Saturday, December 10, 2011

Genocide, vengeance and the remarkable testimony of forgiveness

The term genocide is a specific term that refers to violent crimes committed against a group of people with the intention of destroying the very existence of the group.  While taking a closer look and analyzing the definition of the term, I wonder how much hate a person would need in their hearts to want to wipe out an entire group of people.  More importantly, why would anyone believe they had the authority to actually do something that seems like such a far-fetched idea?

I approached 20 random people walking around a college campus and asked them to tell me the first thing that came to their minds when they heard the term genocide.  19 of the 20 people surveyed said the Holocaust, or the mass killing of Jews in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  Remarkably, only one person answered the question by mentioning the genocide in Rwanda during the 1990’s.  The Holocaust indeed was a horrific period of time for Jewish people in Europe.  Approximately six million people were murdered and thousands more were displaced because of thesadistic behavior of another group of humans over a span of about twelve years.
In Rwanda over a period of just 100 days, approximately 800,000 people were killed.  When you do the math, that equates to nearly 8,000 people dying every day.  This travesty is one of the worst humanitarian crises the world has ever seen.  The problem is that the genocides in the African nations of Rwanda, and Sudanhave not gotten the international attention they deserved. 
Last week I was fortunate enough to hear two young ladies from the Akilah Institute for Women in Kigali, Rwanda speak about the genocide that decimated their country.  It was hard for me to hold back tears as they told stories of their childhood, living in exile for a number of years, and not knowing if they would live to see the next minute or not.  Generations of families were murdered in some of the most vicious manners one could imagine, and thousands of children were left without a blood relative to turn to.  I’m talking about children who lost parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and were left to fend for themselves.
According to a Human Rights Council report, “The Rwandan genocide resulted from the conscious choice of the elite to promote hatred and fear to keep itself in power. This small, privileged group first set the majority against the minority to counter a growing political opposition within Rwanda. Then, faced with Tutsi dominated RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) success on the battlefield and at the negotiating table, these few power holders transformed the strategy of ethnic division into genocide. They believed that the extermination campaign would reinstate the solidarity of the Hutu under their leadership and help them win the war, or at least improve their chances of negotiating a favorable peace. They seized control of the state and used its authority to carry out the massacre.”
Why?is a question I continue to ask myselfwhen atrocities like this occur.  What could a minority group of people do so bad that would make the majority group of people want to exterminate them?  I’m talking about people who bleed the same red blood as they do.  Apparently Hutu extremists were so angry that they tried to literally wipe out all of the Tutsi’s.  Not only did the Hutu’s murder and brutally rape women, they also killed other Hutu’s who were opposed to the murders of thousands of their fellow countrymen. 
Remarkably, these two young women survived by the grace of God and are now focused on doing everything they can to rebuild their country.  These young women are totally committed to being educated so they can serve as mentors and be an influential part of the lives of young Rwandan children.  Envision walking 40 minutes to get to the bus stop and then riding the bus for an additional 50 minutes to get to school.  Now imagine sitting in class all day, going to work after class, and then taking the almost two hour trip back home at night.NoellaAbijuru spoke about how determined she was to be educated, because she understood that without an education she would not be able to be a productive citizen in the new Rwanda. 
I was blown away by their desire to succeed in life, but what was even more impressive about these two young ladies was the fact that they have totally forgiven the people responsible for murdering hundreds of thousands of Rwandan citizens.  In the case of Abijuru, the man who killed her father now lives next door to her mother.  She stated that neither she nor her mother has any ill feelings towards the gentleman and they are doing everything they can to make him apart of their family.“Do not compare your present to your past, or you will never be able to move on to your future,” said Abijuru on several occasions. 
The government in Rwanda is doing everything they can to ensure children know exactly what happened during the genocide.  Learning and understanding the history of what took place in their country will provide healing and closure for a generation of children that had to start with a blank pallet.  Likewise, I believe that American children need to be taught all aspects of the history of this country and not just the feathery versions often passed along in school textbooks.  We have to be weary and critical of historians understanding of his-story.  After all, one person’s version of present day events can and will be told from a totally different perspective by someone else.
In the meantime, to a growing number of Americans, it seems as though politicians are doing everything they can to keep the American people divided and fighting amongst one another.  As a proud member of the “No Party Affiliation” group of Americans, I have had enough of the partisan political games, and the back and forth shenanigans of both the Democratic and Republican Parties.  I can only hope that the American people will stand tall and join together to try and unite as one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty, and justice for all.
It may be easy for some Americans in our technologically advanced society to dismiss or demonize the transformation taking place in Rwanda.  I just want to remind those same critics that America at one point in time was a nation at war with itself in a fight to abolish or maintain the enslavement of other human beings.  What is happening in Rwanda is truly a remarkable testimony of forgiveness and perseverance.  The Hutu and the Tutsi are working together as one group of Rwandan’s.  The people have realized that vengeance would only lead to more killing and senseless deaths.  The ultimate reconciliation project is underway in Rwanda because the citizens have decided to live together in peace as one nation of people.  They have seen firsthand the results of livingin a divided country.
Originally published by the Charlton County Herald on October 4, 2011

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