Thursday, 09 June, 2005

Hotel Rawanda: Could it happen here?

The movie Hotel Rawanda tells the story of  Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager at the Les Milles Collines hotel in Kigali in 1994 during the Rawandan massacre.  I was pleasantly surprised by the movie.  It's drama, of course, and I suspect that the writer and director took a few liberties, but it's a reasonably good portrayal of the events.  Rather than try to review the movie myself, I'll encourage you to see it or to read one of the many reviews available on the Web.

To recap real events, in a 100 day period starting on April 6, 1994, somewhere around 800,000 (some put the number at 1,000,000) people in Rawanda were killed by "militias" armed mostly with clubs and machetes.  People were rounded up door to door, robbed, raped, enslaved as prostitutes, hacked and beaten to death all in broad daylight.  Most of the people killed were minority Tutsi, but there were also many Hutus murdered for their moderate views.  The History Place has a good summary here.

The United Nations, despite ample warning of impending problems, did absolutely nothing to avert the crisis or help end it once it had begun.  In typical bureaucratic fashion, the U.N. issued statements condemning the killings, being very careful not to use the word "genocide," as that would have forced action.  For the most part, people around the world looked at the news on their television screens and said, "That's horrible," before flipping the channel.  You see similar reactions today to events in the Darfur province of Sudan.

A lot of people in the United States are of the opinion that something like that couldn't happen here.  "Those Africans are just crazy," is a commonly held belief.  "We're civilized," is another, implying that somehow our society is above such things.  Or maybe they're implying that whites are above such behavior, conveniently forgetting the Nazi counter example that occurred only 60 years ago.  Whether derived from elitism, racism, or something else, the idea that a genocide-type event could not happen in the U.S. is just plain wrong.  It doesn't take much of a stretch to envision it happening here.

In what I think is the most likely scenario, workers displaced by outsourcing or off shoring, or who have had their formerly high wages for jobs like construction or meat packing reduced by competition from immigrants (legal or illegal) form roaming militias that terrorize or kill immigrants.  "Immigrant" would probably have a broad definition in this case, encompassing anybody who doesn't fit the stereotype of a white American.  Anybody who opposed such a militia would be dispensed with as well.  I don't think such a thing would be nationwide, but I can easily envision flare-ups in large cities, National Guard troops called in to restore order, and tensions escalating until at some point there is a pitched battle between National Guard troops and one of these militias.

The only reason that hasn't happened yet is because things are still going relatively well.  A 6% unemployment rate, bad as it is, doesn't make for a critical mass of dissatisfied citizens, especially when almost all of the unemployed here live far better than the vast majority of people in the world.  Things are a lot different if 35% of skilled workers become unemployed and are struggling just to eat.  Then you're talking about tens of millions of people who have few prospects and a lot of time to nurture hatred for the groups they think are the cause.  It's not a pretty picture.  If idle hands are indeed the devil's tools, you probably don't want imagine the combination of idle hands and a well-nurtured grudge.

I'd like to think that we're a long way from that happening, but I'm not so sure.  Current trends have me a little worried.  As conditions in Mexico and Central and South America deteriorate it becomes more attractive for people living there to risk entering the U.S. illegally in search of a better life.  One can hardly blame them.  This is true of people from other countries as well but Latin American immigrants are more prevalent simply because they're closer.  It's a whole lot easier to hitch a ride north than to hop a freighter from Asia, Europe, or Africa.

The Minuteman Project, benign though it may be, is the first real step towards a large militia.  Here we have a well organized private group policing the border because the government agencies in charge either can't or won't do it.  This is ringing warning bells throughout the government but in typical bureaucratic fashion our elected representatives are misinterpreting the signals.  The Minuteman Project's members are seriously concerned about illegal immigrants taking American jobs, overwhelming our social welfare system, and changing our way of life.  Claiming that Minuteman supporters are racist or causing problems with our neighbors to the south will not change the fact that people are becoming increasingly less tolerant of illegal immigration.  Goverment officials at all levels should stop issuing statements to further their petty political goals.  They must act to stem the tide of illegal immigration.  That means securing the borders, denying services to non-citizens, and tracking down and deporting illegal immigrants.  Failure to do so will eventually result in a violent confrontation.

My personal position on immigration is quite a bit more relaxed than most.  I believe we should tighten our borders to prevent illegal immigration while at the same time removing some of the roadblocks that prevent productive people from obtaining work visas, green cards, and U.S. citizenship.  We should welcome people who strive to enter our country legally, often at great risk to themselves.  Our society was built by risk takers and dreamers who came to this country and worked to provide a better life for themselves and their families.  Currently we have our priorities backwards.  We make it very difficult for those attempting to enter legally and at the same time allow untold thousands to enter illegally.

If you want to see what the hard liners have to say, start at Michelle Malkin's Immigration Blog and follow some of the links.  These people are serious and they're becoming angry.  The longer things remain as they are, the more people join the ranks of the hard liners.  A few fringe wackos is disturbingly funny.  An organized group of motivated people who support the fringe wackos is very frightening.