On Saturday, April 15 I attended a program sponsored by the Rwandan Community in Iowa along with Iowa Friends of Rwanda. Although I have been a number of places on this planet I have never been to Africa much less the country of Rwanda. I do, however have a good friend who has been there many times and has shared stories about the country and it’s past trials and tribulations. In addition he has brought a number of students over to attend Iowa colleges.
This program was the first year of an Iowa commemoration of the genocide of the Tutsi population in Rwanda. In 1994, close to one million Tutsis were slaughtered by the Hutu, another ethnic group within the country. At one point 10,000 people were herded into a stadium and were killed with machetes. Out of the estimated 200 people in attendance in Des Moines, many had lost friends and relatives in the violence. The stories that were told at the ceremony will never leave my brain. One woman told her families story in which her father and brothers were murdered and a neighbor, who she considered a friend of the family, raped her. Her story was only one of many told during the four-hour ceremony.
In addition to Iowans and Nebraskans whose heritage is from Rwanda, speakers came from as far away as England and Rwanda. Glen Ford came across the pond on behalf of the Aegis Trust, to speak about genocide and it’s horrific impact upon cultures and communities throughout the world. In addition Ambassador Ken Quinn, President of the World food Prize in Des Moines, spoke about his personal experience with genocide, which he witnessed when he was Ambassador to Cambodia.
Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew, coined the word genocide in 1943, after the Nazis had killed millions of the Jewish faith, including his family. He combined Greek and Latin words geno (meaning race or tribe) with cide (meaning killing).
More then anything, I came away with the disturbing knowledge that genocide can happen anywhere anytime. It is the columniation of an intense hatred and degradation of one group by another.
As I think about what I heard at the commemoration ceremony and then think about what has been happening in a number of other countries, including Poland, Hungary, Turkey, Venezuela and to a small extent in this country, I conclude that the seeds of genocide are being sown in a number of places, and if humanity is not diligent, it can grow. I do not conclude that genocide is prevalent in any of the aforementioned countries, however on a 100 point scale with 100 being genocide, those countries, who at one point would have not even been on the chart are now at least moving toward it. Genocide happened in the Congo, and the fighting in Syria could already be called genocidal. Madeline Albright, in her review of her new book, quoted Benito Mussolini as saying that “a chickens feathers are removed one at a time” and that is how a country goes from democracy to fascism, slowly but surely. As we have seen so vividly in the past, fascism can easily create genocide. My only advice to other Americans, is be very very diligent, and do not think it could not happen here.
Dick Goodson, Chair Emeritus of the Des Moines Committee on Foreign Relations