Posts Tagged ‘genocide’

I’ve tried to become less reactionary in my blogging. I might have made some progress, or perhaps I’ve just been busier and don’t think about it very much. Sometimes there is an article or blog post that comes to my attention that is so annoying that I feel compelled to consider it for blog fodder. This morning I read one of them called 16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible. I suppose I am tempted to read too much into his Patheos post, but aware of this and will try my best to interpret his words well.

He is Roger Wolsey, a “progressive” United Methodist pastor. What he does is helpful because he does lay out his assumptions when he interprets the Bible. He doesn’t defend those assumptions, he just assumes they are superior to the assumptions held by “Fundamentalists”. By the way he articulates his argument you’d think there were only “Fundamentalists”, “Atheists” and “Progressives.” I am part of the great unknown (perhaps not to him but at least “Sir Not-Mentioned-in-this-Article”) that would fall under the category of Conservative and Confessional.

“All Christians pick and choose which portions of the Bible (to interpret) literally, progressive Christians simply admit this and share how we discern.”

Not sure I’d agree with that statement. Most people I know admit this and talk about how they discern the difference. Progressives are not superior to anyone in this matter. They don’t have “interpretative righteousness” as a result. I am bringing my men’s study through the book Bible Study that addresses many of these issues and I often verbalize these things as I preach or teach SS (the Revelation series was not an exception). I suggest he doesn’t give those pesky Fundamentalists enough credit. So much for the love (or charity) he talks about later. He seems to always paint them in a most negative light.


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While we were still in the process of adopting, a friend mentioned a book about the Congo prior to his trip to Africa to do some counseling. I thought it would be a good idea to read the book to understand the recent history of the region. I wanted to keep it so my kids would be able to understand the land they left.

I didn’t expect anyone to say this:

“It is true that the Tutsi killed,” Bugera told me at one point. “But we all had brothers, schoolmates, uncles who had been killed. It’s all part of the whole. Can you portray that to your readers in Arizona or Berlin? Can you make them understand why someone would kill?”

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters by Jason Stearns is a difficult book to read. He tries to help you understand “why someone would kill” and not just other soldiers, but even women and children. Correct that, why they think they should kill. It is difficult to read because there are so many stories of horrendous acts. He interviewed many people, and gives us their eyewitness accounts through much of the book.

The book covers the history of the Great War of Africa, which was largely ignored in the West even though millions of people died. Coverage of Darfur greatly exceeded coverage of The Great War even though far more people died in the Great War.

“There is no Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin. Instead it is a war of the ordinary person, with many combatants unknown and unnamed, who fight for complex reasons…”

He theorizes that one reason is that there were no clear cut good guys and bad guys. Everyone had blood on their hands! Another reason may just be how utterly confusing it can be due to the enormous cast of characters. It is like a Russian novel. He has a page and a half of acronyms, many of which are the various military groups.

The first part of the book sets the stage for the war, analyzing the problems that contributed to the war.

“The Congo has always defied the idealists.”

One important factor was that during the time of colonization, the Belgians had set up the Congolese to fail. There were no native leaders that made their ways up the ladder of power. There was no one ready and able to rule and administrate a nation when they left. They had impoverished leadership, and slowly ate up the left over capitol left behind. Called Zaire, prior to the War, it was run by a deified dictator (aren’t they usually) who used privilege to purchase loyalty. But the infrastructure was rotting, and the military leaders were selling off supplies, parts and arms to maintain a good standard of living. Zaire was rotting from the inside out. Stagflation was impoverishing the nation.

The civil war in neighboring Rwanda was another contributing factor. Many of the refugees fled into eastern Zaire. The Hutu, who were in power, were guilty of stirring up the genocide which saw 800,000 Tutsi and Hutu killed by the army and militia groups. Eventually, Tutsi rebels led by Kagame took power in Rwanda. This time it was the Hutu crossing the border into Zaire to find refuge.

“Such is the human being: when he is afraid, he sees enemies everywhere and think the only chance to stay alive is to exterminate them.” Beatrice Umetesi

Racism drove a number of regional conflicts that erupted into larger conflicts. The camps were divided, and refugees outside the camps often attacked those inside. Humanitarian crises broke out in the camps. One UN official noted, “It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion.” The UN was not allowed to get accurate counts for well over a year. They underestimated the amount of money needed to provide food and medicine for the refugees. They ended up dying by the thousands. The U.S., under Clinton, not only did essentially nothing but blocked efforts on the part of the international community. They would help in Bosnia, but not the heart of Africa.

Rumble in the Jungle: Zaire in its short-lived glory

Mobutu liked to shelter the enemies of his enemies however. It would de-stablize the region. Eventually it would catch up with him as those foreign enemies assisted his domestic enemies.

It was not just the Hutu who hated the Tutsi. Generations earlier, in the 1800’s, some have moved west into the Congo. Called the Banyamulenge, they were ostracized and minimized. They were considered outsiders even though they’d lived there for over 100 years. They were denied citizenship. Apparently everyone hated them. They didn’t fit in. They were insulted with slang words for “penis” and the word kijuju after a local plant similar to the cassava, but which could not be eaten.

“Everyone seemed to be a killer or a victim or both.”

The Congolese were stirred up against the Hutu and Tutsi refugees. And the local Banyamulenge.

It is here that Stearns makes explicit the pattern we too often ignore in such situations of racism. Each side only remembers the atrocities committed against them, not those they have committed. As a result, each side feels justified in their hatred and thinks nothing of the damage they do in return. Think of race relations in this country. Both whites and blacks have selective memories whenever something comes up.

Mobutu’s foreign enemies needed a Congolese face to head the attempt (which was successful) to remove him from power. They found one of the few domestic enemies that Mobutu hadn’t locked up- aging Communist and eccentric Laurent Kabila. He was crazy, like a fox. They underestimated him. But he would underestimate how hard it would be to rule the Congo.

There is plenty of back story and intrigue in the first part of this book. It could be confusing at times. But the whole story is confusing as seemingly unrelated things all came together to make something greater than their sum. It is a sad, tragic story that reveals the darkest sides of the human condition.

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This 2008 movie offers a different take on the holocaust- that of a child.  This was sort of taken by 1998’s award-winning Life is Beautiful.  It focused on the father, and the lies he told to his son.  That movie was not so beautiful to me as I was struggling in my relationship with my father at the time.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas focuses on the perspective of Bruno as he tries to sort out what is going on in the “farm” behind their new home.  His dad is the new Commandant of the camp.  His father’s parents are split on the morality of the German government.  His father & grandfather basically have a “my country is always right” attitude (which is pretty much always dangerous- as dangerous as the “my country is always wrong” attitude).

Bruno on the swing

Bruno misses his friends and the isolation is difficult for him.  After an accident on the swing, the strange old man who peels potatoes patches up his knee.  In a sad yet amusing discussion (amusing because he tries poorly to put the facts together) he learns this pitiful old man before him used to be a doctor.  (The swing is an important prop in the film and may be a metaphor for his own shifting opinions.)

Bruno disobeys his parents and explores the woods behind the house.  There he discovers Shmuel, a broken little boy on the other side of the fence.  Bruno, hungry for company, keeps returning and slowly building a relationship with the Jewish boy.  He’s oblivious to all that is going in the world at the time.  But he slowly, and painfully, loses that innocence.

Herr Commandant

The longer they live there, the more the family is torn apart over what is happening in the camp.  Bruno’s mom begins to hate what she sees, and the brutality of her people against the Jews.   His older sister, wanting the affection of the handsome yet cruel driver, becomes the perfect Aryan princess.  She has posters of Hitler on the wall as if he were a pop singer.

Bruno begins to see the cruelty, but can’t quite figure it out.  Why did Pavel, the potato-peeling doctor, disappear?  What are they burning over the that smells so bad?  His father lies to him to cover up the truth.

One day Bruno discovers Shmuel cleaning glasses in the house.  He offers a famished Shmuel some food from the table.  It is at this moment that the driver/assistant appears.  Stricken by fear, like any 8 year-old, he lies about knowing and feeding Shmuel.  Little does he understand the gravity of the situation.  Finally he sees a bruised and battered Shmuel again.  There are tears, confessions and … amazingly, forgiveness. (more…)

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