"Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you”


Friday, May 29, 2009

Making it Personal

The most personally wrenching moment in the Oscar-nominated film "Hotel Rwanda" occurred for me not during the scenes depicting the horrific barbaric butchering that terrorized the central African nation. It was a scene during which the voice of American President Bill Clinton emanates from the radio. His declaration that the United States did not believe a genocide was occurring in the war-ravaged nation.

It's a powerful scene. By denying the reality of the horror all around them, Clinton's message essentially extinguished the hopes of rescue for the poor souls barracaded in the hotel. The world had determined there was no political will to engage, so it was simply decided to deny reality.

At that moment my anger, outrage and disgust at the inhumanity of the crisis was transformed into a profound shame. No longer was watching this movie a historical experience. Sure, movies about prior genocides, like Schindler's List were eye-opening and soul-wrenching. But there was always the distance of time. Besides, in most of the stories we are taught in our youth, Americans are on the side of justice.

Now, however, here was something I could not depersonalize. The comfort of time and distance evaporated in an instant. A man I had cast a vote for, a man I believed would do the right thing (especially when confronted with evidence of genocide), chose the politically expedient option. I felt dirty, ashamed. At that point, I became responsible.

Now, with US Army General Antonio Taguba (the one who investigated the Abu Ghraib crimes) revealing the contents of the photos President Obama has chosen to keep from the public, a sinking feeling overcomes me. Is another president putting political expediency over doing what's right? To make it worse, the potential crimes were committed by Americans against prisoners. And they were done in the name of keeping me safe.

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