Reading Great Literature on Genocide
I told a friend, recently, that I have read “We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families” of Philip Gourevitch several times, year after year — perhaps even more than enough — and it sounded, of course, somewhat weird. You know that kind of reaction you get when the other person thinks that maybe there is something wrong with you. But the truth is that books like Philip’s do not exist just for us to be aware of their writing and the stories they tell. Books written on delicate subjects, such as genocide, help us examine deeper what humanity is capable of and what it means to be at the centre of conflicts.
Reading Philip’s poignant account again this year, I found a more compelling way to explain what genocide ideology means, as opposed to what audiences are presented with through political speeches or complex scholarly exposés:
The pygmy in Gikongoro said that humanity is part of nature and that we must go against nature to get along and have peace. But mass violence, too, must be organized; it does not occur aimlessly. Even mobs and riots have a design, and great and sustained destruction requires great ambition. It must be conceived as the means toward achieving a new order, and although the idea behind that new order may be criminal and objectively very stupid, it must also be compellingly simple and at the same time absolute. The ideology of genocide is all of those things, and in Rwanda it went by the bald name of Hutu Power. For those who set about systematically exterminating an entire people — even a fairly small and unresisting subpopulation of perhaps a million and a quarter men, women, and children, like the Tutsis in Rwanda — blood lust surely haps. But the engineers and perpetrators of a slaughter like the one just inside the door where I stood need not enjoy the killing, and they may even find it unpleasant. What is required above all is that they want their victims dead. They have to want it so badly that they consider it a necessity.
Sometimes getting back to reading a book one has read before opens a new perspective, especially when a mind is still enjoying the process of growth. This is what has been happening to me every time I have read We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, and a few others on my list of books that helps me understand history and its significance on our lives today.
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