Lee Ann Fujii
Webs of Violence in Rwanda
Cornell University Press 2009
The question Lee Ann Fujii asks in her new book Killing Neighbors: Webs of Violence in Rwanda (Cornell University Press, 2009) is a traditional one in genocide studies. Her research builds on earlier scholars such as Christopher Browning, James Waller and Scott Strauss. Her eye for nuances and for the complexities of local relationships allows her to extend this earlier research in helping us to understand why neighbors killed neighbors in Rwanda.
However. The metaphor she uses to help illuminate her explanations is both new and remarkably insightful. She argues that genocide must be viewed as a script. This script has directors and producers. but it also has actors. And the actors, far away from the directors, are able to interpret the script in ways that makes genocide make sense to their own lives and circumstances. sometimes this leads them to kill more people than they had been ordered to kill. But sometimes it leads individuals to ignore or save people who logically should have been targeted, sometimes in startling ways. It gives individual actors the ability to alter the desired pace and nature of the killings. And, as Fujii says, it casts traditional categories of perpetrators, bystanders and victims into question.
Fujii’s emphasis on genocide as process and on genocide as a script transformed the way I talk about mass killing. That makes this an important book.