Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Rwanda, U.S.A.

The following excerpts are from a book about to be published (taken from Harper's Magazine) about interviews of Hutu men imprisoned for killing Tutsis in the genoicide in Rwanda. Some of it is, obviously, tough if you're having a good day you may want to skip this one. However, for those who are stout at heart, it's worth reading. These words are not just the words of men living in some unreachable place, some foreign jungle of godless, demon-like primates. These are the words of intelligent, articulate and sometimes loving who perhaps resemble those you sit next to on the bus, whom you jostle as you walk down the crowded city street, even those who you live with.

PANCRACE: Cutting corn or bananas, it's a smooth job, because ears of corn and bunches of bananas are all the same--nothing troublesome there. Cutting in the marshes, it was more and more tiring, you know the reason why. It was a similar motion but not a similar situation. It was more hazardous. A hectic job.

In the beginning the Tutsis were many and frightened and not very active--that made our work easier. But at the end only the strong and the sly ones were left, and it got too hard. Too often we would get all mired up for nothing. Plus, the marshes were rotting with bodies softening in the slime. They were piling up, stinking more and more, and we had to take care not to step in them.

ELIE: God and Satan seem quite contrasting in the Bible and the priest's sermons. The first one blazes with white and gold, the second with red and black. But in the marshes, the colors were those of muddy swamps and rotting leaves. It was as if God and Satan had agreed to cloud our eyes. We did not give a damn for either of them.

All the important people turned their backs on our killings. The blue helmets, the Belgians, the white directors, the black presidents, the humanitarian people and the international cameramen, the priests and the bishops, and finally even God. Did He watch what was happening in the marshes? Why did He not stab our murderous eyes with His wrath? Or show some small sign of disapproval to save more lucky ones? In those horrible moments, who could hear His silence? We were abandoned by all words of rebuke.

LEOPORD: It is awkward to talk about hatred between Hutus and Tutsis, because words changed meaning after the killings. Before, we could fool around among ourselves and say we were going to kill them all, and the next moment we would join them to share some work or a bottle. Jokes and threats were mixed together. We no longer paid heed to what we said. We could toss around awful words without awful thoughts. The Tutsis did not even get very upset. Since then we have seen: those words brought on grave consequences.

ALPHONSE: Some offenders claim that we changed into wild animals, that we were blinded by ferocity, that we buried our civilization under branches, and that's why we are unable to find the right words to talk properly about it.

That is a trick to sidetrack the truth. I can say this: outside the marshes, our lives seemed quite ordinary. We sang on the paths, we downed some beer, we had our choice amid abundance. We chatted about our good fortune, we soaped off our bloodstains in the basin, and our noses enjoyed the aromas of full cooking pots. We rejoiced in the new life about to begin by feasting on leg of veal. We were hot at night atop our wives, and we scolded our rowdy children. Although no longer willing to feel pity, we were still greedy for good feelings.

The days all seemed much alike. We put on our field clothes We swapped gossip, we made bets on our victims, spoke mockingly of cut girls, squabbled foolishly over looted grain. We sharpened our tools on whetting stones. We traded stories about desperate Tutsi tricks, we made fun of every "Mercy!" cired by someone hunted down, we counted up and stashed away our goods.

We went on with all sorts of human business without a care in the world--provided we concentrated on killing during the day, naturally.

This last man says they were not wild animals--and the way he says it leaves do doubt of the veracity of this statement. These men, even as they slaughter other men, are human--they return to civilization each night, to rest before the next day's bloody work. In Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Marlowe struggles to relate the horror of the atrocities he sees--and the ultimate horror, of course, is seeing himself: a man deluded by the idea of dichtomies...civilization vs. barbarity, religious zeal vs. baseness, morality vs. genoicide, good vs. evil, white vs. black. But what he finds is that savagery exists in civilization--is, in fact, engendered there. The most religious, civilized men, he finds, are the ones who condone the most barbaric acts towards natives.

Art mirrors life, in Africa and in America; these murderers are witnesses. Humanitarians, politicians, the media all look elsewhere as the machetes fall. Of course they look away. Who wants to see his own arm holding a bloody blade? Africa (whether it's the Congo or Rwanda) is not so far away...and neither is Iraq for that matter. Leopord tells us of the words they used to speak against the Tutsis. These words are the same words we utter every day against...well, fill in the blank. How often do our words result in mass murder? How often do our words set the stage for mass murder? We are not wild animals, but neither are the Hutus. As Alphonse tells us, to think so is to trick yourself, to trick yourself out of seeing the truth.

And so, the ultimate question is, naturally, what is the truth? Are we barbarians waiting for the moment to fall to our bloody day's work? Are we simply waiting for the barbarians to come for us, to destroy our civilized world?

Is there a difference?


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