Waking Up from a Tortured Past

26 04 2009

King Leopold II of Belgium was responsible for the deaths of 10 – 15 million people in the Congo between 1885 and 1908…twice the number that Hitler had killed. Have you even heard of him? I hadn’t until I read the unbelievable book King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild.

King Leopold II

King Leopold II

Leopold could not convince Belgium to get involved in colonization so he developed his own private company…the International African Society…and laid claim to the area he called the Congo Free State, which is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He cloaked his takeover of this land and the ivory and rubber trades as doing philanthropic work.

Wikipedia says: ” With a complex scheme of political intrigue, corruption and propaganda, he wins the assistance of one of the greatest explorers of the time, Henry Morton Stanley, as well as that of public opinion and of powerful states.”

It took decades for people outside the Congo Free State to know the absolute reign of terror he held over those people, his ruthlessness, and the massacre of over half the population. Outsiders believed he was liberating the Congo people and helping them.

The world has amnesia or ignorance of this monster and the mass killings and maiming he ordered and caused. This reign of terror that King Leopold II started seems to be imprinted in the psyche of the people in the DRC.

Millions of people are still being killed on the same land…today the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Second Congo War…the “African World War”…which started in 1998 and on paper ended in 2003 (but still continues) has resulted in 5.4 million deaths.

Child Soldiers in the DRC

Child Soldiers in the DRC - Credit: Reuters

Horrendous rapes and other sexual violence committed there as a tool of war are the worst in the world. Children are seized by the armies to serve as soldiers and sexual slaves. Over half of the victims of sexual violence are children. Girls and women are raped and their insides are then torn apart with butts of rifles, burned, or other horrors. I wrote a post Women Suffer Atrocities Silently in the Congo about this.

So what does this have to do with you and me? We have just lived through eight years of a monarch who appeared on the surface…as did King Leopold II…to be beneficent. Horrible atrocities were being committed, though, and justified under the guise of keeping us safe.

Yoga science defines samskara as “…an imprint from past experience in the unconscious mind, which later creates our experiences by causing a person to automatically behave a certain way.”

How does one…or a nation…heal from samskaras? By becoming aware of these imprints, deciding we are not going to just react like a Pavlovian dog, and by choosing different and healthier responses.

We must wake up from this 9/11 terror-induced coma we have been living in and acknowledge what was being done and hold people accountable for their atrocities. Otherwise we, like the people in the Congo, will hold torture in our psyches and will not be able to move on to being a more enlightened, awake, ethical, and peaceful people.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” — Poet and Philosopher George Santayana

A further sign of health is that we don’t become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it’s time to stop struggling and look directly at what’s threatening us.” –Buddhist Nun Pema Chodron

UPDATE 4/29/09: Human Rights Watch issued an alert today as reported on Reuters:

More than 100,000 displaced civilians in Lubero territory in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo desperately need protection from further attacks by Rwandan militias and Congolese forces, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations peacekeeping force and humanitarian agencies to take urgent steps to increase protection and assistance to the civilians at risk.

You can read the full report on Reuters here.



6 responses

27 04 2009

Thank you for speaking about the plight of my country, the DRC. We need more and more people to break the silence about this, the most widespread, most misreported, most under-reported daily mass violation of the conscience of humanity since the Holocaust.

I am not sure I agree with your theory about samsakaras, because it puts too much emphasis on the Congolese people’s past suffering and how it affects their present actions (which is true), and downplays the fact that there are also intentional negative forces (like mining groups, regional (Rwanda, Uganda, Angola) and Western governments, corrupt local elites and warlords, etc) that are the primary and direct causes of the perpetuation of the conflict.

27 04 2009

Please do take a look at the Congo Week Break the Silence camapaign website for more information on the agents of the conflict in Congo these days, and more importantly, on steps that we can all take individually here in the US, to support and empower the Congolese people to find their own solutions to the problems of the Congo.


27 04 2009
Waking Up from a Tortured Past

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27 04 2009
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27 04 2009

Wow! Shamefaced I must admit, that even I with my history degree, know nothing about King Leopold II aside from what you’ve posted here. I’m going to have to pick up that book now. I’ve always felt that we in the US have remarkable talent in our military (a little biased) that could be focused on humanitarian issues across the globe but amazingly we are still fighting wars as if it were the dark ages. Your message is true, we must crawl out of our 9/11 hiding places and face the past.

27 04 2009

The institutionalization of torture is one of the most dangerous and horrifying aspects of government condoned/ignored torture.

By giving it a structural backdrop, it makes it harder and harder to distinguish it from other forms of “punishment” or “punitive” acts.

The sickest thing is that torture, like so many of the other atrocities you cite here, Diane, is not about punishment. Every one of them is about power.

As an eternal optimist, I feel that the world is on the cusp of choosing a different way forward. The ugliness must be brought out in the light so that it an no longer operate in the shadow of ignorance.

I cannot help but ache for all of those whose lives are irretrievably affected by the human crisis in the DRC.

Thank you as always Diane for the human face you give to this suffering.

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