It was a surprise to hear Governor Palin so vehemently declare "Never again" during last night's debate and instantly realize that she was neither referencing the Holocaust (despite her protestations of support for Israel), nor the genocide in Darfur (despite her protestations of support for divestment from Sudan), but Wall Street greed. Politics is full of buzzwords, but a few shocking ones are ringing in my ears these days.
Prior to the Vice Presidential debate the nation's conservative talk show hosts went crazy arguing (incorrectly) that Gwen Ifill was too biased to moderate and the "liberal media" were at it again. No lack of truth could stop them as they exercised their right to free speech. Yet surely you do not have to be a socialist or a liberal, just a human being, to recoil when a radio talk show host calls people he does not like "baby-killing maggots" as Alaska's Eddie Burke did the other week.
I honor the First Amendment, but I literally shuddered when I heard his invective, because to me, and I sincerely hope, to Cindy McCain, there is genocidal ideology in Eddie Burke's choice of words.
As Founder of Three Generations I have spent a good deal of time with genocide survivors in Rwanda, including visits to The Kigali Memorial Center. Cindy McCain toured there recently with Senators Bill Frist and Tom Daschle. They cannot have failed to see the exhibits that detail the radio addresses that were blasted across Rwanda in the days and weeks prior to their genocide. In those harrowing addresses Tutsis were regularly referred to as "cockroaches". These are some of the most disturbing parts of the invective that was used by Rwandan political leaders to drum up hatred and to dehumanize victims prior to the wholesale slaughter of a million people.
You might argue that this couldn't happen in America and getting upset about the words of a radio talk show host in the 50th state is irrelevant. Let's hope you are right. History shows again and again that the use of dehumanizing words precedes grave crimes against humanity.
We are living in times of radical polarization, our country bifurcated by passionate adherence to ideology and differing points of view, and so we are at risk.
Three Generations, (a 501c3) was formed to use the power of witness and story telling to shine a spotlight on our common humanity. For that purpose, I interviewed Freddy Mutanguhua, Director of the Kigali Memorial Centre earlier this year. He was orphaned in the Rwandan genocide and has taken Cindy McCain, President Bush and others around the centre. This is what he told me:
"The problem of survivors should not be our problem, a Rwandan problem, should not actually just be an African problem, it should be a problem for humanity. When genocide was happening in Rwanda the Darfuris were not expecting to die in a genocide. In the 1930s the Rwandan people did not know that in 1994 genocide would happen and that one million people could die in 100 days. That means that we never know, but it can happen everywhere, so it is our problem, all of us are human beings. It can happen in America, everywhere, it can happen in Burundi and India, everywhere. So we need to work hand by hand and make sure that this atrocity is stopped everywhere. You come as Jane Wells if I say I am a survivor you are also a survivor because they were targeting human beings and you are a human being".
So let's engage in fair debate, agree to disagree, but let us keep dehumanizing invective and political buzzwords within the confines of our common humanity.
No more maggots, no more cockroaches. To use some of Governor Palin's words from last night "enough is enough."