Wednesday, January 26, 2005

After All, It's Only Genocide

Sorry for the paucity of blogging as of late. I've been inundated with work, and it doesn't look like it's going to let up. I'm going to the Model UN conference at McGill University this weekend, so I'll be gone from Thursday until Sunday. I don't know if I'll have internet access up there, so I might not be posting again until Monday. Anyway, back to the matter at hand.

I've been chewing on this article (link: Andrew Sullivan) for a few days now. To sum it up briefly:
Iqbal Sacranie, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, has written to Charles Clarke, the home secretary, saying the body will not attend the [commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz] unless it includes the "holocaust" of the Palestinian intifada.

Obviously, on a visceral level I'm infuriated that anyone would have the gall to compare the intifada with the holocaust. Anyone who engages in moral relativism at that level of myopia is ethically bankrupt, and deserved to be labeled as such.

However, I think it also is reflective of a deeper problem. The term "genocide" has become cheap. People toss it around carelessly, and on the flip side, the recognition of a legitimate ongoing genocide doesn't even provoke a reaction. Genocide is defined as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such." When Raphael Lemkin coined the term in 1944, he intended it to refer to the most horrific crime imaginable. Genocide was something that was supposed to force states to overcome their hesitance in intervening in other nation's affairs. It was the one crime that couldn't be excused by cries of "sovereignty." Because of the US' love affair with sovereignty, we didn't ratify and implement the Genocide Convention until 1989.

In 1994, Bill Clinton issued an order to the State Department warning them not to use the term "genocide" in reference to the ongoing atrocities in Rwanda. Clinton knew that the term "genocide" put both the moral and legal burden on the US to act, and after the Somalia debacle, that was the last thing he wanted. This was a morally abominable choice, to be sure, but at least we then recognized that genocide actually meant something. And Clinton absolved himself, in part, by intervening in Kosovo to stop the slaughter of ethnic Albanians there.

Fast-forward to today. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has explicitly labeled the situation in Sudan a genocide. The US response? Nothing. The EU? Nothing. The UN? Nothing. Nothing could have done more damage than nothing. Whereas in 1994 we feared our obligation to stop genocide, in 2004 we act as if we don't have one at all. Genocide simply doesn't have the gravitas to motivate America to action anymore.

A corrupt bargain has been struck by the left and the right, probably without each party knowing it. The left gets to label each and every conflict in which a civilian dies as "genocide" (of course, drawing no distinction between unfortunate collateral damage and "intent to destroy"). The right gets to completely ignore the issue, regardless of whether the genocide claim is warranted or not. And of course, people keep dying. Dictators become emboldened. Ethnic hatreds rage unchecked. And "never again" happens again, and again, and again.


Eben Flood said...

I am of the mind that the right would like to do something about it but wont bring the subject up for fear of highlighting how Iraq has left us dangerously short on man power.

The genocide in Sudan highlights just how dependant the rest of the world is on our actions, or lack thereof. It highlights how completely useless the UN is when it comes to anything that really matters and how devoid the rest of the 'West' is of any kind of international responsibility that doesn't involve lining their pockets with kick-backs.

The fact of the matter is that unless the U.S. acts internationally no one else is likely to and we are incapable of acting at the moment.

Have fun on your trip!

Randomscrub said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly. Genocide is a term that has been cheapened in recent years, and we as a country are becoming entirely too comfortable with that idea.