Hate Radio: La Banalité du Mal – by Sophie Harrington

For as long as I can remember, a common theme of my history classes has been atrocity. Atrocity,  whether described by way of a particular historical moment or in a theoretical perspective, is often  linked to the failure of democracy and the ways in which the organization of a society favors certain  groups and discriminates against identities which are “inferior” to the norm.     Walking into the main stage of the Comédie on Saturday night to see “Hate Radio: La Banalité du  Mal”, I thought I had a grasp of what to expect. While I am no expert of the genocide that took  place in Rwanda from the 7th of April, 1994 to July of that same year, I knew that the stories,  actors, and main events of the mass slaughter were not foreign to me—this past fall I had even  studied the role of the ​Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines ​for a project on hate speech.  However, what I did not know, what I could not have expected, was the weight that would quickly  fall onto the room once the lights were dimmed and each individual of the audience had placed  their headset over their ears. Throughout 110 minute production, which was a combination of  screened testimonies from witnesses of the genocide and live acting, I sat speechless, feeling like I  was suffocating under the pressure of the stories I was listening to. While I can acknowledge that  not one single viewer in that theatre could have taken any part of the show lightly, it was  particularly difficult being a woman in that room.    Sitting in the audience I listened to the four testimonials, all stories of people with various  backgrounds and relations to Rwanda. In the third of the four depicted my hand I watched and I  listened in horror, the entire time my hands covering my mouth. In his story, the young Rwandan  man who spoke recounted the moment during the genocide when he was forced to flee from his  home with his mother and siblings. The family took shelter in a school protected by the United  Nations blue helmets, however, at one point a hutu militia broke in and began to massacre the  tutsis hidden within. The man speaking on the screen, who must have been less than 10 years old at  the time of the genocide, detailed how the women in the school building pleaded with the Hutu  men, begging them for mercy.    “Please take me as your wife instead of killing me. Please kill me quickly, I am pregnant. Please  don’t rape me. Please don’t hurt my daughters, kill me first.”    He took a pause before recalling how the officers responded: “the women’s breasts were cut off.  The officer sliced open the stomach of the pregnant woman, letting her bleed. The woman was  raped.”    Sitting in the audience I felt paralyzed. As never before had I heard this version of the genocide,  one that focused on the femicide. One that so graphically detailed how these women were raped,  tortured, bodies abused and chopped up as if there was no life inside. The stories of atrocity we  learn in our history classes often skip over these details; it should be remembered in history though,  the deconstruction and humiliation of the female body. It should be remembered how the female 
body is tortured and abused, and the role that women suffer in atrocity is in many ways, a story of  its own.    This theme continued in the next narrative, shared by a Rwandan woman who came from a  township in a rural area; this women who looked so tired though she couldn’t have been older than  35 years old. She told the story of the day where Hutu militias stripped her mother down naked in  front of her and her siblings, and murdered her right before their eyes. This was the same day where  the same militants chopped off the legs of her two younger sisters and left them out to bleed. I  remember squeezing my legs, making sure they were still there.     This version of history, this narrative, the one of women, the one that we are rarely told in school  will be the version that I will not be able to forget. The strength of storytelling in a theater, that  sometimes we miss in the classroom or the academic scene, is that of empathy, compassion, and  pain. In the theatre the artists are allowed to cross boundaries and borders, explore topics that  might not be explored in academia, as a way to serve as an education, or sometimes a re-education,  of the public. The exploitation of the female body in times of atrocity, particularly in the case of  Rwanda, is the history that I will not be able to shake.     *It is to note that none of the above is a direct quote from the narrator as I was unable to write  done his precise phrasing in the theatre. The content is paraphrased but put in quotation marks for  emphasis.  

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