gwen (gwenix) wrote,

From Sonya to icouldhavelied, this article memed itself to me.

Most of it's about the brutality of the rape and slaughter of women
in Rwanda in a few months of 1994, and the role the female minister
of women's rights had to play. But around page seven, there's the
incredible background that led to this. It's the sort of thing
that shows why it is things that seem innocuous, like registration,
and cartoons of women's sexuality (both intermixed with strong
connotations based on a perceived race) can lead to something so
brutal that it's hard to believe. I have exerpted that bit below,
but I recommend reading the full article.

Whether Hutus and Tutsis are separate ethnic groups is a subject
of debate, but it was only after European colonists arrived in
Rwanda that any political distinction was made between them.
Intermarriage had long been common, and both groups spoke the same
language and practiced the same religion. Around the turn of the
20th century, however, German and Belgian colonists used dubious
racialist logic -- namely, that Tutsis had a more ''Caucasian''
appearance -- to designate the minority Tutsi the ruling class,
empowering them as their social and governing proxy.

In the 1930's, the Belgians, deciding to limit administrative posts
and higher education to the Tutsi, needed to decide exactly who was
who in Rwanda. The most efficient procedure was simply to register
everyone and require them to carry cards identifying them as one
or the other. Eighty-four percent of the population declared
themselves Hutu and 15 percent Tutsi. Considering the degree of
intermarriage in Rwandan history, this accounting was hardly
scientific. What's more, Rwandans sometimes switched ethnic identities,
the wealthy relabeling themselves as Tutsis and the poor as Hutus.

''Identity became based on what you could get away with,'' said
Alison Des Forges, a senior adviser to the African Division of Human
Rights Watch who has studied Rwanda for

30 years. ''Half of the people are not clearly distinguishable.
There was significant intermarriage. Women who fit the Tutsi
stereotype -- taller, lighter, with more Caucasian- like features
-- became desirable. But it didn't necessarily mean that the women
were one or the other.''

With desire comes its emotional alter ego, resentment. A revolution
in 1959 brought the majority Hutus to power. As tensions increased
around 1990, politicians began disseminating propaganda denouncing
Tutsi females as temptresses, whores and sexual deviants. Before
the 1994 genocide began, Hutu newspapers ran cartoon after cartoon
depicting Tutsi women as lascivious seducers.

Unlike the Nazis, who were fueled by myths of Aryan superiority,
the Hutus were driven by an accumulated rage over their lower status
and by resentment of supposed Tutsi beauty and arrogance. ''The
propaganda made Tutsi women powerful, desirable -- and therefore
something to be destroyed,'' Rhonda Copelon told me. ''When you
make the woman the threat, you enhance the idea that violence against
them is permitted.''

This pernicious idea, of course, came to full fruition during the
genocide. The collective belief of Hutu women that Tutsi women were
shamelessly trying to steal their husbands granted Hutu men permission
to rape their supposed competitors out of existence. Seen through
this warped lens, the men who raped were engaged not only in an act
of sexual transgression but also in a purifying ritual. ''Once women
are defiled as a group, anything one does to them is done in some
kind of higher purpose,'' Robert Jay Lifton said. ''It becomes a
profound, shared motivation of eliminating evil. Tutsis must be
killed down to the last person in order to bring about utopia. They
are seen, in a sense, as already dead.''

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