Hotel Rwanda

hotel rwanda
Hotel Rwanda

Hotel Rwanda (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve owned a DVD of Hotel Rwanda for several years now (my sister gave it to me as part of a birthday gift), but I’ve never felt “in the mood” to watch it. It has always seemed like the kind of movie you have to be ready to watch – not a movie you pop into the DVD player when you feel like relaxing on the couch with a bowl of popcorn. I left the DVD on the shelf, still wrapped in cellophane.

When the Kony 2012 movement started, I thought about Hotel Rwanda. Kony 2012, a 30-minute documentary, and Hotel Rwanda, a feature film, both address a humanitarian crisis that went widely ignored by the world beyond the African continent. Honestly, I was unaware of the Rwandan genocide until Hotel Rwanda was released in 2004, and much of America could probably say the same. While the genocide was taking place, America was rivoted by the O.J. Simpson trial. Likewise, Kony 2012 made millions of people aware of what Joseph Kony and the LRA are doing in Africa.

I decided to watch Hotel Rwanda (finally) one Saturday afternoon, and what I found was a profoundly moving film that told an unbelievable true story. After watching the movie, I read a book that had been sitting on my bookshelf: An Ordinary Man – an Autobiography by Paul Rusesabagina, who inspired the film Hotel Rwanda. Both the film and the book provided some thought-provoking quotes that seem applicable to Kony 2012 and the need for the world to take notice and take action for the sake of humanity.

From the Film

Paul (Don Cheadle): How can people see this footage and not intervene?
Jack (Joaquin Phoenix): I think if people see this footage, they’ll say “Oh my God, that’s horrible” and go on eating their dinners.

It was interesting to hear this quote in light of Kony 2012. People have seen the footage, they have been made aware of the issue, but in the end many will go on eating their dinners. As we’ve seen in the media, many people have seen the footage of Kony 2012 and have turned against the work Invisible Children is trying to do for a number of reasons. Many say it’s not the responsibility of the West to do anything. Others say that the issue is non-existent, that the information is outdated and irrelevant. When you read the words of Paul Rusesabagina and his reflections on the Rwandan genocide, you wonder why people really want to remain uninvolved.

From the book

It was a failure of Western democracies to step in and avert the catastrophe when abundant evidence was available. It was a failure of the United States for not calling a genocide by its right name. It was a failure of the United Nations to live up to its commitments as a peacemaking body.

Words are the most effective weapons of death in man’s arsenal. But they can also be powerful tools of life. They may be the only ones.

[Inventor of the word "genocide," Raphael] Lemkin’s idea was romantic and idealistic: That it is in the interests of the entire interconnected human family to see that no one part of it is wiped out. And yet ever since, the short-term interests of national sovereignty have always carried the day.

[A]nything that called for a commitment of American troops to Africa was anathema in the halls of the U.S. State Department.

[T]here was no natural resource in Rwanda that anybody cared about either – only human beings in danger.

Human beings were sacrificed for political convenience. This would be enough, I think, to turn any reasonable man into a prisoner of his own conscience for the rest of his life.

The church remained mostly silent when it should have been speaking out in a loud voice. Its failure to stand strong in this critical hour was equivalent to complicity. It still disturbs me that houses of prayer could have been transformed into killing zones.

“Happiness, too, is inevitable.” – Albert Camus

Words can be instruments of evil, but they can also be powerful tools of life. If you say the right ones they can save the whole world.

Standing out front is a sign draped with a purple cloth. It bears a pledge in four languages: “Never Again.” We all know these words. But we never seem to hear them.

A sad truth of human nature is that it is hard to care for people when they are abstractions, hard to care when it is not you or somebody close to you. Unless the world community can stop finding ways to dither in the face of this monstrous threat to humanity those words Never Again will persist in being one of the most abused phrases in the English language and one of the greatest lies of our time.

Evil can be frustrated by people you might think are weaklings. Quiet, ordinary people are often the only people with the real ability to defeat evil.

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