The Politics of Genocide – Two

In his 2006 textbook, Genocide: A Critical Introduction, the Canadian academic Adam Jones admits to having been "severely shaken by the holocaust in Rwanda in 1994;" he even titled one of this textbook’s chapters "Holocaust in Rwanda." 

But, Jones adds, what happened in Rwanda 1994 in many ways was worse than Nazi Germany’s attack on the Jewish population of Europe.  "The killing [in Rwanda] proceeded much faster than the slaughter of the Jews," Jones writes; "killed a higher proportion of the designated victim group (some 80 percent of the Rwandan Tutsis versus two-thirds of European Jews); was carried out by ‘a chillingly effective organizational structure that would implement the political plan of genocide more efficiently than was achieved by the industrialized death camps in Nazi Germany’; and—unlike the Jewish catastrophe—featured intensive participation in killing duties by the mass of the general population."[1]


I find Jones’s comparison between the "holocaust" and events in Rwanda 1994 to be strangely revealing—but about Jones, not Rwanda.  To me, it betrays an emotional, self-dramatizing, even defensive attachment to the "Holocaust in Rwanda"—that is, to a particular model for discussing events in Rwanda during 1994—that appears to overwhelm everything Jones thinks and writes about it.  Indeed.  "The Genocide" in Rwanda stands out in Jones’s work (and in the work of many others) as a kind of fetishized, supra-historical entity in its own right.[2]  Not unlike the auto-genocidal alien race of Krells in the sci-fi flick Forbidden Planet, whose Id-generated beasts eliminated the Krell in one fitful night many eons ago, when writers on Rwanda attribute agency to "The Genocide" (e.g., "The Genocide" did suchandsuch.[3]), I know they’ve left real-world analysis behind.


One month ago, Adam Jones became the latest member of the ever-expanding field of "Genocide Studies" to express his displeasure with Edward S. Herman’s and my treatment of the "Rwandan Genocide" in our little book, The Politics of Genocide.[4]  We’ve finally gotten around to responding to Jones (see "Adam Jones on Rwanda and Genocide: A Reply," ZNet, August 14, 2010.)  As Ed and I note in the conclusion to our response, the historian René Lemarchand uses the phrase "politically correct interpretation of the genocide" to refer to what we call the standard model of the "Rwandan Genocide," one that a majority of historians defend even in the face of massive evidence to the contrary.


But I believe Lemarchand’s real point ought to be expressed somewhat differently, as a warning about the high level of fear that haunts the halls of "Genocide Studies," where academics are too scared to be right, if it means swimming against the current of prevailing historiography, and where vulgar accusations of "revisionism" and "denial" are the weapons of choice wielded by their ideologically-driven opponents to defend their turf (as well as their professional lives) and to enforce party-lines—never more vigorously than when their past misinterpretations of events are at stake.  Conformism is perhaps even more widespread among intellectuals as a class than any other segment of the human population.  (Except perhaps among military personnel, religious orders, and the like—then it’s a tie.)


In the case of Rwanda (no less than the former Yugoslavia), the "correct interpretation" turns out to be the one that is politically aligned with Washington, and that gets the relevant agents and events so badly upside-down, it has added several million victims across Central Africa whose lives might have been sparred, had the true nature of Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front been reported accurately between 20 and 16 years ago (the earlier, the better, though the focus directed at the regime of the Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana diverted attention away from the RPF), and its foreign sponsors stopped it in its tracks, rather than urged it onward.


— David Peterson
Chicago, USA


  —- Endnotes —-


  [1] Adam Jones, Genocide: A Critical Introduction (New York: Routledge, 2006), "Is the Jewish Holocaust ‘uniquely unique’?" pp. 162-163.  Note that Jones takes his quote from Nicholas Wheeler, Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).
  [2] As René Lemarchand observes (speaking "baldly"): "Jews did not invade Germany with the massive military and logistical support of a neighboring state; nor did they once rule Germany as the political instrument of an absolute monarchy; nor were they identified with a ruling ethnocracy; nor did Jewish elements commit a partial genocide of non-Jews in a neighboring state twenty-two years before the Holocaust.  Again, Jews did not stand accused of murdering the head of state of a neighboring state (as happened in Burundi with the assassination of Melchior Ndadaye in October 1993).  And though Jews were insistently accused by the Nazi propaganda mill of working hand in hand with Bolshevism to subvert the state, at no time did their actions, within or outside Germany, lend the slightest credibility to these accusations.  Immensely more threatening was the military posture of the RPF [Rwandan Patriotic Front] on the eve of the Rwandan genocide."  The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), Ch. 8,"Rwanda and the Holocaust Reconsidered," pp. 109-128; here p. 111.  Here—in contrast to the standard model for Rwanda 1994—I must add that the RPF’s immensely threatening military posture "on the eve of the Rwandan genocide" would be fully realized over the course of the next 100 days and beyond.
  [3] The same tendency to fetishize historical agents and events, and in this case to conceptualize the nature and dynamics of political violence in terms of an agentive "Genocide," can also be found in a ton of commentary on, and artistic uses of, the civil wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the first-half of the 1990s.  See, e.g., Borough of Manhattan Community College (CUNY) Professor Naida Zukic’s discussion of her digital performance piece, "Weight of Meaninglessness,” in her college’s press release on this work, "‘I Don’t Want To Be Seen As A Victim’," November 13, 2009.  
  [4] For the relevant texts, see Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, The Politics of Genocide (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010), especially the section "Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo," pp. 51-68 (reprinted as "Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Propaganda System," Monthly Review 62, no. 1, May, 2010).  Also see Gerald Caplan, "The Politics of denialism: The strange case of Rwanda.  Review of ‘The Politics of Genocide’," Pambazuka News (No. 486), June 17, 2010; Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, "Genocide Denial and Genocide Facilitation: Gerald Caplan and The Politics of Genocide," MRZine, July 4, 2010; Adam Jones, "On genocide deniers: Challenging Herman and Peterson," Pambazuka News (No. 490), July 15, 2010; and Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, "Adam Jones on Rwanda and Genocide: A Reply," ZNet, August 14, 2010.


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