Monday, May 14, 2007

Dr. Movie Notes: The Genocide Factor

Note: I recently received a number of videotapes from a professor who was cleaning out her collection and switching to DVDs. I've agreed with Claire that I will watch each tape once and throw them out. So ''Dr. Movie Notes'' refers to the movies in this grab-bag from someone else's movie collection. The fun part is that I've never even heard of many of these films.

The Genocide Factor- Episode 4

Never mind ''never again''. Genocide had something of a renaissance in the 1990s with major 'ethnic cleansing' campaigns waged in Rwanda, Burundi, and the countries formerly known as Yugoslavia. On one hand, the difference between 'ethnic cleansing' and 'genocide' is relatively minor; ethnic cleansing is when you force a group of people off of a piece of land, killing them indiscriminately in the process; genocide is when you surround them and kill them. Since this is a difference of intent, though, the terminology is extremely important in legal terms. Genocide is the crime above all crimes. Since 2002, with the foundation of the International Criminal Court, it is considerably harder for those who commit war crimes to escape conviction. Sad to say, Idi Amin and Pol Pot died of old age in relative freedom.

While variations of genocide have existed since Biblical times, the legal term was coined in 1933 by Raphael Lemkin. Sadly, it has been an applicable term several times since then. This film is actually part four in a series and deals with the mass killings in Uganda, Ethiopia, Burundi, Rwanda, and the countries that once made up Yugoslavia. Chillingly enough, Sudan is mentioned only at the end as one potential future 'hot spot'- the film was made in 2002.

I've actually spoken with Alison Des Forges, who is interviewed throughout the film. She is an African historian and an expert on the Rwandan genocide and is often called to the Hague as an expert witness in genocide cases. It's impossible to tell in the film, but she is a tiny woman with smiling eyes who seems an unlikely sort to spend her life studying mass murder. I asked her how she spends so much time on this subject without wanting to kill herself. She never really explained it, but I think she simply understands the importance of her work, a grace that not many people have. It can clearly become overwhelming stuff though; witness Iris Chang, who herself bore witness to the Rape of Nanking, before eventually shooting herself.

An interesting aspect of the film for me was that it was the flash point for a mini-controversy at Mall University. One of our professors showed the film in a class and a student became upset over the sections dealing with war crimes between the Israelis and Palestinians. As is often the case with these sorts of things, the student's response was to go to administration and to push for the professor to be 'held accountable', whatever that means. The student got some more-Israeli-than-thou group in California on her side in a crusade against the ''anti-Israel and anti-Semitic professor'', who was a bit taken aback by the whole matter, as she is both Jewish and Israeli. I think what bugged me about the whole thing was that it could have been handled more productively by having some sort of open discussion on the film. The college community at large could have discussed whether or not the film is controversial. But, the group in question wasn't making the case that it was a controversial film so much as that it was a controversial film to them. So it wasn't open for discussion. I honestly think most 'politics' boils down to groups of people trying to make other people do what they want.

When the film reached the controversial section, I was expecting something... I don't know... a bit more inflammatory, or at least noticeably slanted. But the section in question was five minutes long, and it argued basically that war crimes have been committed by both the Israelis and the Palestinians, fueled by implacable hatred for each other. Well, fucking duh.

I also think the reason there are so many of these mini-controversies on college campuses isn't because of any particular ideology, but because students have come to expect that their education should be tailor-made for them specifically. For all of the rhetoric you hear from the politically correct right and left, their arguments often boil down to 'the customer is always right'. Well, fine. But isn't college the one time in your life in which you should want to be pushed, challenged, and shaken up a bit? A customer might always be right, but a student who is always right has no real need to be educated.

Film Notes Archive.

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