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Almost Rwanda?

Published Mar 08, 2013 08:59am

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“But mass violence too must be organised: it does not occur aimlessly. Even mobs and riots have a design and great sustained destruction requires great ambition.”

-Philip Gourevitch ‘Stories from Rwanda’

According to Article II of the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, genocide means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such:

a)    Killing members of the group. b)    Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group. c)    Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about it its physical destruction in whole or in part. d)    Imposing measures to prevent births within the group. e)    Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

In the dejected aftermath of yet another bombing, that has devastated yet another community, set fire to Karachi yet again and left another deep welt of unheard cries, untended wounds and absent answers, it makes sense to consider the definition above. Definitions are useful in such times, in that they provide some clarity, however momentary to a situation whose chaotic horror threatens to cripple the most reasonable.

According to figures compiled by TIME Magazine, over 300 Shias have been killed in the past two months, which means about five Shias killed every day of the year 2013.  Many of the killings have taken place via bombings, the devastating one that targeted Hazara in Quetta and the brazen one that blew the front of a building in Karachi’s Abbas Town.

Almost 10 years ago, in April 1994 ethnic enmity between two warring groups, the Hutus and the   Tutsis of Rwanda, broke out in some of the worst violence that the world has ever seen. The genocide began following the April 6, 1994 killing of President Habyarimana who was killed in a plane explosion. Rwandan Tutsis who made up approximately 15 per cent of the population bore the brunt of the extermination. According to the BBC, in the period from April to July 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates were killed by the Hutu Power group. Their bodies were left littered all across the towns and villages in the country, many of them unburied, because there was no one to bury them.

Things are not to that point in Pakistan yet. We can emphasise the lower death counts, the absence of pervasive community level involvement and other details to console ourselves and to distinguish the Pakistani case from that of the Rwandans. At the same time, there are comparisons whose similarity and brutality suggest an urgency with which Pakistanis must consider the question of sectarian violence beyond simply the paeans of denunciations and protests. The first of these are the mechanisms of fear that were employed by the Hutu Power militia to make every single Hutu complicit in the killing of the Tutsis. According to survivor accounts, presented in Philip Gourevitch’s book “We wish to inform you that tomorrow you will be killed with your families” the idea was that if someone wasn’t killing they would say “Hey he might denounce us later. He must kill, everyone must help kill at least one person” The impetus to be united in extermination was helped along by the presence of a large, uneducated peasant population that had never before experienced any kind of power. In the words of one survivor, “you take a poor ignorant population and give them arms and say “It’s yours kill,” they’ll obey.”

While the foot soldiers of genocide were poor, the architects unsurprisingly were rich, educated and powerful. One of the most chilling accounts in Gourevitch’s book is the following letter written by Tutsis looking for protection to the Pastor of their Church. It is quoted in part below:

“Our dear leader Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana,

“How are you! We wish you to be strong in all these problems we are facing. We wish to inform you that we have heard that tomorrow we will be killed with all our families. We therefore, request you to intervene on our behalf and talk to the Mayor.”

The intervention never came, the Pastor did nothing and the hundreds who had taken refuge in the Church were killed, those who survived were left to suffer for the night and then killed again the next morning after their killers had rested. In the Rwandan genocide, both sides were Christian and yet, the Hutus and their leaders had manipulated religious doctrine enough to convince themselves that the people they hated deserved to be killed, and that no future for the country was possible without such killing. Soldiers and police who could have protected the victims turned on them, first doing nothing at all and then encouraging the ordinary people to kill. Desperately poor, Hutus were promised incentives such as food, money or most of all, the land that belonged to their Tutsi neighbors in return for the killing.

In Rwanda, the world did not notice until it was too late. As is the nature of ethnic conflict and increasingly with sectarian conflict, the international community seemed to consider the issue one pertinent only to Rwanda. The United Nations withdrew its troops after 10 soldiers were killed by Hutu rebels.

In the turn of time that Pakistan inhabits, it seems that we are on the brink of great change; but the quality or content of that change seems indeterminate, stuck in a flux determined by one day by the numbers of dead and another by apathetic millions. Pakistan is not Rwanda, and if the scale of killing and number of casualties are the basis for comparison then indeed, the drive to purify and exterminate via the killing of all who are different is not yet an oath that all Pakistanis have taken. At the same time, a turn away from intolerance, from killing and from witnessing constant injustice and the inalterable helplessness that belongs to Pakistan is to consider the stories of others who did not realise, in the moments just before, how bloody the future could be.

 


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Rafia Zakaria is a columnist for DAWN. She is a writer and PhD candidate in Political Philosophy whose work and views have been featured in the New York Times,  Dissent the Progressive, Guernica, and on Al Jazeera English, the BBC, and National Public Radio. She is the author of Silence in Karachi, forthcoming from Beacon Press.

 


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.