Laura Hollis / Sep. 3, 2020

Lessons From Rwanda

Some years ago, Immaculee Ilibagiza wrote "Left to Tell," a poignant memoir about her experiences hiding during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Over a period of three months during spring and summer that year, Rwandans of Hutu ethnicity slaughtered somewhere between 800,000 and a million Rwandans of Tutsi and Twa ethnicity.

Some years ago, Immaculee Ilibagiza wrote “Left to Tell,” a poignant memoir about her experiences hiding during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Over a period of three months during spring and summer that year, Rwandans of Hutu ethnicity slaughtered somewhere between 800,000 and a million Rwandans of Tutsi and Twa ethnicity. Ilibagiza only escaped that fate by hiding in her Hutu pastor’s home; she and seven other women spent 91 days in a tiny bathroom, the door to which was obscured by a large armoire. Ilibagiza lost her entire family in the genocide, save for one brother who had been sent out of the country to attend school.

What has been called the Rwandan Holocaust is notable, even among other mass atrocities, in that the slaughter was carried out largely by neighbors against neighbors, villagers against villagers. Armed with machetes and other crude weapons, Hutus went from home to home, brutally hacking to death people they had known and lived peacefully with for decades.

Ilibagiza recalls that in the months leading up to the genocide, a campaign of hatred and propaganda began, first by the government and then picked up by the citizens of Rwanda. People began referring to the Tutsi as “cockroaches” and other slurs. As time went on, she noticed that the name-calling and demonization increased in frequency and fervor. While she was in hiding, she often heard the roving Hutu mobs calling her name and those of other Tutsi villagers they couldn’t find, calling them “cockroaches” and yelling that they were going to be exterminated.

I have thought of Ilibagiza’s book often in the past few months, watching rioters deface and tear down monuments; burn and destroy buildings; loot businesses; scream and swear at and attack other Americans. I’ve watched in disbelief as the municipal and state governments have done nothing but let criminal gangs wreak havoc.

This behavior is not only being tolerated; it is being rationalized. Just in the past week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to President Donald Trump and Republicans as “domestic enemies” of the state. Patriot Prayer member Aaron “Jay” Danielson was shot and killed in Portland this week, and one of those in the mob was caught on camera yelling: “He was a f—ing Nazi! Our community held its own and took out the trash! I am not going to shed any tears over a Nazi!” A video captured in Baltimore showed a man attacked by another man, hit over the head with a brick and knocked to the street, unconscious. And there were plenty of videos of people — including Sen. Rand Paul, Georgia state Rep. Vernon Jones and other guests — who were accosted, screamed at, threatened and knocked to the ground by crazed leftist mobs as they left the White House at the conclusion of the Republican National Convention.

It’s always been a common practice for one political party to criticize the other(s) and insist that its policies will be disastrous. And the accusations are typically hyperbolic. But this has been taken to dangerous levels since Donald Trump was elected president. He and everyone who supports him have been accused by the left of bigotry, racism and sexism. They’ve been called Nazis and fascists. We’ve heard daily false accusations for years that Trump and his campaign colluded with Russia, that Trump was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s puppet, that Trump is a dictator-in-waiting who’s secretly plotting to thwart elections, set himself in power and rule indefinitely, enslaving millions of Americans in the process.

These absurd accusations have now bled into a larger campaign to smear all Republicans, conservatives, libertarians, women, gays, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Jews and every other conceivable group that supports Trump as being complicit in a campaign to destroy the country.

This is beyond “politics as usual.” It is irresponsible and dangerous, and the proof is everywhere: in the riots, in the day-to-day interactions people have with one another and on social media.

Author and Fox News personality Guy Benson tweeted a letter sent to him that one neighbor had sent to another after seeing a Trump sign in their yard. The letter writers wrote, among other outlandish accusations, “you neither … respect us as humans,” and “hate … truly fills your heart,” and that they are probably Christians who don’t live by Christian values. The writers then intimated that their Trump-supporting neighbors were going to Hell.

New York Post columnist Bethany Mandel responded to a long series of hostile tweets from comedian Jim Gaffigan by saying: “Everyone who entertains us — actors, comedians, athletes — everyone hates us. That’s just part of being a conservative. I used to think it was bad business to make it so obvious, but at this point, why bother hiding it?”

These cascading events should frighten everyone, not just conservatives. The sentiments themselves — various forms of “hating conservatives” — are wholly unjustifiable and based upon fiction and falsehoods. But worse still, the more common the expression of those sentiments becomes, the more likely it is that people will act upon them. It starts with nasty remarks, shunning and broken relationships. When that isn’t enough — as we’re seeing now — it becomes violence. And eventually, as Immaculee Ilibagiza and hundreds of thousands of her countrymen discovered, it can turn to widespread murder.

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