This is a throwback post to my Reflections on Rwanda Genocide Study Trip in May 2012
In May 2012, I travelled on the Reflections on Rwanda program, a two-week trip for Canadian students to visit the Republic of Rwanda and study the genocide that occurred there in 1994. The purpose for studying genocide is to gain insight into human nature through studying the extremes in human action. Listening to the stories of rescuers and survivors prompts me to study the virtues required to affirm the sanctity of human persons.
Confronting profound evil is a difficult experience that challenges my faith. We toured dozens of memorial sites throughout the country. Many of these sites were former churches where people had fled seeking refuge and peace. At each site, we saw hundreds of skulls and bones of victims. Looking at those skulls and bones, I thought about my own skull and my own bones. I thought about how these bones and skulls fall short of truly representing the victims. What the skulls and bones do emphasize is equality, but what they deemphasize is individuality. When I observed a display with rosaries and identity cards among the skulls, it made me think about the dynamism of the life that once animated those bodies that were so violently destroyed.
Yesterday when I was visiting the Houston Holocaust Museum, I saw the map above.
The first thing that struck me about this map is that it has Rovno on it. Rovno is where my grandfather was born. It’s not always on maps of central Europe, just as it hasn’t always been on the map for me until I began to take a greater interest in his story.
The other thing that comes to mind whenever I visit Holocaust Museums now is that, looking at the maps, I now know how to correctly pronounce the names of many of the places that I wouldn’t have dared to attempt pronouncing just a few years ago.
This morning I read Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1973 short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.”
The story is about an idyllic town, flourishing with music, processions, decorations, horses, abundant food, flowers, bells, and so on.
The only trouble is that, in order to sustain all of this revelry and satisfaction, one child must be kept trapped in a small broom closet with no light, malnourished, naked, covered in sores, and sitting in its own excrement.
We read that, “this is usually explained to children when they are between eight and twelve, whenever they seem capable of understanding.”
Nine years ago today, I was visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial during the Reflections on Rwanda study trip.
Both at the museum, and then at numerous genocide sites we visited throughout the country, there was a room filled with the skulls and bones of victims.
What is the value of such genocide education where new generations see the bodies of victims of in this way?
For me, it was quite dramatic. I don’t think I had ever seen real human skulls before. Knowing the reasons for these ones being on permanent display heightened the intensity.
Today is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day and I’ve been reading through Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story: A Personal Account of the Armenian Genocide while eating some Armenian snacks from my Ararat Box.
Genocide is a weighty word and the recognition of it implies our moral responsibility not to be bystanders to the egregious evils of which we admit being aware.
During the First World War, Henry Morgenthau, a German-born Jewish American was serving as the the fourth 4th US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.
As ambassador, he did his utmost to try to reason with the Ottoman authorities, to stop the genocide, and to implore the U.S. government on behalf of the Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians who were being persecuted and massacred.
Tomorrow, April 7th, is Genocide against the Tutsi Memorial Day.
Nine years ago, I participated in the Reflections on Rwanda program to study this genocide, especially through encountering rescuers and survivors and listening to their stories.
Some of my family and friends were not sure why I wanted to go on a genocide study a trip.
I even met a professor (of Genocide Studies, no less) who described travelling to the sites of historical genocides as voyeurism.
It was on this date six years ago that Islamists beheaded 21 Coptic Christians along the beach in Libya.
I have been thinking about this all day and remembering the video footage that is seared in my memory.
What difference is it making?
What does the martyrdom of these Copts have to do with us today?
To this question, I found an extraordinary piece published today by Lord David Alton.
It took far too long in our globalized, hyperconnected, twenty-first century for the world to become alarmed about the genocide committed against Yazidis and other minorities.
In 2016, the House of Commons unanimously passed a motion recognizing the genocide and pledging to provide asylum to Yazidis. An ancient people indigenous to Upper Mesopotamia compose a fledging new minority here in Canada.