toward a definition of genocide

so i’m sitting here in my apartment in nablus, working on my book, with al jazeera playing in the background. “people and power” was on and i turned up the volume when i heard arundhati roy’s voice coming from the tube. she’s one of my favorite writers and thinkers in this horrifying world. the episode is on “india’s maoist revolution,” which i will post when it becomes available online. but what struck me was when roy was describing the farmers forced off their land by these maoist rebels–the naxalites–who are now living in something resembling prison camps under brutal conditions. she used the word genocide in a novel way to describe their situation, but also in a way that can easily be used the world over:

most of the genocide in this world happens when people are cut off from their resources.

she went on to elaborate, but i didn’t have time to write it all down. but i like this way of describing genocide. i especially find it applicable to palestinians, and especially to the situation in gaza right now–palestinian refugees who have been cut off from their land for over sixty years, palestinians who have been cut off from basic needs–let alone resources–to feed, heal, heat, light the homes of gaza. today the word genocide was used by jamal al-khudari to describe what is happening in gaza:

The situation in the Gaza Strip is shifting from “collective punishment to genocide,” said Jamal Al-Khudari, member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and head of the popular committee against the siege in Gaza.

in an article written earlier this year, “listening to grasshoppers: genocide, denial and celebration,” based on a speech she originally gave in istanbul, roy thinks about the meaning of genocide–its history, its usages, it significance:

In the state of Gujarat, there was a genocide against the Muslim community in 2002. I use the word Genocide advisedly, and in keeping with its definition contained in Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The genocide began as collective punishment for an unsolved crime—the burning of a railway coach in which 53 Hindu pilgrims were burned to death. In a carefully planned orgy of supposed retaliation, 2,000 Muslims were slaughtered in broad daylight by squads of armed killers, organised by fascist militias, and backed by the Gujarat government and the administration of the day. Muslim women were gang-raped and burned alive. Muslim shops, Muslim businesses and Muslim shrines and mosques were systematically destroyed. Some 1,50,000 people were driven from their homes….

As genocides go, the Gujarat genocide cannot compare with the people killed in the Congo, Rwanda and Bosnia, where the numbers run into millions, nor is it by any means the first that has occurred in India. (In 1984, for instance, 3,000 Sikhs were massacred on the streets of Delhi with similar impunity, by killers overseen by the Congress Party.) But the Gujarat genocide is part of a larger, more elaborate and systematic vision. It tells us that the wheat is ripening and the grasshoppers have landed in mainland India.

It’s an old human habit, genocide is. It has played a sterling part in the march of civilisation. Amongst the earliest recorded genocides is thought to be the destruction of Carthage at the end of the Third Punic War in 149 BC. The word itself—genocide—was coined by Raphael Lemkin only in 1943, and adopted by the United Nations in 1948, after the Nazi Holocaust. Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines it as:

“Any of the following Acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [or] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Since this definition leaves out the persecution of political dissidents, real or imagined, it does not include some of the greatest mass murders in history. Personally I think the definition by Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn, authors of The History and Sociology of Genocide, is more apt. Genocide, they say, “is a form of one-sided mass killing in which a state or other authority intends to destroy a group, as that group and membership in it are defined by the perpetrator.” Defined like this, genocide would include, for example, the monumental crimes committed by Suharto in Indonesia (1 million) Pol Pot in Cambodia (1.5 million), Stalin in the Soviet Union (60 million), Mao in China (70 million)….

Of course today, when genocide politics meets the Free Market, official recognition—or denial—of holocausts and genocides is a multinational business enterprise. It rarely has anything to do to with historical fact or forensic evidence. Morality certainly does not enter the picture. It is an aggressive process of high-end bargaining, that belongs more to the World Trade Organisation than to the United Nations. The currency is geopolitics, the fluctuating market for natural resources, that curious thing called futures trading and plain old economic and military might.

In other words, genocides are often denied for the same set of reasons as genocides are prosecuted. Economic determinism marinated in racial/ethnic/religious/national discrimination. Crudely, the lowering or raising of the price of a barrel of oil (or a tonne of uranium), permission granted for a military base, or the opening up of a country’s economy could be the decisive factor when governments adjudicate on whether a genocide did or did not occur. Or indeed whether genocide will or will not occur. And if it does, whether it will or will not be reported, and if it is, then what slant that reportage will take. For example, the death of two million in the Congo goes virtually unreported. Why? And was the death of a million Iraqis under the sanctions regime, prior to the US invasion, genocide (which is what Denis Halliday, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, called it) or was it ‘worth it’, as Madeleine Albright, the US ambassador to the UN, claimed? It depends on who makes the rules. Bill Clinton? Or an Iraqi mother who has lost her child?…

Since the United States is the richest and most powerful country in the world, it has assumed the privilege of being the World’s Number One Genocide Denier. It continues to celebrate Columbus Day, the day Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas, which marks the beginning of a Holocaust that wiped out millions of native Indians, about 90 per cent of the original population. (Lord Amherst, the man whose idea it was to distribute blankets infected with smallpox virus to Indians, has a university town in Massachusetts, and a prestigious liberal arts college named after him).

In America’s second Holocaust, almost 30 million Africans were kidnapped and sold into slavery. Well near half of them died during transportation. But in 2002, the US delegation could still walk out of the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, refusing to acknowledge that slavery and the slave trade were crimes. Slavery, they insisted, was legal at the time. The US has also refused to accept that the bombing of Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden and Hamburg—which killed hundreds of thousands of civilians—were crimes, let alone acts of genocide. (The argument here is that the government didn’t intend to kill civilians. This was the first stage in the development of the concept of “collateral damage”.) Since the end of World War II, the US government has intervened overtly, militarily, more than 400 times in 100 countries, and covertly more than 6,000 times. This includes its invasion of Vietnam and the extermination, with excellent intentions of course, of three million Vietnamese (approximately 10 per cent of its population)….

And what when victims become perpetrators? (In Rwanda, in the Congo?) What remains to be said about Israel, created out of the debris of one of the cruellest genocides in human history? What of its actions in the Occupied Territories? Its burgeoning settlements, its colonisation of water, its new ‘Security Wall’ that separates Palestinian people from their farms, from their work, from their relatives, from their children’s schools, from hospitals and healthcare? It is genocide in a fishbowl, genocide in slow motion—meant especially to illustrate that section of Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which says that genocide is any act that is designed to “deliberately inflict on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or part”.

genocide in a fishbowl is what she calls the context here in palestine. a slow genocide. by expanding the word in this way we are able to include contexts like the american war in vietnam. what is happening in the congo right now. in gaza. these deaths may be slow, they may actually come from famine and disease. and they may come from military powers overwhelming for the civilians affected by them. but whether a mass of people are murdered in one fell swoop or slowly, painfully, cyclically, repeatedly it is no less a genocide.

there is a moving film that roy narrates called simply “we,” which deals with this theme to a certain extent, but everyone needs a little dose of roy in their life. or if you’ve never read her brilliant novel the god of small things you should rush out to your nearest library or bookshop and find a copy and inhale her words.

11 thoughts on “toward a definition of genocide

  1. Roy shows her ignorance or indoctrination when she writes:

    And what when victims become perpetrators? (In Rwanda, in the Congo?) What remains to be said about Israel, created out of the debris of one of the cruellest genocides in human history?

    We must start talking about the Holocaust in the context of ethnic Ashkenazi violence and genocidalism as I try in Holoexaleipsis, Holocaust, Holosphage and Holodomor and The Pattern of Ethnic Ashkenazi Genocidalism: The Jewish Century by Yuri Slezkine .

  2. i have to disagree with you on these last two points. the holocaust was a real historical event and to deny it i think makes you sound ignorant at best. what i object to is its use as a yardstick with which we measure all other human suffering. but roy was discussing various forms of genocide here and it is appropriate that she discussed the events of world war ii as that is what gave us the word genocide in the first place.

    i also think she is absolutely right to question how it is that victims become victimizers. this is part of the historical context of palestine whether we like it or not.

  3. I really do wish Palestinian activists would distance themselves from holocaust deniers—it really doesn’t help our cause, since people just lump us in with conspiracy theorists.

    My problem isn’t that the holocaust is acknowledged; it did happen and it should be. My problem is that the holocaust should not be used to justify the genocide of another group. The Zionist argument essentially boils down to, “We were pissed on by the Nazis, so we have the right to piss on a totally different group of people (i.e. the Palestinians).”

    What I would like to see is the same level of awareness toward the current genocide that the holocaust receives. In middle school and high school I must have read at least ten books on the holocaust and World War II—and none about the systematic genocide of the Palestinians. I agree that is indoctrination, since many Americans having had this sort of education support the state of Israel by default.

  4. Excuse me, but I am an expert in Jewish and Eastern European studies, and I was one of the first to start investigating the new information that became available after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    Any approach to the Holocaust that ignores the Soviet and Eastern European data is inherently flawed.

    When we incorporate the new information and look at the history of Russian Ashkenazim in detail, the Holocaust looks very different.

    The German Nazis did not engage in mass murder of Jews until after the start of Operation Barbarossa even if the removal of Jews from Europe was part of the initial German Nazi Plan — something that is far from clear.

    If you have a semester, I could go over the material in reasonable detail, but to summarize there were basically two-three mass murders of Jews taking place:

    1. Revenge and fear killings by Eastern European and Soviet populations that were afraid or angry at Soviet (Ashkenazi) brutality and mass murder.

    2. German Nazi killings that started in an equation of the Bolshevik leadership with Jews and that became more systematic as the war continued.

    3. Opportunistic deportations and killings that mostly resulted from profiteering.

    But to understand these 2-3 Holocausts, we have to look at Russian Ashkenazi terrorism, sabotage, revolutionary violence and targeted assassinations in the Russian Empire as well as the mass murder, ethnic cleansing, and genocide in which Bolshevik Ashkenazim were full participants and often planners.

    When we understand this context, the crimes of Zionist Ashkenazim in Palestine do not look much different from those of Bolshevik Ashkenazim during the Russian Revolution and the consolidation of the Soviet Union.

    Even during the 47-48 theft of Palestine from the native population, mass murder was clearly part of the agenda when we study operations with names like biur hametz.

    The Zionist leadership seems to have failed to accomplish the greater part of the intended killing only because of worries about bad publicity and only because of the qualms of many members of the Zionist militias.

    The violence and brutality of the Zionist interloper population has increased since the 40s, and expression of a desire for mass murder is quite common among the Zionist population.

    It is a while since I have visited the Palestinian Occupied Territories, but I remember graffiti like aravim lisrofim was quite common years ago. I doubt the situation has changed much.

    Overall the Zionist interloper population is far more murderously genocidal than the German population was in the 40s, and I have little doubt that the Israeli government would engage in assembly line killing of Palestinians if it thought that it could get away with it.

    Please don’t give me any feigned disbelief. I worked for a good number of years fairly closely with the Israeli military industrial complex, and I know the sort of mentality that is quite common among the senior members of the IDF.

    I go through a lot of these topics in greater or less detail in the articles referenced by Anti-Semitosis Spreads to the UK.

  5. Excuse me, but where are the articles that cover these topics in more detail? That link only leads to a list of blog entries.

  6. I am fairly careful in the blog entries to cite texts and articles that you should be able to find with minimal difficulty.

  7. Thanks, but the entries I tried did not reference any expert articles, but instead offered complaints about such subjects as the title of a Jewish cookbook and how offensive it is to offer a library talk about searching for victims of the Holocaust.

  8. There are 33 blogentries in the list if I am not mistaken, and I suggested them in reply to the establishment of a Holocaust curriculum in the UK.

    Thus, I included articles about the misuse and exploitation of the Holocaust as well as articles about the historical details of the Holocaust.

    If you had gone on to the third list item, you would have found a reference to

    “The Politics of Genocide Scholoarship,” by Stannard, David E. in Is the Holocaust Unique?, Perspectives on Comparative Genocide, [Second Edition], edited by Rosenbaum, Alan S., p. 268. The quotation is followed by several pages of discussion and interpretation of the evidence that is available.

    It is a little dated but still worthwhile.

    The fourth item identifies Satloff’s Among the Righteous: Lost Stories of the Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands and points out some problems with it.

    The fifth item mentions a paper by Shiraz Dossa on the misuse of the Holocaust in the War on Terror.

    The sixth item refers to politically oriented papers by Massad and Plaut.

    The seventh item shows the changing relationship of Jews to the Holocaust over the last 50 years.

    The tenth item points the reader to Michael Stanislawski’s Tsar Nicholas I and the Jews, The Transformation of Jewish Society in Russia, 1823-1855.

    The eleventh item points out some of the problems with the USHMM traveling exhibition Fighting the Fires of Hate. I admit that I did not provide a reference for the shooting of authors during the 30s in the Soviet Union, but any good history of the Soviet Union will supply the information.

    Wisse Kokht Kugl mit Khazershmaltz! analyzes a Holocaust story from Ruth Wisse in Jews and Power.

    Yom Kippur and Ashkenazi Genocidalism cites an attempt to bring a WW2 Jewish war criminal to justice.

    The Pattern of Ethnic Ashkenazi Genocidalism sends the reader to The Jewish Century by Yuri Slezkine as well as to The Jews of Odessa, A Cultural History, 1794-1881 by Zipperstein.

    Truth About the Katyn Massacre? points to some documents on the Katyn Massacre.

    Arun Gandhi and Sholem Aleichem points to an article on the dark side of Yiddish culture.

    Challenging the Holocaust Paradigm discusses the ethnic backgrounds of the 12 primary leaders of the Bavarian communist coup. I have to admit I just took a German history textbook and googeld each leader.

    In Less Blatant Thought Control, I suggest that the reader compare Nordau’s Entartung and Hitler’s Table Talk . It is hard to escape the conclusion that Hitler was plagiarizng.

    In other places in the list, I mention Jan Gross’s Neighbors, Benjamin Harshav’s Language in a Time of Revolution, and Solzhenitsyn’s Two Hundred Years together.

    Over all I am arguing for a reassessment of Jewish history starting with the 1850s in order to take into account Jewish violence from Central Europe through the Russian Empire.

    In this light we see that ethnic Ashkenazim became the quintessential Soviet class that often supplies the chief planners in participants in Soviet crimes) as well as the chief authors of revolutionary violence in Germany and Hungary after WWI. In many regards the Holocaust is a reaction to those Jewish activities by German Nazis, fearful Eastern Europeans, and liberated Soviet nationalities that were often acting relatively independently.

  9. The library talk about searching for victims of the Holocaust was simply offensive because it was intended to distract from ongoing crimes against Palestinians, and focusing only on Jewish victims in the Ukraine where Soviet Jews planned and perpetrated such atrocities on the ethnic Ukrainian population is simply despicable.

    There are 33 blogentries in the list if I am not mistaken, and I suggested them in reply to the establishment of a Holocaust curriculum in the UK.

    Thus, I included articles about the misuse and exploitation of the Holocaust as well as articles about the historical details of the Holocaust.

    If you had gone on to the third list item, you would have found a reference to

    “The Politics of Genocide Scholoarship,” by Stannard, David E. in Is the Holocaust Unique?, Perspectives on Comparative Genocide, [Second Edition], edited by Rosenbaum, Alan S., p. 268. The quotation is followed by several pages of discussion and interpretation of the evidence that is available.

    It is a little dated but still worthwhile.

    The fourth item identifies Satloff’s Among the Righteous: Lost Stories of the Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands and points out some problems with it.

    The fifth item mentions a paper by Shiraz Dossa on the misuse of the Holocaust in the War on Terror.

    The sixth item refers to politically oriented papers by Massad and Plaut.

    The seventh item shows the changing relationship of Jews to the Holocaust over the last 50 years.

    The tenth item points the reader to Michael Stanislawski’s Tsar Nicholas I and the Jews, The Transformation of Jewish Society in Russia, 1823-1855.

    The eleventh item points out some of the problems with the USHMM traveling exhibition Fighting the Fires of Hate. I admit that I did not provide a reference for the shooting of authors during the 30s in the Soviet Union, but any good history of the Soviet Union will supply the information.

    Wisse Kokht Kugl mit Khazershmaltz! analyzes a Holocaust story from Ruth Wisse in Jews and Power.

    Yom Kippur and Ashkenazi Genocidalism cites an attempt to bring a WW2 Jewish war criminal to justice.

    The Pattern of Ethnic Ashkenazi Genocidalism sends the reader to The Jewish Century by Yuri Slezkine as well as to The Jews of Odessa, A Cultural History, 1794-1881 by Zipperstein.

    Truth About the Katyn Massacre? points to some documents on the Katyn Massacre.

    Arun Gandhi and Sholem Aleichem points to an article on the dark side of Yiddish culture.

    Challenging the Holocaust Paradigm discusses the ethnic backgrounds of the 12 primary leaders of the Bavarian communist coup. I have to admit I just took a German history textbook and googeld each leader.

    In Less Blatant Thought Control, I suggest that the reader compare Nordau’s Entartung and Hitler’s Table Talk . It is hard to escape the conclusion that Hitler was plagiarizng.

    In other places in the list, I mention Jan Gross’s Neighbors, Benjamin Harshav’s Language in a Time of Revolution, and Solzhenitsyn’s Two Hundred Years together.

    Over all I am arguing for a reassessment of Jewish history starting with the 1850s in order to take into account Jewish violence from Central Europe through the Russian Empire.

    In this light we see that ethnic Ashkenazim became the quintessential Soviet class that often supplies the chief planners in participants in Soviet crimes) as well as the chief authors of revolutionary violence in Germany and Hungary after WWI. In many regards the Holocaust is a reaction to those Jewish activities by German Nazis, fearful Eastern Europeans, and liberated Soviet nationalities that were often acting relatively independently.

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