Search This Blog

Anita Silverman Hirsch Z"l

Genocide: "Once I have contempt for you, I can do anything to you and not feel shame or compassion."

This week, I had the good fortune of meeting Nathalie Sirois, Founder and Director of l’Institut canadien pour l'éducation sur les genocides (ICESG). I was so impressed with Nathalie’s work that The Shalom Foundation for Healing in Community (SFHC) has become one of the sponsors for next week’s ‘Mieux connaître pour mieux être l’humanité’ 2009 Training Conference which will be held in Ottawa, Ontario. I urge you to check out ICESG’s web site and witness first-hand Nathalie’s exceptional work on teaching about genocide to school children!

Since I will be videotaping several of the training workshops, I explored the concept of genocide from the vantage point of contemporary scholars.

Did you know that the Armenian genocide is the blueprint for what the Nazis later accomplished in Germany? But before that, the Belgians in the Congo affected a veritable genocide largely undocumented during their colonial rule there. (I watched a BBC documentary about this on Yom Hashoah while I was in Israel this last spring.)

And what about Barbara Colorosa? Most of us know her for her books on educating children but did you know that this mother, teacher and former nun was asked to speak at a university in Rwanda on bullying ("Extraordinary Evil: A Short History of Genocide" is her latest book).

Colorosa explains that "Once I have contempt for you, I can do anything to you and not feel shame or compassion."

She further explains that there are three actors in any genocide: the ringleaders (the organizers, bullies, and active participants), the targets, and the bystanders.

Among the bystanders there are the henchmen, the active supporters, the passive supporters, people who are afraid to step in, and people who actually do step in to defend and oppose.

Interestingly, the people who actually do step in are often outsiders. Colorosa shares a story about an elderly Rwandan woman who was an outsider (she had never converted to the dominant religion of Christianity) who saved Tutsi babies who were brought to her by their mothers. She was able to not go along with the ideology that demonized even Tutsi babies. A perpetrator said to her "Is that a Tutsi baby?" and she said "No, that's a baby and I am a mother."

There are two threads here:

One, is the planning and execution of genocide by governments and those in authority.

Two, is the participation of individuals and citizens. In the context of the involvement of citizens, I found it very interesting to hear a CBC-1 report from the current about a book comparing the witch burnings of the 16th century and in Salem to the present day Rwanda situation. This speaks about how citizens can be, through fear, manipulated to believe very strange things, a kind of group hypnosis.

What are your thoughts on this very complex and difficult subject?