The Necessity of Knowing

For the past month we’ve done a lot of reading in our preparation for the 3rd iDebate USA Tour. Among other books we read Philip Gourevitch’s “We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families” and I’m going to share with you some of what he says, that relates to what we’re trying to achieve with our annual Tour

He speaks of his first encounter with the dead on his visit to the Nyarubuye Church 13 months after the massacre there, when bodies were scattered around the place exactly like they’d been when the people they once belonged to were killed, and says that, faced with the enormity and the extent of the killings, one may be tempted to theorize collective madness, mob mania, a fever of hatred that suddenly erupted into a mass crime of passion.

But he explains that at numerous sites across Rwanda, hundreds of thousands were killed by hundreds of thousands of other people who had worked at it regularly and in shifts, for months; and there had to be more than collective madness and mob mania to keep them going through and beyond the physical exhaustion and mess of it. He explains that mass violence is always organized and does not occur aimlessly (even mobs have a design), and great and sustained destruction requires equally great ambition. It must be conceived as a means towards a new order; and though it may be criminal and objectively stupid, it must also be compellingly simple and absolute.

Genocide ideology is all of those things. People must want their victims dead so badly, it becomes a necessity that even overcomes their natural revulsion against murder. And this revulsion is not overcome overnight. Gregory Stanton explains in his 10 Stages of Genocide, that it is only done through a long process of dehumanization (stage 4). Members of the target group are vilified, equated to animals and vermin, stripped of their humanity. That way, the one killing them will consider them merely a nuisance that needs getting rid of. And this is exactly what happened in Rwanda. Tutsis were called snakes and cockroaches. If you kill a cockroach it’s not really murder is it?

Philip then goes on to explain that, while by availing the information in his book to you, you might get a clue, a lesson on how to behave in this world, when it comes to genocide you already know right from wrong. So his motivation for writing was that he needed to convey the horror of what happened. Understanding this horror is important because a precise memory of the offence is necessary to understand its legacy. And the mass graves, the amputated bodies and the multitude of orphans weren’t enough evidence that what had happened in Rwanda was genocide. Stories were…

Stories of those who wondered how they were still alive when their entire families were decimated, stories of how exhausted they were of fearing their imminent death that they were kind of glad when it finally came (as one of the survivors put it: When you’re that oppressed and resigned, you’re already dead).

Another survivor who asks himself how so many people allowed themselves to be instruments of death provides the answer himself two lines later: “In Rwandan history, people extremely obey authority and revere power, and there wasn’t enough education. You take a poor, ignorant population and give them arms and say: It’s yours, kill, they’ll obey. The peasants who killed, whether for money, by force, or sheer will were all looking to people of higher social standing. These guys may think they didn’t kill, not with their own hands, but people were looking to them for orders. And in Rwanda, an order can be given very quietly”

Again this is consistent with Ervin Staub’s elements of the Continuum of Violence. In stage 5, a group of people, mostly due to their social/cultural characteristics which include extreme respect for authority among others (7), accept the destructive ideology promoted by their leaders who say their lives will be immensely better if they “deal” with the other group.

At iDebate, we understand that the youth of Rwanda, being more that 60% of the country’s population has the most potential to change it, to ensure what happened never ever does again. Education is one of the best ways to do it, but what is education without the necessary critical thinking and analysis skills that must go with it? That’s where iDebate comes in, as I once discussed on my blog. And also, by doing the tour, we hope to inspire as many people as possible to actively work to change their communities and prevent not only genocide, but also all other cycles of violence to ensnare and enslave them. As our motto goes, our aim is Thinking and Speaking a Better World.

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