morire con un tubo conficcato in gola, che agisca da stomaco ormai incapace di trasformare gli alimenti, possa essere la peggiore condizione immaginabile. E invece no. Decisamente peggiore è la perdita di dignità che viene inflitta ad un uomo un tempo orgoglioso costretto a vedere amici e familiari trasalire davanti al suo corpo e alla sua mente che si contorcono fino a diventare irriconoscibili, mentre l’anima dentro lancia un grido di aiuto che nessuno potrà sentire e versa lacrime che nessuno potrà vedere.

Ma non è nemmeno questo l’aspetto peggiore, no. Sono certo che mio padre avrebbe sopportato volentieri un’indegnità cento volte peggiore, se solo gli fosse stato risparmiato un dolore ancora più intenso: la consapevolezza di aver trasmesso quell’incubo ai suoi figli. Mio fratello John ha cinque anni più di me. Ha studiato giurisprudenza a Oxford e lavora in uno dei più prestigiosi studi legali britannici. Ora, prima di andare all’appuntamento con la sua neurologa, si allena a camminare su una linea retta perché sa che lei gli chiederà di farlo e che non sarà affatto facile per lui. La mia professione mi ha posto di fronte una gran quantità di persone morte o ferite non per cause naturali. Più di dodici guerre, quattro terremoti e molti più attentati suicidi di quanti possa ricordare hanno lasciato dentro me ben più immagini di morte di quelle che avrei creduto. E tutto questo finisce con influenzare le priorità, nonché le prospettive di un uomo. Ho imparato, ad esempio, che la qualità umana più preziosa è l’umiltà, poiché nessuno di noi è immune dalle malattie o dai disastri e siamo tutti fatti di carne e ossa.

Nelle settimane successive allo tsunami che tre anni fa colpì il sud-est asiatico, passai molto tempo nei templi lungo le coste della Tailandia dove erano stati ammassati migliaia di corpi per l’identificazione. Non voglio entrare troppo nei dettagli per descrivere quali sono gli effetti provocati dal caldo tropicale su un corpo morto dopo una settimana, basti comunque dire che noi, gli esperti della scientifica e i parenti delle vittime, eravamo consapevoli del fatto che i corpi di poveri pescatori provenienti dalle coste delle Andamane si trovavano accanto a quelli di ricchi uomini d’affari provenienti da Londra o Stoccolma, senza che nessuno di noi, posso giurarlo, riuscisse a distinguere gli uni dagli altri.

Nessuno pensi che la ricerca su malattie simili a quella che ha colpito la mia famiglia non lo riguardi solo perché attualmente gode di buona salute. La demenza ha distrutto la vita di molte famiglie che compongono una comunità nascosta dietro la propria vergogna, resa trasparente dalla mancanza di dignità, una comunità molto più numerosa di quanto la gente possa pensare. Riflettete sul fatto che in questo momento 127 milioni di europei sono affetti da uno o più disturbi mentali, che per i nostri servizi sanitari significano, sia detto per inciso, 400 miliardi di euro l’anno. È stato stimato che, verso la metà del secolo, oltre la metà della popolazione europea soffrirà di una forma di demenza prima di morire. La maggior parte dei malati, naturalmente, apparterrà a quel terzo della popolazione che allora avrà superato i 65 anni. La statistica include, tra l’altro, tutte le persone presenti in questa sala aventi attualmente un’età superiore ai 24 anni che saranno ancora in vita nel periodo considerato. 25 anni passati a osservare gli uomini uccidersi a vicenda, perché in realtà si tratta sempre di uomini, mi hanno insegnato un’altra verità: gli esseri umani perdono la bussola morale o, se preferite, l’equilibrio sociale di cui sono dotati, quando vengono privati di due elementi, ossia la dignità e la speranza.

Credo sia già stata descritta la mancanza di dignità avvertita dai pazienti affetti da demenza, ma cosa dire della speranza? Ne hanno ancora? Ebbene, la risposta a questi quesiti è nelle mani degli organi legislativi, di quelli esecutivi e di quelle persone che hanno voce in capitolo sulle modalità adottate dalle nostre società per curare i malati di mente nel XXI secolo. Poiché, sì, potremmo essere giunti a una svolta epocale nella storia della medicina. È possibile, ad esempio, che la malattia che ha colpito la mia famiglia abbia le risposte a molte domande che riguardano il futuro di tutti, perché può essere diagnosticata geneticamente prima che si manifestino i suoi sintomi. In futuro, probabilmente, la maggior parte delle altre malattie potrà essere ugualmente diagnosticata attraverso le mutazioni genetiche, per essere quindi preventivamente curata. Proprio il mese scorso, gli scienziati dell’Università della California hanno definito gli esperimenti di terapia genica su pazienti HIV “entusiasmanti�? ed “estremamente promettenti�?. Tali esperimenti hanno comportato l’utilizzo di cellule staminali modificate – un campo di ricerca dalle immense promesse – come ha riconosciuto il nuovo governo statunitense che ha già dimostrato l’intento di voler abrogare arcaiche leggi.

Cos’è allora che impedisce di accettare questo fondamentale capitolo nella storia della medicina? I due elementi della società che generalmente si intrecciano come fili in un arazzo di indifferenza sono la paura e la disinformazione. Iniziamo con il dibattito sulle cellule staminali. A questo proposito vorrei citare un uomo che proprio il mese scorso ha festeggiato il suo 200° compleanno: Charles Darwin. 150 anni fa la Chiesa naturalmente bandì il suo libro “L’origine delle specie�?, che gettò le basi della biologia, accusandolo di eresia. Lo scorso settembre, la Chiesa Anglicana ha deciso di scusarsi con Darwin, cito testualmente, “per averti frainteso e per aver, con una prima reazione sbagliata, incoraggiato altri a fraintenderti�?. Potrebbe trattarsi di un’ottima citazione per suggerire ai fanatici religiosi di tacere sugli argomenti che potrebbero richiedere un secolo e mezzo per essere compresi da loro, ma, come sosteneva lo stesso Darwin, “è spesso l’ignoranza, più che la scienza, a determinare convinzioni del genere: soltanto quelli che sanno poco, e non quelli che sanno molto, possono affermare così perentoriamente che questo o quel problema non sarà mai risolto dalla scienza�?. La Chiesa Cattolica non è stata altrettanto rapida nel porgere le proprie scuse a Darwin, la Chiesa che ha accusato Darwin per “aver insultato la dignità della specie umana�?, la stessa Chiesa che si è decisa a condannare la schiavitù solo 20 anni dopo la morte di Darwin, un uomo che ha dedicato la sua vita alla condanna e alla lotta contro ciò che riteneva il vero crimine contro la dignità umana, ovvero il pregiudizio. Come potete vedere, esso viene spesso generato dalla paura di ciò che non si conosce, mentre, dall’altro lato della stessa medaglia, l’informazione conduce alla comprensione, che a sua volta dissolve la paura, così che il vuoto lasciato dal timore possa essere colmato con la speranza.

Ho vissuto per parecchi mesi in Sudafrica durante le lotte contro l’apartheid degli anni Ottanta e anche in seguito, quando si svolsero le prime elezioni democratiche dopo la liberazione di Nelson Mandela. Nel 1996 mi trovavo a Città del Capo per l’avvio dei lavori della commissione per la Verità e la Riconciliazione, presieduta dell’arcivescovo Desmond Tutu. L’arcivescovo, applaudito per quanto era stato scoperto dalla commissione nelle indagini durate due anni, descrisse quanto era avvenuto nel loro paese come “una speranza per il nostro tempo�?. Più a settentrione, nell’Irlanda del Nord, il processo di pace, secondo l’IRA, seguì l’esempio di quanto era già avvenuto in Sudafrica. E volete sapere ancora un’altra cosa? Lo scorso settembre leader iracheni si sono recati in Finlandia per incontrare in segreto delegazioni del Partito Nazionale e dell’ANC del Sudafrica insieme ad alcuni rappresentanti dell’IRA e degli unionisti dell’Irlanda del Nord, allo scopo di imparare dalla loro esperienza gli elementi fondamentali per intraprendere un processo di pace, ossia lavoro di squadra e informazione.