Rwanda and Syria—- Different Countries- Different Treatment
Twenty three years ago this day (April 7, 1994) the monstrous Rwandan genocide unfolded. Instigated by the government of Rwanda, close to 1 million Rwandan Tutsis and their Hutu allies were murdered by right wing Hutu extremists in less than 90 days. To this day the scale and rapidity of the human genocide has defied human imagination. The horrific events of 1994 dramatized in the movie Hotel Rwanda were linked to both the externally imposed economic policies that Rwanda was forced to accept, as well as historic tensions that were rooted in colonialism.
Much has been said about the events that unfolded, among them being the Clinton administration’s obstruction of the efforts of the United Nations to prevent the genocide. Intelligence reports obtained using the US Freedom of Information Act reveal that the Cabinet and almost certainly the President had been told of a planned “final solution to eliminate all Tutsis” before the slaughter reached its peak. As a consequence people died who might have lived if Americans, especially Blacks had demonstrated, raised the issue in the House or merely create an uproar forcing the U.S.A to get out of the way of a recuse by the United Nations. No,
there were no mass demonstrations against the genocide nor calls for an international military intervention to stop it.
The framework that many use in looking at Africa is that of a site of struggle for racial justice and national freedom against European colonialism. We reduced many, if not most of the struggles to that framework. Yet the reality of Africa was (and still is) never just about European colonialism and White minority rule. Within each country there have been ethnic contradictions, frequently rooted in and/or fueled by colonialism. There have been struggles rooted in class and power, also regularly tied in with the activities of multi-national corporations and countries of the global North. These realities have been the kerosene thrown on to open flames.
Now let us fast forward to April 4, 2017 where least 80 people have been killed in a suspected chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in north-western Syria. Now unlike in the case of Rwanda, the new American President Donald Trump is being tested on the world stage, as this chemical attack comes just days after the White House said that ousting President Bashar al Assad was certainly not his priority. In addition it also evoked questions regarding Trump’s support for autocracies and authoritarian regimes, and whether he can lead the world with moral clarity as has been done for decades by other U.S presidents.
After being briefed on all possible options by Defense Secretary Mattis, President Trump gave the green light and without warning on Thursday April 6, the United States using 59 tomahawk missiles carried out a missile strike on Syria. No time was lost in retaliation.
Two countries. Similar atrocities. American notification. Dissimilar consideration.
Of the horrific genocide that took place in Rwanda, not to mention the women who were raped during the violence and the children born as a result, no pictures were shown. The UN initially estimated that 5,000 children were born of rape in the 1994 genocide, but the Survivors’ Fund – a British charity working in Rwanda – believes the number might be nearer 20,000. In brutal wars, all too often it just takes the picture of a child to make the world pay attention, and in the case of Syria this has happened on more than one occasion.
In September 2015, the image of Aylan Kurdi, a lifeless 3 year old Syrian boy washed ashore on a Turkish beach flashed around the world. His family was desperately hoping to find sanctuary in Europe, but he failed to make it that far. Aylan became the symbol of the most sever refugee crisis, forcing countries to open doors to mass migration. Then in the summer of 2016, in the war-torn city of Aleppo, journalists captured the footage of Omran Daqneesh a young Syrian boy sitting in an ambulance in the aftermath of an airstrike in his neighbourhood rebel-held-Qaterji. There was also a video. Little Omran stunned and speechless, calmly wipes a combination of dust and blood from his face to his hand. In so doing, he silently and succinctly communicated to the world just how ordinary these kinds of events have become to the children of Syria. It has happened yet again, on April 4 2017, following a barbaric chemical attack on the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun, photos of a Syrian father clutching the lifeless bodies of his 9-month-old twins, Aya and Ahmed, attracted the collective sorrow and condemnation of the world.
Who spoke for the Rwandans before, during or after the attacks? Elsewhere in the world it would have been stopped. Now once again the goings on in Syria will take the forefront shrouding any vestige of recall. The only logical conclusion I can make is that the issue of race is very clearly the case.