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Parlez-vous war criminal? Leopold Munyakazi and Goucher college
July 24, 2012 7:50 PM   Subscribe

Parlez-vous war criminal? Leopold Munyakazi and Goucher college Sanford H. Ungar, journalist and current President of Goucher, a small liberal-arts college near Baltimore writes about his experience hiring - unbeknownst to him - a Rwandan war criminal (Leopold Munyakazi) to teach French as a visiting scholar, and the aftermath for him personally. He examines the sometimes problematic desire from liberal arts colleges, or at least Goucher in this instance, to hire somebody controversial, and delves in to the blurry world of apportioning blame in the Rwandan genocide.

On motivations for hiring Leopold Munyakazi, at that point not known by the college to be a war criminal:

"A pointed, if mysterious, warning from the SRF staff that Munyakazi held “controversial views” only stoked our enthusiasm—we didn’t even stop to ask what was meant by it. If a liberal-arts college could not handle controversy, we thought, then who could? Perhaps he’d even attract attention and make a few positive headlines for the college."

"Dignified yet humble, shy, and sincere, one of the few faculty members who routinely dressed in suit and tie, Leopold became a familiar figure in the library and on the campus paths, almost disappointingly low-key and dull. But we flattered ourselves that we had done that rare thing, a purely good deed, striking a blow for the cause of intellectual freedom while bringing an honorable man to campus."

After the revelation:

"I earnestly explained that our intentions were pure and our decision to take in Leopold was based on the best of motives. I did not acknowledge the red flags we might have overlooked in our own eagerness to bring Leopold to campus, or how automatically we accepted the most generous interpretation of why this scholar might have been at special risk. But still, I promised, we would do everything in our power to get to the bottom of it all."

On guilt and innocence:

"Jarecki [who compiled dossiers on Munyakazi's guilt and innocence] says he wants to believe that Leopold is innocent of the charges against him, but, as a child Holocaust survivor who returned to Germany for medical school in the fifties, he is acutely sensitive to the possibility that a scholar he’s helped shelter may be guilty of “war crimes”—the moral equivalent, for him, of “rescuing Göring in Argentina.”

“We often rescue people without really knowing who they are,” he says, citing the minimal standard that one of his board members has developed: “Is he a scholar, and is he in danger?” But that question can obscure as much as it illuminates, he admits, and Jarecki, now 79, remembers with horror a particular cautionary tale: One of his most cherished medical professors in Heidelberg, “an amusing and cheerful fellow, a good companion,” was revealed, long after he had died, to have been a wartime assistant to Josef Mengele."

"And I [Ungar] have come to live with serious doubts of my own—about Leopold, about my own part in his ordeal, and about the high-minded idealism that brought him to Goucher. Is his case a simple matter of good intentions gone awry, or a profoundly discouraging allegory about how difficult it can be to identify injustice in the world and repair it? I’m no longer sure the two are very different, or that the sincerity of our humanitarian impulses can ever be reliable proof of the worthiness of our actions. But I find it difficult to accept that we must all simply suspend judgment and take the world as we find it. Ignorance is its own kind of exile."

Ungar was the Washington editor for The Atlantic for many years, and headed up the Voice of America, "the U.S. government’s principal international broadcasting agency" for two years prior to his position at Goucher.
posted by thetarium (24 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
That is a fascinating piece. I wonder if the truth will ever be conclusively known or not.
posted by Forktine at 8:16 PM on July 24, 2012


A fascinating article. At the risk of being "that guy," I have to point out that on page 4 the article calls King Leopold III of the Belgians (r. 1934-1951, died 1983) a "brutal colonialist." Now, while Belgian state colonialism in Congo, Rwanda, and Urundi (later Burundi) was not peachy, nor was Leopold III himself above reproach, I believe Ungar is confusing him with his great-uncle Leopold II (r. 1865-1909), founder of the "Congo Free State" and subject of the well-known book by Adam Hochschild whose title Ungar has borrowed for the title of his own article.
posted by dhens at 8:32 PM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh please. Does the president of Goucher not know how to use search engines ?
posted by Ideefixe at 9:01 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh please. Does the president of Goucher not know how to use search engines ?

To find articles published after the guy was suspended from the college and arrested?
posted by ThisIsNotMe at 10:27 PM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Boy, that article is a trainwreck. Unger first says that he visited Rwanda several times before the genocide, even taught radio broadcasters there (a particularly delicate subject considering the role of Radio Mille-Collines in the genocide), yet the bit about Munyakazi's "controversial views" didn't immediately raise a red flag with him. He was the Washington editor for The Atlantic and headed the VoA and we are asked to believe that he was so naïve?!
posted by Skeptic at 1:51 AM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also dhens, I'm not sure Unger is really mistaking Leopold II with Leopold III. He appears quite knowledgeable (in his way) with the history of Rwanda, and surely he must know that Leopold II: a) never ever visited Africa, b) never ruled over Rwanda (it was a German, not Belgian, colony at the time, and only came under Belgian rule after WWI).

From that article, I get the feeling that Unger has a long-standing interest in Rwanda, and always saw Rwanda's Hutus as victims of racial discrimination. This appears to have influenced his decision to hire Munyakazi, even though he must have known that his "controversial" views put him beyond the pale for most people aware of what happened in Rwanda. What he didn't expect is that there would be evidence of physical involvement in the genocide.
posted by Skeptic at 2:12 AM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I believe Ungar is confusing him with his great-uncle Leopold II (r. 1865-1909), founder of the "Congo Free State" and subject of the well-known book by Adam Hochschild whose title Ungar has borrowed for the title of his own article.

Maybe, but the Belgians' role in Rwanda's genocide dates from his reign: they're the ones who introduced the racial identity cards in 1935. It's fair to say that they were BOTH brutal colonialists.

I teach at another university in Baltimore, and I should say that Unger is one of the last good university presidents. He made a serious mistake, but he's committed to reflecting on it publicly because that is what a university is for.

Given that I also once worked for Penn State's Graham Spanier, who taught a famous class on leadership that some of my honors students took, and have since repudiated... the contrast is striking.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:00 AM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unger was the Washington editor for The Atlantic for many years, and headed up the Voice of America, "the U.S. government’s principal international broadcasting agency" for two years prior to his position at Goucher.

I will always think of him as Susan Stamberg's co-host on All Things Considered, back in the early 1980s.
posted by Herodios at 4:09 AM on July 25, 2012


I met "Sandy," as he was known on the Goucher campus, when my son was applying for admission. Talked like a regular guy, as opposed to, say, a college president.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:14 AM on July 25, 2012


It's fair to say that they were BOTH brutal colonialists.

Unlike his great-uncle, Leopold III had very little say on colonial policy (or any other policy, for that matter, although he did successfully lobby against letting the Western allies take up defensive positions in Belgium during the Phoney War, with disastrous consequences). And in any case, he could only effectively "reign" over Rwanda from his coronation in 1934 until the invasion of Belgium in 1940. Six years of constitutional monarchy could hardly qualify him as a "brutal" colonialist.

Also, anotherpanacea, I'd be very, very careful about blaming "the Belgians" for the Rwandan genocide. Not only does this reflect the line of Hutu apologists, who present it as "retribution" for past racial discrimination, but the Belgians are rightfully touchy about the subject, that with the brutal murder of ten Belgian blue helmets at its outset.

If you want to blame outside players, look rather at some sketchy characters in Paris and Washington DC...
posted by Skeptic at 5:47 AM on July 25, 2012


Meh. The Belgians are responsible introducing eugenics ideology into the Tutsi/Hutu hierarchy. They transformed "ethnicity" into "race," and then after independence they felt bad about it so they tried to undo what they did by supporting the previously oppressed Hutus.

Fuck them.

The idea that the Belgians are innocent because the perpetrators blamed them is absurd, as is the idea that they're innocent because a few of their solders died. Were it not for the Belgians, the genocide would not have occurred: civil strife would not have taken the racialized form that it did. That doesn't justify the genocide or remove the blame from the guys with the machetes, but it does mean that the Belgians are serious.

The reason Leopold Munyakazi is named "Leopold" is because Leopold III actually visited Rwanda, which Leopold II never did. He knew what was happening and he had a hand in executing the racial policies favored by early-20th century leaders.

It's true that during Leopold II's reign, Rwanda was being run as an administrative colony rather than Leopold II's private fiefdom. But while The Third's crimes were a lot more procedural and The Second's crimes had more cruelty and caprice in them, The Third managed to do almost half the damage in his six years that The Second did in forty. That's the lesson of totalitarianism, the colonial boomerang: you can do more harm by carefully following pernicious rules than you can through cruelty alone.

Like I said: fuck the Belgians.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:08 AM on July 25, 2012


it does mean that the Belgians are serious

Sorry, I didn't finish that sentence: "it does mean that the Belgians are serious contenders for assholes of the millenium."
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:11 AM on July 25, 2012


The idea that the Belgians are innocent because the perpetrators blamed them is absurd, as is the idea that they're innocent because a few of their solders died.

What is absurd is the idea that "the Belgians" as a whole are guilty. By endorsing this, you are blithely indulging in the same idea of collective guilt that fuelled the genocide itself.

Were it not for the Belgians, the genocide would not have occurred: civil strife would not have taken the racialized form that it did.

People would have been massacred along different lines, then? You are endorsing the narrative of the apologists of the genocide: "The Tutsis had it coming because they once ruled over the Hutus. The Tutsis once ruled over the Hutus because the Belgians favoured then. Therefore, the Belgians are guilty, and serious contenders for assholes of the millenium, rather than the people of whatever race or ethnicity who wielded the machetes, those who armed them, or those who fanned the flames over the airwaves."

But while The Third's crimes were a lot more procedural and The Second's crimes had more cruelty and caprice in them, The Third managed to do almost half the damage in his six years that The Second did in forty.

Now you have completely lost me. Firstly, as I already explained, Leopold III was a constitutional monarch with a largely ceremonial role. Whichever administrative "crimes" may have been committed in Rwanda between 1934 and 1940, they were committed by the Belgian Parliament and Ministry of the Colonies, not by Belgium's figurehead monarch, as much as you'd apparently like to have such a convenient scapegoat.

Apart from that, Leopold II's rule over the Congo Free State has been estimated to have killed around ten million people. Please tell me what it is that Belgium (let alone Leopold III) did in Rwanda in the 30s that amounted to "almost half the damage" of that. Because, quite frankly, issueing ID cards along ethnic/racial lines, wrong as it may have been, doesn't quite make it.

As I say, this all smacks far too much of blame-shifting for a hideous crime.
posted by Skeptic at 6:31 AM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, if history teaches us something, is that people will just as happily slaughter each other on "ethnic" reasons as on "racial" reasons or on whatever convenient excuse comes along.
posted by Skeptic at 6:36 AM on July 25, 2012


Sounds like we need an expert in Belgian colonial policy to help us sort this out. What's Dr. Gingrich up to these days?
posted by ThisIsNotMe at 6:40 AM on July 25, 2012


What is absurd is the idea that "the Belgians" as a whole are guilty. By endorsing this, you are blithely indulging in the same idea of collective guilt that fuelled the genocide itself.

I'm using a common group noun in the way that it is used for monarchies. I'm happy to distinguish Leopold II's actions from the actions of the Belgians as a people, but for the purposes of ease of use it is common to use metonymy to capture the relationship between Crown and Country. Leopold III's actions are much more closely allied with the people precisely because of the parliamentary element.

Of course, the partliamentary element undermines your claim about Belgium's innocence:

Whichever administrative "crimes" may have been committed in Rwanda between 1934 and 1940, they were committed by the Belgian Parliament and Ministry of the Colonies, not by Belgium's figurehead monarch, as much as you'd apparently like to have such a convenient scapegoat.

You can't have it both ways. If Leopold III was a mere figurehead (and he had nothing like the hands-off style that recent British monarchs have had) then the Belgian government is to blame.

If your point is that these were crimes of the Belgian government and not the Belgian people, I'll agree, with the caveat that the Belgian people profited from them and individual Belgians participated in enacting them both in Rwanda and in the Congo Free State.

Please tell me what it is that Belgium (let alone Leopold III) did in Rwanda in the 30s that amounted to "almost half the damage" of that. Because, quite frankly, issueing ID cards along ethnic/racial lines, wrong as it may have been, doesn't quite make it.

I've read smaller numbers for Leopold's rule (2-4 million), so if the true total is that high than obviously the Rwandan genocide and the various wars across Uganda and Rwanda don't equal half.

As I say, this all smacks far too much of blame-shifting for a hideous crime.

It is not blame-shifting: it's blame sharing. Hutu leaders planned the genocide and probably more than a hundred thousand ordinary Hutu helped the paramilitary to execute it. But the groundwork was laid for the genocide by colonial exploitation, racialized governance, and partition. There's plenty of blame to go around.

I recognize that my vulgarity towards the Belgians contributed to the breakdown of clear distinctions and discussion, and I apologize for that. The relationship between colonialism and genocide has that effect on me, but we should take a page from Ungar and work on understanding.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:29 AM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


"A pointed, if mysterious, warning from the SRF staff that Munyakazi held “controversial views” only stoked our enthusiasm—we didn’t even stop to ask what was meant by it. If a liberal-arts college could not handle controversy, we thought, then who could? Perhaps he’d even attract attention and make a few positive headlines for the college."

I find this one of the most interesting points in the piece, particularly in a time when a lot of these "controversial" firestorms have arisen, where people find themselves in the position of defending the free speech rights of someone they frankly wouldn't want to have dinner with. Instead of, 'We'll take someone with good opinions, even if they're controversial," it's become, "We'll take someone with opinions that are contoversial." It's designed to help the marketplace of ideas, but I don't know that it really does.

Does it really do good to hire war criminals, or those who supported war criminals?
posted by corb at 7:47 AM on July 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


This thread has taken a weird direction.

First, the wording of the lede indicts Munyakazi as a war criminal, but TFA does not draw that conclusion. It's murky at best; Unger himself seems unsure about the validity of the Rwandan government's charges, and other sources agree that there is a strong possibility that the case against Munyakazi is spurious and politically motivated.

Personally I have no idea; it's the first I've ever heard of this, but I'm not going to jump to a conclusion either way. It strikes me as very depressing, though, that Munyakazi has been in a life-destroying limbo for years while other people lazily decide his fate, driven by the wrong reasons. Either he should be imprisoned as a war criminal, or he should be exonerated and restored to his professorial gig --- but he's apparently spent the last few years drifting between crap jobs, branded by the label of "war criminal", and under a constant threat of deportation.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:13 AM on July 25, 2012


I am in no way trying to absolve Leopold III or the Belgian government of any wrongdoing in Rwanda. There is still a lot of collective denial/romanticizing of colonialism among many Belgians (especially the older generation) to which I was expose in living there in two (non-consecutive) years. I just wondered if Ungar had confused the almost comic-book villain character of Leopold II (who never visited his own Congo Free State, let alone the at-the-time German colony of Rwanda) and Leopold III; the latter not really being any more or less "brutal" than any other European leader of the first half of the twentieth century.

Again, to clear some things up, Rwanda and (B)Urundi did not come under Belgian administration until after World War I, when they became "mandates" of Belgium (with the theoretical idea that they should be "prepared" for eventual independence at some unspecified date) after their former colonial power, Germany, had been defeated.

I should add that the Belgian Congo (1908-1960) is not the same as the Congo Free State (1885-1908). Leopold II had actually wanted Belgium to acquire colonies, but the government was not enthusiastic -- Belgium was by treaty supposed to be perpetually neutral, and many thought entering the colonial race would endanger that neutrality. Thus, Leopold II undertook his own private colonialism in the Congo. It was finally annexed by the Belgian Parliament in 1908 as an attempt to at least have nominal oversight over what had been a giant, murderous, private rubber plantation.

That's not to praise Belgian colonialism: indeed, in Belgian colonies, there was far less solicitude for the education of the indigenous people than even in, say, French or British colonies in Africa. At the eve of Congolese independence, there were only about 30 university graduates (not counting the white administrators etc.) in the whole colony.
posted by dhens at 8:32 AM on July 25, 2012


Thank you, qxnt[etc]! The article makes clear that it is not, er, clear whether or not Leopold is a war criminal. And yes, it does seem particularly unjust that he's sitting in limbo, unable to work, while people who care little about his fate investigate whenever they get around to it.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:47 AM on July 25, 2012


If Munyakazi is innocent, then his current situation can be blamed on the other genocidaires who fled (not to mention the Kagame government, which has been almost eager to use the genocide to accumulate unchecked power). Though I feel for Munyakazi's plight (if he is innocent) this kind of lengthy investigative process is pretty standard for war crimes, especially when war criminals flee the scenes of their crimes. There can be no guarantee of swift justice when the perpetrators destroy the institutions of justice and then escape.

Given the post-genocide situation in Rwanda, his release and employment are not really evidence of his innocence, only of the immense difficulty of prosecuting hundreds of thousands of perpetrators. There are eyewitnesses in Rwanda willng to swear he is guilty, but perhaps they are lying, or simply mistaken about the identity of the perpetrators. His wife is Tutsi, so it seems like he can't have wanted to murder everyone with her ethnicity, but perhaps he participated to keep her safe.

If he is guilty, then he may have a long time yet to wait. It took 18 years for Eichmann to know his fate. Perhaps he will die not knowing. That happens, too.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:22 AM on July 25, 2012


anotherpanacea, thanks for returning to a more civil plane.

We can agree that talking of Leopold III is a red herring here. I have dwelled on the issue, because it was Unger himself who introduced him as a "brutal colonialist" for no apparent reason. Unger seems far too knowledgeable about Rwanda's history to have done so innocently. Since he is also an expert in media and communications, it bears reason to suspect that he actually intended to sow confusion between Leopold III and Leopold II in the minds of the average reader, possibly to present Munyakazi as a direct victim of Belgian colonialism.

As for your main point, it is worth noting that there was a very clear difference between the predatory policies of the Congo Free State (which was Leopold II's personal property, very much outside the control of the Belgian parliament and indeed acquired against its will) and subsequent Belgian colonial policy. Just like dhens, I'm not trying to defend the latter, which in hindsight was objectionable in many points in its own right, but keep in mind that, to a great extent, Belgian colonial policy was a reaction to the crimes of the Congo Free State and the international outcry against it. In particular in its post-WWI mandates of Rwanda and Urundi, Belgium aimed to carry out a "model" colonial administration (which, ironically, also led to the enthusiastic embrace of then-fashionable racist theories).

The relationship between colonialism and genocide has that effect on me, but we should take a page from Ungar and work on understanding.

But we should not carry the understanding too far either, otherwise we risk diluting responsabilities or worse, justifying criminals. To bring this into a "Western" context, while the Versailles Treaty may have helped to bring the Nazis to power in Germany, it wouldn't be altogether fair to blame the WWI Allies for the Holocaust, to say the least.

Rwanda became independent in 1962. The genocide took place more than 30 years later. Most of the Rwandan population then wasn't even born when the Belgians left.

In addition to this, while colonial Belgium was guilty of a lot of things, modern-day Belgium was one of the few countries which actually acted with some decency directly before, during and directly after the Rwandan genocide. It tried to mediate between the communities, tragically put its soldiers in the line of fire, and first started judging genocidaires. The last is also a very important point, because it is one of the reasons why their apologists tend to revile that country.
posted by Skeptic at 9:31 AM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's a big difference between Versailles and racial identity cards.

If the Allies had forced Germany to adopt the ideology of Aryan superiority throughout their government, that would be more comparable.

The Belgians (variously comprised) deserve some of the blame for setting the stage here. With M23 invading Goma as we speak, the death toll really hasn't even finished being tallied.

And I'm not actually agreeing that Leopold III was blameless or that Ungar made a mistake or some kind of propagandistic manipulation: you're treating Leopold III like a British monarch, but his actual role was much more intrusive and hands-on. He was an active head of state and he wanted to avoid the kinds of abuses his uncle had allowed through absenteeism.

Eugenics, i.e. the science of populations, was the way folks with good intentions acted back then. There were plenty of white supremacists in the US acting with the same motivations: in both cases, it's not intentions but consequences that mattered for apportioning blame.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:52 AM on July 25, 2012


There seems to be a troubling guilty-until-proven-innocent aspect to it all. While certainly war criminals need to be prosecuted, our culture's way of destroying people who have been accused but not objectively proven to have been guilty, and certainly not convicted in a court, of their alleged crimes is ... well, at the very least it opens everything up to exploitation.

I can't speak to Munyakazi's guilt or innocence, nor I think can anyone at Goucher, and his fate and place in the history books will only be decided in time. While Goucher clearly should have done their due diligence better when hiring him, I don't know whether -- once they decided to hire him, for whatever reasons -- kicking him to the curb when the accusations surfaced is necessarily the right thing to do. If the process is slow, then Goucher should have borne part of that expense by keeping him suspended with pay in the interim. And if their image ended up tarnished as a result, let that be a lesson in unintended consequences.

For someone who claims to support reasoned inquiry rather than rash judgement, Ungar's decision to fire Munyakazi and ban him from campus seems like exactly that.

Especially since they apparently hired him, in significant part, because he was "controversial." If they weren't willing to stand behind him, or at least attempt a semblance of impartiality, while the wheels of justice turned, they shouldn't be in the business of hiring "controversial" people in the first place. To be blunt, it seems like tokenism: Goucher thought they were buying a pet edgy professor to show off in their alumni rag and talk about at fund-raising cocktail parties, a way to up the ante against their competing liberal arts colleges, but instead they got an actual guy with a very troubling background. Eventually when you hire enough "controversial" people, you're going to get someone who actually is who their critics say they are -- that's the whole reason there's that tension and interest in them in the first place.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:22 AM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


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