Friday, December 26, 2008

Shaking Hands With the Devil Redux

In the coming year, the world will mark 15 year anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.

As we approach this solemn marker of what very much was "Humanity's failure in Rwanda", as Lt General (ret) Romeo Dallaire's book insists, the time is always right to remember how the tenth anniversary of that atrocity was marked.

The original Shake Hands With the Devil film -- a documentary, as opposed to a docu-drama -- is the tale of Dallaire returning to Rwanda to confront what he continues to regard as his failure there.

In the course of the film -- which reassembles much of the media coverage of the genocide so adroitly that one almost feels as if they are actually there -- Dallaire encounters, and is in turn confronted by, not only his own defeat and by the Rwandans who survived (and surely some who participated in) the genocide, but by the very realpolitik that contributed to the horrors of 1994.

Even moreso than Roy Dupuis' portrayal of the general -- or even Nick Nolte's thinly-veiled misrepresentation in Hotel Rwanda -- Dallaire's journey in Shake Hands With the Devil provides Canadians with a window into Dallaire's soul.

It's nearly impossible to come away from this film not empathizing with Dallaire, even if only a little.

Shake Hands With the Devil is as important a chapter in the Canadian government's (and the United Nations') failure to stand by the espoused humanitarian principles of its foreign policy as Grant Dawson's Here is Hell (a book about the Canadian mission in Somalia).

More than anything, it's important for Canadians to understand that Canadians were engaged in Rwanda while the genocide unfolded. Canadians strived against the grim reality of the situation to put a halt to the killings, and were insufficiently supported by either their own government or by the United Nations (who had sent them there in the first place).

Canadians can never allow such a thing to happen ever again.

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