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am 3. Februar 2000
IN the province of Kibungo, in eastern Rwanda, near the Tanzanian border, there's a rocky hill called Nyarubuye, with a church where many Tutsis were slaughtered in April 1994. A year after the killing, I flew to Nyarubuye in a United Nations helicopter, low over the hills in the morning mists, with the banana trees like green starbursts dense over the slopes. The uncut grass blew back as we dropped into the centre of a parish schoolyard. A lone soldier materialised, and shook our hands with shy formality. I stepped up into the open doorway of a classroom. At least 50, mostly decomposed cadavers covered the floor, wadded in clothing, their belongings strewn about and smashed. Macheted skulls had rolled here and there. The dead looked like pictures of the dead. They did not smell. They did not buzz with flies. They had been killed 13 months earlier, and they hadn't been moved. Skin stuck here and there over the bones, many of which lay scattered from the bodies, dismembered by the killers, or by scavengers - birds, dogs, bugs. The more complete figures looked a lot like people, which they were once. A woman in a cloth wrap printed with flowers lay near the door. Her fleshless hip bones were high and her legs slightly spread, and a child's skeleton extended between them. Her torso was hollowed out. Her ribs and spinal column poked through the rotting cloth. Her head was tipped back and her mouth was open; a strange image - half agony, half repose. I had never been among the dead before. What to do? Look? Yes. I had come to see them. The dead had been left unburied at Nyarubuye for memorial purposes - and there they were, so intimately exposed. I didn't need to see them. I already knew, and believed, what had happened in Rwanda. Yet looking at the buildings and the bodies, and hearing the silence of the place, with the grand Italianate basilica standing there deserted, and the beds of exquisite, death-fertilised flowers blooming over the corpses, it was still strangely unimaginable. All this is common In Africa. But Why? Please buy this book
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am 22. Januar 1999
Edmund Burke said that "the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." This book drives home the real world truth of this aphorism. It presents a detailed but never boring overview of the history of Rwanda leading up to the massacre of nearly a million people in three months time as the whole world knowingly stood by in silence. Worse, Gourevitch is convincing that some nations were actively complicit in the events he describes. To his credit, Gourevitch largely avoids graphic descriptions of specific murders, preferring simple declarative statements that this person or that was later killed, or that person's corpse was later found, etc. The technique leaves the terror of the doomed to the reader's imagination and does so most effectively. But two aspects of the book stand out most to me. First, it shows how a genocide actually happens and progresses from political rhetoric to reality. Second, it is a stern demand for answers as to why the genocide was allowed to happen in the first place. Most of us probably relate to the Holocaust as a distant, historical event driven by Hitler's singular evil. Most of us probably believe that "it could never happen again." It can. It did. And unless we learn from this wonderful, important book, it will again. Thank you, Philip Gourevitch, for your years of effort (at what must have been a great personal cost) to bring this story to the world's attention.
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am 3. Februar 1999
Tragedy,horror,devastation,slaughter,genocide;those are the words that spring to mind to describe this book. Yet in this age of sensationalism they have lost much of their power and sound trite when applied to the murder of 800,000 people in a matter of weeks. Such language can't possibly do that justice. It requires your imagination to soak in this bloody hell for it to have any meaning at all. So why bother when it is so much easier to turn away? Whether we like it or not such self-protective isolationalism is no longer possible, either politically of socially. Technology has greatly expanded our macrocosm. The invisible bonds connecting earth to satellite have tethered our consciousness and our conscience to every corner of the globe. But our psyches are not equipped for this barrage, it only serves to anaesthesize. The gift of this book is that it provides context and a framework for comprehending evil as a structured,organized force and, more importantly, as an avoidable series of events. The book also manages to individualize the suffering and loss bringing feeling where it was once numb,replacing apathy with empathy. It is at once searing indictment of man's savagery and an inspiring tale of survival and perservence. Perhaps the best reason for reading this book is that you might remember how fortunate you are; that the traffic,the bills,job stress,the crying child,the rude customer,being on hold,the price of gas,and the internet waiting are all the petty annoyances of an otherwise lucky people.
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am 3. Februar 2000
IN the province of Kibungo, in eastern Rwanda, near the Tanzanian border, there's a rocky hill called Nyarubuye, with a church where many Tutsis were slaughtered in April 1994. A year after the killing, I flew to Nyarubuye in a United Nations helicopter, low over the hills in the morning mists, with the banana trees like green starbursts dense over the slopes. The uncut grass blew back as we dropped into the centre of a parish schoolyard. A lone soldier materialised, and shook our hands with shy formality. I stepped up into the open doorway of a classroom. At least 50, mostly decomposed cadavers covered the floor, wadded in clothing, their belongings strewn about and smashed. Macheted skulls had rolled here and there. The dead looked like pictures of the dead. They did not smell. They did not buzz with flies. They had been killed 13 months earlier, and they hadn't been moved. Skin stuck here and there over the bones, many of which lay scattered from the bodies, dismembered by the killers, or by scavengers - birds, dogs, bugs. The more complete figures looked a lot like people, which they were once. A woman in a cloth wrap printed with flowers lay near the door. Her fleshless hip bones were high and her legs slightly spread, and a child's skeleton extended between them. Her torso was hollowed out. Her ribs and spinal column poked through the rotting cloth. Her head was tipped back and her mouth was open; a strange image - half agony, half repose. I had never been among the dead before. What to do? Look? Yes. I had come to see them. The dead had been left unburied at Nyarubuye for memorial purposes - and there they were, so intimately exposed. I didn't need to see them. I already knew, and believed, what had happened in Rwanda. Yet looking at the buildings and the bodies, and hearing the silence of the place, with the grand Italianate basilica standing there deserted, and the beds of exquisite, death-fertilised flowers blooming over the corpses, it was still strangely unimaginable. All this is common In Africa. But Why? Please buy this book
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am 1. April 2000
Having never studied history, political science or the like as a student I came across this book quite by accident in a Leeds bookshop. I think it was the ancient question of WHY? that encouraged me to buy it - WHY? the holocaust? WHY? Bosnia? WHY? evil in this world? I just couldn't understand the mass murder of so many people and after reading his book - I must admit I still can't. The thing that struck me was the shockingly irresponsible behaviour of the UN, the Aid agencies, the EU (esp. France) and generally anybody who could have stopped the genocide. This book should be distibuted to all the leaders of the western democracies(?) and serve as a wake up call to those that see themselves as guardians of the new world order. How very appallingly they have all behaved. I think what is really evident from his writing is the good character of those in Africa that really want to lead an African Renaissance. Those that really have any hope in rectifying the problems that currently plague Africa are Africans, Philip will agree with me on what a bloody awful mess we (the post-imperial nations) have made of the situation, and continue to do so. I say good luck to President Kagame and thanks to Philip for shouting in the darkness - let's hope someone hears him. Fab - recommended reading for all who call themselves human.
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am 2. Februar 1999
WE WISH TO INFORM YOU THAT TOMORROW WE WILL BE KILLED WITH OUR FAMILIES Stories from Rwanda Philip Gourevitch Farrar Straus, Giroux $25.00 356 pp.
In 1994, the Hutu majority in Rwanda committed genocide upon their minority countrymen, the Tutsi. 800,000 people were killed in 100 days, three times the rate of Jewish dead during the Holocaust. In April, while British husbands rushed off with umbrellas to their jobs, Hutu husbands picked up machetes and killed their Tutsi wives. In Germany during May, dancers gyrated to ubiquitous techno-rock, while the leading pop singer in Rwanda urged his Hutu countrymen over the state-sponsored radio to "Kill the cockroaches-"the Tutsis. As the Kiwanis met in Des Moines in June, neighborhood "work groups" of Hutu men and women gathered to go over "hit lists" prepared by the government. During the time it took you to read the above, at least five Tutsis were killed, day by day, week by week, through July.
And not a single foreign government or international agency intervened.
Why bother? After all, isn't this an "age-old animosity between the Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups," as the NEW YORK TIMES stated. Haven't they been committing atrocities against each other for centuries? Aren't those poor refugees in the news from Zaire as much victims as the victims in Rwanda?
No, no, and emphatically no, replies Philip Gourevitch in this book, selected by the NEW YORK TIMES as one of the year's ten best books of 1998. Until the Belgians issued identity cards during their colonial rule, no formal delineation between the two tribes was common, let alone violent. The "superior" Tutsi myth was simply a repetition of the incredibly specious Hamitic myth, that claimed the Tutsi were "nobler," "aristocratic" primarily because they had more refined, i.e., Caucasian-like features. No massacre had ever occurred prior to one incident in 1959. Those "refugees?" If they were in a camp outside Rwanda, they were one of the 2 million Hutu that fled . when the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front re-took the country. In other words, they could easily have been killers, not victims. One by one, Gourevitch demolishes those conventional myths with which the rest of the world deflected their responsibility.
But he does more than that. Like Leontius in Plato's REPUBLIC who, upon seeing a pile of bodies, ran to them opening his eyes wide with his fingers, crying "There you are, curse you, have your fill of the lovely spectacle," Gourevitch rushes to unimaginable places. Once there, filled with both desire to see and disgust at the sight, Gourevitch puts down prose which props our eyes wide open to the horror of Rwanda, past and present.
In a bar one evening, he meets an aid worker who speaks of stepping on the dead to help the living. Later in his travels, but earlier in the book, Gourevitch visits the scene of a massacre, a church now kept as a shrine. A member of his group steps on a skull, offending the author-"Then I heard another crunch, and felt a vibration underfoot. I had stepped on one, too." The dead cannot be denied their presence anywhere in Rwandan life, then or now. Time and again Gourevitch's narrative resonates with such revelations.
The author also pursues both perpetrator and persecuted to question them. He travels all the way to Texas to interview the Hutu minister who received the note from which the title was taken. There, in "an expensive-looking new community," he finds the man, indicted by the FBI for presiding over the slaughter of hundreds in his congregation. He denied everything, in terms eerily echoing claims from the Holocaust: "I never saw anything...I never went anywhere. I stayed at my office." Another man, the "Minister of Justice of Rwanda in exile" claims only Tutsis who sympathized with the RPF forces were killed. Did that include "the fetuses ripped from the wombs of Tutsis, after radio announcers had reminded listeners to take special care to disembowel pregnant victims?" asks Gourevitch. "Think about it," replies the minister. Let's say the Germans attack France, so France defends itself against Germany. They understand that all Germans are the enemy. The Germans kill women and children, so you do, too-"an answer that makes genocide the fault of the victims as well as the perpetrators. Once again, Gourevitch pops our eyes wide open.
Gourevitch's extensive interviews lead him straight through the tragedy of the past to the dilemma of the present. In the highlands of central Rwanda, he finds a woman who tells him "A certain Girumuhatse is back, a man who beat me during the war...This man threw me in a ditch after killing off my whole family. He's now at his house again...he asked my pardon." When Gourevitch confronts this admitted killer, the man denies responsibility, and blames his superiors: "The authorities understand that many just followed orders." That reply not only puts the lie to the "Never Again" buttons Gourevitch sees U.S. Holocaust Museum employees wearing, it puts a unique perspective on life in Rwanda: "Never before in modern memory had a people who slaughtered another people...been expected to live with the remainder of the people that was slaughtered...as one cohesive national society."
That mandate for coexistence has been enforced almost single-handedly by one of the most powerful men in Africa, Vice President Kagame. It was he who defeated the Hutu Majority forces, kept his forces from major retaliation, repatriated 600,00 Rwandans from Goma in four days, and ousted President Mobutu from then-Zaire. In a remarkable series of interviews with this remarkable man, Gourevitch throws light on the events listed above, the developing recovery, and the fleeting hope for Rwanda because this one man claims that "people can be made bad, and they can be taught to be good."
Gourevitch found little hope of that, and less reason in the almost-four years he spent forcing himself to look at the Rwandan catastrophe. Although he finds reason to blame France for supporting the Hutus, America for refusing to intervene, and international relief agencies for prolonging warfare by literally feeding the Hutu genocidaires, he fails to exhume the one compelling reason we all desire-why?. Solidarity with neighbors, a government trying to preserve itself, acquiescence by the slaughtered-none of these reasons, alone or together, answer that unfathomable question. Fortunately, his vivid portrait of the Rwandan plight articulates for us that question in ways we dare not ignore, just as Leontius could not ignore that pile of bodies. We do so only at the risk of reducing genocide to the level of a cheese sandwich, like the American officer said in a Rwandan bar: "What does anyone care about a cheese sandwich? Genocide, genocide, genocide. Cheese sandwich, cheese sandwich, cheese sandwich. Who gives a s---? Crimes against humanity. Where's humanity? Who's humanity? You? Me?...Hey, just a million Rwandans..."
800,000 actually, in 100 days, in 1994. But who's counting?
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am 5. August 1999
This book was recommended by my daughter's violin teacher. I felt so fortunate to be better informed about what the Rwandan people have been through. My life is forever enriched to know of the bravery, fortitude, compassion, and hope for the future Rwandans exhibited. I can never forget Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager, General Magame who resolutely pursues doing what is right and Dr. Odette Nyiramilima, the physician who adopted 10 children after her miraculous survival of the genecide.
There is a resounding message in the book. We can do better. Gourevitch showed clearly that there is much that can be learned when we gain a deeper understanding of how this genocide happened. He also showed clearly the necessity figuring out how to avert genocide by acting before conflict erupts. We'll soon see whether any lessons have been learned as Central Africa continues to struggle with the threat of genocide.
Looks like a great opportunity to try some
calming techniques such as the simple, mental techniques of TM and yogic flying. It's certainly shown promise in repeated short term studies. Philip Geourevitch has done a great job giving the international community a look at the genocide in Rwanda. He's made it impossible to dismiss it as just someting that happens in Africa.
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am 27. Februar 1999
An extremely thought provoking book. During three to four months in 1994 (roughly April through June), somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Rwandans were murdered. This was not random killing, or a declared war. Rather, it was systematic genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutu. Since there were only slightly more that 1,000,000, Tutsi's living in Rawanda when this started, Gourevitch makes a convincing argument that this massacre was far more devastating than was the only comparable event in history, the German attempt to exterminate all Jews during WWII.
Several things make these events even more extraordinary (and disturbing). Tutsi's and Hutu's are essentially the same ethnically. The differences are largely class distinctions, imposed by the Europeans who colonized the area, and created a myth that those in the native population who looked more "European" were from a superior racial group. They were then given greater access to education, government jobs, etc. After a couple of generations, the so called Tutsi's became the superior class, because of the favoritism of the powers that be.
Nonetheless, Hutu's and Tutsi's continued to intermarry, live together, etc. This leads to the second point, which is that the genocide was largely committed by friends and relatives of the victims. The third, and closely related, point is that this was not a case of high tech, anonymous slaughter. There were no gas chambers, or high altitude bombings here which served to "insulate" the murderers from their victims. Instead, they literally hacked their neighbors to death with machetes.
The final thing is that, after the genocide ended, the Tutsi's returned to power. The second half of the book explores the efforts of the new government to strike a balance between justice, the desire for revenge, and the need to move the country toward normalcy. As the author points out, virtually no one in the country was untouched. A very large percentage of the populace was directly involved in the genocide (each victim was often killed by a mob, so there may well have been more killers than victims). Everyone had a close relative who was either murdered or a murderer. This is the first time in history that the murderers and victims have made any attempt to recreate a county in which they have to live and work side by side.
The final point is that the international community completely ignored this entire episode, and in fact immediately complained that the victims were "harping" on the genocide instead of "moving on." All of the aid was focused on the surviving murderers, who fled Rawanda to avoid justice, and virtually none (for at least the first 2 years) was given to the survivors.
The questions posed, but not really answered, are what makes a person act this way? This question, of course, applies not only to Rawanda, but also to Germany (Hitler's Willing Executioners is an excellent companion to this book). Even more fundamentally, the question applies to slavery, and the subsequent history of race relationships in this country. Only by believing that slaves were somehow not "really" human could the slaveholders justify their own actions, to themselves and to the world. On a broader scale, the question also applies to war in general. Recall how US soldiers were notorious in dehumanizing the Vietnamese--gooks, etc., as a way of allowing them to kill at will.
A powerful and thought provoking book.
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am 10. Januar 2000
In early May 1994 I stood on a bridge over the river that forms the border between Rwanda and Tanzania and observed corpses floating down towards Lake Victoria in an unbroken stream. As I write this, two Rwandan women are taking the unprecedented action of suing the United Nations for its failure to intervene in the worst act of genocide since WW2. UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, who played a kay role in UN decision-making in 1994, has confessed the UN's "failure" and expressed his own "deep remorse." 800,000 people died, most of them hacked to death with machetes by their neighbours. How this happened, and how the world utterly failed in its self-appointed role to prevent exactly such a holocaust, is the subject of this beautifully written, accessible and compelling book. Gourevitch wants to know WHAT happened, and through interviews with survivors, gives us the clearest and most comprehensive understanding I have yet seen. It is not pretty reading, although Gourevitch's dispassionate and sensitive writing makes it possible to get through material that in coarser hands would be impossible to stomach. He also describes the HOW. For years it was evident to the West - and most particularly to France and Belgium - that Hutu factions were gathering their strength to strike at the Tutsi minority. Every day Hutu radio stations ran violent anti-Tutsi propaganda, in which Tutsis and any moderate Hutus who were not interested in killing them were warned to prepare to die. When the killing began, it was simply the next logical step in a process that had long been underway. The case seems impossible to refute - indeed, the UN's internal investigation which published its report in December 1999 does NOT refute - that the genocide was both broadly predictable, and could have been ameliorated, if not altogether stopped, by effective international intervention. The legal knots the UN allowed to create for itself, so that "blue-helmets" felt they could not act to save a woman being raped and hacked to pieces, because their mandate allowed for only their own self-defence, are just one example of how international law can - sometimes - ENCOURAGE crimes against humanity. The lessons of Rwanda, painfully learnt, will influence the way the so-called "world community" responds to massive ethnic eruptions for a generation to come. To begin to understand this most painful event in recent human history, this book cannot be too highly recommended. If there is one small niggle, it is the lack of an index, something that I hope will be addressed in future editions.
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am 21. April 1999
Author, Philip Gourevitch, from The New Yorker, provides a wonderfully written novel examining the genocide in Rwanda. We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, is a gripping tale of a country torn apart by civil mutiny. The conflict between the Hutus and the Tutsis is one of the ugliest forms of twentieth century genocide since the Jewish evacuation in the second world war. The book is told from the heart of Gourevitch himself as he traveled throughout Rwanda soon after the mass killings. His journalistic style captures the raw emotion of this country during its hardest times in its own history. The goal was simple for the plight of this book: Open the eyes of the United States public to the incidents in Rwanda. And that is just what he did. In the novel's opening page, Gourevitch quickly explains the scene of a post genocide country, "The dead looked like pictures of the dead. They did not smell. They did not buzz with flies. They had been killed thirteen months earlier, and they hadn't been moved." We Wish To Inform You..., is a tremendous book that allows the western world into the affairs of an African country. The events described are no less horrid than those from the Holocaust, and therefore, I would strongly suggest caution before reading this book. The violence is unfortunately a part of the book, but again, like the Holocaust, everyone should be well informed of this kind of thing so that is does not repeat itself another time. Gourevitch's reports from Rwanda make a great novel. In closing, he has this to say on hope of Rwanda's recovery, "But hope is a force more easy to name and declare one's allegiance to than to enact." This book must be read, and our eyes must be open.
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