Unfathomable. How could this happen?

When news reached beyond Rwanda’s borders, I (like so many others) fumbled over the question, in horror and disbelief, how could this happen? How do neighbors turn against neighbors? How does one group of people look with such disdain on another group of people that even innocent infants and children should, must, be killed? And many of these former neighbors, now objects of hate, are not merely murdered but humiliated, tortured, brutalized, maimed, and then slaughtered. 

Yes. Behind the 100 days of unfathomable horror in 1994—genocide, resulting in the death of 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu sympathizers—lies a complicated history of politics fueling division and racism that goes back generations. But the story I read, the personal account of one college student who survived, did not delve into the complicated history of her homeland to unravel those details. Instead, she recalls the events as you and I might…not as a political activist or a camouflaged racist, but as a person with hopes and dreams, loves and family, doing regular everyday things. She recalls the beauty of her homeland, the house her parents built, and favorite spots of childhood exploration. She recounts the joy of family together, childhood friends from elementary schoolyard to college dorms, and community celebratory BBQs. (Well, okay, maybe not BBQs. Apparently, they do feasts in Rwanda. But you get the idea). 

Unfathomable. How could this happen? Yes, there were pockets of visible discrimination against the Tutsis, but societies always have fringe folks who hold onto bigotry and blame, hatred and violence. But what inspires a former family friend to boast of killing 399 while declaring that youwould be the perfect #400? What motivates a successful businessman, known for wearing expensive suits and having impeccable manners, to chop off the appendages of a former neighbor friend? What provokes a Protestant pastor to mock and demand the killing of a man who, having just been humiliated and tortured and is about to be chopped to death with a machete, is praying for his attackers and asking God to forgive them? How could this happen? It happened because…  

  • Leaders dehumanized groups of people, name calling and making them scapegoats for all sorts of social ails. 
  • Leaders emboldened the community to defend themselves, take justice and freedom into their own hands. 
  • Leaders condoned forming mobs, and with unanimity, and a sort of mob-induced anonymity, former friends and neighbors did unfathomable horrors to fellow human beings.

As an American citizen, I beg: Wake up, America! Reject the dehumanization of your neighbors regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, etc. We can disagree without hatred and violence. We can create, and enforce good, reasonable laws without stereotyping and demonizing entire groups of people. 

As a follower of Jesus, I cry: Wake up, church! Stop making excuses for, and tolerating and promoting, the dehumanization of fellow created beings, people made in the image of the God we claim to serve. Perfect love casts out fear; but fear casts out love. Don’t succumb to fear.  

A few remarks to consider:

  • “We will no longer have to compete for jobs with cockroaches. With no little cockroaches, there will be plenty of space for Hutu children in our schools. “ – acting President of Rwanda during genocide (Tutsis were regularly referred to as cockroaches and snakes)
  • “When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best…They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists..." – Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump during his presidential announcement speech.
  • “You know, to be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.” – Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Presidential Campaign
  • “White people are potential humans—they have not evolved yet.” Louis Farrakhan, among other things, leader of the Nation of Islam religious group
  • “Love your enemies…Pray for those who persecute you…Be like God, your Father, who shows kindness to ungrateful and evil men.” – Jesus (His Kingdom Manifesto, AKA Sermon on the Mount)
  • “Does this boy think that he’s a preacher? I am the pastor around here, and I bless this killing. I bless you for ridding this country of another cockroach.”  -- Karera, Hutu and Protestant pastor at the murder of Damascene 
  • “I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in…”– Jerry Falwell, Jr. influential evangelical Christian, President of Liberty College, a “Christian” college (his comments evoked wild applause from the students )
  • “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” – Jesus (betrayed, humiliated, beaten, hanging on a Roman cross)