In the spring of 1994, the Hutus of Rwanda turned on the Tutsis and within 100 days murdered almost 800,000 of them. "Why?" They asked. For being Tutsis?
They probably asked God: "Why would such a thing happen?" Is that not the universal plea?
The question was the same as the one asked 50 years earlier when six million Jews were murdered. "Why?" they asked. For being Jews?
The question coming out of the concentration camps was "Why God? Where were you?"
Answers were sought. How could God allow such horror? I remember one of the attempts to answer such a profound question.
Perhaps God lifted His gaze, just for a nano-second and looked upward, toward the future or to the other side of the universe-for just a nano-second and in that time the people were massacred.
Maybe that happened in Rwanda, too.
But I don't think so. God in His infinite compassion would never permit such a thing. It wasn't God. It was humanity. From the Nazi killing machine throughout Europe to Rwanda there was what Thomas Aquinas called an Ignorantia Affectata. "A willful lack of knowledge designed to protect one from the harm so useful that one protects it, keeps it from the light, in order to continue using it."
There was a lack of desire to aid Rwanda. Canadian General Dallair, in charge of the UN Peace keeping troops sent a warning when weaponry arrived in Rwanda from Belgium, France, and the United Kingdom, meant of course for good intentions.
Human Rights Watch called on the world to use the word "genocide" -- a term which would have legally obliged the UN to act. Yet, the US and UN security council voted on Day 12 of the massacre to remove 90% of the peacekeeping force in Rwanda. There were no soldiers for war.
Day 25 of the massacre: "Be careful... a genocide finding could commit us to actually 'do something.' US defence department discussion paper warns."
Day 45 the UN finally asks the US to provide 50 armoured personnel carriers. They argue for weeks over who will pay for them. The carriers don't arrive until July.
Day 65 as the killings continued, the French government continued to supply weapons through eastern Zaire (DR Congo). President Francois Mitterrand said, "In such countries, genocide is not too important." (Reported in the newspaper Le Figaro.)
Rather reminiscent of the world response to the elimination of Jews from Europe.
A desire not to know, an intentional "bystander."
And now we come back to the world today.
What have you heard about Burma, Tibet, Northern Cyprus? Even less than Syria, North Korea, Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Don't look. Pretend it's not happening-or pretend that efforts at peace will work-if we just give it enough time. Rwanda took more than 100 days. The Jewish people waited five years. Syria has been in conflagration for three years. Talk. Talk. Talk. Well maybe there will be talk. But then who's listening. The media? There is a certain presence of an absence in far too many hot spots.
We are cultivating that Ignorantia Affectata which is just a slip down the slope to the banality of evil where it becomes easier to turn away from the cries of those in places neither glamourous nor easy to access.
I last wrote about Burma in August 2013. According to reports in February 2014, it seems nothing has changed. Why would it when the facts about Muslim ghettos, "de facto open-air prisons" ghettos are kept hidden.
Religious intolerance against the Muslim Rohingya minority and Christians from the Chin and Kachin minorities continues despite the pleas of a dozen former Nobel Peace laureates urging "an international, independent investigation of the anti-Muslim violence in Burma" June 2013.
According to the The U.N Human Rights Council "from inside Tibet and from Tibetan-populated counties of Chinese provinces regularly cite cases of Chinese security forces firing on unarmed Tibetans protesting Beijing's rule, of the beating and torture of Tibetan prisoners, and of other abuses."
You probably haven't heard about this. There seems to be a dearth of reports from Tibet. Perhaps because "China has not complied with these requests" from U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay to "allow special rapporteurs--experts charged with reporting to the U.N. on special areas of concern--to visit and observe conditions in Tibet."
Are you even aware that Northern Cyprus has been under illegal occupation by Turkey since 1974? Did you read about "systemic human rights abuses against Greek Cypriots , ethnic cleansing from ancestral homes or that 200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees have been prevented from returning to their homes and lands and 162,000 colonists have been illegally transferred to the occupied area by Turkey to alter the demography of the island"?
I guess this story isn't sexy.
And then there are the continuing horror stories out of Syria. And what is the world doing? It seems we declare red lines and then ignore them and we watch. Or not watch as the case may be. Yet, there are 2 million refugees, more than half of them children, two million others displaced within the country and an estimated 11,420 children killed. And starvation is rampant.
Syria is another country where access is difficult. Satellite imagery is used to document the destruction: of buildings. The Global Heritage Fund's director of Global Projects, Dan Thompson said: "All of the country's world heritage sites have sustained damage, including the Unesco site cities, and a great many of the other monuments in the country have been damaged, destroyed or have been subject to severe looting."
And then there is Northern Korea. Slavery, starvation, mass murder. Yet we get our reports from Dennis Rodman. We all heard about Kim Jung-un's birthday party but nothing about human rights abuses until mid-February when the UN came out with its report-that took a year to collate.
Can you imagine how these innocent victims would feel if they knew the time talking heads spend on reporting about a peace deal between a democracy and an autocratic theocracy while they suffer from war, hunger, torture, devastation of their families and homes, face ethnic cleansing, live in open air prisons, become enslaved, because too few are paying attention to them?
Can you imagine what they would think if they knew the Palestinian Authority had "misspent, squandered or lost to corruption" 2.5 billion euros in aid from the European Union over the last four years. And that Egypt had lost one billion euros of aid money over six years.
Or how they would react if they knew that Palestinian refugees receive $83 per refugee while 19.2-million refugees and asylum seekers in 116 countries receive $52 per refugee.
Can you imagine how it must feel to know that the UN, EU and the USA have turned their gaze away, perhaps protecting themselves from culpability, while feeling good about another attempt at peace process between two plots on the ground that are relatively calm?
Do you think they ask themselves why their plight is so unimportant?
Sir Thomas More reminds us in "A Man for All Seasons" "silence gives consent."