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The hypocrisy of France

by tyronen Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 02:27:30 PM EST

No serious observer can deny that French foreign policy played a role in the Rwandan genocide of 1994.  

For years, France had backed the régime of President Juvenal Habyarimana's Hutu-dominated MRND party, even after evidence mounted that French-trained Rwandan soldiers had carried out pogroms and massacres against the country's Tutsi minority.

Why would they do this?  Rwanda carries no particular economic importance for France or anyone else; it is tiny, landlocked, and poor.

The answer lies in one word: language.

The native language of Rwandans is Kinyarwanda.  Due to their history of Belgian colonial rule, the general second language is French.  Since independence, Rwanda's Hutu rulers had moved it into the French sphere of influence.

At independence, a series of pogroms drove out hundreds of thousands of Tutsis into exile in Uganda.  In 1990, fed up with repeated Rwandan refusals to allow them to return, the refugees formed an armed group and presented their demands by force.

Uganda is, of course, a former British colony, and the Tutsi refugees now spoke English rather than French, and were likely to move Rwanda into the "Anglo-Saxon" sphere of influence.  (Anglo-Saxon...what a ridiculous term, really.  England is every bit as Norman-French as it is Anglo-Saxon, and has been for nearly a millenium.  But I digress.)

The oppressed regularly become the oppressor, and nothing makes them more dangerous than the fear of becoming the oppressed again.  Rwanda had been dominated by Tutsis in colonial times, and the fear of Tutsi return almost literally drove the Hutu leadership mad.  Quietly and methodically, they began preparing a Final Solution.  For two years, they stockpiled weapons in caches across the country.  They organized an unruly youth militia, the Interahamwe, and fed the nation a steady diet of vicious hate propaganda using the notorious Mille Collines radio station.

During this time, France continued to supply the regime with money, weapons, and training.  The evidence of impending genocide - "practice" massacres, wildly racist radio broadcasts - was out there in the open, but France chose to look the other way.

On April 6, 1994, President Habyarimana was assassinated, and the genocide began.  "Zero Hour" death squads, equipped with voters' lists, went house to house killing Tutsi and moderate Hutus.  Roadblocks sprung up almost overnight across the country, blocking fleeing Tutsis from escaping.

One can have nightmares for weeks reading survivors' accounts.  Almost every conceivable atrocity was committed.  Women were raped and mutilated, with spears or boiling water thrust up vaginas.  Babies were thrown into rivers, or trampled upon.  The Kagera River leading into Lake Victoria was choked with dead bodies.  Even today, one can visit churches where the pews are still stained with the blood of machete victims.  

More than 800,000 people died in Rwanda in just over six weeks in April-May 1994.  It is a rate of murder unsurpassed in human history.  Per day, five times as many people perished as at the height of the Nazi Holocaust.

It is inconceivable that this was anything but a preplanned, carefully plotted operation.  Yet French policymakers could not bring themselves to admit that 'their' (French-speaking) people had committed such barbarities.  The Tutsi victims were also French-speaking (as opposed to the English-speaking Tutsi returnees) but that didn't seem to count.  As late as July, President Mitterrand responded "which genocide?" when asked a question about it, apparently believing that the killings had been a two-way street.

Genocide deniers claim that Habyarimana was killed by the Tutsis; this in turn was a spark that set off spontaneous rioting and communal violence in both directions.  The truth is that the genocide was a planned operation waiting only a signal to proceed; a signal which was given after the president's death.  Whether he was killed by Hutu or Tutsi hardly matters.

It is in this context that we hear of a French judge issuing a warrant for the arrest of senior Tutsi leaders.  Not for any genocide, but the assassination of Habyarimana!  Never mind that international courts have dismissed the warrant as frivolous.

There is no Western country that can be proud of its conduct during the genocide - certainly not the United States, which spearheaded a UN resolution to withdraw what few peacekeepers were there.  And the current Tutsi-dominated Rwandan government is no saint - it has certainly not hesitated to use white guilt as a political tool to cover atrocities committed by its allies in the DR Congo.

Nonetheless, it is absolutely unconscionable that, twelve years after the fact, French courts would deliberately try to muddy the waters on one of the most monstrous crimes against humanity since the Holocaust.  

While I do think that you accurately portray what happened, it might be useful to examine at the same time the Clinton administration's role in all of this.

There is more than one way to be complicit.

Tu quoque is a bullshit form of argumentation, of course, so I won't use it. But I would point out that while France shares more than a bit of blame in not seeing what was happening, the Clinton admin's actions in this affair are indefensible as well.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 09:30:53 PM EST
He noted that the US was complicit as well - did you read far enough to pick that up?

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 04:52:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One sentence for how much duplicity and incompetence?

I read that as a throw-away phrase. Y'know, Canada is reposnsible too, because:

There is no Western country that can be proud of its conduct during the genocide...

Somehow the English escape his notice, though it is true that an English firm continued to sell armaments to the genocidal regime far longer and under far less ambiguous circumstances than the French shipment.

It's like one of these neo-con screeds which might admit, for instance, that while true that Ambassador Gillespie spent a litle time expressing ambiguous thoughts to Saddam Hussein, the hypocritical French had spent decades arming the monster, and the President himself sold him Osirak, and were even today transshipping tubes for use in centrifuges et c. Without mentioning all those US arms and chemical weapons, or the VP's company doing business there.

The tragedy is a genocide, and as the diarist notes, blame is shared.  So the emphasis on France, starting with the title, I find gratuitous. If France and Mitterand are hypocrites, what does that make Bill Clinton? The man who is proud of being called the first "black" president but who refusd categorically to countenance any action, including those proposed by France, at the security council?  Bill Clinton refers to Rwanda as the biggest regret of his Presidency, Kofi Annan similar, the Cameroon FM as well, and of course Mitterand cannot do same at this point. But somehow, this all boils down to French hypocrisy.

Too cute by half.

Perhaps the diarist might like to go into as much detail on the US' role in this, including the part where the Clinton administration finally gets round to delivering promised materiel to peacekeepers...after the genocide has essentially come to an end.

And they delivered it to Uganda.

Guess they assumed since it rhymed, it must be the right place. At the very least, France did something, but by the that time it was of course far too late. And the diarist fails to note that a parliamentary inquiry was made on France's role in this and did not find any guilt in complicity to genocide.

Have to admit, I've read so much neo-con anti-French stuff with a similar flavor that my knee tends to jerk in a certain way when I read it.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 08:08:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why don't we apply your argument to WW2 history. By your moral calculus, we can't write a book that only covers the Japanese role in the war because German crimes were worse, and really, everyone committed crimes so everyone has to be covered.

At the very least, France did something

They sure did - along with the UK, the profited from the genocide with arms deliveries. I think it's embarrassing to argue that "country X was less terrible" in regards to the Rwandan genocide. Governments of wealthy countries don't care about poor African nations. Media bias is also an unrelated topic.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 03:09:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And there was also Operation Turquoise.
Don't remember the Americans showing up for that.

Your analogy is at best a red herring, and really seriously flawed. If, for instance, a German were in 1956 to discuss worldwar two and write about Japanese atrocities without mentioning at all the holocaust, simply penning one sentence saying something along the lines of "well, the Germans are not blameless in this affair of course, but those hypocritical Japanese, they need to face up to their warcrimes," I think we'd have a problem with this. Not the factual aspect, of course, although one might wonder what the poor German is talking about when refering to hypocrisy, much as I wondered in this diary. But the tone, as well as the dismissiveness of one's own complicity, these would be problematic.

But historical analogies are silly anyhow, and I don't expect you'd care to defend American actions in the lakes region of Africa in 1994 any more than Bill Clinton would, or any Frenchman would care to defend the Mitterand government's sorry role.

But in this case, the crime is a crime of negligence. Lethally criminal, stopping far short though of passive support for genocide which is what the diarist seems to imply. In any case, it seems to me that the French shipment ended up not being delivered (could be wrong on this) but that its provenance could be explained, ie it is not at all clear that the one shipment to which you refer was in support of genocide, and in fact a parlaimentary inquiry has found otherwise.

As for the UK company's half dozen or so shipments to the homocidal regime, there's really no ambiguity whatsoever in their regard.

Like I said originally, and agree with you again here, tu quoque is a shitty form of argumentation, but the diarist sits here pointing fingers, playing the j'accuse card in much the same way we heard any number of neo-cons not so long ago playing it with respect to France's quite frankly impressive stance on US imperial aggression, and I find that while the diarist gets the basic facts correctly, the tone and imputation of motive are highly questionable.

And in view of this, when one engages in such accusatory and morally righteous argumentation, it is best that one pay more than simple lipservice to the fact one's own house is equally made of glass. It's simply good form.

Especially if one is a comtemporary American watching one's own regime engage in overtly imperial, unprovoked aggression, wreaking death and destruction of a magnitude, to be sure, not as intense and vile as what was seen in Rwanda a decade ago, but of a scale which is astounding nonetheless.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 03:50:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Especially if one is a comtemporary American

I think tyronen is a Canadian liberal. (Note: in the user info, "US" is default choice.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 06:42:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
that the timing of the judge's comment is more due to the imminent release of a report on France's role in the genocide, which may well prove embarrassing to France.
It is sad too that African holocausts don't seem to be given a very high profile. This is true of even one of the biggest holocausts of all time, the hardly heard of Belgian Congo holocaust of colonial times in which 10-11 million people died.
by observer393 on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 11:11:52 PM EST

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