October 21, 2008

Join us for a Book Gathering on October 28

Please join us for a book gathering to discuss An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina. The book gathering will be held:

October 28th
5:30-7:30 pm
101 Walter Library
University of Minnesota

This event is free and open to the public.

October 16, 2008

The Simple-and Horrifying-Power of Words

The previous entry, "Questions about Reconciliation," included a question that Paul Rusesabagina asked about the Rwandan genocide:

What caused this to happen? Very simple: words.

A seemingly simple list called the "Ten Commandments of the Bahutu," from the Bahutu Manifesto of 1957, was republished in 1990 in the bimonthly newspaper Kangura. This text inflamed preexisting prejudices, fears, and economic and political conditions in order to promote ethnic cleansing. Kangura was one of the media tools that used words to incite hatred and call for the murder of all Tutsi people. The influence of this form of propaganda was so significant that the founder of Kangura, Hassan Ngeze, was tried and convicted of "genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, incitement to commit genocide by direct and published channels, and crimes against humanity (persecution and extermination)" (p. 2).

In this American election season, the lessons of Rwanda remind us to be vigilant about the ways that simple words can incite divisions, inequities, and hatred among neighbors, communities, and nations.

October 13, 2008

The Place for Gacaca

Toward the end of An Ordinary Man, Rusesabagina writes,

Justice on the grass was never designed to address something as grave as genocide. It was designed to solve crimes of missing goats and stolen bananas. Serious felony crimes were always referred to the courts of the king, even in the days of my grandfather’s grandfather. I am a defender of the wisdom of the common man, but it is fantasy to expect a village of laypeople—with their own layers of local intrigue, jealousies, and loyalties—to effectively mete out real justice for something as horrid and earthshaking as mass murder. It would be like taking a rapist to a traffic magistrate. That such a flimsy system has been developed to handle genocide crimes serves only to trivialize the genocide. It insults the dead. For another thing, the entire point of gacaca was not punishment but reconciliation. You were supposed to apologize to the man you had wronged and share a bowl of banana beer as a sign of renewed friendship. But how in God’s name can a man “reconcile? with people he has raped, tortured, and murdered? How can things ever be put right with the parents of a baby who has been ripped limb from limb? Gacaca is a well-intentioned idea but punishing crimes of genocide requires the authority, stature, and rigor of a state-sponsored court with impartial judges and firm rules of evidence. (p 197)

You can view two very different sites related to gacaca. First there is the explanation and procedure for the use of gacaca according to National University of Rwanda. It appears from this that all crimes of genocide, except the mastermind crimes can be tried through gacaca. In a Public Radio International interview with Domitilla Mukantaganzwa, the government official in charge of the Gacaca courts, and other experts on the system, some of the problems that Rusesabagina presents are discussed. It goes as far as to say that gacaca is increasing fear and tension in the communities using them.

Perhaps punishment, not reconciliation, is the goal, as Rusesabagina writes. But orderly punishment requires a lot of officials and the number of criminals is so vast. Where can gacaca fit in? Or can it?

October 8, 2008

Reconciliation while Conflict Continues

Reconciliation implies that the conflict is over and now it is time to make peace between the victim and the perpetrator. However, reading about current events in Rwanda shows me that at least on some level, conflict is still there. This article from the BBC reports of a French author who is “on trial in Paris accused of inciting racial hatred in a book on the Rwandan genocide.? While I cannot speak to his perspective or ideas, the report of his trial illustrates how the issues of ethnic divisions are still current. Rusesabagina, in the introduction to An Ordinary Man writes,

What caused this to happened? Very simple: words. (p. xiv)
How can people talk and reconcile when words are still agitating ethnic divisions?

October 6, 2008

Questions about Reconciliation

Rwanda 1994, the photograph in the previous entry, is a chilling reminder of the personal nature of the genocide in Rwanda. How do Rwandans -- or any people who have been damaged in civil wars -- reconcile the fact that the mass murders, maiming, and destruction were committed by their neighbors?

In An Ordinary Man, Paul Rusesabigina wrote about the aftermath of genocide in his own life:

"But as Rwanda will always be with me, so too will the genocide. It is as much a part of me as the shade of my eyes or the names of my children; it is never far from my thoughts and I cannot talk for more than an hour with a fellow Rwandan before one or both of us will begin to tell a story or make reference to what happened during those three months of blood in 1994. It is the darkest bead on our national necklace, and one we must all wear, no matter how far we have traveled to get away. Killers still walk free in Rwanda and in the world, and through my mind. I remember one evening in Brussels, at a banquet after someone's wedding, when I saw a familiar face in the crowd. It was a man I hadn't seen in years, a Hutu neighbor of mine from the Kabeza neighborhood where my family and I had lived. I had seen him in the opening days of the genocide wearing an army uniform and carrying a machete. It seems likely that he participated in some murders or at a minimum did nothing to stop them. And here he was, free and healthy and wearing a business suit. There was nothing I could do about it, either. I stared into my drink. My wife wondered why I had suddenly gone quiet, but I could not tell her until we had gone home. I did not want to talk to this man. I never wanted to see him again, and so far I have not." p. 183
How does healing take place? Rayika Omaar from the African Rights NGO tells us that because of the embeddedness of the crimes at all levels of Rwandan society, reconciliation "may take generations." In addition to criminal courts, the question of reconciliation is addressed in approximately 10,000 gacaca courts in Rwandan communities. For some Rwandans, healing may begin to occur in face to face interactions between perpetrators, victims, and families of victims. As We Forgive Those: The Story of Rwanda's Redemption illustrates a church-based project in which perpetrators rebuild the houses of victims and their families.

What is necessary for reconciliation? Is forgiveness possible?

October 1, 2008

Rwanda 1994: a photograph by James Nachtwey

For me, the strength of photography lies in its ability to evoke humanity. If war is an attempt to negate humanity, then photography can be perceived as the opposite of war.
(James Nachtwey, from “Memorable quotes for War Photographer?)

Please click Rwanda 1994 to access Nachtwey's photograph from the Rwandan genocide. Nachtwey describes the photograph:

“This is a picture of a man who had just been liberated from a Hutu death camp where mainly members of the Tutsi tribe were being incarcerated, being starved, beaten, abused and systematically killed. This man happened to be a Hutu himself, but because he didn't support the genocide, he was subjected to the same treatment. On the most basic level, I hope that people when they look at this work will engage themselves with it and not shut down, not turn away from it, but realize that their opinion counts for something, that they become part of a constituency, and people who have the power to make decisions that affect the lives of thousands of people know that there's a constituency forming out there, and they have to do something about it.

(from a May 16, 2000 interview with Elizabeth Farnsworth on the Online NewsHour’s A CONVERSATION WITH...)

We invite you to participate in a conversation about this photograph and about Paul Rusesabagina's book An Ordinary Man.

Paul Rusesabagina will speak at Northrop Auditorium on Monday, November 3rd from 7:30-8:30 p.m

September 17, 2008

An invitation to a Book Blog and Book Gathering about "An Ordinary Man"

You are invited to participate in a Book Gathering and an online discussion for An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina.

As a prelude to the upcoming visit of Paul Rusesabagina to the University of Minnesota on November 3, the College of Education and Human Development and the Department of Postsecondary Teaching and Learning are hosting two opportunities for friends of the University to discuss An Ordinary Man:

Book Gathering: Meet with people from the Twin Cities and the University of Minnesota to discuss the themes and issues presented in the book An Ordinary Man. Please join us for light refreshments from 5:30-6:00, followed by a book-club style discussion from 6:00-7:30. This will take place on Tuesday, October 28 in the Walter Library Conference Center, room 101.

Online Book Blog: Join an online discussion about An Ordinary Man during the month of October. You are invited to participate in conversations on topics connected to the book and to the question: Can One Person Make a Difference? The blog also will include a storehouse of local, national, and international links and resources related to genocide in Rwanda and other places and to broader issues related to social change.

Both the Book Gathering and online discussion are free and open to the public.