Monday, December 28, 2015

An Ordinary Man: An Autobiography

"You cannot understand the magnitude. Just try! Eight hundred thousand lives snuffed out in one hundred days. That's eight thousand lives a day. More than five lives per minute. [...] At the end, the best you can say is that my hotel saved about four hours worth of people. Take four hours away from one hundred days and you have an idea of just how little I was able to accomplish against the grand design." - p. xi

There are times when I read a book and it scares me. It honestly really scares me. If you've watched the movie Hotel Rwanda, you will know all about Paul Rusesabagina's story. You will know that during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Rusesabagina kept the doors to the Mille Collins open to refugees, ultimately saving over 1,000 lives. As of late, the accuracy of his story has been questioned, but I think it's important to note that Rusesabagina himself states many times throughout the book that in order to save lives, he worked with the enemy. He offered them gifts, drank with them, made deals and worked the international connections he had in order to save his family and the lives of all those within the Mille Collins. Ultimately, this story is one of survive, not heroism - survival in the face of one the most terrible recorded genocides in history.

The book does an excellent job of describing the events that led up to the genocide. We're not only given a look at to what exactly was going through Rusesabagina's mind but also what was happening across the country as this was happening. As any book related to genocide, it ends on a bittersweet note. Bitter, because so many people died and sweet because of the few that were saved.

 The fact that Rusesabagina explained the politics and the history of enmity between the Tutsi and Hutu due to European colonialism really helped me see what occurred with fresh eyes. His explanations behind what occurred and how he experienced were what truly scared me. Having studied much about genocide, the numbers of those dead, the way they were killed - I had already heard it all and maybe that's why it didn't scare me nearly as much as Rusesabagina's explanations as to why and how this genocide occurred. It scared me because I feel that in a way, the United States is headed in a similar direction.

Overall, the book was definitely interesting, a very illuminating look into what happened told by Paul Rusesabagina himself. It includes notes as to what Rwanda should do in order to assure that this does not happen again. It's a book I would definitely recommend and one I think should be including in any study of human rights and/or genocide.

Below, I have typed up quotes that I felt were noteworthy because they mirrored much of what has occurred or is occurring in my country.
"But the immediate effect of these cards was to crystallize the racism into a Jim Crow system. Almost all the colonial administrative jobs were reserved for Tutsis." - p. 23

"There is no greater gift to an insecure leader that quite matches a vague 'enemy' who can be used to whip up fear and hatred among the population. It's a cheap way to consolidate one's hold on power." -p.27

"It always amazes me how people in Europe and the United States can be so indifferent to speeches of their chancellor or president, for these words from the top can be a wind sock for what might happen next." -p. 51

"In words that would become widely repeated throughout Rwanda, he also recounts a story of saying to a Tutsi, 'I am telling you that your home is in Ethiopia, that we are going to send you back there quickly, by the Nyabarongo.' Nobody in Rwanda could have missed what he was really saying: The Tutsis were going to be slaughtered and their bodies thrown into the north-flowing watercourse." -p. 62

"And all genocides rely heavily on the power of group thinking to embolden the everyday killer." -p. 193.

"A sad truth of human nature is that it's hard to care for people when they are abstractions, hard to care when it is not you or somebody close to you. Unless the world community can stop finding ways to dither in the face of this monstrous threat to humanity [genocide] those words Never Again will persist in being one of the most abused phrases in the English language and one of the greatest lies of our time." - p. 195


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