Sunday, May 03, 2009

Further proof that the New Yorker is still the best

One prefers to avoid using the word "inspiring," since it has unfortunately trite Oprah-ish, Lifetime-Movie-ish connotations that tend to cheapen anything it's applied to. Still, it's a word. English has it. And dammit, we should be allowed to use it. So: this New Yorker essay by Philip Gourevitch (not currently available online to non-subscribers--but it probably will be at some point, and it's worth buying a print copy for in any case) is...inspiring. It's about the post-genocide situation in Rwanda, which, it transpires, is way better than you probably could have imagined. The country is peaceful and progressive, and

Rwanda is the only nation where hundreds of thousands of people who took part in mass murder live intermingled at every level of society with the families of their victims.

The country utilized a system of reconciliation courts, not unlike South Africa (as I understand it), but on a much greater scale. What's great about the article--one of the things--is that it doesn't sugarcoat this process--it ain't a Disney movie. Genocide survivors are quoted as being universally bitter and cynical about these courts--as they have every right to be. However,

none of the survivors I spoke with thought that there was any better solution. Never mind reconciliation, Tutsis and Hutus had to coexist. [Gourevitch's translator, Jean-Pierre] Sagahutu expressed the sentiment most succinctly: "It's our obligation, and it's our only way to survive, and I do it every day, and I still can't comprehend it." When I repeated Sagahutu's formulation to other survivors and to members of [President Paul] Kagame's Cabinent, it was always met with recognition: Yes, that's it. So what was required politically was emotionally incomprehensible, and the President's idea of the common good hung in the balance. "At the beginning, it is very fragile, but with time I think it holds," Kagame told me. "People's hearts and minds need some time to heal. They will probably need a whole generation, and the memories will keep lingering."

I find this kind of fortitude little short of incredible, and it's impossible for me to imagine Americans being capable of behaving in this way. I'm sure there are criticisms of the man to be leveled, but the picture the article paints of President Kagame impresses the hell out of me. I just hope that nothing happens to him, because I have the unpleasant suspicion that he may be the only thing holding the situation together. Still, if a country can come back from what Rwanda experienced, no matter how imperfectly...well, it gives you hope.


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