"Being just is inhuman."
July 6, 2010 7:30 PM   Subscribe

Living with the Enemy. "Applying the ideas of Holocaust survivor Jean Améry to present day Rwanda, our author argues that reconciliation after genocide is just another form of torture."
posted by homunculus (27 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
posted by homunculus at 7:31 PM on July 6, 2010

Intended Consequences
posted by homunculus at 7:33 PM on July 6, 2010

Great article. Thanks for this.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:46 PM on July 6, 2010

Many of those who did these things are still hiding in the DRC or elsewhere, unrepentant and actually shameless enough to be outraged over the prospect of going back to Rwanda and being made to pay for what they did. The talk of the murderers about how they deserve forgiveness and are better people for the children they hacked to death is not a surprise. Why should they feel genuine remorse when they have not been made to pay a genuine price?

I am not a violent person. Generally speaking, I am not a proponent of revenge. But genocide is the crime of crimes. It is an abomination to send someone who raped, mutilated, and murdered his neighbors to prison for five or six years. The perpetrators deserve death.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:51 PM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

thank you for this post.
posted by ms.jones at 7:56 PM on July 6, 2010

I had a lot to say in response to this, a lot of commentary to make, as I started reading it and then I had less and less to say as I kept reading and now I have nothing to say. Nothing at all.
posted by edheil at 8:01 PM on July 6, 2010

By chance this past weekend I was reading Primo Levi's The Drowned and the Saved for the first time in many years, and made a mental note to look up Améry. Levi mentions Améry and his views, if not with approval, then with understanding.

Levi also did not forgive.

He reproduces some putridly self-serving letters (and in fairness, some very fine ones also) from hand-wringing Germans which he received over the years after the publication of the German translation of Is This a Man, from people who could not plausibly have claimed ignorance doing just that. The genocidaires' exculpations are so much worse.

I have no doubt that it is the prerogative of the wronged to bestow or withhold forgiveness, not to be required to stump up when some third party thinks it would be nice. The most one can ask is that they forswear revenge in the interests of the next generation.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:56 PM on July 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

Wow, this is a perspective on Rwanda I'd not heard before, and it's amazingly thought-provoking.

And horrifying:

Human Rights Watch estimates that up to half a million women were raped. Seventy percent of those who survived are HIV-positive, according to UNICEF, and it is thought that ten thousand to twenty-five thousand children were born of these rapes.

These numbers are staggering.

However, I don't think it's accurate to classify Germans as unrepentant. Maybe if the author is referring to the immediate post-war period - I honestly don't know about that. However, the Germans I know who were born after the war are uniformly embarrassed and horrified by the Nazi era. I've been told by several Germans that they were never taught to be patriotic, lest patriotism turn to nationalism.

Incidentally, this led once to a hilarious exchange between me, the American granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and two Germans I met while traveling. It was so hard for me to understand what it meant to grow up in a country where patriotism was seen as a negative, which made me realize how American I was.

posted by lunasol at 9:19 PM on July 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

I am not a violent person. Generally speaking, I am not a proponent of revenge. But genocide is the crime of crimes. It is an abomination to send someone who raped, mutilated, and murdered his neighbors to prison for five or six years. The perpetrators deserve death.

I think it would be problematic, to say the least, if thousands of people were executed as a revenge for what happened. Would Tutsi magistrates be permitted to take part in this? Tutsi police or army officers? You don't see how anything might go wrong with that?
posted by clockzero at 9:24 PM on July 6, 2010

I'm gonna swim against the tide, here: I think it was an interesting piece - a horrifying, sad piece - but I don't think it was a good one.

Linfield's focus is - ironically - similar to that of many reconciliation tribunals themselves, in that she is expresses the rage, sorrow, crimes etc without necessarily a course of direction. Implicitly recognising the futility of any kind of response. But she has also built somewhat of a straw construction, ascribing goals and focus to reconciliation councils that does not necessarily exist. Her focus is a narrative one, and I fear it comes at the expense of a more layered truth.

She peppers the piece with lots of unquestioned statements of fact, three examples:

Germany tried to ride roughshod over its past, ignored the victims and viewed the Third Reich as an "operational error".

Reconciliation tribunals function simply as a "get out of jail free" card for the offenders, or indeed are the only or instrument of justice for victims, or even that they should be/are viewed as an instrument of justice.

She ascribes emotions to her subjects, the genocidaire "confidently asserts", he "threatens". In reality he may be doing neither of these things; the words themselves are more ambiguous.

More importantly, and perhaps fundamentally, I feel she has let her horror and visceral response to the genocide subsume all other considerations. It can be horrible incomprehensible, appalling, and it can also have socio-political implications that exist before, after, and both within and outside this. Divorcing these considerations from her analysis divorces her from the only understanding that she - as an outsider - can ever truly have about the genocide. Just as pretending those considerations are independent of the lived experience is folly.

Acknowledging and/or analysing these other dimensions does not obviate (nor alleviate) the primary, experienced discourses, and in this respect I think she sets up both a false dichotomy and also fuels an historical narrative that is flawed - not wrong, but flawed - because it is a narrative.

For more information about the multiplicities, contradictions and challenges about this, I strongly recommend reading What Really Happened in Rwanda? - both article and comments.
posted by smoke at 9:46 PM on July 6, 2010 [8 favorites]

Some fires may be put out. Some fires must burn out.
posted by wobh at 10:02 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

patriotism was seen as a negative

This is the only proper attitude to have if the world is ever going to be a better place.
posted by maxwelton at 10:02 PM on July 6, 2010 [7 favorites]

About the "operational error" attitude: I think the author is paraphrasing Améry there. And in the postwar period, it was a phenomenon -- a whole movement of German authors writing about the same time as Améry, typified by Grass, based their literary careers on pointing the hypocrisy and silence of their parents' generation.

I read this as an attempt to apply Améry's ideas to Hatzfeld's work, and an implicit invitation to follow up on both. smoke, I feel you're demanding more from this piece than it needs to give. Thanks for the link that provides more context.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:21 PM on July 6, 2010

From the article: What becomes clear is that forgiveness and reconciliation are of far less interest to the victims than they are to perpetrators.

Indeed. Some crimes are unforgiveable, and some aftermaths are unreconcileable.
posted by amyms at 11:09 PM on July 6, 2010

Well, when half the population of a country has a mass hysteria because of social pressure, I don't know that the best thing to do is just kill half the population. Organizers and masterminds, I can see. The rest of them? I don't know..
posted by wierdo at 11:33 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

But amyms, that's clearly not true: the country - like many other countries with genocides - is moving forward; victim and perpetrators are living closely together, etc etc etc. This is not to - and does not imply - that everybody is happy now, that reconciliations tribunals have somehow "reset the clock" or we can now forget about the genocides and go home, but simply that aftermaths happen. Like Homonculus' link above.

This is my problem with the piece. She argues that genocide is horrifying; humanity at its worst - as if anyone if trying to refute that, and then she posits an aim to the reconciliations councils they do not wholly possess, and a motive ("you must forget this and be happy!!") to governments and citizens that is unreferenced and undemonstrated. Then, she upbraids said governments and citizens for both the immorality of their goals and failure to achieve them!

This is not to say those viewpoints are fictitious or invalid, simply that there is no evidence in the piece that they form the consensus that she constructs. Indeed, there is evidence to the contrary. It's just all too convenient.
posted by smoke at 11:33 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

smoke said: But amyms, that's clearly not true: the country - like many other countries with genocides - is moving forward; victim and perpetrators are living closely together, etc etc etc.

Yes, people are moving forward. But one can move forward without being coerced into forgiveness.
posted by amyms at 12:06 AM on July 7, 2010

It'd be an interesting exercise to compare this to Spain, which was a fascist dictatorship for decades, and is currently operating under a policy of "let's pretend that didn't happen."
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:22 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

There is no such thing as "genocide" or mass crimes. There are only crimes of one individual against another. Each rape or murder is a new crime. The heniousness of the first rape or murder is not amplified by subsequent rapes or murders. Our subconscious interprets an incident where 100,000 people are killed as one person dying 100,000 times. But each of those people dies solo, unaccompanied, the one lonely death we all face. There is no collective death. Just a lot of individual deaths. And no such thing as collective forgiveness. We are each of us responsible for our own hearts, and what goes on in them.
posted by Faze at 4:53 AM on July 7, 2010

@Faze: But that denies any larger sense of wrong. What happened in Rwanda was "just" a series of rapes and murders? Sorry, but emphatically, NO. One social group decided to eliminate - through killing, rape, defilement, and inhuman behavior we can't even name - a second social group. Eight. Hundred. Thousand. Members of that second group lost their lives; as this article points out, an untold number were, in addition, left technically living, but spiritually dead. I understand the point you are making, but to stop there - "it was individuals' choices" - is simply unacceptable.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 9:37 AM on July 7, 2010

There's also no such thing as a species (only individual beings), no such thing as gender (only individual instantiations of XX, XY, or other chromosomal configurations), no such thing as a city (only individual buildings), no such thing as a war (only individual acts of violence), no such thing as an economy (only individual transactions), no such thing as the internet (only individual connections between computers), no such thing as a library (only individual books), no such thing as a Men's Department (only individual articles of men's clothing for sale), no such thing as time (only individual moments) and no such thing as molecules (only individual atoms).
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:42 AM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Sorry gentlemen, "social groups", tribes, bands, nations, cities, molecules, etc., are not moral entities. A "social group" cannot punch me in the mouth. It takes a fist, and that fist is at the end of an arm the belongs to an individual with freedom of moral choice. The Holocaust was not a crime, it was 20 million crimes. If you murder one person, the subsequent murder of another does not add to the moral enormity of the first -- nor does the third, fourth, fifth or thousandth. The media obsession with serial killing and mass murder leads our subconscious to think of killing as a contest of cumulitive scoring, where the more people you kill, the deader each of them is. But dead is dead. The murder of a single person destroys a universe, and in case you haven't watched Doctor Who lately, I can tell you that the destruction of a universe is just about as bad as badness can get.
posted by Faze at 11:07 AM on July 7, 2010

The perpetrators deserve death
Well, you'd better get started soon, given that there's tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of perpetrators out there. Fortunately we have unmanned drones with missiles, so that should speed the killing up, albiet with some acceptabe innocent casualties. And when the inevitable reprisals start and the area descends into civil war again, I know of some arms manufacturers who'll be happy to sell you all the weapons you need.

So? What are you sitting there for? Get to work man, you've got people to kill!
posted by happyroach at 11:48 AM on July 7, 2010

Faze, I think you're either being contrarian or misunderstanding why people condemn genocide. Killing hundreds, thousands, or millions of your neighbors or fellow citizens destroys something integral to the essentially universal social agreements that support society. Genocide is what happens when murder, rather than being an aberration, becomes normal. It's a terrifying inversion of the moral universe. Does that make any sense to you? That's exactly what this article is about, and it's not a big pot of pointless theorizing, it's based on what real people feel and say about the genocide that happened to them and their families; who are you to say genocide isn't a real thing? Saying that you just don't believe in genocide because, well, nope!, is insulting.
posted by clockzero at 1:05 PM on July 7, 2010

Powerful piece, despite the flaws pointed out upthread. Food for thought...
posted by Harald74 at 1:16 PM on July 7, 2010

@faze: That's undergraduate philosophizing, and not terribly well done. If that's your perception of the world, I feel sorry for those encumbered by you in their lives.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 5:09 PM on July 7, 2010

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