By William Church

 

 

This article is a continuation of a discussion that started with the article “Rusesabagina, Genocide and Identity Politics”, published on the 15th of January 2007. The core issues of that article centred on comments by Paul Rusesabagina made to Reuters; comments in his book, An Ordinary Man, and a March 2006 interview with Rusesabagina in Brussels.

 

The core issue is the appropriateness of Rusesabagina’s comments and views in relationship to the current tensions in Rwanda.

 

The recent Reuters article quoted Rusesabagina as saying:

 

“Actually we are not very far from another genocide…Since 1994, Tutsis have been killing Hutus, and even now there are many who are being killed, or who simply disappear,” he said. “Everything has been taken over by the Tutsi. The Hutu who are 85 percent of the population are intimidated.”
 

In addition, in An Ordinary Man, Rusesabagina makes the claim that Rwanda is ruled by a Tutsi elite and any Hutu who cooperates is an “empty suit.” He has also stated, during an interview, that President Kagame’s forces caused the genocide when they started the 1990 rebellion. In essence, he blames the victims for their own death.
 

Since the 15th of January 2007 article, two significant events have occurred:
 

First was an overwhelming volume of email in response to the article. Of those responses, approximately 70 per cent were favourable, while the rest supported Rusesabagina. The positive responses were logical, well thought-out, and understood that the discussion was framed around hate speech and its effect on current tensions in Rwanda. The remaining responses favoured Rusesabagina and resorted to comments about my character and a few veiled threats. They did not discuss the issue; instead they indulged in personal attacks.
 

Secondly, Rusesabagina responded to my article in an email entitled, “William Church: Genuine Researcher or Over-zealous RPF Advocate?” (The email was signed by Paul Rusesabagina but the document came from a Microsoft Word document registered to a Pio Ngilik of Catholic Social Services, Dayton Ohio using a Yahoo account) Like those of his followers, his response, or ‘Catholic Social Services’ response, focused on personal attacks and used generalizing techniques to justify his words and views. He used the recent report of genocide survivors being killed and reprisal killings as proof that he was right; in an effort to confuse the issue. He only succeeded in proving my point in a number of areas.
 

Although most of Rusesabagina’s comments predate a recent Human Rights Report — describing Gacaca witnesses being killed and reprisal killings — Rusesabagina is using that report as proof that he is right. This article will explore that claim and provide counter points in two areas.
 

Human Rights Watch described the killings in terms of genocide survivors and reprisal killings. They did not mention the ethnic group, nor did they describe the group, allegedly conducting the reprisals in ethnic terms. Human Rights Watch understood the sensitivity of the issue and the current tensions and chose a course that was effective yet neutral and would not stir up future hatred.
 

Secondly, Rusesabagina described the events as “approaching genocide”. A genocide is a government-controlled or inspired program to target a specific ethnic group for the purpose of eliminating that group. Even the most superficial examination of events reported by Human Rights Watch would not support that statement.
 

The following is an unedited excerpt from Rusesabagina’s response:
 

“Anyone who’s been following recent events in Rwanda will agree that tensions are rising in several parts of the country. The January 2007 Human Rights Watch report on Rwanda talks about a recent killing in a Gacaca court president in Mwulire, followed by the arrest of three suspects, who later died in police custody. Strangely, the police officers suspected in these deaths have been cleared of any wrong doing. The HWR report also talks about the killing in Rukumberi of a genocide survivor this past November, followed by the reprisal killing of eight innocent villagers nearby, including girls aged 8 and 13, as well as a 70-year old man. If survivors and witnesses are threatened, “prompt and effective law enforcement is the way to deal with this threat, not reprisal killings”, declared Alison Des Forges of Human Rights Watch. Yet, investigations into the circumstances surrounding these deaths are reported to have been sloppy, leaving a “number of important questions unresolved”. Yet, according to William Church, condemning these reprisal killings amounts to spreading hate. “
 

Rusesabagina is pulling a bit of propaganda slight of hand that suits his own purpose. He is claiming that I am labelling the Human Rights Watch report as spreading hate, thus allowing him to hide from his own quote, which is very different from Human Rights Watch’s.  In fact, the Rusesabagina quote I questioned is not the above Human Rights Watch quote, but instead it is the following comments to Reuters:
 

“Actually we are not very far from another genocide…Since 1994, Tutsis have been killing Hutus, and even now there are many who are being killed, or who simply disappear, Everything has been taken over by the Tutsi. The Hutu who are 85 percent of the population are intimidated.”
 

He equates his statement — Tutsis are killing Hutus – with the Human Rights Watch report. In fact, Human Rights Watch did condemn the killings and Rusesabagina did not condemn the killings in that quote. Instead, he promotes a view that blames one ethnic group; a view that could clearly provoke more violence.
 

The Human Rights Watch report describes the killings in terms of survivors and witnesses and others in terms of the police, not ethnic groups. However, Rusesabagina makes a point of saying it is Tutsis killing and intimidating Hutus.
 
The important point is that Rwandans are dying because of tensions around the Gacaca process and not because of a government-controlled genocide, like in 1994, as claimed by Rusesabagina.  His response is in exactly the same language used by the Habyarimana regime.  If Rusesabagina was a humanitarian — as he signed his response to this author — then he would decry the loss of any human life, not just that of one ethnic group. It is important to clearly state that, in his book and recent Reuters interview, he does not make that distinction.
 

The Human Rights Watch report that Rusesabagina clings to as proof does not describe a systematic program of Tutsis killing Hutus and intimidation of Hutus. The Human Rights Watch report describes a limited situation; however, let me clearly state that even the loss of one human life to hate inspired violence is unacceptable
 

It describes a series of killings that are currently confined to a geographic area and at the rate of 10-30 per year by all accounts. There has been no proof presented to date to support Rusesabagina’s claim of a government program to kill Hutus and such a claim is meant to twist the reality and promote hate.
 

Rusesabagina’s comments can be seen as hate speech because it appeals to one ethnic group over another and it serves to slant the reporting and does not provide an ethnically-neutral view, like provided by Human Rights Watch.
 

Rusesabagina’s view represents the old Africa of identity politics and not the new Africa of democratic elections, cooperation and discussion. Rusesabagina has many concerns about the current Rwandan government and he has a free speech right to express those views.
 

However, it is my opinion that these concerns can be discussed in a manner that does not focus on one group over another and does not disparage an entire group of Rwandans, who are working to rebuild their nation, by calling them “empty suits”.  Although Rusesabagina was recently celebrated by Arizona’s Martin Springer Institute as a humanitarian and a shining example of tolerance, his Reuters quote, comments in his book, as well as a 2006 interview with me, betray a different view of Rusesabagina.
 

I urge Paul Rusesabagina to respond to my discussion without name-calling, as he and his supporters have done in their attacks on me. It seems odd that a person who describes himself as a humanitarian responds to his critics with divisive language and belittles anyone who is a foreigner or non-African, even though they have sincere intentions.
 

It also seems odd that Rusesabagina resorts to labeling anyone who disagrees with him as a President Kagame advocate or apologist, when the lists of people who have agreed with me include highly prominent lawyers, clergymen, and journalists.
 

The United States ambassador to Rwanda recently praised the positive human rights and political-space trends in Rwanda. Is the US ambassador also a President Kagame apologist as suggested by Rusesabagina? In addition, the list of other ambassadors and heads of missions in Rwanda who also support Rwanda covers the full spectrum of political thought and views. Are we to believe Rusesabagina that he is only one who knows the truth and professional diplomatic staff have failed to uncover this government program to start genocide as he claims?
 

I urge Rusesabagina to fully explain his views and stop labeling thousands of people in the government as worthless “empty suits”; a phrase that he stood by and repeated in his response to me.  I urge Rusesabagina to stop using the language of division and work for unity. This is clearly the quickest way to prevent another genocide in Rwanda, and conversely, the quickest way to promote more killings is to stir up ethnic hatred and hinder the reconciliation process.
 

I would like to restate my views from the first article. This is a discussion of the use of hate speech. Absolutely nowhere did I write in my article that I support the current government of Rwanda, as claimed by Rusesabagina. I am moved by a sense of ethics and I am trying to promote a public discussion on this crucial issue.  Originally, I questioned the ethics of Reuters (not lashed out, as Rusesabagina claims, which is once again a telling sign of his approach) when they ran the story that provoked this debate; however, now I would like to thank them for bringing this topic to the public so that it can be discussed openly.
 

Finally, this is my call for readers of this article to get involved and take a stand on any side of this issue. Rusesabagina’s next two speaking engagements in the United States are at Mercyhurst College and Villanova University, in Eire and Villanova, Pennsylvania respectively. I propose that both of these schools should provide a balanced program of views, since there is considerable controversy surrounding Rusesabagina.
 

I have asked well-respected clergy to speak out on hate speech and now I urge you to ask your religious leader to speak out and take a stand. I call on Catholic Social Services to explain why their facilities and staff may have been used to generate a personal attack on me and not engage in a meaningful discussion of hate speech.
 

I have asked the diplomatic community and human rights organizations to speak out against hate speech. I urge you to ask them why they have not taken a direct stand on this issue in Rwanda. I urge you to ask yourself why you have not spoken out yet on this most vital issue that is gripping the world today, whether it involves the people in Rwanda, or worldwide Christians, Muslims, Hindus and anyone else
 
Please do not be silent.
 

The views expressed in this article are the personal opinions of William Church and may not reflect the opinion of this publication or blog. Comments may be directed to wchurch@glcss.org

 

Be Sociable, Share!