Saturday, April 10, 2004

A Decade After Massacres, Rwanda Outlaws Ethnicity

"This country, where ethnic tensions were whipped up into a frenzy of killing, is now trying to make ethnicity a thing of the past. There are no Hutu in the new Rwanda. There are no Tutsi either. The government, dominated by the minority Tutsi, has wiped out the distinctions by decree...

That new thinking has its critics — those who say that denying that ethnicity exists merely suppresses the painful ethnic dialogue that Rwanda requires.

But the government insists that if awareness of ethnic differences can be learned, so can the idea that ethnicity does not exist. Rwanda has an entrenched culture of obedience, and the populace has been quick to pick up on the government's no-ethnicity policy, at least in conversations with an outsider.

To hear Mr. Twahrwa put it: 'Ethnicity is bad. I want it to go away.'"

What a brilliant counter-cultural idea! You'd think that we Americans with our vast experience of ethnic diversity, or anyone following conflicts in the Balkans, Northern Ireland, the Middle East, India or anywhere else in the world where tribalism is a force could have figured that one out.

It isn't even clear that the Hutus and the Tutsis ever were ethnic groups in any robust sense: they speak the same language and intermarry, they're not readily distinguishible even by other Hutus and Tutsisi, they're all Catholics and the distinction between them was blurred until colonial powers decided to make it official, in some cases reclassifying individuals for its purposes. Yet even where ethnicity is conjured up it can still lead to genocide.

Ethnicity is bad. I want it go go away too.

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