Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book Review: "In Search of Rwanda's Genocidaires" (David Whitehouse)

The word "genocide" evokes a lot of visuals and memories: images of countries torn apart, whole people groups in combat, women and children slaughtered just as commonly as men.

Perhaps the most renowned country known for one of the most horrific instances of genocide in history is Rwanda, where war between the Hutu and the Tutsis raged for years, the former oppressing and quelling the latter, and the latter largely unable to fight back. Thousands died in the resulting bloodbath, while European countries like Belgium and France, with vested interests in Rwanda, looked the other way.

To this day, justice remains elusive and even improbable for either side of the foray. Denial, claims of non-involvement, and refused extradition requests make the process of finding and convicting those responsible for the massacre not only an uphill battle but also one that may never been won, despite the best efforts of those who advocate tirelessly on behalf of the victims.

British journalist David Whitehouse paints a powerful picture of the reality of the Rwandan genocide in his book, In Search of Rwanda's Genocidaires: French Justice and the Lost Decades. Drawing on extensive research and intensive interviews with those involved on both sides of the issue, Whitehouse compiled a documentary-style account that is as unbiased, academically sound, and thought-provoking as if I had conducted the research and interviews alongside him, personally.

He draws a connection between the experiments of psychologist Stanley Milgram at Yale University in 1961-1962 on the question of authority, during which participants were ordered to give test questions to subjects (played, in actuality, by actors fully aware of the experiment and its purpose) and to administer increasingly powerful and even life-threatening electrical shocks (also fake) to the "subjects" when they answered questions incorrectly.

The results were astounding, so far as how many participants were willing to deliver punishing electric shocks to their own peers, people just like themselves, simply because an authority figure had ordered them to do so and refused to waver in the face of nominal protests.

Whitehouse contests that it is possible to draw insightful parallels between Milgram's experiments and the circumstances of the Rwandan genocide as a way to study the genocide objectively. His work is an evocative, compelling narrative, replete with personal testimonies and life stories of both victims and advocates on behalf of the victims, that made me rethink what I knew about the genocides in Rwanda as much as it gave me an intimate look at the lives of those affected.

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Title: In Search of Rwanda's Genocidaires: French Justice and the Lost Decades
Author: David Whitehouse
ISBN: 978-1-927079-29-4
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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