27 years ago today, the Rwandan genocide began

Paul Rusesabagina with his daughters Carine and Anaise Kanimba

Twenty-seven years ago, one of the worst genocides since the Holocaust was perpetrated in Rwanda. Within a matter of weeks, at least 800,000 people were murdered.

Last year, Paul Rusesabagina was kidnapped and taken to Rwanda, where he was arrested. Today, as President Paul Kagame oversees reenactments of that horrible time, Rusesabagina sits in jail. He is on trial for a host of charges including terrorism and genocide denial. His real crime is criticizing Kagame.

I have been working with some other people to secure Rusesabagina’s release. If you are interested in helping, there are several ways to do that. Here are a few:

Some new articles have been released:

Here’s an older post I wrote on this.

This is how genocide starts

This was reprinted from Firebrand Left. As that website is no longer up and running, I found it on the Way Back Machine. I think we are past three and have reached five.

Over the past few days, I have been spending some time over at a pro-Donald Trump Facebook group. While I have found a lot of things I have heard Donald Trump say to be upsetting, frightening or just plain confusing, nothing I have heard him say comes even close to what his supporters say. They say the United States Constitution is “outdated.” They do, support the Second Amendment but the rest was written by people who did not have to deal with modern-day terrorism. This is how they justify hating Muslims. Islam, they say, is not a religion but a political ideology.


This is not helpful for any real conversation but that is not the real problem. While I do not think it is appropriate to define 1.6 billion people this way but that is not the real problem either. The problem is not even that anti-Muslim rhetoric makes gives the extremists more ammunition to use against us or that it makes it harder to fight terrorism. The problem is that when you start defining this way, we are taking the first step towards genocide. That’s not the America I think we want to live in.

You may be thinking, “That’s pretty extreme.” It is but there is something that people do not realize about genocide. If you look at the phenomenon across centuries and continents, you will see genocide follows a predictable pattern. From Armenia and Germany to Rwanda and Sudan and then to Cambodia, there are ten steps all of these genocides follow. They are (per Genocide Watch):

  1. Classification
  2. Symbolization
  3. Discrimination
  4. Dehumanization
  5. Organization
  6. Polarization
  7. Preparation
  8. Persecution
  9. Extermination
  10. Denial

We are hovering somewhere between step one and three. We have not quite gotten to the point of actual discrimination but there are measures that have passed or considered to ban Sharia law in all but 16 American states. Who is behind all of this? A number of high profile Republicans such as Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann have spearheaded the “anti-Sharia” movement.

This belief, that Americans need to be protected from Muslims, has been advanced by the Trump campaign. HIs famous promises to build walls along the Mexican but not Canadian border and to ban entry by Muslims advance the cause of racism and Islamophobia. We need to be protected from what we see as “them.” Americans are Christian (and sometimes Jewish). That’s the ‘us.” Muslims are not true Americans who pay their taxes, love their families and serve in our military, they are outsiders to be feared and demonized.

Trump and his supporters point out the recent attacks throughout Europe, in Orlando and in New York and New Jersey. They do not mention the fact that the gunman in Orlando was born in New York nor do they talk about the Oklahoma City bombing by a United States born terrorist or the multitudes of shootings by Americans. No one was talking about religion when they looked at the massacres in Sandy Hook, Columbine or at 101 California Street. We are not being killed in mass numbers by Muslims coming into the country. We are too busy killing ourselves.

The problem with the people who think, and my feeling is that they really believe the things they are saying, that we are facing an existential threat. Adolph Hitler really believed that the world was engaged in an epic battle for survival against the Jews.  When people say things like, “there are no good Muslims and bad Muslims…” they are reading right out of the Nazi Germany playbook:

This is not what this country is all about. We cannot become complicit to the mentality that is promoted by the Trump supporters. We are better than that. I hope.

Photo by Gage Skidmore 

This is one reason I do not “trust in the Lord”

twitter trump jesus lord

Today, I got up and did what has become a part of my normal morning routine, I checked Twitter to see what the most recent craziness has come out of the White House. This morning, I would not help but notice that “Trust in the LORD” is trending. Now, I know that the United States is one of the most church going counties on the planet but this image was just too much for me.

twitter trump jesus lord

This is from: https://twitter.com/nvrggivup

Now I know that when most people think of Donald Trump, they think about Jesus. I mean, who can forget that part of the Bible when our lord and savior extolls the virtues of “grabbing women by the pussy?” I know that was the part that kept me reading. That’s what it’s all about: rating, both for Christ and the Tweeter in Chief.

But then I was reading through some of the tweets telling me to “trust in the Lord” and while I am a big believer in karma, when people get too religious my mind goes back to Rwanda and the 1994 genocide. This is not because of its brutality and efficacy, but because of the role the church played. Like most of Africa, Rwanda is also a very church loving country.

The Ntarama Catholic church sits about an hour from Kigali. When the president’s plane went down in April 1994, people who lived near the church were scared. On April 15, the militia, known as the Interhamwe (those who fight together), ambushed area. Thousands took refuge in the church. At least five thousand people were butchered there.

I am not sure where the ideas that Donald Trump has ever given a thought to Jesus or the role of the Bible in his life has anything to do with the slaughter of innocent people in a Rwandan Catholic church but I have to just see the hypocrisy in both ideas. Trump has been divorced three times (though I don’t personally see an issue with that), has never seen marriage as a reason to not have sex with whomever and basically thinks that he has a right to do whatever he wants to anyone he wants. Take money from small businesses? Force them out of business? Sure, if it helps the Trump bottom line, why not? While I am no expert on the Bible of Jesus but if we were all wearing, “what would Jesus do?” bracelets, I am pretty sure sexual assault and fraud are not part of his repertoire.

And then the hypocrisy of the “trust in the Lord.” I get it. People like to believe in something and I do see the value in religion. The American civil rights movement got a lot of help and its start in churches. Having said that, blind allegiance to anything is just stupid.

But maybe the real connection between the Rwandan genocide, the stupid trending Twitter topic and Trump is that we seem to be on a path to genocide here and it is being led by people who claim to love Jesus. If that doesn’t scare you, it should.




No means no and never again needs to mean never again

Paul Rusesabagina and Don Cheadle

Another personal post, don’t worry it’s not as intense as the last one.

Today Paul Rusesabagina received the Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize.  I was lucky enough to be able to help out.  Paul is one of my heroes.  His actions during the Rwandan genocide not only saved the people in his hotel but he in an inspiration to people currently dealing with similar situations and those of us who are not but who want to help stop and prevent genocide.

We tend to think of genocide as something that happened a long tome ago in a galaxy far away but that is not true.  When the Rwandan genocide was occurring, Slobodan Milosovic was ethnically cleansing Bosnia.  I mention Bosnia for several reasons.  First of all, I was obsessed with Bosnia while the conflict was happening.  One excuse I hear from people about why we should not intervene in this place or that is that “those people have been fighting for centuries, there’s nothing we can do.”  In Africa, this sentiment is magnified by the thought that it is the ‘dark continent’ and there’s even less that we can do.  Bosnia should blow that idea out of the water.  Before Milosovic riled people up, Sarajevo was viewed as the ultimate example of racial harmony.  The “ethnic cleansing” was not caused by racial tension but this genocide was political opportunism.

I plan to write a more detailed piece on the current situation in Rwanda.  For now, I will just write that Rwanda is not the shiny example of reconciliation and peace.  Paul Kagame is not the new kind of African leader we all hoped it would be.  Since he took over, Rwanda has been fighting a proxy war in Congo and exploiting Congo’s natural resources.  Within Rwanda, Kagame allows no dissent.  There is no freedom of the press.  There is no freedom of expression.  Inside Congo, the genocide continues.  Rape is a common tool of war and it is being employed freely.

Back in 1994, I was obsessed with Bosnia and payed little attention to the horrors being perpetrated there.  I don’t know why I cared more about Bosnia than Rwanda.  In 2001, I went to work for the United Nations Information Centre in Washington, DC.  We received confidential dispatches from all over the globe.  While it was impossible to read all of them, I did read what was coming from Congo and it chilled my blood.  Some of the off the record stories I heard about the UN response to Rwanda did the same thing.  The then-Secretary General Kofi Annan said Rwanda represented the worst failure of the organization.  It was also his failure — and I have nothing but respect and admiration for him but he failed.  He was the head of the Department of Peace Keeping Operations.

For over a year, I sent out either a press release on Congo — families were jumping into alligator infested rivers to escape the rebels, masses of people were crowding UN offices and were told if they were caught on the street they would be killed — or some other communication to media about the situation.  A few reporters wrote stories just to make me stop sending them information.  It wasn’t much but it was all I could do.

Paul Rusesabagina did not intend to be a hero.  As awesome as he is, I wish he hadn’t become a hero.  I wish he was back in Rwanda running his hotel and this never happened.  But it did happen and he did become a hero.  In his speech at the Lantos ceremony, he said that he used words and persuasion to keep his guests and his family safe minute by minute — thinking all the while that he would be killed eventually — just to survive a little longer.

Senator Dianne Feinstein used to tell her staff, maybe she still says this, that people fail to do good things because they only want to do great things.  While we may not find ourselves in the position Paul was in, we can still make a difference.  We can educate ourselves and others and let our leaders know that when we say never again, we mean it.