20 Nov 2016

Text: Corinna & Matthias / Translation: Miriam & Daniel

The term ‘genocide’ and its resurgence in current affairs

Over the last few weeks and months, we have witnessed a strong resurgence of the term ‘genocide’ in current political discussion. Right-wing populists and extremists caution that the current refugee crisis is a ‘White Genocide’.

As such, Genocide Alert and #Ge.no.zid.blogger have decided to publish a collective statement against discrimination and racism and, simultaneously, to explain the topic of genocide.

by Corinna Krauß and Matthias Winkler

cultural genocidePicture: Tomoaki INABA/www.flickr.com/Creative Commons

# 1. What is genocide and why is its definition problematic?

According to Article 2 of the UN’s Convention, the core offence of a genocide is that the crime is committed with “the intention to partly or completely destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.  Such criminal acts include murder as well as physical or mental harm; the imposition of life conditions that could destroy the group; the prevention of births; or the forced transferral of children to different groups.

However, this definition causes some problems: according to the Convention, national, ethnic and religious groups as well as races are classified as groups in need of protection. Ethnicity and race are, however, not definable characteristics but a social construct. As such, the Jews who were killed by the National Socialists were not a ‘race’, but were divided into a group based on their grandparents’ religious affiliation – amongst other factors. Another prominent example is that of the Tutsi in Rwanda, who originally were a social rather than an ethnic group. Nevertheless, cultural, social and political groups are not listed in the Convention, even if they are in need of protection.

The murder of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire, which began in 1915, the destruction of the European Jews during the Second World War and the Hutu’s killing of the Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994 are some of the best-known and undisputed genocides.


# 2. What is cultural genocide?

A cultural genocide, often called ethnocide, is the destruction of a group that occurs without the deaths of any member of said group. Their cultural, linguistic and existential characteristics such as their religion, lifestyle, economic form and form of rule are infiltrated and destroyed from within. The term ethnocide is often linked to indigenous people.

One’s cultural identity is viewed as part of one’s core self, and to have it forcibly removed is viewed as a personal attack, as well as an attack on human diversity.

The draft of the UN resolution contained a possible definition. It was, however, not included in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Incidences that could be viewed as genocide, mainly refer to cases in which the majority of a population together with a powerful state act against a minority (e.g. various indigenous peoples in Canada and the Americas or the Aborigines in Australia).

white genocidePicture: istolethetv/www.flickr.com/Creative Commons

# 3. How should we react when somebody calls the refugee crisis a cultural genocide?

The supporters of the ‘White Genocide’ approach view the Western countries as accomplices, who contribute to the ‘large influxes of refugees’, and thus the extinction of the ‘white race’. The immigration of ‘non-white’ refugees along with legally enforced ‘diversity’ and mandatory assimilation are, according to these individuals, a genocide –pursuant to Article 2c: “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.

This is connected to the argument, that the Muslim population will be the majority in Europe in the near future. The Muslim population is indeed expected to increase over the next 35 years. They will, however, not become the largest religious group. According to a survey by the ‘Pew Research Center on Religious and Public Life’, the Muslim population is not going to grow to an apocalyptic level. This is due to a low birth rate, an ageing population, urbanisation and, especially, increasingly educated girls and women. In 2010, approximately 6% of the Europeans belonged to Islam, and it is estimated that it will rise to between 8 and 10% by 2050.

However, there remains a much more significant argument: by considering the history and background of various ethnic genocides, it is mostly (non-white) groups that are forced to assimilate into a (mostly white) society by way of re-education and resettlement. Examples of such assimilations are Canada’s actions against the indigenous peoples of their country and Australia’s actions on the Aborigines. Another method is to destroy a group’s cultural elite or significant cultural goods. The so-called Islamic State recently took this approach in large parts of Syria and Iraq, where terrorists destroyed other religions’ sacred sites and historical treasures, such as the Temple of Bel (in Palmyra, Syria) or the Mosul Museum.

white genocidePicture: configmanager/www.flickr.com/Creative Commons

To what extent the refugee crisis can even be compared to those crimes is only comprehensible, if one engages in the perfidious logic the ‘preachers of hatred’ use. According to these preachers, European countries force assimilation in order to make European culture disappear. With this accusation, they hope to achieve recognition that the small concessions made to the refugees[1] are discredited and can be declared as ‘treason to their own people’. It is, however, the contrary that is the case: refugees are more often than not expected to abandon their own cultural identity in order to be allowed to live amongst us ‘in safety’ – this can almost be viewed as falling within the scope of cultural oppression.

The warning of a ‘White Genocide’ is no more than a racist group’s populist argument, intended to foment hatred against groups who flee from terror and persecution. Such a perfidious use of the term Genocide cannot be left unchallenged!

[1]  Note: For example, brochures about “rules of behaviour” in a European society in Arabic

About the Authors:

Matthias Winkler is a scientific assistant at Genocide Alert

Corinna Krauß is chairwomen at #Genozidblogger e.V.

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