Daily Archives: 29 May 2006

Validating the Road to Genocide

Finally, the role of validation must be considered. We saw that failures to adequately punish the perpetrators of earlier massacres either of Armenians in 1894–96, Jews in Ukraine in 1918–20, or Tutsi in Rwanda beginning in 1959 likely contributed to the perceived vulnerability of these groups.

With the rise of contemporary mass communications, perhaps even resulting in a global village in the half-century since the Holocaust, validation does not have to be confined to the earlier unpunished murder of the potential victims themselves. If the ongoing process of massacre is not addressed, then victimizers anywhere in the world may conclude that mass killing will not be interrupted or punished, even if in a different location and with different victims. A process of this type likely occurred prior to the Rwandan genocide, and specifically in the early stages of the Bosnian conflict two years earlier. At this time, it had all the appearances of genocide, at least to many observers. The fact that the apparent mass murder of tens if not hundreds of thousands in Bosnia went unopposed, at least militarily in the opening, most influential stages of the conflict, made it appear that genocidal activities could be accomplished without serious external constraint in the post-Cold War climate of the 1990s. In other words, “if they can get away with it, so can we.”

Regarding another African conflict, “I call it the copycat syndrome,” said Dame Margaret Anstee, who was the UN secretary general’s special envoy in Angola in the early 1990s. She said that, in 1992, when the rebel leader Jonas Savimbi “chose bullets over ballots,” he had been watching the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic [still at large!] “getting away with murder.” This interpretation accords with the finding of Stuart Hill and Donald Rothschild that receptivity to outside political violence is conditional upon a recent history of domestic strife, amply found in both Angola and Rwanda. The fighting between Hutu and Tutsi in 1959–64, the sporadic persecutions after independence (especially in 1973), and the ongoing strife after the RPF [Rwandan Patriotic Front] invasion of 1990 amply satisfy this condition.

Widespread massacres anywhere in the world, particularly in regions with powerful states such as Europe, have the potential to be extremely influential, especially if these states do nothing to stop the massacres. If power disparities between potential interveners and victimizers are substantial, again as in Europe in the early 1990s, and no intervention occurs, then validation of massacre, if not genocide itself, can be even more pronounced. Thus, prevention of genocide in one location is dependent on prior occurrences not only in that location, but in almost any place in the world in which successful intervention to prevent mass murder could have occurred, but did not. As in understanding the etiology of genocide, prevention is a complex matter requiring vigilance and awareness of the appropriate antecedent variables.

SOURCE: The Killing Trap: Genocide in the Twentieth Century, by Manus I. Midlarsky (Cambridge U. Press, 2005), pp. 394-395


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Genocide Prevention by Democracies: OIMBY?

And now we arrive at a paradox of genocide prevention. Although one of the best preventives of the genocide of a state’s minority population is the existence of a liberal democratic regime within that state, quite the opposite is true of democracy in bystander states. Here, the desire to be reelected, as in the case of the Allied governments at Versailles, or simply to avoid negative public reaction, may preclude any governmental action on behalf of endangered citizens of another state. Recall … President Roosevelt’s refusal to authorize the bombing of Auschwitz because of the fear of embarrassment, not to mention his earlier narrowing of immigration possibilities for Jews seeking refuge in the United States. Opinion polls had revealed the high level of anti-Semitism in the United States that might make his governing more difficult and, of course, his reelection as well. The British followed a similar path, as did President Clinton more recently in the Rwandan genocide.

At the Evian immigration conference in 1938 …, the only state to open its borders to Jewish immigration was the Dominican Republic under Rafael Trujillo, a dictator who was among the least responsive to public opinion. The Western democracies were extremely uncooperative in opening their borders. To be sure, public outcry on behalf of a threatened population potentially may reach a larger audience in a democracy than in an autocracy, if allowed, but on the whole the presumption in democracies, almost universally accepted, is that the electorate will be far more responsive to issues directly concerning its own perceived well-being than to the concerns of “alien” people….

Democracy, therefore, is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, its spread will make the lives of minorities more secure within states that democratize successfully. This conclusion is suggested by the findings of Rudolph Rummel and Barbara Harff. On the other hand, populations threatened with genocide may find fewer islands of refuge within democratic states. Recent restrictions on the granting of political asylum in European countries, not to mention greater difficulties generally in immigrating to Europe, and all of this even after the European Holocaust experience, suggest the importance of this distinction.

SOURCE: The Killing Trap: Genocide in the Twentieth Century, by Manus I. Midlarsky (Cambridge U. Press, 2005), pp. 392-394

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Proving One’s Faith in Tehran Jails, 1980s

We exchanged stories as we walked that day. Nassrin told me more about her time in jail. The whole thing was an accident. I remember how young she had been, still in high school. You’re worried about our brutal thoughts against “them,” she said, but you know most of the stories you hear about the jails are true. The worst was when they called people’s names in the middle of the night. We knew they had been picked for execution. They would say good-bye, and soon after that, we would hear the sound of bullets. We would know the number of people killed on any given night by counting the single bullets that inevitably came after the initial barrage. There was one girl there—her only sin had been her amazing beauty. They brought her in on some trumped-up immorality charge. They kept her for over a month and repeatedly raped her. They passed her from one guard to another. That story got around jail very fast, because the girl wasn’t even political; she wasn’t with the political prisoners. They married the virgins off to the guards, who would later execute them. The philosophy behind this act was that if they were killed as virgins, they would go to heaven. You talk of betrayals. Mostly they forced those who had “converted” to Islam to empty the last round into the heads of their comrades as tokens of their new loyalty to the regime. If I were not privileged, she said with rancor, if I were not blessed with a father who shared their faith, God knows where I would be now—in hell with all the other molested virgins or with those who put a gun to someone’s head to prove their loyalty to Islam.

SOURCE: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, by Azar Nafisi (Random House, 2004), p. 212

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