Hope in the Face of Terror
Yesterday I saw and heard a great speaker, Immaculée Ilibagiza, speak about how she survived the Rwandan genocide and, perhaps even more astounding, her path towards forgiveness. I had read her book, Left to Tell, a couple of years ago and was blown away by her story. She spent 91 days hiding in a tiny bathroom with seven other women, in total silence, while mobs of Hutu people hunted for her and every other member of the Tutsi tribe. In a matter of 100 days, nearly one million people were slaughtered, in the most intense genocide of the 20th century.
I also saw a remarkable play, this past Friday, called “The Overwhelming” that offered a powerful glimpse into the build-up to the Rwandan genocide and I’m continuing to immerse myself in reading, in preparation for my trip to Rwanda in January.
The story of this tiny country is tragic. What truly terrifies me, is the fact that everyday people (not military, not trained terrorists, not criminals), turned on their neighbors, friends, and fellow people; they began a mass slaughtering of people, in the most gruesome ways imaginable.
How are we, human beings, capable of such acts?
To distance ourselves from these people, would only ignore the fact that we are all capable of such atrocities. I think that is a hard truth. And yet it is so important to acknowledge. Do we too, not justify taking the lives of others? We may call it collateral damage, but in that definition lies our ability to objectify human life. Certainly, they are different circumstances, but is our dropping bombs on people any more “right” than Hutu killing Tutsi?
Still, Immaculée offers us hope with her message. She travels around the world sharing her story of forgiveness. Through her deep faith in God, she is able to forgive those people who killed her mother, her father, her brothers and her people. I think that whatever your religion is (or isn’t), there is so much power in that forgiveness – so much hope for humanity. We may all be capable of doing terrible things, but we are also capable of forgiving, of making peace, of loving.
A couple of weeks ago I also finished an amazing book called Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. What an incredible life Mandela has lived. Offering another example, as he spent 27 years in prison, but was able to forgive a race that so brutally oppressed him. It is easy to hold people like Mandela and Immaculée in a high, unreachable place, as though they are super-human beings. Perhaps the most poignant lesson that I have learned in reading their stories and hearing Immaculée speak, is that they are (in fact) human beings – like you and me. Therein lies that hope I speak of. We are all capable of great things, if we allow ourselves to love, instead of hate.
Mandela sums up this important lesson with this quote from his autobiography: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”