|There seems to be a deep need amongst certain sections of this community to create heroes to promote their own ideas about the iniquities of African governments and parties. Not to say that all is well in the political sphere but we need to address real issues, not convenient fabrications.
Sources and testimonies: A response to Herman and Peterson
2010-07-15, Issue 490
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Responding to Edward Herman and David Peterson's critique of his review of their book, Gerald Caplan continues to challenge the notion that the Rwandan genocide never took place: 'Since the authors and I are never going to agree, the only point of continuing this exchange is not to change each other's minds but to persuade readers whose minds remain open.'Re: Edward Herman and David Peterson's response to my review of their book for Pambazuka News
In 'The Politics of Genocide', authors Edward Herman and David Peterson turn the entire history of the 1994 genocide of Rwanda's Tutsi on its head. They simply deny that it happened and even argue that the Tutsi were the victimisers, not the victims. What would possess a serious left-winger like Edward Herman to deny one of the terrible tragedies of the late 20th century? (I know nothing of David Peterson.) In my review I documented at length just how dishonest and sleazy their arguments were.
Last week Pambazuka published their reply. Since I labelled Herman and Peterson genocide deniers, it was probably inevitable that they'd reciprocate and even up the ante: not only am I the real denier, I'm a genocide facilitator as well. Since I've spent the past decade immersed in genocide prevention – or so I naively thought – this was the unkindest cut of all, or would have been had it come from a serious and credible source.
Since the authors and I are never going to agree, the only point of continuing this exchange is not to change each other's minds but to persuade readers whose minds remain open. There are many issues I wish I could pursue, where the deceitfulness of Herman and Peterson's approach is flagrant:
- Their insistence that the 1990 invasion of Rwanda by the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) rebels was really carried out by the Ugandan army and not by Rwandans who had once served in the Ugandan army
- Their claim that the Gersony report documenting RPF atrocities around the time of the genocide remains suppressed, though my report on the genocide un-suppressed it 10 years ago
- Their reliance on the Hourigan report to assert that the RPF shot down President Habyarimana's plane in 1994, triggering the genocide; but there is no Hourigan report that anyone's seen which would allow the world to judge its credibility
- The completely bogus way they try to prove that the RPF actually killed more Hutu in 1994 than Hutu killed Tutsi
- Their mind-boggling assertion that in Rwanda in 1994, 'the RPF alone were a well-organised military force'
- Their view that Rwanda's genocide denial laws are somehow illegitimate, while such laws are commonplace across Europe and of course in Israel.
But I think it's best to leave these issues to others. I have been told, for example, that Adam Jones, a genocide specialist who has written prolifically on the subject, intends to address some of these matters. I hope others will jump in as well. I'd like to restrict myself here to one overriding issue – the critical matter of sources.
What has always most mystified me about the deniers is how they simply ignore or reject the vast amount of evidence related to the genocide that points inescapably, overwhelmingly, to a single conclusion: A small group of Hutu extremists organised and executed a plot to annihilate all Rwanda's Tutsi, and came close to succeeding. Among those who have studied Rwanda there are many differences of opinion on various issues within this overall finding, but on the main issue there is almost none. That's precisely why it's become the conventional wisdom. But this is not a manufactured conclusion slickly imposed on the world by the mainstream corporate-controlled media. The very opposite is true.
Let me remind readers again about some of the sources for the version of the genocide that is so widely accepted. We can begin with every one of the handful of outsiders who remained in Rwanda throughout all or most of the genocide, all of whom, on the basis of first-hand experience, share the conventional view. Are they all just dupes of Yanqui imperialism, as deniers recklessly label General Roméo Dallaire, head of the UN military mission to Rwanda? Are they all wrong about what they personally witnessed? By coincidence, I had a meeting last week with James Orbinski, a Canadian doctor who entered Rwanda in mid-May and ran the MSF (Médecins sans frontières) operation there for the next six weeks. He was absolutely incredulous that anyone could deny what he saw happening before his eyes, and which he's written about in his book 'An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action in the Twenty-First Century'. Had Orbinski differed from any of the others who had remained – General Dallaire, Phillippe Gaillard of the Red Cross or Carl Wilkens, an Adventist missionary – that would be significant. But isn't it also significant that they all completely agree on the nature of the events they lived through?
Is it not significant that every reporter without exception who spent time in Rwanda during the genocide as well as those who showed up very soon after all agreed on what had occurred? Is there a single outsider, media or otherwise, who witnessed the event and thinks otherwise? How can this not trouble those who repudiate the shared understanding of these witnesses?
In my original review I emphasised the large list of writers on the genocide, from a variety of backgrounds, all of whom accept the conventional version. I named 45 of them, and could have added more. I didn't include those journalists who were actually in the country for part of the genocide, such as Mark Doyle, Nick Hughes and Lindsey Hilsum. I noted that several of today's most vociferous critics of the RPF still accept the reality of the genocide, mentioning Kuperman, Uvin, Prunier, Lemarchand and the late Alison Des Forges (who is shamelessly smeared by Herman and Peterson in a way old Joe McCarthy would have admired).
I could have mentioned others as well, such as Paul Rusesabagina, of Hotel Rwanda fame, who accepts the reality of the genocide despite his weasel words and his hatred of the RPF, or Filip Reyntjens, a rabid RPF-loathing Belgian academic and member of an experts committee named by the Organisation of the African Union to vet my report on the genocide in 2000. Reyntjens, in academic mode, pronounced my draft to be worth about 90 per cent; I was deeply flattered, even reassured. The key findings of that report, 'Rwanda: the preventable genocide', included the existence of a Hutu extremist plot to exterminate all Tutsi, the betrayal and abandonment of the Tutsi by the international community led by France and the US, and the murder by the victorious RPF of perhaps 25,000 to 40,000 non-combatant Hutu before, during and immediately after the genocide.
Are all of these sources, many of whom were witnesses or did original research, to be dismissed out of hand? Is every single one either misguided, deluded, dishonest or a stooge of the Americans?
Let me acknowledge straight out that I made an error in writing that except for two of the 45 writers that I listed, none was cited by Herman and Peterson in their book. As they rightly note in their rebuttal, they actually mentioned seven of the names on this list:
- Gerard Prunier
- Fergal Keane
- Alex de Waal
- Mahmood Mamdani
- William Schabas
- Phillip Gourevitch
- Ingvar Carlsson.
For this foolish error I apologise.
But the slipperiness that characterises so much of Herman and Peterson's scholarship is still very much at play here. For while the seven names can indeed be found in their text – and I should have found them – all are invoked for secondary purposes or, as with de Waal and Mamdani, on Darfur, not on Rwanda at all. It's remarkably brazen of Herman and Thompson to imply that they took these seven authors seriously. They did not.
Let me rephrase my description with precision, as I should have done originally: Every one of these 45 authors (plus those added above) believes that a genocide of the Tutsi took place in Rwanda in 1994, yet this central finding of every one of them is completely ignored and implicitly repudiated by Herman and Peterson. Instead, they rely for their 'evidence' entirely on a small band of like-minded individuals who, often as not, quote each other to bolster their case for rejecting the major conclusions shared by the vast majority of writers on the subject.
Let me also remind readers of the large number of other sources for the genocide, too many for me to even mention here. There are the very large number of survivor testimonies, recounting their unspeakable ordeals during the genocide. Are they all lying? Are they all part of a gigantic conspiracy? When they tell us, as so many do, that they're the only remaining member of a large family, when they describe the rape and torture in vivid detail, are these mere inventions?
Then there are the confessions of large numbers of killers, supplemented by interviews these killers later voluntarily gave to outsiders such as academic Scot Straus and journalist Jean Hatzfeld, and no, it is simply wrong to claim they were all driven by fear of RFP reprisals. There are hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence accumulated by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, describing in great detail how the genocide happened. There is the corroborating testimony of Jean Kambanda, former prime minister of the Hutu extremist government that was orchestrating the genocide. There were the notorious exhortations to hate and murder Tutsi by hate radio RTLM (Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines).
There were the explicit warnings boldly announced by the RTLM and the Kangura newspaper just before the president's plane was shot down that something dramatic was about to happen to him. There were the documented vows of leading Hutu extremists in the Habyarimana government and army that they would never allow the president to implement the Arusha accords; two days before he was murdered he had announced their immediate implementation.
There was the dreaded interahamwe, the ruling Hutu party's wild youth militia who led and carried out so many of the mass slaughters. Were they a figment of everyone's imagination? There are the statements by French soldiers in south-western Rwanda, part of France's Opération Turquoise, expressing their shock that the Hutu they were told were the victims were actually the murderers.
Is every last word of this to be discredited, dismissed, mocked, part of some fantastic American imperialist conspiracy? Are the Rwandan archives that Linda Melvern is mining filled with brilliant forgeries? When Noam Chomsky agreed to write a preface to the Herman–Peterson book, did he know something that allowed him to ignore or disdain all of this evidence?
Fair-minded readers must compare Herman and Peterson's sources with the sources the two men, like all other deniers, choose to ignore. Then you can decide for yourself where credibility lies. This is not a trivial debate. The Rwanda genocide is a landmark of our times. The large majority of scholars who have studied Rwanda have concluded that what happened to the Tutsi in 1994 constituted one of the purest examples of genocide in the 20th century, the 'century of genocide' as it’s often called. To deny the reality of Rwanda is equivalent to denying the Holocaust. Are we all wrong? Have we all been conned by one of the greatest hoaxes of all time? Has American imperialism blinded us all to the hidden truth? Are Herman and Peterson and their small band right and all the rest of us wrong? Follow the evidence and judge for yourself.
2010 United States Social Forum: A summary
2010-07-15, Issue 490
With the United States Social Forum (USSF) concluding last month, Lucy Bamforth explores the range of discussions around the contemporary challenges facing the US's African-American community.The United States Social Forum (USSF) held on 22–26 June 2010 was, by all accounts, a great success with thousands attending. In particular this year’s event attracted many grassroots organisations. In addition, a special initiative to prepare people for the forthcoming World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal, in February 2011 – the Detroit to Dakar initiative – proved to be a great success. Among the many topics this group addresses is that of the discrimination and poverty that affects African-American communities across the US.
Discussions about the current battle for civil rights in America can be seen in seven parts on YouTube. The camera work isn’t fantastic, but the discussions raise some good points about the need for African-Americans to come together to instigate change in their communities and states.
Not every discussion is created equally however. There are exceptional discussions about women’s rights and the work of African-American youths in New Orleans, though part of a discussion led by Black Workers for Justice Chairperson Saladin Muhammad about African-Americans and the economy sounds more like a call to revolutionary uprising than an honest investigation of how African-Americans have been hurt by the economic downturn.
Muhammad raises important points about diversity in the workplace and the need for a labour union that represents the interests of African-American employees, whose experience and history in the workplace deserve the attention of employers. His calls for reparations for African-American victims of Hurricane Katrina are at least worth considering: While it is obvious that Hurricane Katrina hurt every resident of New Orleans regardless of race, the storm exposed the quieted reality that the city had the highest rate of poverty among African-Americans anywhere in the States, rendering them the most vulnerable in the throes of the storm and during the long days after while they waited for aid. In an effort to clean up the wreckage following Katrina, the United States government bulldozed the homes that were beyond repair – many of them in an area of the city home to many low-income African Americans – and moved the inhabitants to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) trailers, some of which were tainted with formaldehyde. That these families deserve reparations from the government is a fair and valid point.
Muhammad’s discussion about the impact of the recession on African-American communities is worth further consideration. The capitalist system works because it exploits the working class, Muhammad reasons, made up in large part by African-Americans. Muhammad suggests that these workers must unite together and cease production of all goods in order to impact the economic system. Such an action could have a serious impact on the economic system and very likely in a harmful way, but the focus should be on improving access to higher education and social programmes to assist low-income African-Americans. It isn’t acceptable that in one of the world’s richest countries 91 per cent of African-Americans will be touched by poverty, but at the same time striving for higher wages is only covering up the larger problem that African-Americans aren’t being given enough opportunities to pursue higher education. A mass national strike is idealistic, but with unemployment rates in the United States touching close to 10 per cent, there is no incentive for employers to improve pay and conditions when they can have their pick of unemployed labourers willing to accept a job.
Efia Nwangaza’s talk about women’s rights, political prisoners and the incarceration of African-American women is certainly worth a listen and her words will likely stay with you long after you’ve closed the browser and walked away from your computer.
Nwangaza begins her discussion by talking about violence against women, socially, economically and politically, both inside the United States and around the world. Violence against women keeps women in a cycle of poverty and has serious implications for her children and her children’s children for decades. While there are conditions that keep women in these positions, Nwangaza argues that African-American communities in the States have dropped the ball in creating programmes and support systems where young African-American women can thrive. Nwangaza doesn’t blame the government or the political system for failing to provide African-American women with opportunities to make a difference, but instead calls upon the community to create opportunities for this community of women.
Nwangaza further goes on to discuss the increased incarceration of African-American women in the American prison system. This group of individuals is currently part of the fastest growing population of prisoners in the system, yet has the least amount of support from their families. When men are imprisoned, argues Nwangaza, their families and friends come out of the woodwork to offer support for their well-being and that of his families throughout his incarceration. Women lack these social supports – their children disappear into the arms of relatives or the foster system and they are left to look after their own health in systems built to look after the well-being of male prisoners. This has to change, says Nwangaza, as women play a vital role in instigating social and political change, and yet stand a chance of facing time in prison for doing so.
The segment about African-American youth is worth watching, not necessarily for thought-provoking discussion but to see the comparison of issues that African-American youth are fighting to change compared to what the current leaders of the movement are fighting for. The segment is more of an update on the actions of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) by one of the group’s members than a discussion about the issues that African-American youth face in Obama’s America. Chief among those issues is that of the return of African-American residents to New Orleans, an issue tied into Saladin Muhammad’s calls for reparations for the way the government has handled post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.
There is also a call for land reclamation, an issue that could perhaps get entangled in an argument for better access to higher education and the economy. ‘Land reclamation’ here refers to physically taking back public housing structures that have been repossessed by banks and are being resold to private buyers. These structures once belonged to African-Americans, argues the speaker – whose name is never mentioned and who doesn’t appear to be on USSF’s event programme for the annual meeting – and are now being sold to private buyers instead of being given back to the people from whom they were taken. This programme is called Take Back the Land and has had successful campaigns waged against Miami and currently has a campaign running in Washington DC, though how long that will continue for is debatable: the local police force doesn’t appear to be pleased by MXGM’s presence on the disputed plot of land.
If anything, these USSF discussions demonstrate the need to carry on the fight for equality. Segregation may be a long-forgotten practice and the country may have an African-American president, but there will always be a need for change.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Lucy Bamforth is a recent journalism and history graduate from Carleton University.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
2010-07-08, Issue 489
With rumours circulating that when the World Cup is over, foreigners will be expelled from South Africa, Glen Ashton asks whether xenophobia is the right word to describe the country’s attitude towards immigrants. ‘A close examination of purported xenophobic outbreaks of violence shines the spotlight on some of our most intractable problems, that of economic marginalisation’ writes Ashton. South Africa is dealing not with xenophobia, but the consequences of ‘poverty and the lack of progressive economic transformation since 1994’, Ashton argues.Rumours are circulating that when the World Cup is over, foreigners will be expelled. But surely it must be clear by now that South Africa has long been a melting pot and that our immigrant population is here to stay?
We must ask ourselves whether xenophobia is perhaps just a label we have slapped on a phenomenon that has been inadequately analysed or understood. Are our beliefs around xenophobia perhaps just lazy thinking?
Do we really collectively hate outsiders to the extent that we are willing to murder them, loot their businesses and homes and go so far as to set them on fire? Have immigrants not historically contributed significantly to building our nation? This is a situation that obviously needs to be more thoroughly examined.
Were we a truly xenophobic nation then the phenomenon would manifest across all sectors of the population – across different races, different classes and different neighbourhoods. Given our history, surely there would be a trend or association between racism and xenophobia? Surely the old National Party supporters would be xenophobic, given that they were racists? After all, apartheid was built on fear and distrust of ‘the other.’
But these supposed outbreaks of xenophobia occur exclusively within one stratum of society – in poor, black communities. This fact alone provides a huge clue that we are not looking at xenophobia per se, but a rather more nuanced phenomenon.
South Africa has attracted huge numbers of immigrants, estimated at between three and eight million people. We also know that many of our own people have moved around the country to a degree that was practically impossible during apartheid times.
Most immigrants are political or economic refugees with little option but to seek accommodation wherever it is cheapest. This is usually in the squatter camps and informal settlements around the margins of our established towns and cities.
Here, new arrivals find themselves cheek by jowl with the poorest locals who are often internal migrants, seeking better prospects for themselves and their families on the margins of the new South Africa.
Frustration and desperation are prevalent amongst this poorly educated, often rural and disempowered population, whose lives remain largely isolated from state intervention, in the midst of a uniquely unequal society. Frustrations sometimes surface in the form of protests against a lack of ‘service delivery.’ The longer our poor and marginalised remain ignored, the more frequent and violent these protests are bound to become.
Within these communities, immigrants are perceived as being relatively successful. Many, like the Somalis, have created a niche by providing relatively upmarket ‘spaza superettes’ in informal settlements. This has resulted in alleged police shakedowns and staggering incidences of murders and robberies. Consequently, local spaza shop owners have been implicated in stirring antipathy against Somalis.
Similar dynamics exist amongst Zimbabweans, who comprise our largest sector of immigrants and refugees, fleeing the meltdown in their homeland. Zimbabweans, like other immigrants, have often had the benefit of better education, giving them a competitive edge. They vie against locals for scarce jobs, often settling for lower wages. So, too, with other immigrant populations who will settle for less as car guards, labourers and employment in other low paid, menial work.