Denial About Rwanda.
I am indebted to Marko Attila Hoare for pointing me to the piece below by Adam Jones, and I freely admit that I rarely see eye to eye with Marko politically, but his work in shining a light on genocide denial is admirable and worthy of praise.
Marko’s new post covers genocide denial in the Balkans and Rwanda, and he points out the deniers’ techniques haven’t changed much over the years. Amongst them is how they will use an obscure source to dismiss a reputable one, mangle a source to change its meaning and intent, or link to a questionable piece of evidence to buttress their arguments. That is only for starters, deniers will use every disreputable method possible and do so consciously, which is why their actions must be vigorously opposed.
Adam Jones, a specialist in the field, takes apart The Politics of Genocide by Edward S. Herman and David Peterson:
“For Herman & Peterson to offer any evidence at all for their squalid inversion of reality, however, they need Davenport & Stam. There is almost nothing else in the scholarly literature that can be squeezed into their framework, even in denatured form. So in the process of bending Davenport & Stam to make them fit, they not only jettison their sources’ core conclusions and substitute their own; they toss out Davenport & Stam’s guiding assumptions as well! In preparing their statistical analysis of patterns of violence, Davenport & Stam divided Rwandan territory into zones that were government-controlled, RPF-controlled, and contested. Herman & Peterson aver that this is “problematic.” In fact, they allege, those whom Davenport & Stam deemed guilty of “the vast majority” of the killing were such a bumbling bunch that “it is frankly counterintuitive” to consider them “in control of anything” (p. 133). Really, it’s a wonder the poor dears could tie their shoes — let alone mobilize to massacre at least half a million Tutsis and oppositionist Hutus.
So now, “the vast majority” of the killing that Davenport & Stam specifically attributed to Hutu Power forces is thrown up for grabs. Herman & Peterson can seize upon Davenport & Stam’s finding that “when the RPF advanced, large-scale killings escalated. When the RPF stopped, large-scale killings largely decreased” to contend that this shows RPF forces were “the initiators and the main perpetrators of 1994’s mass blood-letting.” Davenport & Stam’s framing in fact fits with a picture of Hutu Power agents lashing out genocidally at Tusis, in spasms that correlate with RPF advances. There is a certain logic to that — panic and insecurity are frequently spurs to more frenzied killing — but there is no other evidence for it that I am aware of, and in any case Herman & Peterson’s “logic” is entirely different. They point out in their attack on me that in The Politics of Genocide, they do indeed note the incongruence between their arguments and Davenport & Stam’s findings. But they word it as follows: “Davenport and Stam fail to draw the most important conclusion from their superb work …” They don’t fail to draw the important conclusion; they draw the exactly opposite important conclusion. Davenport & Stam, apparently, are “superb” and credible authorities when their findings are convenient. When they are inconvenient, they must be ruled out as “problematic” or “fail[ing],” and replaced by rickety fabrications of Herman & Peterson’s own, mercifully unique devising.
It is perfectly legitimate, and important, to highlight these aspects of the Kagame regime, and to explore relatively understudied elements of the Rwandan genocide, its aftermath, and the wars and genocides in D.R. Congo. That inquiry is in fact well advanced, conducted by scholars with deep knowledge and an abiding understanding of Rwanda and the Great Lakes region. The long-overdue United Nations report leaked in August 2010, documenting in detail the Rwandan army’s role in genocidal atrocities against Hutus in Congo during the 1996 “clearing of the camps” and after, is clearly a watershed that no scholar or student of the region — and no analyst of Rwanda and the RPF — will be able to ignore.
It remains, nonetheless, malicious and profoundly illegitimate to deny the systematic genocidal killing of Tutsis in Rwanda, by diverse institutional agents of “Hutu Power,” from April to July 1994. Such brazen denialism is what Herman & Peterson have propounded, online and in The Politics of Genocide. In Herman’s case, this besmirches an often honorable career on the progressive left, though the decline was already well advanced — he has gained notoriety in recent years for efforts to obscure and deny the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia, among other inexplicably reactionary campaigns.”
Read Marko’s post on The bizarre world of genocide denial.
“All this is also welcome fuel for a determined group of Rwanda genocide-deniers. A new book by Edward S Herman and David Peterson focusing on the use of the term “genocide” in the media and academia – The Politics of Genocide (Monthly Review Press, 2010) – argues that the western establishment has “swallowed a propaganda line on Rwanda that turned perpetrator and victim upside-down” (p.51); the RPF not only killed Hutus, but were the “prime génocidaires” (p.54); there was “large-scale killing and ethnic cleansing of Hutus by the RPF long before the April-July 1994 period (p.53); this contributed to a result in which “the majority of victims were likely Hutu and not Tutsi” (quoted with approval, p.58).
Herman and Peterson state that “a number of observers as well as participants in the events of 1994 claim that the great majority of deaths were Hutu, with some estimates as high as two million” (p.58). But a check of the reference for this shocking statement finds no more than a letter from a former RPF military officer and personal communications from a former defence council before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (n.127, p.132) – both participants rather than “observers”. That is enough for these authors to dismiss the idea of “800,000 or more largely Tutsi deaths” as RPF and western propaganda (see Adam Jones, “On Genocide Deniers – Challenging Herman and Peterson”, AllAfrica.com. 16 July 2010).”
Update 2: Returning to Marko’s comments on David.N Gibbs’ book:
Consequently, it has been with a certain inner groaning that I’ve become aware of the latest regurgitations of the old denialist narrative. One such regurgitation is David N. Gibbs, First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, 2009). To give a foretaste of what you can expect of this book, Gibbs has this to say about the Srebrenica massacre: ‘Certainly, the murder of eight thousand people is a grave crime, but to call it “genocide” needlessly exaggerates the scale of the crime.’ (p. 281).
Needless to say, Gibbs has no academic expertise on the former Yugoslavia or the Balkans and does not read Serbo-Croat. He hasn’t bothered to engage with the existing literature, but simply ignored all the existing works that undermine his thesis. He has not tackled the evidence presented by Daniele Conversi, myself and others, that the Milosevic regime and the Yugoslav People’s Army deliberately engineered the break-up of Yugoslavia; or the work of Michael Libal and Richard Caplan, exploding the myth that Germany encouraged Croatia to secede from Yugoslavia; or the work of Brendan Simms, demonstrating that Britain’s intervention in Bosnia actually shielded Karadzic’s Serb forces from hostile international intervention. Instead, Gibbs has cherry-picked a few odds and ends in order to present the same old revisionist story, only with a larger number of endnotes than the previous versions written by Diana Johnstone, Michael Parenti et al. Yet he must know very well that his book will not survive a critical review by a genuine specialist in the field, that it will be ignored by all serious scholars and that it will serve only to confirm the views of the small, dwindling minority already committed to the revisionist narrative.