By Heather Craig
After spending 11 days in Rwanda, studying justice and reconciliation post genocide, I’ve returned with a copious amount of information. Visiting memorials and listening to the accounts of survivors and perpetrators of the 1994 genocide proved to be an emotional and enlightening experience.
During the genocide, thousands of Tutsis sought refuge in Catholic churches only to be betrayed by their religious leaders and turned over to Hutu government forces and the Interahamwe militias to be slaughtered. I visited two of those churches, which now serve as memorials and chilling reminders of the horrors experienced in 1994.
I also learned that some Tutsis turned to the small Islamic community that existed in Rwanda at that time for protection from what seemed to be an unavoidable fate. I heard stories of Muslims standing up to the militias, refusing to turn over the people they were safeguarding. Those Tutsis, who were given shelter in mosques and Muslim homes, were spared from a horrific and untimely death. Muslims risked their lives to protect neighbors, friends and strangers alike.
Evil exists in our world today, just as it did in Rwanda in 1994, but a story like this one reminds us that those evildoers, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity, are the exception, not the rule. The Catholic priests who handed over thousands to be massacred were clearly heinous and depraved, but do we consider all Catholic priests or followers of that faith to be such? So why then are we so willing to allow the acts of a very small number of Muslims to poison our hearts, minds and tongues against an entire religion?
Hearing these stories of compassion and bravery in the face of evil reminded me of a recent Reuters news story from Kenya about a group of Muslims who protected their fellow bus passengers during an Al-Shabaab attack. The Muslim passengers swapped clothes with Christian passengers, allowing them to blend in, and refused to identify the Christians on the bus despite threats from the terrorists to kill them all. Adan Wachu, Secretary General of Kenya’s Supreme Council of Muslims, said “Terrorists have no borders, religion or race. Terrorists submit to no faith…Let us be each other’s true keepers.” This is a view that people everywhere should embrace.
Heather Craig is a 2017 candidate for a master’s degree in global affairs, with a concentration in human rights and international law, at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs.