Philip Gourevitch · 356 pages
Rating: (22.1K votes)
“Denouncing evil is a far cry from doing good.”
“The West's post-Holocaust pledge that genocide would never again be tolerated proved to be hollow, and for all the fine sentiments inspired by the memory of Auschwitz, the problem remains that denouncing evil is a far cry from doing good.”
“The people are living seperately together," he said. "So there is responsibility. I cry, you cry. You cry, I cry. We all come running, and the one that stays quiet, the one that stays home, must explain. Is he in league with the criminals? Is he a coward? And what would he expect when he cries? This is simple. This is normal. This is community.”
“Genocide, after all, is an exercise in community building.”
“Like Leontius, the young Athenian in Plato, I presume that you are reading this because you desire a closer look, and that you, too, are properly disturbed by your curiosity. Perhaps, in examining this extremity with me, you hope for some understanding, some insight, some flicker of self-knowledge – a moral, or a lesson, or a clue about how to behave in this world: some such information. I don’t discount the possibility, but when it comes to genocide, you already know right from wrong. The best reason I have come up with for looking closely into Rwanda’s stories is that ignoring them makes me even more uncomfortable about existence and my place in it. The horror, the horror, interests me only insofar as a precise memory of the offense is necessary to understand its legacy.”
“What distinguishes genocide from murder, and even from acts of political murder that claim as many victims, is the intent. The crime is wanting to make a people extinct. The idea is the crime.”
“Novels are nice,' my friend said. 'They stop.' He waggled his fingers to make quotation marks in the air. 'They say, 'The End.' Very nice. A marvelous invention. Here we have stories, but never 'The End.”
“Killing Tutsis was a political tradition in postcolonial Rwanda; it brought people together.”
“An animal will kill, but never to completely annihilate a race, a whole collectively. What does this make us in this world?”
“Odette nodded at my notebook, where I was writing as she spoke. 'Do the people in America really want to read this? People tell me to write these things down, but it's written inside of me. I almost hope for the day when I can forget.”
“Colonisation is violence, and there are many ways to carry out that violence. In addition to military and administrative chiefs and a veritable army of churchmen, the Belgians dispatched scientists to Rwanda. The scientists brought scales and measuring tapes and callipers, and they went about weighing Rwandans, measuring Rwandan cranial capacities, and conducting comparative analyses of the relative protuberance of Rwandan noses. Sure enough, the scientists found what they had believed all along. Tutsis had a ‘nobler’, more ‘naturally’ aristocratic dimensions than the ‘coarse’ and ‘bestial’ Hutus. On the ‘nasal index’ for instance, the median Tutsi nose was found to be about two and a half millimetres longer and nearly five millimetres narrower than the median Hutu nose.”
“So there is responsibility. I cry, you cry. We all come running, and the one that stays quiet, the one that stays home, must explain. Is he in league with the criminals? Is he a coward? And what would he exect when he cries? This is simple. This is normal. This is community.”
“This is what fascinates me most in existence: the peculiar necessity of imagining what is, in fact, real.”
“Much of [John Hanning] Speke's Journal of the Discovery of the Source of Nile is devoted to descriptions of the physical and moral ugliness of Africa's "primitive races," in whose condition he found "a strikingly existing proof of the Holy Scriptures." For his text, Speke took the story in Genesis 9, which tells how Noah, when he was just six hundred years old and had safely skippered his ark over the flood to dry land, got drunk and passed out naked in his tent. On emerging from his oblivion, Noah learned that his youngest son, Ham, had seen him naked; that Ham had told his brothers, Shem and Japheth, of the spectacle; and that Shem and Japheth had, with their backs chastely turned, covered the old man with a garment. Noah responded by cursing the progeny of Ham's son, Canaan, saying, "A slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers." Amid the perplexities of Genesis, this is one of the most enigmatic stories, and it has been subjected to many bewildering interpretations--most notably that Ham was the original black man. To the gentry of the American South, the weird tale of Noah's curse justified slavery, and to Spake and his colonial contemporaries it spelled the history of Africa's peoples. On "contemplating these sons of Noah," he marveled that "as they were then, so they appear to be now.”
“Just as a state's police swear to prevent and punish murder, so the signers of the Genocide Convention [in 1948] swore to police a brave new world order. The rhetoric of moral utopia is a peculiar response to genocide. But those were heady days, just after the trials at Nuremberg, when the full scale of the Nazi extermination of Jews all over Europe had been recognized as a fact of which nobody could any longer claim ignorance. The authors and signers of the Genocide Convention knew perfectly well that they had not fought World War II to stop the Holocaust but rather--and often, as in the case of the United States, reluctantly--to contain fascist aggression. What made those victorious powers, which dominated the UN then even more than they do now, imagine that they would act differently in the future?”
“The piled-up dead of political violence are a generic staple of our information diet these days, and according to the generic report all massacres are created equal: the dead are innocent, the killers monstrous, the surrounding politics insane or nonexistent...The anonymous dead and their anonymous killers become their own context. The horror becomes absurd.”
“The fact that most states are born of violent upheaval does not, of course, mean that disorder leads to order. In writing the history of events that are still unfolding in a state that is still unformed, it is impossible to know which tendencies will prevail and at what price. The safest position is the human rights position, which measures regimes on a strictly negative scale as the sum of their crimes and their abuses: if you damn all offenders and some later mend their ways, you can always take credit for your good influence. Unfortunately, the safest position may not necessarily be the wisest, and I wondered whether there is room--even a need--for exercising political judgment in such matters.”
“But did it have to be that those who were most damaged by the genocide remained the most neglected in the aftermath? Bonaventure Nyibizi was especially worried about young survivors becoming extremists themselves. "Let's say we have a hundred thousand young people who lost their families and have no hope, no future. In a country like this if you tell them, 'Go and kill your neighbor because he killed your father and your seven brothers and sister,' they'll take the machete and do it. Why? Because they're not looking at the future with optimism. If you say the country must move toward reconciliation, but at the same time it forgets these people, what happens? When they are walking on the street we don't realize their problems, but perhaps they have seen their mothers being raped, or their sisters being raped. It will require a lot to make sure that these people can come back to society and look at the future and say, 'Yes, let us try.'"
That effort wasn't being made. The government had no program for survivors.”
“Genocide, after all, is an exercise in community building...In 1994, Rwanda was regarded in much of the rest of the world as the exemplary instance of the chaos and anarchy associated with collapsed states. In fact, the genocide was the product of order, authoritarianism, decades of modern political theorizing and indoctrination, and one of the most meticulously admistered states in history.”
“When you're that resigned and oppressed you're already dead. It shows the genocide was prepared for too long. I detest this fear. These victims of genocide had been psychologically prepared to expect death just for being Tutsi. They were being killed for so long that they were already dead.”
“In 1933-34, the Belgians conducted a census in order to issue ‘ethnic’ identity cards, which labelled every Rwandan as either Hutu (85%) of Tutsi (14%) or Twa (1%). The identity cards made it virtually impossible for Hutus to become Tutsis, and permitted the Belgians to perfect the administration of an apartheid system rooted in the myth of Tutsi superiority… Whatever Hutu and Tutsi identity may have stood for in the pre-colonial state no longer mattered; the Belgians had made ‘ethnicity’ the defining feature of Rwandan existence.”
“Rwanda had presented the world with the most unambiguous case of genocide since Hitler’s war against the Jews, and the world sent blankets, beans, and bandages to camps controlled by the killers, apparently hoping that everybody would behave nicely in the future.”
“…the war about the genocide was truly a postmodern war: a battle between those who believed that because the realities we inhabit are constructs of our imaginations, they are all equally true or false, valid or invalid, just or unjust, and those who believed that constructs of reality can—in fact, must—be judged as right or wrong, good or bad.
While academic debates about the possibility of objective truth and falsehood are often rarified to the point of absurdity, Rwanda demonstrated that the question is a matter of life and death.”
“...great and sustained destruction requires great ambition. It must be conceived as the means toward achieving a new order, and although the idea behind that new order may be criminal and objectively very stupid, it must also be compellingly simple and at the same time absolute. The ideology of genocide is all of those things.”
“This is what fascinates me most: the peculiar necessity of imagining what is, in fact, real.”
“...it occurred to me that if others have so often made your life their business--made your life into a question, really, and made that question their business-- then perhaps you will want to guard the memory of those times when you were freer to imagine yourself as the only times that are truly and inviolably your own.”
“I couldn't help thinking how well Cain had prospered after killing his brother: he founded the first city--and, although we don't like to talk about it all that much, we are all his children.”
“As far as the political, military, and economic interests of the world’s powers go, (Rwanda) might as well be Mars. In fact, Mars is probably of greater strategic concern. But Rwanda, unlike Mars, is populated by human beings, and when Rwanda had a genocide, the world’s powers left Rwanda to it.”
“This was all strictly run-of-the-mill Victorian patter, striking only for the fact that a man who had so exerted himself to see the world afresh had returned with such stock observations. (And, really, very little has changed; one need only lightly edit the foregoing passages - the crude caricatures, the question of human inferiority, and the bit about the baboon - to produce the sort of profile of misbegotten Africa that remains standard to this day in the American and European press, and in the appeals for charity donations put out by humanitarian aid organizations.)”
“Writing the forenames and family names of the victims down, with no other detail of age, or place, would fill twenty books. To begin to study the individual deaths would consume a hundred lifetimes. Which is why one of our deepest instincts can be simply to record names – individual lives, equally specific, equally valuable – never emphasizing one for fear of disrespecting another: listing them, as it were on a single stone wall – and steering away from blame or analysis.”
“Hi, my name is Jareth, and I'll be your- God" He curses as he lays his eyes on me.
I raised an eyebrow. "You'll be my god? Hm...Well, we'll have to see about that. I mean, it takes a lot to my world these days.”
“The illusion of being superior engenders the need to prove it; and so oppression is born. A bishop in Africa told me that, even though there were few Christians in the area, he had built his cathedral bigger than the local mosque. All this to prove that Christianity was a better, more powerful religion than Islam. So we build walls around our group and cultivate our certitudes. Prejudice grows on such walls. How did we, the human race, get to this position where we judge it natural not just to band ourselves into groups, but to set ourselves group against group, neighbour against neighbour, in order to establish some ephemeral sense of superiority? One of the fundamental issues for people to examine is how to break down these walls that separate us one from another; how to open up one to another; how to create trust and places of dialogue.”
“The more complex our security becomes, the more complex our enemy’s efforts must be.
The more we seek to shut him out, the better he must learn to become at breaking in.
Each new level of security that we manage becomes no more than a stepping-stone for him who would surpass us, for he bases his next assault upon our best defenses.
It is a ware that can never truly be won… but one we dare not lose.”
“Consider the stars. Among them are no passions, no wars. They know neither love nor hatred. Did man but emulate the stars, would not his soul become clear and radiant as they are? But man's spirit draws him like a moth to the ephemera of this world, and in their heat he is consumed entire.”
“I hear Jamaica is beautiful this time of year. Too bad the four of you can’t EVER go back there. Missed you! –A”
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