Reflections on Ghosts of Rwanda

By Juan Carlos Morales

On Wednesday, June 20, the Latino Leadership Circle hosted the second movie of its film series, the documentary “Ghosts of Rwanda” at the American Bible Society.  The documentary describes the progressing military conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi people in Rwanda and the resulting genocide of the Tutsi and Tutsi sympathizers in the spring and summer of 1994.  Conservative estimates put the death toll of the genocide at around 500,000 while most put it between 800,000 to 1,000,000. 

Undoubtedly, “Ghosts of Rwanda” is powerful.  Its graphic imagery (which may not be appropriate for children) and use of first-hand accounts of survivors and interviews with UN Secretary General Kofi Anan, Secretary of State Madeline Albright and other key players in the international community puts the viewer quite close to the events in Rwanda and in the decision-making centers of the world.  The documentary clearly places the blame for the atrocities on the Western nations and particularly on the United States and the Clinton Administration.  It was, however, amazing to see how time and time again, small acts of courage and love of certain individuals were enough to prevent more horrendous violence from occurring; if only that truth would have been realized and acted upon by the great powers.

After the film the group shared on how we were impacted.  We asked, what does it say about our humanity if we are all capable of such violence, such indifference but also such virtue?  What is it like to look evil in the face?  How is it that violence and conflict can create so many grey areas (to the point where we must contemplate the idea of “negotiating with the devil”, as one UN officer put it)?  Is genocide limited to the physical?  What are other types of genocides that occur?  We also discussed the current genocide taking place in the Darfur region of the Sudan.  The main question being, “how can the church in the United States respond”?

By not responding in Rwanda because of economic interests (or lack thereof) we became complicit in the genocide then; by not responding to Darfur we are complicit in the genocide occurring now.  Of course, there is more economic interest in the Sudan so the likelihood that the United States will get involved is greater (although China’s relationship with the Sudanese government is always a factor in the situation).  But even in such an involvement, how do we balance or negotiate our role as a Church in calling for an end to a very real genocide with the high likelihood of exploitation of natural and economic resources that will likely be part of any kind of intervention?  We can argue that this is simply the way things are in the world but does that change the fact that indeed we may be asking the devil to help us get the devil out?

In this vein I would also ask, what role does our faith, our economic assumptions and values play in contributing to an economic system that has the power to hurt and kill millions around the world through indifference or outright aggression?  What is the role of the church that is part of an economic system which has been and can continue to be complicit in these and other atrocities?  And, while a judgmental finger can be pointed at the Hutus in Rwanda, are we (the United States) not now and have we not been since the first Gulf War also been engaging in genocidal actions against the people of Iraq where over 1 million people, mostly women and children, have died because of our policies?  How are we contributing?  How can we be agents for change?  Truly it is a troubling, conflicting, existential paradox to be a Christian in Babylon.

LLC