Tuesday, May 24, 2005
In 1994 from April to July 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda. Why did neighbors turn on one another?
PhD candidate Lee Ann Fujji shares insight into her dissertation paper, “Cain and Abel,” a micro-level analysis of ordinary people’s participation in genocidal violence against neighbors. She likens the biblical story of two brothers, Cain and Abel, to two brothers from the village of Gachacha, in Rwanda, to answer the question why people—brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor—killed one another en masse. Her presentation is followed by comments from Victoria Barnett, staff director, Committee on Church Relations. The panel also includes Bridget Conley-Zilkic.
BRIDGET CONLEY: I think as any of our Holocaust historians could tell you, 60 years later, the nature of the questions have changed but I do not think the number has diminished. While Rwanda is not on the same geographic scale, and does not have the same numbers, what it shares with the Holocaust is this profound nature of the crimes that took place and the unfathomable nature of what happened. That is really at the core of how these questions continue to plague us from both histories.
Ten years later, the history in Rwanda is really only just now beginning to be written. There, of course, have been excellent studies produced thus far, but Lee Ann is sort of the starting edge of what is going to be a long time of probing some key questions about the history of the genocide in Rwanda. We are very pleased to have you with us today.
Lee Ann Fujii is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at George Washington University. Her dissertation research is a micro-level analysis of ordinary people’s participation in genocidal violence against neighbors. In 2004 she spent nine months doing field work in two Rwandan prisons and villages. She is currently writing her dissertation and will be a resident fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in the Africa Program. She also has an M.A. in International Relations from San Francisco State University and a B.A. in Music from Reed College. Previously, she worked in professional regional theater as an actress, director and teacher. We will have to find out if that has been helpful in your research.
We are very pleased and honored to have Vicki Barnett with us today as a respondent to Lee Ann’s work, to talk about how there are parallels and differences with the Holocaust. She is the Staff Director of the Committee on Church Relations at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. She is a graduate of Indiana University and Union Theological Seminary in New York. She is the author of “For the Soul of the People: Protestant Protest against Hitler” and “Bystanders: Conscience and Complicity during the Holocaust.” She is the editor and translator of Wolfgang Gerlach’s “And the Witnesses Were Silent: The Confessing Church and the Jews” and “Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography,” as well as numerous articles and book chapters on churches during the Holocaust. She is also the co-editor of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works project, the English translation series of Bonhoeffer’s complete works. She is completing a doctorate in Religion and Conflict at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University.
You will also notice I passed around a sign-up sheet. Please indicate if you’d like to be added to our listserv to get announcements of future events. And then, without further ado, I would like to turn the table over to Lee Ann to tell us about her work.
LEE ANN FUJII: Thank you. I prefer to stand, actually. I am really pleased to be here, and not just for the opportunity to talk to all of you and present my data and some of my preliminary findings in a public forum like this, and not to just scholars, but also to actually engage with a Holocaust scholar on these similar issues. Of course we share similar conceptual issues and challenges. This is part of my dissertation projects, the paper I am presenting today, and unfortunately, because I have been socialized in academia, I tend to speak and direct my arguments towards an academic audience. When I fail to be clear, I am hoping that people will feel free to ask me clarifying questions at the end, and I would certainly be happy to answer those and to make clearer some of the things that I am now working on.
The one caveat is that this is a big work in progress, and these are some of the arguments that you are going to see. Some of my data and the arguments are in the gestation period, so I also look forward to people’s comments -- Vicki’s comments as well as your own -- about how the argument is working and any conceptual theoretical issues that come up.
The title of the paper is “Cain and Abel,” and as we know in the Bible, the story of Cain and Abel is a story of two brothers, the first two born sons of Adam and Eve. Cain is the older brother, Abel follows, and there is actually a third brother as well. Both make offerings to God. God approves Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. This makes Cain angry, and Cain slays Abel and denies his act to God.
In the village of Gachacha, in Rwanda, the story works through similarly. We have two brothers whom I also call Cain and Abel, who were the first-born sons of a common mother; they are half-brothers. Both flee during the genocide; they are both hunted. Both survive the genocide, and afterwards Cain imprisons Abel, which is tantamount at that time to actually killing someone. The likelihood of dying in a Rwandan prison at that time was extremely high. Cain denies this act both publicly and, I would dare to say, to God as well.
The question that this metaphor of Cain and Abel raises about the Rwandan genocide is a question that scholars of Rwanda were all concentrating on answering. Which is, why and how do we get Cain and Abel, brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor, killing one another en masse?
The most recent studies that have come out based on micro-level research -- and I am thinking of a scholar named Scott Strauss and some other scholars doing micro-level field research -- have provided strong explanations that it comes down to two things: Coercion from other killers, so you either participate or you get killed yourself, and security fears generated by the war that is going on concurrently with the genocide, as well as a very precipitating event, which was the assassination of the president on April 6, 1994. Both of those conditions are important for causing this level of fear and insecurity.
The weak explanations that fall out -- which I am sure a lot of you have heard -- have to do with ethnic hatred – Hutu killing Tutsi because they hate each other. Other more scholarly arguments are about a culture of obedience: People just – you have heard this in reference to the Holocaust -- do what they are told.
Economics was a factor – you have rich and you have poor people. There were land issues, and there were leftover colonial legacies that were very important. I am not going to say some are right and some are wrong. I will just say that the stronger explanations are on the top and the weaker explanations are on the bottom in terms of what the data are showing.
There are limitations to these kinds of approaches, and those limitations have to do with the fact that they are generally focusing on instrumental accounts. The problem with instrumental accounts is that it cannot account for what I call these patterns of particulars that are coming out from micro-level data.
For instance, one of the patterns of particulars that occurred during the Rwandan genocide is that killings occurred in groups and only in groups. There are three groups. The one Kinyarwanda word that non-Kinyarwandans know now is the word Interahamwe, and these were groups of militia or killers who roamed these areas and killed people. That was their job, their “raison d’être.” Instrumental accounts have a hard time accounting for the fact that killing was done in groups, but not individually. Groups killed, but individuals did not. There is this kind of non-event that is a bit of a puzzle: Why, when individuals faced an opportunity to kill, did they not take it?
The other limitation with the current approach that I am arguing is that we have standard categories of perpetrator, victim, bystander, and rescuer. These standard categories we think of in terms of objective terms. We put certain people in one box and certain people in others. But these categories remove the possibility, or make us forget, that you can actually have a lot of variation in things going on within in a given category. On top of that, categories tend to homogenize the members of a given category; both the actors and the actions.
What I am proposing is more of a non-instrumental framework. That means, for me, treating killing as a social act, not just an instrumental act. Also the killers are seen as the actors, as social actors and not just as people who fit in a given category.
I am also interested in the subjective categories that actors themselves use to order their world, to make sense of what is going on, and to explain what happened and why. To accomplish this, my basic research design had to do with doing. I did some archival research in both Belgium and Italy; that was the hardship period of my research. I then did document searches in Rwanda as well, but the bulk of my research had to do with the field work that I did in these two Rwandan prisons and villages.
I had two research sites because regional politics has been very important historically, critically, and socially across these two research sites. These are just two villages, two rural villages. I interviewed a total of about 80 people, and I did a cross-sector of about 80 people. I did about 230 interviews. The strategy was basically winnowing down at each stage and going back and talking to the same person multiple times. That strategy of repeat visits was with the intention that by going back and talking to the same person multiple times, we would gain their trust and they would be more forthcoming. In fact, I think that is what we were able to accomplish.
I used purpose of sampling, and I did not sample on things like ethnicity or other demographics. I did try and find a balance of men and women, young and old, different ages, and I was successful to a certain extent. I was really interested in was finding a sample that was widely representative of the range of what I am calling participation and response to the genocide.
Way over on one end, I have killers, and then on the other end, I have Survivors, and there are a lot of people in between. That would include bystanders, people who pillaged but did not kill, rescuers, people who saved people, and people I call resisters; they did not necessarily rescue anybody, but they said no, they actually resisted the genocidal project.
This is an overview, taken from my narrative of how genocidal violence unfolded in Ntongwe. I want you to take from this not “who did what” because it is going to just be a mosaic, but rather, I want you to understand that there are a lot of things going on at the same time. At the local level, this is what genocide looks like. It is complicated and complex. You will see that there is a lot of stuff going on, and people are doing a lot of different things.
The plane crashes, the war in Rwanda starts – which is precipitating a lot of this. You have a civil war that starts on October 1, 1990. This is four years before the genocide. In Ntongwe, in the southern part of the country, they are pretty much unaffected by the war at this point. For this community, the most important event is the assassination of the president on April 6, 1994. He is returning from a regional head of state meeting, and as the plane is descending into the main airport in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, it is shot down out of the sky. The identity of the assailant is still in debate.
I want to get to what happens in Ntongwe. First we have a change in regime of power; old power structure out, new power structure in. This happens pretty quickly. Paul is out, Jude is in. Jude is in because he has the backing of higher-up authorities. He starts organizing mostly men, from all the different cells in his sector into the Interahamwe group. They start pillaging and burning Tutsi homes. A week later, they start to kill Tutsi in their homes. They also kill them as they are trying to flee. They also lure them to central places; in this case, it was not a church or a school, it was actually just the main sector office. Jude enticed Tutsis, and he told everybody hiding Tutsis to bring them to the meeting. “We are going to give them parcels of land in compensation for the houses being destroyed,” he said. All the Tutsi who show up are killed at the meeting.
At the same time, Paul, the ousted authority, retains his sector staff, his loyal official staff and his paper. In Wallenberg-style, he starts writing up these letters attesting to the letter-holder’s identity as a Hutu who has lost his or her identity card. This is important because it enables a lot of Tutsi to flee and escape, because if they are stopped at a roadblock, they just have to present that paper and hopefully they are let go. One of Paul’s friends, a young Tutsi boy, however, uses this document not to flee, but to join the Interahamwe.
In the meantime, Jude is making threats. He is getting people to do what he wants through a series of carrots and sticks. He threatens Frederic, a farmer in his community, and tries to get him to join his political party. He is trying to get him to share in some meat from a cow stolen from one of Frederic’s neighbors, and every time Jude tries these tactics, Frederic just outright refuses. Then at one point, he just outright extorts Frederic and says, “You pay me. I do not even know who your dad is. I am not actually sure what you are. So you either pay me money, or I am going to kill you right now.” Frederic does the rational thing, and he pays him and saves his life.
In the meantime, back home, Tourez, who is Jude’s wife, is seeing her living room fill up with all these pillaged goods from houses from all over the community. She asks her husband, “What is going on?” He tells her, “This is on orders from authorities higher up.” She cannot believe what has happened, she cannot believe what she sees, and then finally, she takes to bed until the family flees for the Congo, about a month later.
In the meantime, you have people like Olivier, who is a very active Interahamwe. He is from this community, so he is out participating in all the killings, and he is also doing other things. There are killers in his group who are accusing him of having a Tutsi wife, so he is fending off these threats. They actually come to his house twice. He actually has to go with his wife’s identity card and find the rest of the group and say, “She’s not Tutsi, okay?” He is then accused of harboring Tutsi children of one of the victims they have just killed. It turns out, as he explains to us, that his uncle is actually married to the victim’s sister; there is a connection there. But he says it was not true.
At the same time, when he is alone, he runs into a fleeing Tutsi boy. Rather than killing him -- which was one option -- or not killing him -- which would be another option -- he actually decides to save the boy. He tells him, “Take that route, not this one, because that is where the rest of the group is, okay?” The boy takes his advice, and he survives the genocide.
Then we have the Cains and Abels who are Tutsi who are -- this would be all the Tutsi in the community -- trying to find places to flee. They are fleeing to a home of an old lady called Sophie. Eventually, they both leave her home. Cain hides at his father-in-law’s house for the duration of the genocide. Abel is helped by an Interahamwe friend, and Seth is killed.
The data shows these interesting variations and patterns. The variations have to do with the fact that participation is taking many different forms. Different people are doing different things, but on top of that, the same particular individual is also engaging in many different things.
The interesting patterns that the thick sketch does not reflect, but the other data show is that, again, killings are going on in a particular way. They are going on in groups, and the groups are large, which means that a lot of people are watching while others are killing. Conversely, people are rescuing and resisting individually, not in groups.
Puzzles are raised by what the data is showing. What makes these different forms of participation possible? In terms of patterns, why does killing happen this way, but not another? Why this particular form? Why in groups? Why in such large groups? I am going to try and attempt in this presentation to answer some of these questions, but I am not quite able to answer all of them.
The first argument I make is about the different forms of participation. This has to do with what I am calling the configuration of social relations, making possible these different forms of participation. It is a little bit dense, so I am going to break this down. Social relations are vertical and horizontal ties, a network of social ties. Configuration is the way somebody is specifically tied to others -- to higher ups, to peers, to neighbors, to friends, to family.
Going back to my subjective approach, I am also arguing these ties: You cannot just describe them as “so-and-so’s husband” and “so-and-so’s son” and “he’s so-and-so’s brother.” It does not reduce to objective categories. Cain is not just Abel’s brother, he is not just a subordinate of the mayor, and he is not just Sophie’s neighbor.
I’m talking about social ties in the sense of how people talk about, act toward, and think about others, so the arrows go in both ways. From Cain’s point of view, he is not just Abel’s brother; he is Abel’s rival. That is really important. He is not just Sophie’s neighbor; he is her superior, socially. He is not Paul’s friend; he is actually kind of threatened by Paul. He is not just a subordinate to the mayor; he is favored by the mayor. This is important.
If you flip it on the other side, and you start asking other people what they think of Cain or what Cain is about, then you find a different story. Sophie will tell you with very little prompting that nobody likes him. Remember that Sophie is the one who actually saved Cain in the beginning. It does not mean she is going to harm him. It just means that she does not like him and she does not think anybody else likes him either.
Paul would describe -- and did describe -- Cain as a friend. After the genocide Cain ends up not only imprisoning his brother Abel, but his friend Paul as well. Abel would call Cain his jealous younger brother. In this configuration, people are located differently, and I am going to introduce an analogy because it might help. Think of social relations as a two-dimensional map, a geographical map, showing how different bodies of water and land masses are connected. Configuration would be adding the topography. It is not just that this mass is connected to this mass by this body of water, it is that this mass is actually a mountain, or this one is a valley. Now we have depth and height.
Situation, or location in this configuration, is where someone is. Some people are in the valley, some on the mountain, some on the plateaus, some people are floating on some body of water. Situation is an important concept to add because differently situated people have different possibilities for acting. Powerful people can coerce. Weak people can hide. Marginal people can go unnoticed. This becomes important during genocide.
What happens when genocide occurs? We have this map, and I just think of it as a three-dimensional map, and understand that things move. We flip the map, so we have some new winners and new losers. Jude is a winner, Paul is a loser, and Tutsis are losers. It also alters opportunities and constraints. Opportunities and constraints are a function of people believing they have an opportunity or constraint. It is altering how people are calculating what is an opportunity and what is a constraint. Everyone is facing impossibilities for acting, depending upon where they are located in that configuration.
The mechanism that mediates between the structure and what a person can do is local knowledge. This is a very anthropological notion of local knowledge. Local knowledge is important because only locals know who is situated where; only locals have what I call “who is where” knowledge.
What does that mean? It is important to know who is Tutsi. It is also important to know who might be suspected of being Tutsi, who others might think is a Tutsi, who looks like a Tutsi, or who might have Tutsi family. That is important, especially if you want to profit from it or if you want to help someone. It is also important to know who is marginal and who is powerful. Again, all of these descriptors are not objective, they are socially generated. They are generated by how I think of you and how others think of you. This “who is where” knowledge is what produces and leads to certain kinds of actions, but not others. Who is willing aligns with who is powerful to target who is vulnerable.
For instance, one respondent that I call Emilie is married to a Hutu man, and it is his younger brother who denounces her, her mother and her brother to the Interahamwe. Her mother and brother are killed, but she actually survives.
Who is vulnerable then flees to where? To who is safe; who they believe is safe. Now, sometimes you are wrong, right? A lot of people made the wrong calculation about who was safe, but in general, you are going to flee to where you think it is safe. Abel and Cain flee to Sophie’s because they think she is safe. Eugene joins the Interahamwe to save himself. Why is it a way for him to save himself? Because the Interahamwe is actually a group of his closest childhood friends.
Who is safe, then? Why is Sophie able to rescue? She is seen by others as powerless – an old lady, poor, and with a tiny house. Nobody like that -- and this is, in fact, what Abel says -- could save anyone. That is what helps her.
To summarize my first argument, people’s location in the configuration made possible particular forms of participation. Location and configuration are subjectively defined, not objective categories or attributes.
Let’s go to the second question. This has to do with why killing took the particular form that it did. Killing took the form it did because acts of killing constituted the group as a particular kind of group, and I’m going to call it an Interahamwe group. When I am in this group context, this context alone is what is moving everybody to these acts of killing, or practices of killing.
Acts of killing and doing certain things constitute you as a particular kind of actor. Dribbling a basketball, wearing a uniform, jumping up and trying to put that basketball in the net with nine other people on a court that are similarly dressed, constitutes you as a basketball player and as a basketball team. Acts of killing constitute proof of an Interahamwe group.
Charles Tilly says the way he explains state formation in Europe was that wars made states. Before there were states, we had different princes and different leaders trying to make war on each other to amass territory. Wars made states, and states made war. Then you get this system of states, and the states start making war against each other. Similarly, groups produce killings and then killings produce groups.
What else is in what I am calling an Interahamwe identity? There are important parts to this. First, this is an identity that only exists when it is being generated. It depends on people engaging in certain kinds of acts, killing acts, and not others, in a specific context, in the course of killing someone. We do not all just go home to our separate houses and engage in these acts, we actually have to do it in a particular place and time. Finally, it requires that you have to make sure that people are not doing non-group things or anti-group things. You actually have to punish those people as well -- so it is actually enforcing certain kinds of behavior. This is a group identity; not an individual identity. It sticks to groups, and appears only in a group context.
What are these practices of Interahamwe? There are a lot of them; it is not just the act of clubbing someone to death or shooting someone, but it involves burning houses, pillaging, singing, beating people, raping women, throwing children into latrines and chanting; one of the things is chanting “Power, power, power.” Watching, observing, extorting people and digging holes in the ground are some of the things, too. Then on the other side, you will see I have a bunch of other things that are “non-threatening practices,” which you will notice are similar; a few of them overlap.
The same act can be done by two different actors and have different meaning. When the Interahamwe is pillaging during the course of a killing, it is constituted by an act of killing. Whereas, when someone just slips over to his neighbor’s house and grabs some mantioch because the neighbor has been killed, you wouldn’t necessarily say, “Fred, he is a great Interahamwe.” It just does not work that way.
Probably the best example is the idea of digging holes. I was struck by this when I was thinking about it. When you are an Interahamwe and you have just killed a bunch of people and you are digging holes, you are digging graves for your victims. When non-killers are doing the same act, digging a hole, they are actually doing an act of what? They are saving or hiding themselves. Literally, the same physical act can have two very different meanings.
How does this model or framework explain some of the things we are seeing? Someone can kill and save, like Olivier, who is out there killing, killing, killing, but then getting targeted and saving a Tutsi boy he sees on the road because being alone made it possible for him not to kill. He not only saves the boy when he is alone, he saves the boy because he is alone.
Similarly, why were killers not immune from other kinds of targeting during the genocide? If you are a killer – a bona fide killer – it seems to me you should have some privileges that should constitute you as an important person, but it did not because killers would often be targeted, like Olivier. I think that individuals could be targeted, even if they were previously Interahamwe. When they were out of the killing context, they could still be targeted because out of that brief context, they are no longer Interahamwe. At that point, they are just regular folks that come with all the ties that all regular folks come with. Out of the killing context, Olivier’s actually suspected of having a Tutsi wife and suspected of harboring Tutsis.
Finally, how is it that you can have someone like Eugene? How can you have Tutsi in the Interahamwe? Certainly they were not in the Interahamwe in great numbers, but nonetheless you have at least someone like Eugene, and he claims that there were at least three other Tutsi in the community who did the same thing he did. He thought to himself, “How am I going to save myself? I am going to save myself by joining the Interahamwe.” Eugene claims that he only observed; he never actually did any killing. What I’m saying is, is that he actually was part of the Interahamwe because a lot of their job was to watch, and he was able to join the Interahamwe -- a Tutsi could join the Interahamwe --because, ironically, it did not matter what ethnicity the person was to be in the Interahamwe. What mattered was what they are engaged in doing. If they are engaged in doing Interahamwe-constituted acts, those acts included watching others kill. All that matters is engaging in practices.
The summary for my second argument is that killing to perform it did because the context and practices of killing produced what I am calling Interahamwe.
BRIDGET CONLEY: Thank you very much Lee Ann. I just want to ask briefly; doesn’t Interahamwe mean “those who act together”?
LEE ANN FUJII: Yes.
BRIDGET CONLEY: So they have actually stated what your argument is.
LEE ANN FUJII: That’s true.
BRIDGET CONLEY: Before we open up the stage to questions from you all, I want to ask Vicki Barnett to give us a little more context of where this is in relationship to the history of the Holocaust.
VICTORIA BARNETT: Thank you. This was fascinating. It was helpful to hear you summarize this just now after reading your paper. As I read through Lee Ann’s paper, I had a running list of things that jumped out at me, and I will start with that running list before talking more specifically about a couple of differences I see between the Rwandan genocide and the Holocaust, and some similarities.
I think that she illustrates for us that genocide is a process, not an event. In both cases, you can trace things that would appear. In the case of Rwanda, those things seem to be more immediate kinds of triggers. In the case of the Nazi Holocaust, one can go back centuries and pick up certain things and see where they led, but it is not something that is fixed in time; there is a lot of stuff going on around it.
The other insight you had, which is neighbor-on-neighbor violence, is both an independent and a dependent variable. It is a very helpful way to think about it. You think that a tendency to categorize people and say, “This person is a perpetrator, this person is a bystander,” very often does not work, and it certainly does not when you look at this village in Rwanda. As the Nazi regime intensified its persecution, there were Jews – they are either more and more involved in that, or they go in another direction. People’s actions carried them along and moved them between predators. This insight that participation in the genocide is socially embedded and that deep contexts lead to deep actions, I think, shows that there really are real similarities between the Rwandan example and the Nazi one.
In the ways in which genocide creates what in the paper you call “new possibilities for acting,” I found to be another way of saying that people move along as spectators, just getting by, unless they get involved in new ways.
To point out some of the differences, I qualified that a little bit because as I began thinking of these differences and similarities, I could unpack that. It is very obvious that the genocide in Rwanda was a relatively short period; it was very intense -- in close to three months, I think 800,000 people were murdered. The Nazi genocide, of course, has a much broader historical trajectory and a much longer process, and of course, the numbers are different.
One of the characteristics of the Nazi genocide was the gradual emergence. You had this time of an actual bureaucracy that was created for the purpose of categorizing people, persecuting them, confiscating their property, and ultimately murdering them. As loyal as most of the members began, the development of every new technique killed more and more of them. This sometimes led to the depiction of the Nazi genocide as a modernity gone mad. You had this technological mass killing, almost as a depersonalized kind of genocide. At the same time, you had numerous instances throughout the Nazi genocide of brutal concentration camp guards and of soldiers gunning down masses of civilians. You had this immediate kind of killing that one sees in Rwanda, which indicates to me that in both cases, violence does tend to operate in a similar fashion, and the processes by which individuals adjust to it and become part of it, are similar.
One difference is that the categories fixated on Hutu in Rwanda are more fluid than the status of the Jews in Europe. If I understand Rwandan history, the actual categorization didn’t even begin until the 1930s under the Belgian former government or does it go back deeper than that?
LEE ANN FUJII: It actually goes back pre-colonial, but yes.
VICTORIA BARNETT: In any case, in her paper, she goes into her field studies where people challenge ethnicity or they travel between these two categories with greater ease than the Jews in Europe did. I think that the Nazi genocide was built on a much longer, deeper history of prejudice specifically against Jews, but then there were some differences in what happened.
It is also striking -- you did not really get into this in your presentation, but in her paper, she described -- I think it is Olivier or somebody who confesses in prison. It is a very expedient thing, and he says, “I will confess if I can get released.” It takes the confession of guilt out of what we think of the normal context. The parallel here to Nazism would be some of the discretions that took place where, again if someone went to the local authorities, and said that you were a Nazi, getting a stamp of approval was obviously the expedient thing to do. I think, to many people, it kind of made confession meaningless. I think that it is worth exploring that topic a little bit to see how those kinds of dynamics really affect people’s understanding or acceptance of their own guilt, because that in turn, affects how they deal with that in the aftermath.
The ritual nature of the violence that you describe in the paper, where you have people chanting things as they go to kill somebody, points out real contrasts here between what happened in Nazi Germany, but Nazis certainly also had their rituals and public displays. It occurred to me that the Nazi rituals were done with one goal: to cement the group identity, to cement the identity of those on the killing side and to make clear who was the victim there. Those dynamics are somewhat similar.
With regard to the most specific similarities, I would say that they all involve patterns of community behavior. This is the real value of looking at a comparative example of genocide and comparing that and contrasting it to another. The most daunting aspect is this almost sudden transformation of relationships, some of which are deep family relationships, whereby all of a sudden one person is on the side of the murderers and the other is on the side of the victim. This, I think, is the central focus of your research; this neighbor-on-neighbor violence. I think one important aspect of this is what people do with that, the narrative that they construct to explain what is happening. We like to think that if you have these deep relationships, you are not going to turn on somebody and that both in Nazi Germany and in Rwanda you can see how quickly people really do turn on one another.
In the paper, she mentions that sibling rivalry is a very common thing in Rwandan society. I found myself wondering -- is this one of the explanations for their role in this genocide? In other words, in genocides, as everywhere else, people always look for plausible stories about what they are doing advising the killing of people and doing what is naturally happening right then. Sibling rivalry would be one way to explain this, to say, “We don’t know about close families, but everyone has sibling rivalry. That explains why it’s easier to encourage.” It is an interesting thing to think about.
This issue of group identity, of the group as a social act, has definite parallels to Nazi Germany and its ideology and all its relations. It enables members of that group to think to engage in certain hypocrisies and feel somehow like they are not responsible because it is the group doing it, not individuals. I think this is also one reason why resistance becomes the realm which individuals can have as well as the people we find who resist and rescuers, the people like Sophie who are kind of on the outside of things and the people who don’t really belong anywhere. It gives certain freedom and identifies them to victims as somebody who can outsmart and rescue them. Another similar dynamic that she goes into in the paper is the ideological rationalizations for murder. In that case, describing the victims as cockroaches and describing them as vermin is certainly something that applies in Nazi Germany.
The subjective approach here is fascinating, and it is certainly something that you get into when you begin interviewing people. It is a good way to get at these issues. It is unfortunate that it does have some land mines. When you listen to people’s stories and you get into the stories and say, “This is how they saw what happened,” of course, you are also getting into a rationalization of their justifications. It is something that one has to take into account.
In this village and your interviews, you came across people who began to talk about their responsibilities. I am interested in the role of the churches in this village because I know in the Rwandan genocide that the churches were certainly full of them. In any case, I think this is fascinating, it is important research, and, of course, it is profoundly troubling and sad to know that 60 years after the Holocaust that something like this could happen.
BRIDGET CONLEY: Thank you. I think we’ll give Lee Ann a few minutes to respond to some of those direct questions, and then open the floor.
LEE ANN FUJII: I am going to keep this really brief -- I enjoyed those comments quite a bit. I want to talk about the land mines. It is going to be an entire chapter, believe it or not, in the dissertation -- of a subjective approach. Here are the land mines in even more concrete terms: When I am interviewing prisoners, most of these people have been imprisoned together for almost 10 years now, and there is a prison culture that develops. There are actually press reports you hear, and this is a big thing in the current situation in Rwanda right now: the double genocide ideology that what gets spread in the prisons is this notion that there was genocide of Hutu at the same time. This is promulgated easily in prisons because we have a captive audience and you still have social hierarchies that are recreated in the prison. I can tell you that I interacted with that hierarchy, I benefited from it in terms of a researcher, they were extremely helpful, but that is one of the concrete landmines.
You have people talking about things a long time afterwards, which in some ways will help sometimes, but in other times it will not. You have also, just in a Rwandan context -- and this is a bit of an exceptional argument -- a particular culture, a particular way that people do or do not talk about things or express emotions about. It was tricky.
I made two decisions. One, I decided that I was not, since I’m not a lawyer, thank God -- apologies to lawyers -- going to try and adjudicate truth. People are going to lie to me, people are going to half-lie to me or half-tell the truth, and I am not going to make it my duty to sort out. There were a couple of prisoners who were really wily and it got to me and I just thought that I could not make that my task because it would drive me crazy. Plus, there just is not a way to really figure it out. I decided that even if someone is telling a lie, they are going to tell it in a particular way. Given my little justification, I also could not help trying to decide who was lying. I realized I did not like getting played in interviews. I did not like that feeling that someone was playing me during an interview. The things that really caught my attention, therefore, was when I gave someone an opening to make themselves look good, and they didn’t take it. Those moments really fascinated me.
Let me just give a little bit of context about Olivier. He was very wily, did a lot of smirking and laughing, and then would give me a one-word answer. He was a confessed killer, but the problem with a confessed killer is that the incentive for confessing is that you get a reduced sentence. This is pretty important after you’ve been in a prison for ten years. He was very honest then. I asked a lot of prisoners this question: Why did you confess? A lot of them said, “Because I saw everything, and it is right to say what you saw.” This is amazing, this process of what they call sensitizing people. In French, the word is sensibilise, and it is a little bit more evocative; you make people sensible of what they are supposed to say. I did not give much credence to that answer except for the fact that the sensitizing process in the prison was very successful. I asked Olivier, “If you had not done anything, would you have confessed?” Olivier said, “Yeah, I would have. I would have. Because, you know, I do not want to languish in prison, and if I confess, I get a definite sentence of three years. That is what we were told.” Then he surprised me again later on, when I asked, “Did you save anybody?” That, to me, was a freebie. He could have said, “Yeah, of course I did -- I saved 50 people, I’m not that bad of a guy.” He did not. He said, “No, it was impossible.” I said, “Why? Why was it impossible?” He said, “Because if you even talked about saving someone, they would make you kill that person. For example, when I was alone and I ran into this Tutsi boy fleeing, I told him to take another direction because the Interahamwe were up where he was going, and he is alive today.” I was really puzzled by this because he just gave me an example of when he actually saved someone. I think he was making a distinction between saving someone by actually stepping between the group and that person you want to save. He was literally saying, “It was easy because I was alone.” I was struck by this moment where he could have taken the opportunity to make himself look good in a particular way, and he did not.
In terms of the question of reconciliation, responsibility and remorse, in general, I saw very little remorse, and it did not matter whether they were confessed or non-confessed. Prisoners who were non-confessed, ironically, were some of the best interviewees because the reason why they were non-confessed is they actually claimed that they did not participate. Among those prisoners are people I believe are genuinely innocent, like Cain’s brother, who is still in prison today, but also there are people who understand their participation differently than others. Some of those people will say, “I did not do anything. I was there when Fred was killed, but I just watched, I did not do anything.” That is very different than someone like Eugene who says, “I was there, I am responsible, and I saw what happened.”
One prisoner said, “I was there. I am responsible because I did not do anything to save my neighbor.” The reason I can remember these times, though, is because they stuck out. Most people did not talk that way. When I thought again about this culture of context and thinking, I realize that I am a subject in this too, and I bring my own prejudices and ideas of what constitutes grief and responsibility. I have to say -- and Rwandans are almost kind of proud of saying this -- Rwandan culture is opaque, and Rwandans do not even know what other Rwandans are saying half the time. It is embedded in the language and the way people talk. There is a lot of built-in ambiguity. The other thing Rwandans will say about themselves is that they do not show emotion. That is just something you do not do. That is just not part of Rwandan culture. I tried not to infer from the fact that nobody was saying how sorry they were or saying it sincerely or with emotion that that showed any lack of remorse or guilt. I do not know the answer to that, to be honest.
I do know, however, that survivors were willing to share their stories. There was only one who was still so traumatized, we never interviewed her again. We cut it short because she obviously was not in a good place to talk. In general -- I get this question a lot -- wasn’t it hard to get survivors to talk about it? And it is not actually. It is actually pretty easy. Is it because they have vengeance, because they are so angry? Actually, the angriest person I talked to was a woman who had been imprisoned for five years for participating in some of these killings. She was the most visibly angry. The survivors are resigned to a lot of things, and that has to do with the fact that they are still poor, they have lost a lot of family members, a lot of the women have AIDS, and thanks to the Clinton Foundation, they have AIDS drugs, but no food to eat. There are all of these present-day realities; life is hard and that impinges on people. Just as genocide is a process, the process of getting over genocide, reconciliation, is also very much a process. It is a very politicized process, and that really shapes what people will say and how they will say what they say. I was very much aware of that when I was doing my interviews.