“We are going to grill them on skewers as a foretaste. You know, to put an end to a species of animal you have to scarf it up without pity, as we did with the cattle of the Tutsis. The Tutsis will be treated as we treated their cattle, which they used to enslave us: we will eat them.”
It is frightening and mind-boggling to review the Hutu hate talk and literature against the Tutsis prevalent some ten years ago. That is so especially when you remember that such talk led to 150,000 dead in Burundi in 1993 and between 800,000 and a million dead in Rwanda a year later, and that Hutus cannibalizing Tutsis is literal, not figurative. How much more so when, right now, according to many Tutsi sources both in Burundi and in exile, and according to many articles in the press, some explicit and some less so, expressions of that hatred have again reached a level bound to foment genocide.
I stress our responsibility especially because we as Jews have sworn never to forget.
But since, in Burundi, the murder, rape, terror, thievery, military rule, imprisonments (by the thousands) without trials or public explanation have been ongoing, how can you tell it is worse?
My informants tell me that Hutu in the marketplace mock Tutsis by saying that their current possessions are irrelevant since soon enough they won’t need anything at all. News services have reported a spate of lynching of Tutsis who have been accused of sorcery or inoculating their Hutu neighbors with disease organisms.
Hate broadcasts from Tanzania into Burundi demonize Tutsi to the point that their death appears to be the only appropriate solution. South African “peace keepers” are raping and murdering Tutsi women. Just as happened before the massacre of 1993, huge numbers of jeeps and motorbikes, providing swift transport for executioners pursuing their victims into the bush, have flowed into the poor country of Burundi as gifts to Hutu militia.
The population is rapidly shifting, with Tutsis at the northern border fleeing into Rwanda and Hutus crossing into Burundi from Tanzania and Congo, to which they had fled to escape prosecution or retribution for genocide. Many of the guardians of the government have removed their families from the country in preparation for the worst while threatening to withhold money for AIDS drugs to keep their military officers in line.
Human rights organizations in the United States and elsewhere are voicing their displeasure against facile talk of peace, reconciliation, and democracy that obscures human rights violations, rationalizes the expropriation of Tutsi land, and consistently promises to forgive all criminals and crimes, recent and remote.
But accounts of hate talk and physical attacks against Tutsis fall on deaf ears for those in the United States and Europe who are committed to the concept that the peace process in Burundi, imposed by outside powers, is progressing. As if history did not teach us that talk of peace can be entirely compatible with mass murder, as it was in Europe at the beginning of the Holocaust, in Washington just before Pearl Harbor, and in Burundi itself in 1993! Peace processes and constitutional formats that provide full democracy without human rights seem to be the order of the day. When I mention the fully democratic and legalized annihilation of Jews by one of the most democratic governments in the world just sixty years ago, there is silence. Talk of the divide between democracy and human rights for minorities is just not popular. And who wants to hear that, in the absence of democracy, human rights existed in pre-colonial Burundi and Rwanda, and nation did not lift up sword against nation?
What’s the problem? It should sound familiar to Western Jewish ears. The Tutsis are too proud, too wealthy, too self-centered, and too unwilling to marry those outside of their culture and religious traditions. The Tutsis own too much land in a country that has too little. The Tutsis are powerful but evil, even sharing the power of the evil eye with their Falasha kindred hundreds of miles down the course of the Nile River.
Sanity insists that this time genocide can be aborted. But sanity has no small battle to make against the forces of insanity. The UN, with its budget in excess of $400 million for a peace force of about 5,000, has accomplished little, while militias far outnumbering the UN troops roam unrestricted throughout the country, murdering, raping, and stealing. And the largest of these militias is a partner in the coalition government!
The Africans who have taken refuge in North America and Europe are models of decency and productivity. But in many places in Africa, with the passing of colonialism, too little has been developed to replace the body politic, the traditions, the religious systems, the judiciary, and the restraints that preceded colonialism.
So who will exercise sanity, and who will abort the imminent genocide? We will. Who else will be responsible, if we are not?
Being your brother’s keeper is a universal responsibility for all times, in all places, and under all circumstances. I stress our responsibility especially because we as Jews have sworn never to forget. I stress our responsibility not only because the Tutsis of Burundi share in our heritage as people of Israel but because they are, like all human beings everywhere, children of God. I belabor our responsibility because Havila, an organization of Tutsis in exile in Europe that seeks the return and redemption and above all the survival of the Tutsi people, wants to know what genocide of Tutsis in Burundi means to Western Jews.
I say to you, tell them.