The ugliness of Genocide denial is one I’d have hoped respected academic institutions would never engage in. As professors, fellows and informed students of Cambridge University will know, 27 years ago, a million Tutsis were brutally murdered over the course of 3 months, in a genocide driven by ethnic hatred Rwanda has since sought to overcome. These efforts of healing and reconciliation have been dependent on the willingness of a nation to confront its darkest truths. It’s a shame that Judi Rever, contestable “journalist”, genocide denier, and terrorist sympathizer, would be given a global stage to manipulate our truths during the period most traumatic to genocide survivors and their families. The specter of double-genocide theorists like Revers being granted the platform to speak as supposedly reliable sources of insight into the genocide (despite using unauthenticated documents and referring to anonymous witnesses as “sources”) at world-leading universities such as Cambridge is frightening. Most disappointingly, it is the type of passive cruelty that has always protected hate and deceit when its perpetrators are white (or aligning with western interests) and its victims are black Africans.
The Importance of Fact-Based Dialogue
The commemoration period of the genocide against the Tutsi comes with some unkind challenges. The countless testaments of survivors attest to the sheer inhumanity of the horrors of 1994. However, most cruelly, the Kwibuka period is the time those who sympathize with genocidaires, such as Judi Revers (and other individuals somehow less worthy of mention), attempt to twist the knife deeper in the wound, denying survivors their right to healing by discrediting their trauma. Gaslighting, “the act of manipulating a person by forcing them to question their thoughts, memories, and the events occurring around them,” is not a new tactic to destabilize African victims of hate crimes into questioning their own history and identity. It has been used by western academics who draft essays on the merits and benefits of colonization to Africans. In the case of Rwanda, it has been used to challenge the collective memory of an entire people. We must, and will, push back. No Rwandan possibly enjoys re-hashing a past so dehumanizing, cruel and frightening. But sadly enough, we do not have a choice. The healing Rwandans are entitled to depends on the confrontation of our painful past and our fierce resistance to western deniers’ claims over re-defining it.
The Racism Of Double Standards
The discrepancy between the attitudes towards Holocaust denial and Tutsi Genocide denial is founded in the refusal to acknowledge the value of an African life. While I applaud the relentlessness with which the transparent victim-blaming of Holocaust deniers is called out when it comes to Jewish people, I am troubled by the withholding of this common decency when Africans are concerned. Moreover, the loss of life on western continents is rightfully deemed an atrocity worthy of decades of honest introspection, with parties responsible for crimes held accountable, and reparations granted to victims and their surviving families.
However, with sinister casualness, death and dehumanization are simultaneously conceptualized as defining features of the black African experience. The western media – through the reduction of our plight to savage atavistic ethnic hatreds (with no mention of the role colonizers played in instigating these hatreds), the deliberate deflation of the number of Tutsi victims in their reporting, and the condoning of double genocide conspiracy theories – has invited the world to withhold basic empathy for Rwandans in general and to survivors of the genocide in particular.
Instead, those aware of their entitlement to human decency and healing, have been demonized, and accused of using their pain as a manipulative tool to pull at the gentle coloniser’s heart. It is implied that the African, unburdened with the nuanced human emotions that westerners naturally feel, cannot actually experience real pain; therefore, there is no trauma to acknowledge or real injustice to rectify. The racism here is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, perpetrators of crimes against Africans are humanized by people like Judi Rever; and on the other, African victims are expected to acquiesce to this upside-down reality by negating their humanness and dismissing their own plight.
Ironically, for every injustice Westerners enforce against Africans, a simultaneous effort is made to acknowledge the humanity of their own people. There are several laws that prohibit the denial of the Holocaust, all of which acknowledge the necessity of safeguarding the truths surrounding the Jewish genocide in combatting anti-Semitism. In France, the Gayssot Act, which was voted into law in 1990, criminalizes the contesting or questioning of events that qualify as crimes against humanity. The amnesia France has displayed since then, by allowing for the local publishing and distribution of Rever’s book, is reminiscent of the Duclert Rapport attributing France’s failure to stand on the right side of history in 1994 to their then government’s “blindness” towards the extermination attempt by the Hutu Power government that had France’s good graces. In both cases, a certain “helpless white obliviousness”, contradictory to their mighty stance on dictating global morality standards, prevents the Western world from doing the right thing when it comes to Africa.
Cambridge University has voiced a desire to confront race-based thinking, even launching an inquiry into its links to the slave trade. Cambridge admits to having, like every other prominent British Institution of the time, benefited financially from colonization and the slave trade. But ashamed as the university claims to be for these past associations, Cambridge is now standing firm in its support of the very values it claims to wish to shed by offering Rever their platform.
The seed of dehumanization grows with a lie flourishing from the mud that surrounds it. But it shall not be planted once more. Fortunately, there are proven and published facts that thoroughly deconstruct Rever’s ridiculous claims.
No Space for Indifference
Killers of Rwandans have been protected and deodorized in the media under the guise of “promoting democracy” in Africa. The absolute “freedom of speech” ideal peddled by colonialists as a human right – above the right of Tutsis to live without ethnic persecution and the denial of their suffering – fuels negationism. But if they can’t allow absolute freedom for Europe’s Neo Nazis as an important element of European democracy then the promotion of its equivalent for Africa has to be questioned.
Judi Rever’s access to a platform to negate, minimize and justify the anguish of countless Rwandans is the reason genocide survivors are callously tasked with proving their own attempted extermination, even as they commemorate the death of their loved ones slaughtered during the 1994 genocide.
Genocidaires have been granted safe haven in Europe – the comfortable autonomy to plan terroristic acts against Rwandans as they continue to seek to return to power to “complete the job”, which remains a major regret of theirs – where they benefit from western approval to re-define the history of Rwandans who they have terrorized and continue to terrorize. The cruelty of these facts is not accidental, and neither is it merciful. Its halting is mainly dependent on the dedication of Rwandans, and fellow Africans, in defending established truths – in other words, our dignity.
Perhaps if the tragedies of our past had not flourished through hate speech, Rwandans could not afford to condemn the words of the deniers. However, we bear a particular sensitivity that cannot be ignored. As Rwandans insist on the healing they deserve, their trauma must be acknowledged, their stories must be protected in their authentic state, and the liars must be called out. The achievement of justice will always require an investment in integrity that we can’t ask from the guiltless.