Making Genocide Thinkable

Making Genocide Thinkable

WHEN VICTIMS BECOME KILLERS: COLONIALISM, NATIVISM, AND THE GENOCIDE IN RWANDA
by Mahmood Mamdani Princeton University Press, 2001 364 pp $29.95

ANYONE WHO sets out to show how genocide can become thinkable ought to have an eye on the line beyond which it becomes justifiable. Understanding genocide carries intellectual and moral risks for the scholar, who functions somewhat like a laboratory scientist undertaking the study of a le- thal virus while trying to remain uncontaminated. The title of Mahmood Mamdani’s new book about the Rwandan genocide of 1994— the twentieth century’s final and most intensive—suggests this dilemma. It’s a subordinate clause, provocative in itself, waiting to be com- pleted by a main clause that’s bound to be even more provocative. When victims become killers—then what? Do they remain in some sense victims? Are the implications of the killing different from when non-victims become killers, as in Nazi Germany? Is the meaning of the killing somehow changed? Is becoming a killer contained in, explained by, being a victim? Or has some categorical change taken place?

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Lima