Rwandan Muslims: Hatred in a Head Count

Waleed Aly

Posted Feb 20, 2007      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Hatred in a Head Count

by Waleed Aly

RWANDAN Muslims were once held in low esteem. They were traders in a land where farmers held prestige. Moreover they were socially and politically negligible, constituting roughly 5 per cent of the population, and largely confined to the unspectacular neighbourhood of Kigali. Then came the genocide of 1994 in which tribal violence between Hutus and Tutsis claimed 800,000 lives.

Churches became slaughterhouses. Some brave priests and nuns lost their lives trying to resist the genocide. Many others were complicit. Hutu Catholic pastors offered refuge to Tutsis, only to surrender them to Hutu death squads who massacred them in the pews, and even at the altar.

Meanwhile, Kigali was a sanctuary. Muslims, both Hutu and Tutsi, resolved that they would stand against the genocide. When Hutu militias surrounded the neighbourhood, Hutu Muslims refused to co-operate. They hid Tutsis — Muslim and Christian — in their homes and in their mosques. Now, Islam in Rwanda is booming. Masses of Christians, incapable of returning to the churches in which their families were slaughtered, sickened at the thought of praying next to those who massacred them and listening to priests who sanctioned it, have converted to Islam. Today, Muslims constitute around 15 per cent of the population.

If we are to listen to visiting Israeli professor Raphael Israeli, Rwanda must now be heading for disaster. “When the Muslim population gets to a critical mass you have problems,” he contributed last week. For this, we are told the archetypal exhibit is France, where, thanks to a 10 per cent Muslim minority, “French people say they are strangers in their own country”. Violence flows from sizeable Muslim minorities as surely as breathing, apparently. But “if there is only 1 or 2 per cent they don’t dare to do it … they are drowned in the environment of non-Muslims and are better behaved”.

Sometimes a statement is so manifestly boneheaded it is difficult to know whether or not it is worthy of a response. So it is with Israeli’s unsolicited social commentary. “Greeks or Italians or Jews don’t use violence,” he blundered, as though the Mafia had never existed, and Revolutionary Struggle, an active Greek terrorist group, had not claimed responsibility for bombing the US embassy in Athens last month. Israeli either forgets or omits Dr Robert J. Goldstein, the American Jew convicted for plotting to blow up a Muslim educational centre with the stated aim being to “Kill all ‘rags’ — ZERO residual presence — maximum effect”. The capitals are Goldstein’s.

But stupidity can sometimes be dangerous, and one suspects Israeli’s comments are a case in point. Federal Liberal MP Bruce Baird was moved to issue a strong press release, denouncing them as “racist” and “obscene”. The Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council saw fit to repudiate them and cancel planned events featuring Israeli. The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies was more equivocal. It denounced the remarks on Friday, but the next day defended them in a letter to The Sydney Morning Herald, claiming Israeli had been misunderstood, Hilali-style.

Israeli’s comments matter because they are not as marginal as they are mad. His latest book, The Third Islamic Invasion of Europe, argues that an increasing Muslim demographic in Europe threatens that continent’s political and cultural integrity. “Every European with a right mind has every reason to be frightened,” he told The Jerusalem Post in January. This is an unoriginal appropriation of the “Eurabia” conspiracy thesis of Jewish writer Bat Ye’or: that Europe is evolving into a post-Judeo-Christian civilisation increasingly subjugated to the jihadi ideology of Muslim migrants.

In Europe, prominent intellectuals such as the historian Martin Gilbert have given this theory enthusiastic endorsement. In the US, it enjoys the ardent advocacy of public figures like Daniel Pipes, who has argued that the US should consider the internment of American Muslims as an option in the war on terror. Pipes is regularly consulted as an “expert” on Islam and Muslims, and was recently hosted in Australia by the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council.

The fundamental danger at the heart of this discourse is that it is incapable of understanding Muslims as human beings. Every nuance of human psychology to which we refer when understanding criminal or antisocial behaviour is suddenly deemed irrelevant.

Thus, the children of North African migrants who rioted in Paris in 2005 are understood solely as expressing their religious bigotry. Forget that the religiosity of these communities is almost non-existent. Forget that their ghettoes have formed over generations of unemployment and assimilationist exclusion from French society. The Muslim identity of the culprit explains all. They are equated with the London bombers, although their story has more in common with that of the Macquarie Fields riots that erupted in Sydney in 2005.

Such dehumanisation can be deadly. Bruce Baird asserted that Israeli exhibits “the same ideology that has underpinned the thousands of years of hatred targeted at Professor Israeli’s people, culminating in the Holocaust just 65 years ago”. That is not as far-fetched as it sounds. When you deprive people of their humanity, anything is possible. Today, we have Efraim Eitam, an MP in Israel’s National Union-National Religious Party bloc, demanding the “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians in the West Bank. We have Rabbi Yousef Falay, who last year recommended that Israeli troops kill all Palestinian males over the age of 13 to ensure “no Palestinian individual remains under our occupation”.

Israeli would probably repudiate such views. What may not occur to him and his supporters is that he gives them their foundation.

Waleed Aly’s book People Like Us will be published later this year by Picador.

Article also appeared in The New Age, Australia