Haunted by the ghosts of genocide
By Raha Rafii

Oxford Student, UK
May 21 2005

We study history so that we do not repeat our mistakes, most
importantly the atrocities that we have committed against our fellow
man. It is thus imperative that we know our history. The words 'Never
Again' are permanently fixed on the walls of the Holocaust Memorial
Museum in Washington DC. Yet we didn't act during the 1994 Rwandan
genocide, in which an estimated 800,000 people were murdered by machete
in 100 days. No one, not the US, Europe or the UN, did anything.

While they sat debating strategies and the definition of 'acts of
genocide', men, women, and children were hacked to pieces while a
handful of foreign dignitaries and consulates were evacuated. It
was called 'ethnic cleansing' in Bosnia in 1992 and Kosovo in 1994.
Frustrated with UN inaction, NATO intervened to stop the massacre
of Albanian Muslims, and after accomplishing its stated mission,
pulled out to leave the Serbs at the mercy of a vengeful Kosovo
Liberation Army.

Today in the Sudan, home to the longest-running civil war in the
world, another genocide is unfolding in Darfur. The Holocaust gave
us the word 'genocide'. It spawned the 1948 UN Genocide Convention,
which defined it as "the intent to destroy, in whole or in part,
a national, ethnical, racial or religious group." The word gave a
voice to the memory of the 1.5 million Armenians massacred by the
Ottomans in 1915. What had been a long-forgotten trauma was once
again brought to light.

But why is it when it comes to black Africans, no one makes
a move? Why does no one talk about the first genocide of the
twentiethcentury? Not the Armenian Genocide, but of the Herero at
the hands of the Germans in 1904 in what is now Namibia, in which
a staggering 80 per cent of the Herero population was annihilated,
with the remainder practically wiped out through slave labour.

Faced with a wall of silence, is it any wonder that these first two
genocides, in two different worlds, did not alert us to the upcoming
horrors of the Holocaust? The German geneticist Eugene Fischer carried
out his experiments on race in the Herero concentration camps. Fischer
would later teach medicine at the University of Berlin and his most
infamous student, Josef Mengele, went on to conduct heinous experiments
on Jewish children in Auschwitz.

Hitler, in a speech to gather support for the invasion of Poland in
August 1939, was confident that he would not be opposed by any of the
other world powers, reminding his supporters that "Who, after all,
speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" These genocides
provided us with the horrific consequences of race branding, the
solidifying of a racial inferior who was considered alien and thus
had to be removed.

In Bosnia and Kosovo it was the impure Albanian Muslim, in Rwanda
the Tutsi, and now in Darfur it is the black Sudanese. History is
repeating itself. Three genocides in Africa, and we are still sitting
on our hands. It is clear that we have not yet learned from history.
We must acknowledge this failure so that we may not only open our
eyes to the atrocities being committed around us, but to stop them
from happening in the future.

It is not about allocating blame, but coming to terms with how
we fulfill, or fail to fulfill our roles as fellow human beings,
as well as recognizing the travesty of not treating the lives of
others as equal to our own because of their geography, their economic
development, or the colour of their skin. The genocide in Darfur
is happening this very minute, as you read this sentence, and will
continue to happen.

Yet, for as long as this genocide continues, every moment that passes
is one in which we have an opportunity to do something. And we should
be doing something. If only, at the very least, informing ourselves
of those atrocities which litter history's path. What plagues Africa
is Western apathy. It is truly an inhuman act to turn a blind eye to
the realities facing the continent.

The plight of hundreds of millions of men, women, and children is
best summed up by a quote from the movie Hotel Rwanda in which a UN
colonel sadly informs Don Cheadle's character of the awful truth of the
West's role, professing that, in the eyes of these affluent countries,
"you're not even niggers... you're Africans."