Week 6

Narrating Genocide

“When Wounds and Corpses Fail to Speak” by Ngwarsungu Chiwengo highlights the importance of language when it comes to representing human rights which is why certain events such as the Rwandan genocide receive more attention than violence and rape in Congo. The author cites 2 magazines: Shattered Lives and Seeking Justice. The former objectifies pain with a focus on women’s misery, poverty, trauma, and suffering. The latter, on the other hand, focuses on differences in laws in the Congo versus elsewhere, commodifying women as an object in the market economy. I personally disagreed with the example given by the author and felt that whereas it is important to make women the central focus, it also important to address politics involving rape laws by doing so, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the women were being “commodified.” However, if there is a lack of literature elaborating on women’s suffering in the Congo (which seems to be the case) then this would be a problem.

“Narrative” is something we usually don’t think or care about but the author makes a great point by pointing out the agencies supposedly giving voice to the people, such as documentaries, narratives, reports and films, can actually end up silencing the victims of structural violence. This is especially apparent in the case of rape and women, as mentioned above. Whereas political and economical analysis is also important, hopefully future narratives on genocides will make the victims the central focus of the writing.


Witnessing Violence

Violence begets violence, and wars beget wars. We see this in In Chiwengo’s article, “When wounds and Corpses fail to speak: Narratives of Violence and Rape in Congo (DRC).” After the Rwandan genocide, another genocide took place in the Congo, yet the attention wasn’t as broadcasted as it was with the Rwandan genocide. The question then is, why are some people’s stories told, but others ignored. Providing narratives (especially narratives that include horrible violence) to an audience, especially to an audience that wants to hear it, seems like a tough thing to accomplish. Media can either be a means to start and fuel a genocide or bring awareness to a genocide and therefore stop it.   The media and propaganda that was used to incite hate and conflict that justified their reasons for exterminating a population, but at the same time, social media can bring about awareness about issues one would never have thought existed.

Recently I came across a documentary that was awarded the 2012 Academy Award for Best Documentary. I have yet to see it, but I was shocked to hear that it dealt with acid attacks on young women. I never heard of that type of violence being committed, and this is an example of how media can bring to light certain issues that one, such as myself never knew existed.

Article on Media, propaganda and Genocide:


More Information on Acid Survivors Foundation:


Healing Violence

War has lasting harmful effects on a people and their country. In Charles Hoge’s article, the U.S. soldier returning from Irag that had mild traumatic brain injury were likely to have higher risk of PTSD or depression (depending how long they were out for). In Carolyn Nordstrom’s article, terror warfare was destroying the country. People were attacking schools and medical centers and were raping women at high rates. What I loved about Nordstrom’s article is the forgiveness that is given to those that were harming people, and there was acceptance and healing given to the harmed women that returned to the villages. That is something that I never heard or read about before. Healing is incredibly important to help a community get passed what had been done to them.

The El Salvador civil war ended in 1992 when the peace accords were struck. Though the war has ended, violence is still prevalent in the country. In December, 2011 the president of El Salvador officially apologized for the massacre that took place by the Salvadoran army, in the rural town of El Mozote. Over three hundred people were killed; men and women were separated. Men were tortured into confessing the whereabouts of the guerilla group.  Once they were done being tortured they were killed. Babies were killed, the girls and women were raped and killed and then the town was set on fire. The few that were able to escape tried to tell the rest of the people what had happened, but the governments (both El Salvador and the US government) claimed that they were lying, that no such atrocities ever occurred. There is a memorial that is at the site of the massacre but there is a silence that still permeates. People don’t talk about it, and I have heard of people not wanting to even go there because they claim “Ya para que” meaning, “what good is it going to do.” The massacre took place in 1981, and my parent didn’t even hear about it and its 2012. The silence that has a hold in El Salvador is hiding the skeletons that are still buried, and in my opinion, is inhibiting them from healing and growth.

More on El Salvador war and on El Mozote:



Healing Violence

In occidental thought, violence is often seen as a given nature – something that must be avoided, controlled, or held in check. However, for the people in Mozambique, violence is a cultural construct meaning that if something is made, then it can be unmade. In other words, in addition to healing the physical wounds of war, “social and political violence is a pathology that must be cured just like any other illness.” This is the subject of “Terror Warfare and the Medicine of Peace,” a provocative article by Carolyn Nordstorm addressing the reconceptualizing of “violence.”

Springing from the Cold War, the Mozambican Civil War lasted from 1977 to 1992. After independence a Marxist-Lenist government was established by the FRELIMO forces. However, this government faced destabilization from pro-Apartheid Rhodesia who instigated the RENAMO rebel forces to use violence for personal gain. Human will poses a considerable threat to those who seek to dominate. “Terror warfare” involves using violence to take away everything that is meaningful in a person’s life (family, community, identity) in order in order to create fear and allow for subjugation. However, Nordstrom argues that Mozambican creativity, their ability to reconceptualize violence and defy authority, amounted to an act of a control that taunted military power through means of asserting their personal identities to reestablish order in a disordered world.

War creates a culture of violence; African healers (Curandeiros) work to “treat the war” by curing violence taught by war education. When one woman came back home after kidnap and tortured by RENAMO forces, the whole community tended to her needs. She was reassured that she isn’t responsible for her plight, that she is not alone, and that she has the responsibility to not inflict on the others the violence that she has been subjected to. Those working to refashion peace into society must coexist with those who exploited violence for self-gain. However, instead of harboring resentment, the Mozambicans understand that this would only breed more violence. Turning former soldiers away from their communities would only encourage further usage of violence to sustain their lives. (In fact, some soldiers were kidnapped in order to remove the war from them in addition to removing them from the war.) People were unwillingly corrupted by war and often they will bring back violence to their communities because those exposed to violence have the tendency to reproduce it. Mozambicans defy the hegemony of war by reintegrating people into community life and defusing the culture of violence created during war. Through this manner, Mozambique is one of the most peaceful African countries today.

If this manner of thinking were to be applied to other countries trying to recover from war or genocide, perhaps recovery would be much more streamlined. Everyone knows that “violence is bad” but we rarely think about how violence can be become so engrained into one’s identity. Nordstrom’s article highlights the importance of addressing how to stop the cycle of violence by undoing war culture and helping societies forge new identities by addressing the psyche of each individual who is exposed to violence.

Learn more about Mozambique’s transition into peace: http://www.nlpwessex.org/docs/mozambique.htm

-Jessica Heng