So after re-watching Schindler’s List for my last post, I was inspired to perhaps watch a few more true life stories. There is one that has a real personal resonance for me, and that also felt relevant to me in the light of current events in Syria.
The thing about the events in WWII Germany is that for many of us it’s history, it’s back then, it’s removed from us. And although we can re-tell the story and say never again, we’re faced with the sometimes despairing fact that it does happen again, and again, and again. Does that mean we do nothing? No, I Dare you to do whatever it takes. As a Hutu Rwandan man did only 20 years ago (well, 19, but 20 is more poetic 😉 ), albeit reluctantly if you watch the film Hotel Rwanda. But he did it, and it seemed small, but it was not small, it was a courageous act to shelter Hutu and Tutsi alike in the Hotel des Mille Collines. It was this hotel my family and I stayed at for a long hot day in the early 80s as a stopover on our journey to Tanzania, hence our personal connection (although tenuous) to the story.
And the thing is, this is a story that happened in our lifetime – I remember watching it unfold on the news whilst at University, the same feeling of helplessness that I have whilst watching the images coming from Syria now.
The Film Hotel Rwanda is another one that is tough to watch – although for a different reason than Schindler’s List. One of the recurring elements throughout the film is the shame felt by the Westerners that Paul interacts with – The news cameraman even says “I am so Ashamed”, even as he’s walking away to save his own skin. The UN Colonel, played with a sense of honour coupled with helplessness with the underlying shame by a brilliant Nick Nolte, tells Paul he should be spitting in his face. We as Western observers in the story have so far been touched and appalled by the dehumanising of the Tutsis by the Hutu members of the Interhamwe by referring to the Tutsis exclusively as cockroaches. You can feel your own skin crawl at the image – and of course it’s easier to cut down a being seen as an infestation, as vermin of the worst kind – and of course that was the intention. Words here have power, what you call something has power – power even to enable us as humans to make our murder of others somehow more palatable.
And so we’re feeling pretty okay about ourselves, because we’re the West and we stand for what is just and right and wouldn’t dream of dehumanising our brothers. And then – This smacks us between the eyes –
And so we see that our own attitudes are just as damaging – The people are not worth the lives of men we could send to stop the slaughter. When Paul whispers to his wife that “they are not coming to save us” I felt guilty, and dirty. I so wanted it to not be true that we just left these people to be massacred simply because there was no profit for us. And then this man, who at the beginning of his story was only interested in saving his own family, comes to realise that all the people in the hotel are his responsibility, are his family, his Community. And he, unlike the West, cannot leave these people to die. He WILL not leave them to die. Unlike Schindler, he is not a Godlike figure who saves people from Hell – He is instead a man whose life is just under as much threat as anyone else but he faces each threat with bluff, bluster and at times sheer bloody-mindedness. Like Schindler, he relies on the inherent corruptness of the system he exists in, using bribery to build favour – and when the money starts to run out he uses the threat of reprisals to the only man who is afraid of those reprisals.
I don’t know what Paul Rusesabagina’s Faith is, or whether he professes to follow Jesus – but I see here in a story of Courage, political corruption and the consequences of violence that the weak are protected, the orphans are cared for, the hungry are fed and Justice for each person is sought – Justice not in the sense of their enemies being struck down, but Justice in that each Man’s worth is respected and protected. And that to me is a follower of Jesus bringing God’s Kingdom to this world.
The Image of God in each of us deserves to be called something far greater than Cockroach. We are Princes, Princesses. We are precious and valuable. Each and every one. And if you’re confident that the names you give people are ones that draw out the Image of God within – think the next time you call someone Rubbish – Rubbish is a step below the Cockroaches…..
And I look at Syria. This too is an “internal matter”, a “civil war”. And I wonder, is there a third way between doing nothing – which is anathema to me and bombing the hell out of people – which is repulsive to me. For me, the only just thing to do is utterly impractical – and the only logical thing we can do. the impractical thing to do is to go in and get the people who are suffering, to stand in the way of the guns, the machetes, the bombs. To take the innocent out of the equation. And at the same time to pray for and bless those who are lobbing the bombs, Chemical weapons and firing the guns. Because they’re not cockroaches either. They too are men in the image of God – a distorted image true, but one that gives them the same rights to Justice and Mercy. But I have no idea how to do this, so I will pray, and I will offer what Justice I can on my doorstep. I will turn my back on shame and guilt – we all share in that, but to embrace it leaves us powerless to do anything for those we encounter who suffer. I instead I will share the story of a simple man. A man who sheltered, a man who protected. And though the folk I encounter may not be in fear of a machete, they live in fear of something. They are in danger of being dehumanised, of those in power turning away for lack of profit, those who could help turning away in shame.
I dare you not to turn away, I dare you to join me in seeking Justice and Mercy, I dare you to DO something. I’m daring myself.