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Monday, February 25, 2008
The eyes of someone you kill are immortal, if they face you at the fatal instant. They have a terrible black color. They shake you more than the streams of blood and the death rattles, even in a great turmoil of dying. The eyes of the killed, for the killer, are his calamity if he looks into them. They are the blame of the person he kills. - Pancrace Hakizamungili
The above words of a Hutu murderer from Rwanda come from the book I just finished last weekend, Jean Hatzfeld's Machete Season: The Killers of Rwanda Speak. It is an amazing book, consisting primarily of in-person interviews (conducted by Hatzfeld) of a group of Hutu men in prison for their crimes during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. During the hundred early summer days that the genocide raged, over half a million Tutsis were slaughtered, mostly with the use of machetes and knives.

In Machete Season (the follow-up book to Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak), Hatzfeld has divided the interviews into different chapter subjects. For example, the quote that begins this post comes from the chapter entitled "The First Time," which is comprised by the killers' recollections of their first murder. Another chapter is "And God in All This?", which contains the killers' response to the question of rationalizing religion (Rwanda, colonized by the French, is primarily a Roman Catholic country, so many of the killers attended mass with their victims) and genocide.

Though not particularly gruesome or bloody in its details, the book does not hide any of the awfulness of the genocide and is not a read for the weak of heart. Neighbor cut neighbor, best friend stabbed best friend, doctor murdered patient, child killed child. What struck me most was the ability of these people to mercilessly butcher former friends, soccer teammates, and choir members with rarely a sign of compunction, and what little regret there was mostly became evident only AFTER the killers were brought to justice.

Another thing that stands out are the motives for the killing. While there were plenty of socio-political "reasons" for genocide in the political and intellectual arena (Hatzfeld makes mention of how the Hutu intelligentsia spurred on the idea of genocide for years prior to 1994, drawing striking parallels with 1930's Germany), the typical poor Hutu farmer who did most of the killing cared little for those motives. Instead, what drove them to wipe out the Tutsis was primarily a sense of entitlement, a deep-rooted spirit of envy, and an attitude of covetousness entrenched in the population. Hutus are mostly crop farmers, while Tutsis are known for their ability to raise cattle. Hutus don't know how to raise cattle, and the Tutsi herds would sometimes trample their crops. Furthermore, even though Tutsis are mostly indistinguishable from their Hutu neighbors in physical appearance, they were generally thought of as the taller, more handsome ethnic group. From what I understand, Tutsis were, at least in the eyes of Hutus, a more prosperous people, so they were quite envious of the Tutsi wealth. So when the killing started, each morning almost every Hutu man would go out into the forests and marshes to hunt and kill Tutsis while their wives and children would loot the abandoned Tutsi homes. When the men came home in the evening, they would all eat freshly slaughtered beef for supper. They all became extravagantly rich and stopped tending to their crops during the hundred days of killing.

The killing was not only left to the men. Women joined in at times, and even children were shown how to kill Tutsis. While some of the wives were disgusted by what was going on, they were by no means a more merciful group. As one killer's wife astutely put it, "there were also men who proved more charitable toward the Tutsis than their wives, even with their machetes in hand. A person's wickendness depends on the heart, not the sex."

There was significant pressure to kill, but usually not via deadly threats. If a Hutu didn't want to get his hands "dirty," he could pay a fine every day so that he didn't have to go out into the marshes. And if he couldn't pay the fine, he probably could hang back from the front lines of genocide and conceal his disinterest and moral qualms. While some Hutus were killed for showing mercy to Tutsis, generally the worst punishment a Hutu could expect for not partaking in the killing was a smaller share of the loot, a stiff fine, and the daily scorn of his Hutu neighbors. However, the interviewed killers said there were very few who attempted to keep their hands (and consciences) clean.

Eventually the reader asks if there were ANY Hutus who stood up for truth and right. Hatzfeld tells us that there were a few, but only a few. "In Search of the Just" is his chapter on just that: the handful of Hutus who stood up against the genocidal evil. Most of them were killed, which leads the reader to believe that it was truly a kill or be killed situation. That is only partially true, and ignores the role of the years building up to that point. Hutus everywhere freely joked on the radio, in pubs, at school, etc. about how they would someday kill all the cockroaches. The time to snuff out that genocidal hatred was NOT in the spring of 1994, but before that whenever an ethnic joke or a Tutsi slur reared its ugly head. The Rwandan genocide gives credence to the belief that ideas do indeed have consequences and words mean something.

Lastly, as a Christian, I was struck by something wholly unintended by the author: God's divine forbearance. It amazes me how God can be so patient with humanity, and I am left in further awe of His ABOUNDING forbearance, mercy, and righteousness.

"What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory..."

Romans 9:22-23


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Darius' book montage

The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing
Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
Overcoming Sin and Temptation
According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible
Disciplines of a Godly Man
Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem
When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Ourselves
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
Respectable Sins
The Kite Runner
Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak
Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak
A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, ... anabaptist/anglican, metho
Show Them No Mercy
The Lord of the Rings
Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass
The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception
Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming
The Chronicles of Narnia
Les Misérables

Darius Teichroew's favorite books »