Sunday, 2nd May
Seven and three quarter hours in church. To be fair, the main service lasted only five and a quarter hours, and a hour of that was taken by speeches at the end. The rain came down with a tropical ferocity and the temperature was barely more than twenty degrees, cool enough for many people to come with coats and sweaters, but there was an overwhelming joy. A service five minutes longer than an hour at home leads to complaints afterwards at the church door, an hour this morning would have only been time enough to warm up.
Pondering the four hundred or so people gathered n the church, the question drifted into mind about Hutu and Tutsi – those arbitrary identities were irrelevant in such a context yet sixteen years ago those identities destroyed this country.
There is a satirical poster in the United States that mocks the absurdity of discrimination. “Stop immigration” it declares, “send home the Puritans”. There are silhouettes of people in 17th Century dress hastening away.
The absurdity of discrimination is embodied in the manifesto of the British National Party who are contesting the United Kingdom General Election this week. They make spurious claims about there being ‘historic peoples’ of Britain, a concept as arbitrary as the division between Tutsi and Hutu.
Ethnic divisions in Rwanda were created by colonial administrators seeking to create a dominant class – if one had more than ten cows, one was a Tutsi; if one was a Hutu with less than ten cows, but became wealthy, one could become a Tutsi. The political and economic division was reinforced with racist pseudo-science that sought to classify people by measuring their faces. The black and white photographs of white European seeking to ‘classify’ Rwandan people would be laughable if their efforts had not contributed to a racist ideology that was to cost 800,000 lives in the spring of 1994.
Britain has had wave upon wave of immigration through the centuries. Where is the cut off point for being a member of the ‘historic peoples’? Two hundred years ago to make sure 19th century Irish and Eastern European immigrants are sent home? Five hundred years ago to get rid of all the Protestants who came from Europe to Britain? Maybe a thousand years ago, so all the Normans could be sent back to France (there go the de Poultons)? What about sixteen hundred years ago to purge the country of the Angles and the Saxons and the Jutes and the Danes? In fact, if a neat line was drawn two thousand years ago, one could have a pure British people who would, of course, speak Welsh. The whole concept of ‘historic peoples’ is absurd.
Discrimination is absurd and dangerous. Sixteen years ago the people sat in church this morning witnessed one of the worst genocides in human history because someone believed discrimination was a reasonable way to run a country.