Monday, February 06, 2006

Shake Hands With the Devil: A Review

After witnessing the Rwandan genocide of 1994 first hand, LGen Romeo Dalliare was asked how he could still believe in God, and in the preface to his book he gives his answer: "because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil." But having reading his book, with its surprisingly hopeful conclusion, the question I have for Dallaire is how he can still believe in humanity.

Romeo Dallaire gives a clearer depiction of human depravity than perhaps anyone since the World War II era. Except in Dallaire's case, it isn't aso simple as just being able to blame the Nazi's or demonize Hitler. There is no easy scapegoat in his story. It is a scathing rebuke of the entire international community and it is delivered with an insight and accuracy that is only bolstered by a personal humility that borders on self-deprecation. Romeo Dallaire indeed shook hands with the devil. The truly troubling thing about this is that the devil appeared in many forms, all of them human, and in all colours of the political spectrum.

Although there are some incredible heroes in the Rwandan story, their efforts are overshadowed by the huge black cloud of global indifference, racism, selfishness, and ignorance which created the perfect environment for the grotesque slaughter of 800,000 people.

In a sense the world can look at the genocide like the picture of Dorian Gray, it shows us what's really behind the facade. The human race is capable of good, but even the good it attempts is laced with bad, and is unfortunately often serves as a deceptive cover up for an overwhelming undercurrent of evil. We have our silver linings, but they cover immense storm clouds and, as the Grateful Dead sang, are themselves streaked with a "touch of grey".

In the Rwandan story the United Nations is a perfect example of this. Although percieved by many as a symbol of global hope and hailed as the cooperative force for peace-seeking nations it is revealed in Dallaires experience to be little more than a tool for international cop-outs and scape-goating. His book is rife with occurences where diplomats are more concerned with the wording of their support to the peace-keeping mission than they are with actually putting their resources where their mouths are and giving that support. For Western nations who so boisterously pride themselves on their recognition for human rights and even Christian values, this is an embarassing indictment, and yet a must-read.

As a Christian myself, quite frankly this book heightened my concern over the state of Western evangelicalism, but at the same time it deepened my belief that the only hope for the human race is for divine intervention.

Dallaire has seen the human race at its worst, and remarkably still holds out hope. He writes:

In the future we must be prepared to move beyond national self-interest to spend
our resources and spill our blood for humanity. We have lived through centuries
of enlightenment, reason, revolution, industrialization, and globalization. No
matter how idealistic the aim sounds, this new century must become the Century
of Humanity, when we as human beings rise above race, creed, colour, religion
and national self-interest and put the good of humanity above the good of our
own tribe. For the sake of the children and of our future.

In one sense I couldn't agree more. Social commentators and scientists are quick to point out the apparent evolution of the human race, and have named the technological era as further proof of it. But every one of these so-called advances has come with two steps backward and I don't think it is merely pessimistic to conclude that the problem may not be with human evolution but with the human race as a whole. In my opinion there is no evidence to suggest that even Dallaire's "Century of Humanity", even though it would have many steps forward, would bring us any closer to the ideal he proposes.

I have no problem with his ideal, I simply question whether it can come from simple human effort. My suspicion is that Dallaire would agree with me, and simply didn't say so in his book. In fact, it is probably I who is agreeing with him, and I am only couching it in biblical terms.

For instance, on the final page of his book, in the paragraph preeding the one I have already quoted, Dallaire comes to a provocative conclusion. He writes:

The only conclusion I can reach is that we are in desparate need of a
transfusion of humanity.

I coudn't agree more. But I would go one further. I would say that the only worldview which even claims to meet this need is the gospel of Christ Jesus. Only in the Son of God made man is there hope for such a tranfusion. Only in a crucified Christ would there be any impetus for overcoming self-interest to achieve love and peace. And only in a resurrected, returning Christ is there any hope for justice and new life for humanity.

Indeed, my overwhelming thought as I put down Romeo Dallaire's well-written and incredible book was that it read like a prequel to the book of Revelation. I feel that the answer to every question this book raised lies in the experience of true New Testament faith. It saddens me that the Church falls so short of this on so many fronts today. It seems that far too often we are merely imitating Christ when we ought to be indwelt by Him; our spirits tranfused by His.

But Christ is gracious, and therein lies our hope, not only for the Church but for the whole human race. Thank you Romeo Dallaire for reminding me of how gracious He is.

1 comment:

Richard F. Grafton said...


LGen Dalliare was recently in the Lethbridge area for a series of speaking engagements. In fact, he was at the Coaldale school that a friend of mine was visiting. Duane walked into the staffroom, looked around, immediately recognized Dalliare, and asked: "So, do you teach gym?"