Thursday, March 19, 2009

Reflecting on the Cruelest Months

By Angeline Bandon-Bibum

"April is the cruellest month,"[1] wrote T.S. Eliot in his poem, The Waste Land. This line seemed to ring true in April of 1994. On April 6, 1994, a cruel course of events would begin in Rwanda. A planned and organized massacre was executed by people across all classes from the poor subsistence farmer, to the middle class schoolmaster, local administrators, and other government officials. There have been genocides throughout human history, in continents all over the world, including Europe, Asia, and Africa. However, the speed and circumstances of this genocide had a chilling uniqueness it seems. For instance, it is estimated that 800,000 people were killed in 100 days during this massacre. That averages to 8,000 people slaughtered per day. This number constituted one tenth of the population of the country at that time. These people (men, women, and children) were killed by their fellow citizens, many with machetes and other crude weapons. This happened in 1994, in a post modern world of technology.

No society is completely immune from crime or violence. A crime committed by a stranger, or the occasional crime of passion between acquaintances or even family members does occur in human societies. Nevertheless, how can one imagine being killed by a local school teacher, farmer, doctor, coworker, or one's neighbor? This happened in Rwanda in 1994.

So as April approaches, I ponder on that cruel month that turned Rwanda, temporarily, into a waste land. I cannot help but to wonder…what is it in human psychology that allows this type of destructive group behavior, on this magnitude, to go unchecked. I have so many questions: During this massacre, where were the ethical codes and moral standards that had previously existed? What type of “group think” mentality, in addition to coercion, made so many otherwise normal people participate in this violence? Where was the analytical thinking on the part of the perpetrators? That is, why did not more people stop to analyze their actions? What were the roots of this massacre? What were the warning signs before it happened? And how can these types of mass acts be prevented in the future, anywhere?

April approaches. It is traditionally a month of plentiful rain and renewal. It is a month that inspires lots of reflection for me. Easter, a sacred Christian holiday, most often occurs in April. April is the month of my birthday. It’s also the month of my father’s birthday and my grandmother’s birthday, both of whom have passed on. My mother passed away in the month of April. So, April has much significance for me.

To my list of things to reflect on in the month of April, I have added those cruel three months in Rwanda in 1994, that started in April and lasted 100 blood-soaked days.

[1] T.S. Eliot (1888–1965). The Waste Land. 1922.

"Reflecting on the Cruelest Months" © Copyright March 2009

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