Monday, December 20, 2004

The "G" Word

The History Channel has compiled a documentary entitled Rwanda: Do Scars Ever Fade?, a retrospective on the genocide that claimed almost a million lives in 1994.  This program is a grim and unflinching look at how the world ignored the systematic slaughter of innocents; how the world, just one generation removed from the horrors of the death camps, forgot the fundamental lesson of the Holocaust and allowed it to happen again. 

Genocide is perpetrated by people.  And in Rwanda, it was neighbor against neighbor.  This documentary follows the story of two men, Ezekiel and Pierre.  Pierre is a Tutsi, and Ezekiel is a Hutu.  They grew up together as neighbors, and knew each other all their lives.  During the genocide, Ezekiel murdered Pierre's brother and helped throw Pierre, bound, into the river to drown.  Pierre's bonds came undone and he survived, but the rest of his family did not. 

Ezekiel has since become a born-again Christian and has repented his crime.  And here's where the story gets very interesting.  Now he wants forgiveness from Pierre.  In a public hearing, Pierre does forgive Ezekiel, but in a heartwrenching confession to the camera, Pierre states that he forgave for reasons other than a softening of his heart, but rather because he could not continue to live in his community if he did not forgive--forgiveness was expected, demanded by the community, and because he still feared Ezekiel. 

Imagine living next to neighbors who had been responsible for murdering your entire family.  An uneasy peace exists now--but it seems volitile, inflammable, a potent mixture of hate awaiting only a spark to bring it roaring back to vivid life.  The omnipresent vigilance against danger one would have to withstand.  It would be the life of prey, of the hunted, the persecuted and the damned. 

Conversely, imagine trying to reintegrate one's humanity with the horrors one perpetrated.  How losing oneself to mob violence is an irrevocable loss--what could possibly atone for it?  How does one live with oneself?  Like Lady Macbeth's damned spot, would the blood on one's hands ever fade?

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