Man who forgave son's killer reunites with Canadian musician who sang his story

Peter Katz wrote Forgiveness after hearing an As It Happens interview with Michael Berg, an American father who forgive the al-Quada leader who killed his son.

Peter Katz wrote Forgiveness after hearing grieving dad Michael Berg on As It Happens

When Michael Berg, left, was asked for his reaction to the death of the man believed to have beheaded his son, he said: 'Sadness at the death of a fellow human being.' His words inspired Peter Katz, right, to write the song Forgiveness. (Jacqueline Larma/Associated Press, peterkatz.com)
Listen20:02

Read Story Transcript

In early summer 2006, Toronto-based singer/songwriter Peter Katz was driving in his car when he heard an interview on As it Happens that stopped him short.

The man being interviewed was Michael Berg, whose son Nicholas suffered a gruesome death two years earlier, after he was captured by al-Qaeda forces while working as a contractor in Iraq.

Berg said he forgave the man who killed his son. The interview inspired Katz to write a song in his honour called Forgiveness.

"Canadian musicians spend a lot of time listening to CBC," Katz told As It Happens host Carol Off. "But it was one of those interviews that I kind of just zeroed in on as I clued into what was being said."

​Twelve years later, the two men reunited on As It Happens.

The man believed to have killed Nicholas was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq.

After news broke in 2006 that al-Zarqawi had himself been killed in a U.S. airstrike, Berg began speaking out against the attack. 

Nicholas Berg, Michael's son, painting in the Washington, D.C., area. (Submitted by Michael Berg)

"There were people that loved him and there are people that are now suffering the same pain that my family and I have suffered," Berg said at at the time. 

"I cannot and I will not ever justify revenge, because that would justify my son's death."

Threats and gunshots 

For many of his fellow Americans, Berg's position was itself unforgivable. He faced intense media backlash, death threats and was even shot at, he said.

But he stayed true to his message of forgiveness. 

"I think I was still pretty much living on adrenaline," Berg said.  "And as Peter said in his song, I felt like I had nothing left to lose."

In this May 15, 2005, photo, Michael Berg, father of Nicholas Berg, the young American entrepreneur beheaded in Iraq in 2004, joins a die-in for peace in Philadelphia. (Jim MacMillan/Philadelphia Daily News via Associated Press)

But Katz had a different response to Berg's message.

"As I was listening to the interview, I just wasn't expecting the way it was going to unfold," he said.

"When I found out that people called him a coward and had shot at him, I said hang on a second. The message that this man is saying is the most courageous, brave choice I've ever heard somebody ever make."

A 'kind and generous' performance

Katz was so moved by what he heard that he pulled over and immediately began writing what would become a song called Forgiveness.

Katz eventually reached out to Berg, and the two began a correspondence.

Canadian musician Peter Katz performs his song Forgiveness in studio with As It Happens. 3:57

They finally met in 2008, when Katz travelled to West Chester, Penn., to perform in a concert held in Nicholas's honour.

"I stood on a stage, and in my view were Nick's friends and family and teachers. And Michael. And I got to play this song," Katz said. 

"My whole body's shaking just thinking about that moment and how touched I felt to be able to contribute in that way."

For Berg, hearing the song for the first time was an overwhelming experience.

Peter Katz performs his song Forgiveness in the As It Happens studio. (Kevin Ball/As It Happens)

"I was overcome. In light of all the negative reactions that I had, that someone would have such an understanding of what I meant, and be so kind and generous in his respect just overcame me. 

"It still does. Every time I hear it."

Written by Kevin Ball. Interview produced by Kevin Ball.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.