I had a hard time writing a KPFA-Berkeley Radio News report last Saturday. I was trying to report on the racist, Christian fundamentalism of NPR commentator Scott Simon and Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, both of whom argue that God and the Devil are manifest in Syria, as they were in Rwanda in 1994. Dallaire even adds that “the white man” – his words – has a moral obligation to intervene on God’s behalf.
So far so good, so to speak. I clipped some audio from Simon’s op-ed on NPR’s Saturday Weekend Edition and Dallaire’s on KPFK-Los Angeles in 2014, the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan massacres known as the Rwanda Genocide. (Just in case you’re wondering why Canadian warmonger Romeo Dallaire was sympathetically interviewed on a Pacifica Radio station, that’s another story.)
I imagined that I could play the audio clips with brief introductions, and let both men hang themselves with their own racist, fundamentalist rhetoric, but I quickly realized that was not going to work. Even when invoking God and the Devil, Scott Simon and Romeo Dallaire sound like reasonable men, descendants of the Enlightenment, not fiery fundamentalist preachers, so long as you don’t stop to think about what they’re actually saying.
General Dallaire is, after all, the former UN Peacekeeping Force Commander in Rwanda, 1993 – 1994, who went on to become Canadian Senator Dallaire, co-founder of the “Will to Intervene Project,” co-author of Mobilizing the Will to Intervene: Leadership to Prevent Mass Atrocities, and recipient of a long list of honorary doctorates and fellowships from eminent universities in Canada and the United States.
Scott Simon has been both host and essayist on NPR Weekend Edition for so many decades that NPR listeners, even very occasional listeners like myself, all recognize his voice; it’s almost like ambient sound. Simon won a George Foster Peabody Award for his radio essays in 1989, and NPR has aired his mundane musings, pretentious platitudes, and insipid homilies ever since. They’re as routine as Saturday morning coffee and chores performed to the NPR drone. So why would anyone question anything Simon says? He takes on subjects like baseball, football, Grammy nominations, Wisconsin weather, and why he’d like to spend winters in Florida, as well as weightier matters of politics and public affairs.
Religious fundamentalism from NPR’s Scott Simon? ‘Fraid so. This week, after the first direct, acknowledged U.S. attack on Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, Simon voiced his observation that the Devil is in Syria, manifest in the Syrian government, and locked in combat with God, manifest in the US and its Western (white, Christian) allies. He even quoted General Romeo Dallaire:
I watched some of the wrenching, sickening images from the chemical weapons attack in the Idlib province of Syria this week that killed scores of people, many of them children, with our daughters . . .
(A YouTube video was good enough for Donald Trump, so why not for Scott Simon?)
I have always avoided using the word “evil” when covering terrible events, even those in Bosnia and Kosovo that would later be labeled war crimes. I was of a generation educated to believe that “evil” was a cartoonish moral concept, a word we used only when we didn’t know what madness or imagined infraction might drive human beings to commit murder, even on a mass scale.
(Knowing that he is about to advance a literal interpretation of the Bible, Simon notes his credentials as a man of reason who will nevertheless make a morally imperative exception. He is, after all, a University of Chicago graduate.)
I still avoid saying “evil” as a reporter. But as a parent, I’ve grown to feel it may be important to tell children about evil, as we struggle to explain cruel and incomprehensible behavior they may see not just in history — in whatever they will learn about the Holocaust, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur — but in our own times.
(Simon cites the liberal interventionist canon — the Holocaust, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur — as unquestionable examples of metaphysical, ahistorical, apolitical evil to teach his children well. Never mind that there are substantial bodies of evidence supporting narratives counter to those that the Washington establishment repeat over and over to justify U.S. wars of aggression. Why teach your children to reason about that? It won’t look good on the resume, especially if you’re hoping they follow your footsteps to NPR.)
I’ve interviewed Romeo Dallaire, the former Canadian general who commanded U.N. peacekeeping forces in Rwanda in 1993 and 1994. General Dallaire discovered Hutu soldiers were getting ready to massacre Tutsi civilians. But he was prevented by U.N. leadership from using his troops to try to stop the murders before they could take place. More than 800,000 Tutsi Rwandans were then slaughtered over three months.
(Never mind that there were only 500,000 Tutsis in Rwanda at the time of the massacres, or that the Ibuka survivors’ group claims 300,000 survived. Or that a substantial body of evidence countering the official narrative emerged, for one, at the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda, despite the fact that the U.S. took tacit control of that tribunal so as to set the official narrative in stone.)
Romeo Dallaire said that what happened made him believe in evil, and even a force he called the devil.
“I’ve negotiated with him,” he told us, “shaken his hand. Yes. There is no doubt in my mind … and the expression of evil to me is through the devil and the devil at work and possessing human beings and turning them into machines of destruction. And one of the evenings in my office, I was looking out the window and my senses felt that something was there with me that shifted me. I think that evil and good are playing themselves out and God is monitoring and looking at how we respond to it.”
(A fundamentalist preacher’s delivery would no doubt be more fiery than Scott Simon’s or Romeo Dallaire’s, but Simon quotes Dallaire on God and the Devil in his concluding words.)
Dallaire shoulders the white man’s burden
Since Simon had devoted so much of his radio essay to quoting Dallaire on God and the Devil, I planned to play just a few vintage Dallaire clips on the white man’s burden in my own radio news:
I said, “The era of the white man coming back to Africa to reestablish security and so on is over. I said the Sub-Saharan Black African is simply not going to attract the engagement of the developed world, the North, unless there is a self-interest in there and a country like Rwanda doesn’t have that.”
(In keeping with his mission to “mobilize the will to intervene,” Dallaire chides “the white man” for engaging only as a matter of self-interest rather than humanitarian concern (as in the West’s glorious past of conquest, slavery, resource rape, and humanitarian concern). This lays the way for moral triumphalism when white Christian soldiers finally take up “the cross of freedom,” as in Trump’s direct attack on Syria’s dark skinned Devil.
Also, Rwanda is is not without resources of interest to the white man. It shares its western border with the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose resources it has plundered and sold to Western corporations and commodities traders for the past 20 years. Rwanda’s invasions of DRC also destroyed Congo’s national mining company to make way for Western mining interests.)
As I was saying,”The white man is not coming back,” the clouds had started to form, ‘cause it was the rainy season [in Rwanda], so in the rainy season, it’s lovely, sunny and then the next thing you know “boom”: downpour. And as I’m saying this, the sky got black and this incredible thunder clap just happened.”
(God was no doubt so enraged that he was commanding the white, Christian West to re-shoulder “The White Man’s Burden” canonized by Rudyard Kipling.)
Kipling’s poem was first published in the February 1899 issue of McClure’s Magazine — at the outset of the U.S. war on the Filippino people, after the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty with Spain that placed Puerto Rico, Guam, Cuba, and the Philippines under U.S. control:
The White Man’s Burden
Take up the White Man’s burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go send your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child
Take up the White Man’s burden
In patience to abide
. . .
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. White supremacy is tenacious as a rabid dog.
As for that KPFA Radio News report, it was never produced. I played the audio clips of Scott Simon and Romeo Dallaire for a few friends, and they all said, “No no no. Don’t play that. You’ll just be giving them more air time. I can imagine family or friends hearing that on the air and thinking that they’re making some good points.”
Indeed. Scott Simon is so effectively packaged and presented by NPR, General Dallaire by the liberal interventionists, that their effusions sound perfectly reasonable to the trusting ear. The words need to be separated from their elaborate packaging and presentation to make their racist, fundamentalist meanings undeniably clear.