Violence and religion have, time immemorial, gone hand-in-hand. History books have many references of "defenders of the faith" leading religious expeditions to punish or forcefully convert non-believers.
From the Holy Jihad mounted by Prophet Muhammed through the First Crusade instigated by Pope Urban II to the Roman Inquisition, blood has been shed in the name of God.
In those days, Rome’s brand of Christianity was the only accepted creed; any deviation from it and you would be branded a heretic and risked an excruciating form of death - burning on the stake.
Astronomers Galileo and Copernicus paid the price of stating that the world was round and revolved around a stationary sun, the centre of the universe!
The 1099 Jerusalem massacres during the First Crusade, where thousands of Muslims were slaughtered in the name of Christianity was the beginning of Islam’s beef with the West.
Today Islamic fundamentalists have taken centre stage with their "Holy Wars". The buzz word today is "suicide bombers", a new form of religious violence whose reverberations today are felt around the world. Yesterday’s Mujahideen is today considered a terrorist, a legitimate target for George Bush’s war against terror.
Rwanda for many decades revolved around the Catholic Church which had a big say in the social, political and economic course of the country. The majority of schools were run by the Church - the biggest landowner - which in turn formed the elite.
Our parents and grandparents were groomed under the strictest conditions, what could be termed as "Catholic fundamentalism". They could not tolerate any other religion, and Islam and protestant religions were taboo when it came to marrying off their children.
They could recite the Holy Scriptures in Latin without understanding a word. Many set aside corners in their homes for an altar where a candle-lit statue of the Virgin Mary solemnly stood.
Religious communities were the lifelines of many in the rural areas where a dependent culture was cultivated and nurtured. The term "Abagiraneza" (benefactors) came to refer to the likes of Catholic Relief Services who gave food handouts, scholastic materials and second-hand clothes to the villagers.
The Church and its affiliates came to be an indispensable factor in the country, to the extent that the Archbishop of Kigali was a member of the ruling party’s Central Committee! ile the Catholic Church has eased its hold on the political pulse of many Third World countries, Rwanda inclusive, a few pockets of resistance still remain within its ranks. Many have taken it upon themselves to be the unofficial opposition in Kigali, albeit from a foreign land. It is difficult not to imagine that these "lone rangers" have the backing of somewhere up there in the Vatican. One US-based organisation which describes itself as "a community of advocates for responsible U.S. relations with Africa" is a case in point.
The Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) based in Washington DC groups together over 30 Who-is-Who in the missionary community in the US and Africa, many of them operating in Rwanda.
One only has to read documents by their staff, especially by Beth Tuckey and her Congolese colleague, Bahati Ntama Jacques, to realize that AFJN has fallen into the extremist trap that sees everything in the region and Rwanda in particular through ethnic binoculars.
US president George Bush’s recent visit to Rwanda seems to have struck a raw nerve and it is not difficult to tell who feeds them their "daily bread". They recently wrote this on www.pambazuka.org:
"Will the leader of the most powerful country in the world have the courage to discuss Rwanda’s negative role in peace and economic development in DRC? Will he castigate Rwandan President Kagame for not providing the political space for Hutus to return to Rwanda? Likely, no…"
Of course there was some grudging respect on Rwanda’s achievements but their parting shot gives an insight of where their interests lie.
"Though Kagame has undoubtedly brought strong economic development to the small Great Lakes nation, he has failed to adequately deal with the legacy of the 1994 Genocide – the strained relationship between Hutus and Tutsis".
I can now understand why being shut out of their traditional role of "Abagiraneza" is painful. Their "Crusade" against Kigali is to "suicide bomb" whatever efforts that have been achieved and portray the country as being on the edge of a precipice, requiring their God-given intervention. They forget the old Kinyarwanda adage that says "God is away during the day but in the evening comes home to Rwanda".