The Historical Context of the Myths of White Man’s burden

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Literature Review

From European Holocaust studies to African genocide studies

 » Human beings are capable of committing the most heinous crimes to promote specific political objectives, or for ideological reasons, or to save their own lives, or because they feel they can act with impunity  » (Lemarchand, 2005: 57).


This chapter reviews some critical works on Holocaust and genocide found in scholarly writings in Europe and Africa. This review starts with a critical exploration of German experiences of mass murder of the Jews. I will refer to countries in Europe that also suffered from mass killings before proceeding to analyzing the African scenario in which the Great Lakes Region is treated separately because of the recurrence of genocides from 1959 to 1994. This approach has been chosen because it allows this review to identify ‗gaps‘, and ‗silences‘ in the studies of African genocide. The approach has also been chosen because it problematizes the artistic representation of genocides in the feature and documentary film narratives. The aim is to seek to find out how and whether or not there are similar or different notions of patterns of cultural and political stereotypes in studies that focus on representing the cause and course of genocides in Africa. The chapter ends with critically reviews of the most current and authoritative sources on the Rwandan genocide.

Holocaust and Genocide trends outside Africa

The etymology of the word Holocaust is from Greek (‗holos‘=whole, + ‗kaustos‘= burnt) which means large-scale destruction especially by fire (The Oxford Study Dictionary 1999: 305). The word Holocaust is associated with Hitler‘s ‗final solution‘ (Kershaw 2000: 34) in which six million Jews were burnt to death in Germany by the infernal heat of gas inside gas chambers between 1939-45. The idea of a Holocaust in Germany can be traced back to the writings of Charles Darwin (1871). Through his racist treatise „The Descent of Man‟(1871) Darwin espoused his theory on natural selection explicitly used justify the extermination of indigenous people (Magubane, 2007). The concept of ‗survival of the fittest‘ (1871: 501) was then developed to ‗fix‘ and ‗normalize‘ (Hall 1997:258) the so-called inevitable process in which the ‗master race‘ Darwin (1871: 501-511) stands to benefit because of its capacity to conquer all other races. Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) believed in ‗survival of the fittest‘ and puts it clearly when he says that, ‗inferior races would either be left behind in a primitive or backward state or they will perish‘ (Magubane 2007: 158).
Patterson(1999) points out that the Nazi project to eliminate the Jews was informed by the notion of autonomy of the ‗self‘ as the basis for freedom, a notion that was part of thinking of the Nazi philosophers—a notion antithetical to Jewish teaching‘. Daniel (1997) elaborates Patterson‘s (1999) point when he says that it is the concept of the ‗self‘ which bore seeds of antisemitic/ anti-Jewish sentiments. Against this backdrop of anti-semitism, the cultural and political stereotypes were constructed in the discourse of anti-semitism and it permeated through Germany institutions such as schools, universities, churches, corporations and professional associations. According to Gottlieb (2005) this explains the ‗popular‘ or mass participation of the ordinary people or the subaltern classes in condemning the Jews.
This background on holocaust reveals or shades light and help explain the racial basis of theories that justify mass murder. Also from this background, one may be able to understand how racial/ethnic stereotypes were used to justify the killings of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda. In Rwanda, writers such as Semujanga(2003) show how historical language has consistently been used to discriminate against Tutsis. The language names, marks and defines subjects of potential demise. The background on holocaust is also important for one to draw some differences between European holocausts and African genocides. The conditions and players are different. In Germany, the ruling elites killed the Jews while in Rwanda the ordinary people worked together with government extremists to kill Tutsis and moderate Hutus (Mamdani 2001).

Problems of representing the holocaust in some European Films.

The initial dissemination of newsreel of British army bulldozers ploughing thousands of emaciated  cadavers into lime pits of Bergen –Belsen raised some of the many problems relating to the depiction of the Holocaust. Zelizer (2007) says one aspect of this problematic area is ‗the image‘ as a signifier of meaning in mass media cultures. While the intended purpose of showing bulldozers ploughing dead bodies was meant to highlight the fate that Jews faced in Germany, this very act constructs cultural and political stereotypes that Jews can be killed and dumped anyhow without considering their decent burial. Dorland (2007: 419) asserts that the naïve belief that ‗a picture is worth a thousand words is a highly dubious preposition, especially if the picture depicts something never seen before‘. Douglas (2001) points out that a footage of the bulldozing of murdered concentration camp inmates caused uproar at Nuremberg Trials of major Nazi war criminals, rather than the massive documentary textual evidence assembled by prosecution that journalists covering the trials found so boring. A footage of the murdered is metonymic; it represents something other than itself. This means the same footage can carry over meanings beyond the literal. It can be metaphorical, representing the depravity of humanity or its heroic aspects especially for those who fought and survive the mass murder. The problem induced by instability of language of symbolism will be explored using Bhabha‘s(1996) notion of language as fractured medium of communication.
The teleplay and novelization of Television series of the film ‗Holocaust‘ have been criticized for their stereotypical characterization, wooden dialogue and patronization of Holocaust victims, and yet the critical reception of ‗Holocaust‘ was ‗rhapsodic‘ (Schartz 1999: 162). The problem of re-constructing memory through film is also reflected through Claude Lanzmann‘s (1985a) nine and half hour documentary entitled Shoah. The documentary include live footage of present-day Sobibor, Chelmo, Treblinka and Auschwitz or what remains of these major killing fields (Dorland 2007). A survivor of Holocaust—Simon Srebnik was taken back to the present-day site of Chelmo only to be confronted by a thick forest. Lanzmann (1985b: 6) quotes Srebnik who said that, ‗…it‘s hard to recognize, but it was here. They burned people here…Yes, this is the place. I can‘t believe I‘m here…It was always this peaceful here. Always. When they burned two thousand people—Jews—every day, it was just peaceful‘. The story given by Srebnik is important because its authenticity can derive from the fact that it is an eye-witness account. But the problem with an eye-account is that the subjects may not recollect everything; what is left out could be of significance than what is included. This gap will be addressed in Rwandan films by combining textual analysis with historical data to give a better understanding of film representations in different dimensions.

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Lanzmann‘s Shoah (1985a) conveys the painful recognition that memory is the only cognitive avenue to retrieve information on past events. This viewpoint is supported by Avisar (1997 : 38) when she writes that, ‗…the principal channel to the past is memory. The avoidance of archival footage further enhances the reliance on personal memories as the sources of knowledge, while the camera documents the on-going dramatic processes of painful recollection….‘ The painful recollection can even call for the director to help narrators shape words into meaningful sentences that make up a story. The pressure of selecting information created by the process of memory recollection can make some narrators lie in order to fulfill the objectives of constructing stories for mass media consumption. Although Schindler‟s List(1993) is shot in black-and-white to signify the ‗real past‘ Dorland(2007:422), asserts that Spielberg can be criticized for creating a stereotypic world-view through special effects that in turn build a narrative closure and deemphasizes the horror of Holocaust in the context of Jewish revival and Independence in Israel. Documentary films, television series and feature films can be used to re-construct memory that create negative stereotypes of the people whose lives are being depicted. The other problem is of trying to authenticate evidence without exaggerating information since Holocaust happens off-screen. This background is useful in anticipating the technical problems that face the Rwandan genocide film in the actual analysis of specific films in this study. The study also explores the innovative ways through which directors can deal with genocide themes particularly in a situation in which every film narrative is unstable and therefore cannot exhaust all meanings of genocide experiences.

Key terms
CHAPTER 1: Introduction
1.0 Background to the Study
1.1 Statement of Research Problem.
1.2 Research Aims
1.3 Research Objectives
1.4 Justification of Research Study
1.5 Research Questions
1.6 Literature Review
1.7 Theoretical Approaches used in this Study
1.8 The Research Method
1.9 Selection of Specific films and Interpretation of Data
10.0 Chapter Organisation
CHAPTER 2: Literature Review…From European Holocaust studies to African genocide studies 
2.0 Introduction
2.1 Holocaust and Genocide trends outside Africa
2.2 Problems of representing the holocaust in some European Films
2.3 Re-defining Genocide
2. 4 Genocide trends in Africa outside the Great lakes Region
2.5 Genocide trends in the Great Lakes Region
2.6 Scholarly Criticism on the films about the Rwandan Genocide
2.7 Contribution of the study to African scholarship on film and the Rwandan genocide.
2.8 Conclusion
CHAPTER 3: Rethinking myths of Whiteman’s Burden in the documentary A Good Man in Hell (2002)
3.0 Introduction
3.1 The plot of the story in A Good Man in Hell (2002)
3.2 Defining the Documentary film
3.3 Language theories and A Good Man in Hell (2002)
3.4 Understanding racial stereotypes in A Good Man in Hell (2002)
3.5 The Historical Context of the Myths of White Man’s burden
3.6 A Good Man in Hell: paradox of failure of white civilization during the 1994 Rwanda genocide
3. 7 Genre, Setting, Audience and the dynamics of interpretation
3.8 Romeo Dallaire: A Brief Critique of His Moral exposition during Rwanda genocide
3.9 Conclusion
CHAPTER 4 Hotel Rwanda (2004) and the contradictions in the representations of the Rwanda Genocide
4.0 Introduction
4.1 Hotel Rwanda: Rethinking myths, Memory and Historical Perspectives of the genocide
4.2 Contesting ‘Dominant’ Verbal and Audio-Visual Narratives in Hotel Rwanda
4.3 Hotel Rwanda and the Politics of the Language of silencing the RPF narrative
4.4 Hotel Rwanda and the portrayal of Tutsis as children of Sisyphus
4.5 Hotel Rwanda and the suppression of a Third World political language of resistance
4.6 Hotel Rwanda: Silencing of female discourses of human agency
4.7 Hotel Rwanda and ideology of narrativity
4.8 Conclusion
CHAPTER 5 Contesting the ‘Spectacle of Excess’ in the portrayal of the Rwandan genocide in Sometimes in April (2005)
5.0 Introduction
5.1. Defining the ‘spectacle of excess’ in film images
5.2 Film theories and genocide in Sometimes in April(2005)
5.3 The plot of Sometimes in April (2005)
5.4 Interrogating the cultural and political narratives of genocide in Sometimes in April
5.5 Symbolical instabilities in the Spectacular African Corpse in Sometimes in April
5.6 Rwandan Genocide and the images of International Community in Sometimes in April.
5.7 ‘Gacaca’ System and the Pitfalls of Enforced Democracy
5.8 Conclusion
CHAPTER 6 Challenging the Gendered Silences in the stories of Rwandan women in Keepers of Memory (2004)
6.0 Introduction
6.1 The Plot of Keepers of Memory (2004)
6.2 Defining ‘silences’ in the gender discourses of Keepers of Memory (2004)
6.3 Verbalizing and Audio-visualizing the gendered ‘Other’ in Keepers of Memory (2004)
6.4 Sexual violence on women in Keepers of Memory (2004)
6.5 Cultural Memory and the politics of dis/ remembering gender in Keepers of Memory
6.6 Conclusion
CHAPTER7: Conclusion
Whither the genocide film in Rwanda?
7.0 Introduction
7.1 Recommendations of the study



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