more on mayhem, mass death, and genocide

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Max Ajl at Jewbonics had an interesting take

on the Martin Kramer genocide charge:

The question about Kramer’s insane burblings is not whether use of the word “genocide” is ana­lyt­i­cally appro­pri­ate to describe what has been going on in Palestine for the last 60+ years. The question is if Kramer’s argument met the legal def­i­n­i­tion of genocide, a different matter. Here’s why. “Genocide scholars” and inter­na­tional lawyers have been scurrying around the library and poring through their law books and social-science textbooks for decades trying to muster up a coherent under­stand­ing of genocide. For now, we use the 1948 Con­ven­tion, and Elec­tronic Intifada referred to it (I assume) because it has cachet in academic and legal liberal circles, where unearthing instances of “genocide” is very important business, espe­cially when they’re committed by enemy states or Africans. They isolate “Genocide” as a unique evil, because of its tacit referent: the Holocaust, when a state con­sciously chose to destroy (several) others. Nazism and the Holocaust occupy a special place in our moral imaginary, and leaving aside the instru­men­tal­iza­tion of the phe­nom­e­non and these events, referring to them, and deploying the concept “genocide” is meant to provoke a very specific reaction and a very specific judgment: here is one more apologist for Israeli atrocity who has crossed the line by advo­cat­ing genocide, and should be censured. Cool with me. We should keep pushing back the line of what the academy will tolerate or let pass without criticism or rebuke.

On “genocide” more generally, here are the lines directly in front of what EI quoted: “committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.” Quickly looking over this definition—international lawyers and genocide scholars have refined it endlessly—the problems are obvious. No one is dumb enough to declare “intent” anymore, and what could “causing serious…mental harm” with the “intent to destroy…a national [etc.] group” possibly mean? No matter the protes­ta­tions of people working on creating a usable def­i­n­i­tion, defining genocide tends to founder on its legal incoherence.

But even that is a false issue. Elevating “genocide” is a direct result of elevating the Holocaust and placing Nazi evil and Jewish suffering on a pedestal. It coun­ter-­poses Nazi evil with justified acts like terror-bombing Tokyo or incin­er­at­ing Hiroshima, not to “destroy…a national…group,” but to win a war or intim­i­date the Soviets, respectively, or in the case of the mass murder of the American Indians, to clear the frontier and create a country.

In this con­struc­tion, the lunatics are those who kill to destroy an ethnic group. To reach some rea­son­able goal by utterly insane means is fine. That this ideology has the effect of san­i­tiz­ing American and, arguably, Israeli mayhem is another part of it. At the end of the day, genocide is a way of labeling mass-death with a word that evokes Auschwitz, and is an exercise in demo­niza­tion rather than analysis or con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion. This is a problem insofar as it demonizes Nazis, rather than placing their crimes on a human spectrum of atrocity, that our own crimes may and have approached, even if bereft of certain par­tic­u­larly dis­gust­ing features of Nazi indus­trial massacre. Still, I don’t find the word very helpful. It’s descrip­tive and evocative rather than ana­lyt­i­cal. But insofar as using what Anees calls a “strong word” to rouse the emotions of people who will respond to it, in this case, let’s use what we have.

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