Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Catholic Church & the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 (Continued)

In 2005, Tom Ndahiro (a Rwandan journalist and genocide scholar, and a former member of the Rwandan Human Rights Commission), wrote the following (these are excerpts, go to the link to read the whole thing):

Generally, in Rwanda, the leadership of the Christian churches, especially that of the Catholic Church, played a central role in the creation and furtherance of racist ideology. They fostered a system which Europeans introduced and they encouraged. The building blocks of this ideology were numerous, but one can mention a few – first, the racist vision of Rwandan society that the missionaries and colonialists imposed by developing the thesis about which groups came first and last to populate the country (the Hamitic and Bantu myths); second, by rigidly controlling historical and anthropological research; third, by reconfiguring Rwandan society through the manipulation of ethnic identities (from their vague socio-political nature in the pre-colonial period, these identities gradually became racial) . . . .

Church authorities contributed to the spread of racist theories mainly through the schools and seminaries over which they exercised control. The elite who ruled the country after independence trained in these schools. According to Church historian Paul Rutayisire, the stereotypes used by the Hutu-dominated Rwandan government to dehumanise Tutsis, were also spread by some influential clergymen, bishops and priests, before and after the genocide. The Catholic Church and colonial powers worked together in organizing racist political groups like the Party for the Emancipation of the Hutu (Parmehutu) . . . .

The call for remorse and repentance still seems unnecessary and problematical for the Catholic Church. In March 1996, Pope John Paul II told the Rwandan people, “The Church... cannot be held responsible for the guilt of its members that have acted against the evangelic law; they will be called to render account of their own actions. All Church members that have sinned during the genocide must have the courage to assume the consequences of their deeds they have done against God and fellow men.”
Belgian authorities had required all of their Rwandan colonial subjects to carry ID cards identifying the ethnic group of the holder. The large majority of Rwandans were categorized as Hutus. At first, both the Belgian government and the Catholic Church, which operated as a seamless extension of the colonial apparatus, groomed the Tutsi minority in the hopes that these could be turned into a local ruling elite obedient to their European masters.

The Tutsis were favored on the basis of the Hamitic hypothesis, according to which some Africans were less unequal than others, by virtue of their supposedly closer racial affinity to White Aryans. These racially fortunate Africans were dubbed Hamites, and the Tutsis were considered a prime example of the veracity (and utility) of the Hamitic hypothesis.

During the first half of the 20th century, this kind of scientific racism was part of mainstream European intellectual culture. The Hamitic hypothesis in particular became an important doctrine in the academic field of missiology (which is to missionary work as military science is to warfare).

But the Tutsis proved to be insufficiently grateful and obedient to their Christian Aryan betters. And then there was also the embarrassing problem that after WWII, scientific racism not only had lost any credibility, it was now considered morally bankrupt at best, and a great evil at worst. In fact, horror of horrors, even European colonialism itself was going out of style!

And so the Belgians and the Church embraced decolonization and democracy. But now the Europeans promulgated a racially infected view of independence and democracy: cynically pitting the Hutu "people" against the Tutsi "oppressors." In such an atmosphere, Rwanda gained formal independence during a "social revolution" which saw the first large scale massacres of Tutsis by Hutus.

More details and extensive documentation concerning the role of the Church in the Rwandan Genocide can be found in great quantity in the following:
Doing the Lord's Work in Rwanda
Conflict and Genocide: Lessons from the Rwanda Experience
Preparing the Way for Genocide in Rwanda