Globalization and Genocide
KeywordsMass Grave Corporal Punishment Political Violence Hate Speech Khmer Rouge
Broadly defined as acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, genocide had been an instrument of “purifying” territories by eliminating unwanted groups for much of the twentieth and continuing into the twenty-first century.
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 in part
Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group (United Nations General Assembly 1948).
Although many of these genocidal acts were and continue to be committed in various conflicts – and some might have been relatively well documented – proving the intent that these acts were planned in advance and aimed at destroying a social group “in whole or in part” has been a much more difficult task than confirming that they actually did occur (Halilovich 2016). Thus, in legal terms, the crime of genocide requires proving the intent through evidence accepted by an appropriate national or international court such as the International Criminal Court. Because of this, it is almost impossible to call a genocide-like crime genocide while it is in progress, which makes it difficult to prevent or stop such violence. Nonetheless, from an academic and activist point of view, it is important to understand why, when, and how genocide evolves from an abstract idea to a real mass grave.
Genocide as Modern Crime
Genocide and similar acts of mass violence often get labeled “barbaric” or resulting from “ancient hatred,” implying that they are somehow the inevitable rudiments of primordial times and incompatible with the modern way of life (Bowen 2002). However, as this paper describes, such arguments are misleading as they ignore the strong correlation between modernity and genocide, the two seemingly incompatible sets of values and ideas.
Indeed, genocidal violence as the ultimate crime against humanity has marked much of the modern history, though methods, victims, and perpetrators have differed from case to case. This does not imply that similar violence aimed at annihilating a whole people did not take place in premodern history. However, genocide became institutionalized and brought to perfection only in modern times (Watts 2016). As Zygmunt Bauman points out, “modernity was not the Holocaust’s sufficient condition; it was however, most certainly its necessary precondition and an outcome of the modern bureaucratic culture” (1989, pp. 13–15).
At the peak of the technological and scientific advancement and a universal appeal of nationalist ideologies in the first half of the twentieth century, modern Europe experienced concentration camps and annihilation of whole peoples, most notably the European Jews through the Holocaust. As a result, in 1945, many nations pledged “never again” to such violence, and 3 years later the United Nations enshrined the pledge in The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. It was then that the term genocide was used for the first time, coined by Raphaël Lemkin, a US lawyer of Jewish-Polish descent many of whose relatives perished in the Holocaust. Like many other modern terms, the word genocide was made of Greek and Latin words: the Greek génos (race, stock, kin, people) and the Latin suffix -cide (killing). Lemkin’s concept of genocide – signifying “a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves” (Lemkin 2002, p. 27) – provided the basis for the UN convention on genocide.
In defining the ultimate crime against humanity, Raphaël Lemkin observed that genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. The objective, he noted, is the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and ultimately the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups (Lemkin 2002).
Twenty years after the Holocaust, the UN convention did not stop the genocide in Cambodia, and 50 years later, when the Western world was reaching its peak in promoting universal human rights and the Holocaust Museum in New York was opened, similar genocides were underway on the European continent, in Bosnia, in Africa, and in Rwanda. A new term describing the genocidal politics of violence at the time was created – ethnic cleansing (Humphrey 2013). Since then, we have seen genocidal violence taking place in parts of Iraq, Syria, and Myanmar.
Bauman has drawn our attention to the two almost paradoxical sides of modernity, including the most recent stage of “liquid modernity” and the era of globalization (Bauman 2000). On the one hand, the goal of modernity’s “civilizing project” was to free humans from premodern social organizations and backwardness by bringing reason to our understanding of human nature and behavior and creating sophisticated forms of social organization and way of life. The attribute civilized has become a synonym for everything that separates cultured, enlightened, and modern men and women from their primitive, brutish, and superstitious premodern ancestors. Or, as Emil Durkheim put it: “it is civilization that has made man what he is; it is what distinguishes him from the animal: man is man only because he is civilized” (1973, p. 149). Since Durkheim, reason, rationality, and science and their universal application are still widely seen as the key to human emancipation and happiness. As Ashe et al. (1999, p. 2) point out, “from the Enlightenment perspective, scientific knowledge liberates us from the shackles of dogma, leading us into freedom where we alone are in control of our destiny.” Or, as Condorcet, the great philosophe of the eighteenth century, enthusiastically proclaimed, the Enlightenment is about “the abolition of inequality between nations, the progress of equality within each nation and the true perfection of humankind” (1955, p. 173).
On the other hand, modernity has not abolished violence as the most destructive and “uncivilized” form of human behavior. On the contrary, by the rationalization of violence, modernity has produced its most devastating forms resulting in the deaths of many millions of people and unhappiness for countless others (Watts 2016). Compared with warfare and killings in the premodern times, modern state-sanctioned killings are incomparably larger in their scope and number of victims. While freeing humans in some areas of everyday life, many of the modern achievements including technology, ideology, bureaucracy, and science have been used to perpetrate, rationalize, and justify human destructiveness on a large, “industrial” scale.
In their pessimistic account of modernity, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno state that all the achievements of modern humans are nothing but their adaptation to this epoch. Humans have not abandoned their destructive nature – they have only sophisticated it. In their view, “men have not only overtaken their immediate predecessors, but thoroughly exterminated them in a manner which is not reflected in any other modern species, including the flesh-eating saurians” (Horkheimer and Adorno 1994, p. 222). According to these two modern thinkers, reason and rationality cannot be the source of human dignity because humans are capable of much more horrific forms of violence than nonrational animals.
Horkheimer and Adorno are echoing Michel Foucault (1982), who pointed out that political violence has been transformed into the modern state system by rationalizing it through a new theory of law and crime, a new moral or political justification of the right to punish. This included the disappearance of torture as a “public spectacle” and, instead, the rise of the process of “rationalization” of violence through institutionalized transformation as in the creation of the modern prison system and concertation camps. In this way, punishment becomes a complex social function and a political tactic, the aim of which is not only to indulge corporal punishment through physical pain but also to “discipline,” “cure,” or exterminate social deviants marked as criminals. The term criminal is, however, a very vague one and is defined differently in different legal systems, becoming a depersonalized bureaucratic category.
Max Weber famously argued that rationalization produced an “iron cage of bureaucracy” which regulates and controls all aspects of modern life (Waters and Waters 2015). Through control and regulations, bureaucracy alienates individual members of society by limiting their input into the rationalized legal system, while, on the other hand, it represents the most sophisticated form of “detached” authority where individuals are functioning as part of a system that does not have any personal qualities. Or, as Hannah Arendt (1970) put it, bureaucracy is the form of the government in which everybody is deprived of political freedom and of the power to act and where guilt and responsibility are detached from individuals’ actions. This form of modern power has helped to organize and carry out the most systematic cases of violence in modern history (Weber 1991; Arendt 1970).
Modern ideologies have also had a significant part in adding new qualities to the politics of violence. According to Arendt (1966), every full-fledged ideology has been created, continued, and improved as a political weapon and not as a doctrine. Ideologies have had a major part in mobilizing support and fighting for “their cause,” leading to violent conflicts on small and large scales and the creation of totalitarian systems such as the Third Reich and Stalin’s Soviet Union. By using state-sanctioned violence as means for political ends, these totalitarian regimes murdered more than 40 million people in the twentieth century (Arendt 1966).
This is not to say that the states that praise themselves for libertarian and democratic traditions are immune to political violence and genocide – as Geoffrey Robertson has addressed in his book Crimes Against Humanity (Robertson 1999).
Genocide and Us
Almost all cases of genocide could be directly linked to nation state and nationalism as one of the dominant modern ideologies. While the nation-state formation might be associated with the early stages of modernity, that process is still very much alive today. Since the 1990s we have witnessed many state structures changing and disappearing and new states being created. For instance, 15 new states emerged from the former Soviet Union, and the collapse of Yugoslavia resulted in formation of 7 new states; Czechoslovakia split in Czech Republic and Slovakia, while Eritrea separated from Ethiopia and Southern Sudan split from the state of Sudan and East Timor from Indonesia. The process of the state formation was part of different nationalist projects and in many cases was accompanied by violence, including genocide.
The underpinning ideologies and means for achieving nationalist goals have not changed much in the last 200 years. The final and ultimate goal of nationalism as ideology and political project is still to create nation-state and to define its national territory, a process that is almost regularly accompanied with different forms of politically motivated violence. While defined in rational terms, nation, as a modern sociopolitical structure, remains a romantic idea based more on myths and imagination than on science and history and as such rather represents an “imagined community,” as Benedict Anderson (1983) famously put it. However, the victims of nationalist ideologies are very real; in addition to those who are expected to give their lives for the nation state, the victims include those who do not share the exclusive national characteristics and are very often seen as barriers in national self-fullfilment. In the best-case scenario, such groups become minorities with limited rights, while in the worst these unwanted groups are persecuted and became subject to social and cultural marginalization, even physical annihilation.
Along with the modern ideologies, science and technology have been defining features of what it means to be modern. Science and technology have also resulted in the development of powerful and destructive weapons, greatly increasing the number of victims and the “quality” of killing itself. As Arendt (1970) points out, modern weapons have freed humans from the “natural” restraints we find in the animal kingdom, making killing from a distance “detached” and impersonal. She insists that “the specific distinction between man and beast is now, strictly speaking, no longer reason but science, the knowledge of the standards and the techniques applying them” (1970, p. 62).
Not much has changed since Arendt wrote this almost a half a century ago. With advancements in science and technology, the means for destruction and long-distance killings have become even more deadly, while the ideological justifications and willingness of a critical number of people to participate in violence against others have not diminished over time.
Collective Crime of Individuals
Since all genocides are large-scale and systematic attempts to eradicate populations, their execution is dependent upon large segments of a nation going along with the genocidal policies. It is a crime of many rather than of the few. The Holocaust, for example, has been called a “German national project” because it involved many participants and accomplices from all walks of life (Goldhagen 1996). Similarly, ethnic cleansing and genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda, while guided and orchestrated by nationalist politicians, nonetheless relied upon many ordinary citizens to facilitate the killing of members of the “unwanted groups,” Bosniaks in Bosnia and Tutsis in Rwanda.
This raises the ontological question of why such acceptance takes place. How is it possible for genocidal states to gain popular support for their murderous policies? As Alex Alvarez (2001) comments, many of the individuals who participate are typically ordinary citizens who may well have values antithetical to violence and criminality. Nonetheless, ordinary individuals are not only potentially capable, but far too often engage in extraordinary collective crimes. In any genocide, the psychopaths and sadists are far outnumbered by individuals who can be considered “normal” in their psychological functioning. And this is what makes the crime of genocide more problematic than the other murderous acts classified as war crimes or crimes against humanity.
Putting aside Freud’s (2000) argument that humans are intrinsically violent by nature, and that only constant repression, sublimation, and compromise on a subconscious level keeps us from killing each other, or being homo homini lupus, we need to look for the causes that bring modern human beings to such a destructive state of mind to perpetrate and tolerate genocide. At least some of the causes are to be found in the way modern society operates and the rationalization of violence that includes different phases such as planning, preparation, scientific and legal justification, and mobilization of the masses to support and carry out genocidal policies – as is elaborated in more detail later in the paper.
As seen from the Holocaust and the genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, and Rwanda, genocide as a collective political crime receives much of its perceived legitimacy from scientists, professionals, and social elites who provide the ideological, intellectual, scientific, and legal underpinnings for the destruction of a specific group. They often justify genocide and other forms of political violence by providing “vocabularies of motive” – e.g., the Jews as inferior race during the Third Reich, intellectuals as anti-collectivist elements in Cambodia, Muslims as “genetically defect material” in Bosnia, and Tutsis as “cockroaches” in Rwanda – which frame genocidal actions in a way that makes it acceptable for the broader masses of society (Kuper 2002). They use a variety of scientific – or more often pseudoscientific – ideas to justify and set the scene for later atrocities. Because they are “scientific” and promoted by people with a level of authority and expertise, they have a weight and power that would otherwise be lacking. These ideas are subsequently disseminated by intellectual elites such as scientists, doctors, and other professionals whose status gives weight and importance to their pronouncements (Hassner 1997).
Under the Nazi regime, for instance, medical professionals created a body of knowledge that was used as lethal instruments against Jews (Grodin and Annas 2007). They identified Jews as carriers of diseases and in fact as disease themselves. Typhus became known as a Jewish disease or Judenfieber. The two modern discourses, social Darwinism and Eugenics, gave the scientific backing for the elimination of “non-fit” individuals and groups from society and developed new techniques for more “rational” and “hygienic” killings. After such a systematic preparation, the Nazis were able to portray their discriminatory and genocidal actions as necessary to maintain the health and welfare of the German society (Friedlander 1995).
In a similar vein, the Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Art set the stage for a resurgent Serb nationalism years before ethnic cleansing and genocide actually took place. Published in 1986, the memorandum detailed a long list of “injustices” suffered by Serb people. It built on the nationalistic sentiments Serb intellectuals and academics had begun expressing in the 1970s and meetings of members of the Serbian Academy since 1983 to discuss the situation in Yugoslavia (Lampe 2000). The Memorandum asserted that, “…in less than fifty years, within two consecutive generations, twice exposed to physical annihilation, forceful assimilation, religious conversion, cultural genocide, ideological indoctrination, invalidation, and denunciation of their own tradition under the imposed complex of guilt, intellectually and politically disarmed, the Serbs were exposed to temptations that were too great not to leave deep scars on their spirit.” Additionally, it asserted that “Serbs have a historic and democratic right to establish fully national and cultural integrity independently, regardless of republic or province in which they live” (Sugar 1995; Cigar 1995).
Essentially, the document legitimated the policies and actions of the ethnic cleansing and genocide which were to follow. From the Serb nationalist perspective, the perpetrators were not committing crimes against innocent people and their neighbors, but merely defending their people and asserting their rights (Anzulović 1999; Halilovich and Adams 2011). A similar pattern existed in the Rwandan and Cambodian genocide (Melvern 2004; Hinton 2002).
Genocide as a “Legalized” Crime
Another powerful vehicle in legitimizing policies of persecution is the law and the modern legal system. By definition, everything that is proclaimed legal is legitimate and everything that is categorized as illegal is illegitimate. The Holocaust happened only after legal initiatives had over the years deprived Jews of their professions, their possessions, and their rights. Once their rights were removed, anything could and did happen to them (Glover 1999).
Similarly, during the 1990s in Bosnia, legal officials in the occupied parts of the country, self-declared as the Republika Srpska (Serb Republic), and enacted laws depriving the largest Bosnian ethnic group, the Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), of their rights and legal protection (Cigar 1995). Together with the Bosnian Croats and other non-Serbs, they were banned from management and senior positions in large businesses. Moreover, they were subjected to a 4 pm curfew and were banned from gathering in public places, making contact with relatives who did not live in the town, driving or traveling by car, selling real estate without going through Serb authorities, or leaving without permission (Maas 1996).
By legitimizing the discrimination and oppression, the Serb authorities pressured the non-Serb population into leaving Serb-controlled territory (Cigar 1995; Halilovich 2013). These legal decrees had the effect of socially and economically marginalizing the non-Serbs, making them vulnerable to more extreme measures that included being rounded up in concentration camps and physical extermination in summary. In Rwanda, Tutsis were subjected to similar policies imposed by Hutu nationalists, who killed 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus within 100 days (Prunier 1998; Melvern 2004), while in Cambodia the Khmer Rouge regime established strict legal protocols as a part of the killing machinery which took the lives of two million people (Caswell 2014; Hinton 2002).
In all these cases of genocide, the law, instead of protecting the victims, was used as a tool of propaganda and incitement to violence, lending credibility to certain groups, actions, and behaviors and delegitimizing others. The ability to legally define certain people as criminals is to take away not only their rights, but also their identity as citizens. Criminals are by definition perceived as different and alien from the “law-abiding” and “decent” citizens of a society. The perpetrators of genocide, protected as they are by the state and its laws, see themselves as “good citizens” engaged in patriotic service to their nation. The victims of genocide, on the other hand, are portrayed as devious and enemies who pose a threat to those being asked to kill them. In many cases, propaganda reverses the roles of victims and perpetrators, portraying victims as perpetrators while honoring perpetrators as innocent victims (Halilovich 2011). In other words, killers are provided with ideologies and propaganda that alter perceptions of reality in order to justify their behavior.
Recognizing Stages of Genocide
Based on the discussion above, it is not difficult to agree with Gregory Stanton, a genocide scholar and President of Genocide Watch, an organization dedicated to identifying and preventing genocides, when he writes that genocide does not just happen, but represents a process. According to Stanton, this linear process develops in ten stages, and, ideally, by recognizing these different stages, we should also be able to develop preventive measures to stop genocide (Stanton 2017).
Classification: creation of categories to separate people into “us” and “them” according to ethnicity, race, religion, or nationality.
Symbolization: giving derogatory names or using symbols for the targeted social groups.
Discrimination: using law, custom, and political power to deny the rights of other groups on the basis of nationality, ethnicity, race, or religion.
Dehumanization: denying humanity to members of other groups by equating them with animals, vermin, insects, or diseases.
Organization: behind every genocide there is a high level of organization and planning, usually by the state, often using militias to provide deniability of state responsibility.
Polarization: allowing extremists to drive the groups apart, dividing propaganda and hate speech, laws may forbid intermarriage or social interaction, intimidating and silencing the moderates from within the dominant group.
Persecution: identifying and separating victims based on their ethnic or religious identity, drawing up death lists, forcing members of victim groups to wear identifying symbols, expropriation of property, demographic segregation into ghettoes, deportation into concentration camps, or confinement to a famine-struck region and starvation.
Preparation: national or perpetrator group leaders plan the “final solution” to targeted groups, often using euphemisms such as “ethnic cleansing,” “purification,” or “counterterrorism”; building armies, buying weapons, and training their troops and militias.
Extermination: involves mass killing of the members of the target group by armed forces and militias.
Denial: the perpetrators of genocide dig up the mass graves, burn the bodies, try to cover up the evidence, intimidate the witnesses, block investigations of the crimes, deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims (Stanton 2017).
If unpunished, genocide can also result in an eleventh stage. Building upon Stanton’s ideas and basing it on my research on genocide in Bosnia, I call this stage “triumphalism.” In this stage, perpetrators, their sponsors, and the politics behind genocide do not deny the killings anymore, but glorify them, celebrate their deeds, humiliate the survivors, build monuments to the perpetrators at the sites of the massacres, and create a culture of triumphalism such as has been seen in the parts of Bosnia where Serb militias committed genocide against Bosniaks (Halilovich 2011, 2013).
Rather than cataloging all the cases of genocide and providing precise demographic, historical, or statistical records of them, this chapter has attempted to reiterate the connection between modernity (and globalization) with this most heinous form of politically motivated violence. To paraphrase Baumann, genocide might not be directly caused by globalization – genocidal violence is usually very local and regional in its scope (Halilovich and Adams 2011) – however, neither is “liquid modernity” immune to the crime of all crimes. If anything, globalization typified by modern information and communication technologies has made us more aware of genocidal acts taking places in different corners of the globe, which in turn should make us all feel not just unconformable about having this knowledge, but also responsible to stop genocide. In this day and age, we cannot resort to saying to future generations: “we did not know what was going on.”
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