Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Navel Gazing and Genocide

An important point in my education about how craven the media often is came in the late 1990s. Back in 1994 I had been perfectly aware in real time that a genocide was happening in Rwanda. Samantha Power later documented the efforts of the international community and the American government not to know (see her excellent A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (P.S.) ), but regular people such as myself, we knew. Then, about three months after the genocide began, there were suddenly gigantic refugee camps across the border in Congo, most famously at Goma. TV crews, NGOs, and all manner of Western compassion. Israel, ever eager to be part of such outpourings of sympathy, sent an entire field hospital, along with a government minsiter, Yossie Sarid, who stood in front of our cameras and told how the Jewish State wouldn't stand idle in face of such persecution and suffering.

A few years later, I read the harrowing but profoundly important We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, by Philip Gourevitch. Beyond the general horror of the tale, I was also horrified to learn that the suffering people in those refugee camps... had been the perpetrators and their families, fleeing from the victorious Tutsi army that had put an end to the genocide. The victims of the genocide were dead, you see, and couldn't congregate by their hundreds of thousands in refugee camps.

How had the entire world got it so extraordinarily wrong, I asked myself in disbelief?How idiotic had we been?

The answer, I suppose, was that no-one cared. It's only Africans, after all.

In the years since then I've been aware - and have even commented on this blog - that mass murder on a horrific scale is taking place in the Congo. Millions of people have been murdered, probably no less than 4,000,000. This month there appears to be a lull in the killing, but earlier this year - that's 2009 - the killing was in full throttle. Not that you'd know it unless you really wanted to, and knew where to look. The media would not be the place to look, with the partial exception of the Economist, and, with lots of patience, the NYT.

Howard W. French has read three recent books on the topic, and summarizes their findings for us at the New York Review of Books.

Although it has been strangely ignored in the Western press, one of the most
destructive wars in modern history has been going on in the Democratic Republic
of Congo, Africa's third-largest country. During the past eleven years millions
of people have died, while armies from as many as nine different African
countries fought with Congolese government forces and various rebel groups for
control of land and natural resources. Much of the fighting has taken place in
regions of northeastern and eastern Congo that are rich in minerals such as
gold, diamonds, tin, and coltan, which is used in manufacturing electronics.

He puts the number of dead (so far) at 5.4 million, which means we're talking about magnitudes unseen since WWII, and tragically comparable, too. Beyond the sheer horror of the story, a depressing aspect is that if we're to believe the three authors, the limited media that does notice the events has them wrong, again. The Tutsi forces are instigating much of the killing. The genocide of 1994 wasn't the first; there was an earlier one in the 1970s, with 300,000 dead Hutu in Burundi. And so on.

I don't know who's right and who's wrong. I can't say if perhaps there's a side to the conflict which is bad, and another side that is fiendishly worse. My mind boggles at the possibility that everyone is equally right and wrong, culprits and victims according to the decade you choose to look at. I don't think history works that way. But I admit I don't have the tools to sort it out; nor are some of the witnesses being cited, NGOs such as Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, credible reporters. We know how unreliable they can be.

The Apartheid regime in South Africa was despicable, and the world community eventually helped topple it. But it was nothing compared to this. Alas, the people suffering in the Congo are Africans being murdered by Africans deep in the Jungle. Nothing the world needs to care about. Matter of fact, nothing the world needs even to try to decipher.


Victor said...

Yaakov, easy with the guilt there. We Americans elected a black President precisely so that no one could ever accuse us of racist indifference again. I expect you to abide by this formula and...

Wait, there's new, previously UNSEEN footage of Michael Jackson's nose! i gotta run! bye!

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

The Apartheid regime in South Africa was despicable, and the world community eventually helped topple it. But it was nothing compared to this.

But then why did the world obsessively focus on South Africa, and not on the much worse regimes around it?

Oh, I see the reason: plain old antisemitism.

Anonymous said...

Victor - I think more Americans voted for Obama than voted for McCain because more thought Obama would do a better job than McCain. I believe for the overwhelming majority of Americans, the presidential campaign transcended race. Even so, that doesn't mean race is completely gone as an issue in America, although there have been major improvements in my lifetime.

Yaacov - I don't think the world's disinterest in post WWII Africa is any different than its disinterest in the genocides in Cambodia, China, the USSR, or the wars in Algeria, Iran-Iraq, and Columbia. Even the break-up of Yugoslavia was difficult for most American to sustain an interest. If a group does not have an outside advocate, then there is no one to generate an interest. South Africa was an oppression of whites on black, and at least in America, the cause was championed by the Black community. Just as Israel is championed by Jews around the world.


This Is Hell said...

In a recent report, Oxfam noted that because of their very own obsession with all things Jewish, their fundraising for EVERYTHING else has fallen off. Similarly when all the world's NGOs want to wipe Israel off the map and gas the survivors, it's hard to mount a meaningful effort to get the mobs worked up to do anything else. My suggestion to them would be declare one African party or another 'Zionist' and then they could demand whatever it is they usually demand when it comes to humanitarian pogroms.

Anonymous said...

Supposed "the world" were eager to stop that horrible war: Is there an organised group in Congo which wants to end the race murders and topple the regime in favour of a less corrupt and maybe even less dictatorial government? A group which would welcome an intervention and cooperate with forces from the outside?

If not: What chance of success would there be for such an intervention, especially if it were of a temporary nature?


Alex Bensky said...

For goodness sake, Ya'acov, we have to have priorities. How can we pay much attention to the deaths of a few million Africans when more important outrages, such as a few Arab families being evicted from their homes for non-payment of rent, still occur?