Title: Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide…and why it matters
Today, Norm Goldman, Editor of Bookpleasures.com is honored to have as our guest, Barbara Coloroso who is an internationally recognized speaker and author in the area of parenting, teaching, school discipline, non-violent conflict resolution and reconciliatory justice.
She is the author of three best-selling books dealing with parenting and she has now turned her attention to writing about the history of genocide with her recently published tome Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide…and why it matters
Good day Barbara and thanks for participating in our interview.
Please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background and what motivated you to write Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide which is far different than your other books? As a follow up, what compelled you to write the book?
I write Extraordinary Evil:A Brief History of Genocide…and Why It Matters as an educator, parent, and former nun. All three of these influence and color this text.I work in Rwanda with orphans from the 1994 genocide.I began the work shortly after I finished writing The Bully, The Bullied, and the Bystander.Asked to speak at the University of Rwanda on that book, I agreed with the understanding that I would demonstrate that it was a short walk from bullying to hate crimes to genocide.It is not a giant leap.
As survivors of the genocide began identifying the various bully and bystander roles that were played out in 1994, it became apparent to me that the walk was even shorter than I had thought and that it was true that genocide had its roots in utter contempt for another human being.Genocide is not an unimaginable horror.Every genocide throughout history has been thoroughly imagined, meticulously planned, and brutally executed.The pain of a “moral world turned on its head” does not begin with the machete cuts of the Hutu Power, the gas chambers of the Nazis, the death marches of the Young Turks.
What is the underlying message or theme of Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide?
The underlying theme is that it is a short walk from bullying to hate crimes to genocide—genocide is the most extreme form of bullying—a far too common system of behaviors that is learned in childhood and rooted in contempt for another human being who has been deemed by the bully and his or her accomplices, to be worthless, inferior, and undeserving of respecr.The tragedy of genocide has many rehearsals that weaken the moral inhibitions against violence, publicity that spreads bigotry and intolerance, a backdrop that establishes the climate, ominous sounds that signal the beginning and the end, scripts that heighten the tension and fuel the contempt, six scenes that seal the victim’s fate, a slew of character actors, and an international audience that either fails to hinder or actually helps energize the performance of extraordinary evil by ordinary people.
Why do you think this is an important book at this time? What are you goals for this book? What do you hope to achieve?
Through an examination of three clearly defined genocides---of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire; the Jews, Roma, and Sinti in Europe; and the Tutsi in Rwanda, I try to deconstruct the causes of genocide and its consequences, both to the immediate victims and to the fabric of the world community at large.Through the study of this deconstruction, I propose conditions I think must exist in order to make the commitment of “Never Again” into more than an empty slogan.The acts of genocide are occurring more frequently and are in the public’s consciousness.If that consciousness can be informed perhaps the empty slogan of Never Again can become real. .
Genocide is not an unimaginable horror.Everygenocide throughout history has been thoroughly imagined, meticulously planned, and brutally executed.The pain of a “moral world turned on its head” does not begin with the machete cuts of the Hutu Power, the gas chambers of the Nazis, the death marches of the Young Turks.To recognize the beginning is step one in eradicating this horro.
Can you explain some of your research techniques, and how you found sources for your book?How did you go about deciding which material to include and which to exclude?
As concept and as a fact, the slaughter of whole groups of people by other seemingly ordinary human beings has been a subject of enduring, increasingly urgent interst to me.My introduction was a copy of Elie Wiesel’s Night, which I picked up from a large bin of used books while passing through an airport in the early 1970’s.I had a basic knowledge of the genocide of the Jews and was familiar with Wiesel’s writings, but nothing prepared me for his terrifying personal account of the horrors of the Auschwitz concentration campy.
Haunted by Wiesel’s story, I began my own study of what Hannah Arendt has described as the “banality of evil.”In particular, I wanted to explore what in our dispositions and situations could possibly allow such evil to be perpetrated by ordinary people, without shame, compassion, or mercy.As an educator, I found my “side study” of genocide seeping into my lectures and writings.
On my lecture tours, I extended stays in Germany, France, Belgium, North and South America, Australia, and New Zealand tp visit genocide museums. Memorials both formal and makeshift, mass graves marked unceremoniously with wooden plaques, landmarks of slaughter around the world.I sought out movies and surfed the internet for the history that was omitted from my high school and university courses.I listened to survivors, and immersed myself in the ever growing library of books written about particular genocides and genocide in general.I narrowed my writing down to the three readily identifiable genocides of the twentieth century and made reference to others as they related to the premise of the book.No easy task.As people heard that I was writing this book, they shared so many stories of their own survival, of the deaths of friends and relatives, grandparents, parents, siblings, and children.I wanted to include them all to give voice to those who had been silenced.
What challenges or obstacles did you encounter while writing your book? How did you overcome these challenges?
The biggest challenge was narrowing the material—every story I had to cut felt like one less voice heard.Another was to be immersed in the study of such evil day on and day out.I had to remind myself that I was only studying genocide-those telling me their stories had lived the horrors.
You state in your book: “the concept of genocide in general and the Rwandan genocide in particular, are macrocosms of the drama known as bullying.” Please explain to our readers why you believe there is a connection between genocide and bullying.
Both have their foundation in the contempt for another human being.Instead of seeing the other as a “Thou,”both bullies and genocidaires see the other as an “it,” a cockroach, snake, vermin, dirty dog.Dehumanization is step one towards removing someone or an entire group of people from our “circle of moral concern.”Once someone or a group is placed outside that circle, those inside can do anything to the “its” and not feel any shame or compassion.
In genocide, a bully rises to power, is elected to political office, or seizes control of a government.The bully then espouses a murderous racial, ethnic, or religious ideology, brings along an entire cast of characters, (bystanders) and goes about creating increasingly sinister scenes of what psychiatrist Robert Lifton calls “atrocity producing situations.”These situations in turn invite and sustain ordinary citizens as they participate in the extermination of relatives, neighbors, and fellow citizens.The more that ordinary people perform such tasks as hacking someone to death, the more they become socialized to the atrocity, the more the atrocity becomes normalized—made ordinary.
Why do you think it has been so difficult for the situations in Sudan, Rwanda and elsewhere where similar atrocities are committed daily to capture the interest of the West?
Stereotyping and prejudice play a part in enabling us in the West to turn a blind eye, but so does the failure of the international community to recognize it for what it truly is—often masking the killing with “fighting” terms—“It’s ethnic conflict;”“Those people have been fighting for generations;” “it’s a civil war, and we have no business interfering;” or worse, we in the West see no reason to step in because we have no vested interest in the country or region—no oil or gold or diamonds—just human beings being slaughtered.
Do you think that democratic societies have enough stability that minorities are safe from severe persecution?
In a true democracy where everyone matters, yes.But stereotypes, and prejudices can easily morph into discrimination that all too readily can slip into persecution.A strong democracy that is a vibrant entity consists of people who can develop documents, laws, rituals, and traditions that honor Martin Buber’s“I and Thou” and “We”—the uniqueness of each individual and our common humanity.In a democracy, when bullying or hate crimes are committed, they are quickly dealt with and those committing these act are held accountable, thus the spiral into severe persecution of a group of people is stopped in its tracks.
Do you believe the media has done an adequate job in calling to our attention the bullies of the world? If not, what would you suggest to improve the situation?
Media was a tool of each of the genocides I studied.The genocidaires utilized it to spread prejudice, fear, and hatred.Media was also used to alert the world to what was really happening.Journalists as witnesses gave voice to those who were being persecuted, raped, and slaughtered.But speaking truth and describing the horrors does not mean that those viewing or reading the media will respond in a deeply caring, compassionate or effective manner to stop the genocide and offer help[ to those who are targeted.
How will you be marketing your book?
Same as I promote all of my books—through my lectures, articles, interviews, and now, starting with your interview, the internet.Thankyou for this fascinating opportunity.
Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered and what is next for Barbara Coloroso?
My next project flows from my book on ethics, Just Because Its Not Wrong Doesn’t Make It Right and this book on genocide, Extraordinary Evil.In both of these I mention people who were resisters, defenders, and witnesses—those who stood up for those who were targeted, pprotected them and gave witness to their plight, who rally against injustice, who are willing to step in at great cost to themselves.I want to find out what makes them tick—and can we as parents, educators, and leaders can learn from them.Can they give us a clue as to how we can raise a generation of children who care deeply, share generously, and help willingly? Can they show us the antidotes for the most virulent agents ripping apart the fabric of our humanity-- hating, hoarding, and purposely harming one another?
Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.
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