I have never been a fan of genocidal top trumps: where people actually have discussions about which genocide was “worse” and then get into semantics about the definitions of ‘worse’ and ‘genocide’. These discussions inevitably focus on two people: Hitler and Stalin. Using scientific methods to commit mass murder and its location within Europe are the two reasons given for the Nazi genocide’s place as the Number 1 World’s Worst Genocide – Stalin may have killed more people but he didn’t have Science. Not that I’m arguing for ‘most people murdered’ to be a definition of the worst genocide in human history – that type of discussion is inherently racist because it ignores European genocides committed in Africa and North and South America throughout history. We use this language of ‘worst’ so we can pontificate on the theory of ‘Never Again’ whilst cheerfully committing or financially supporting genocide across the globe.
Us Europeans, we totally learned our lessons about the evils of killing people after the Holocaust: except for those small issues of the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Syria, French troops in Algeria and every other war and major human rights abuse across the world funded by our government directly or indirectly through our support of the arms trade and our ever-increasing demand for natural resources from oil to diamonds. Profits before people erases the stench of genocide and mass murder from white men living in mansions in Essex.
We need to be clear here: Never Again is a bullshit statement. Millions of people were directly and indirectly involved in the Nazi mass murders of Jewish people, Roma, Sinti, Soviet POWs, gay men and ‘asocial’ – a category that includes women who were lesbian or who worked as prostitutes. It’s not like the Soviet army marched into Auschwitz in January 1945 to discover that genocide had been an official Nazi policy. People were involved in building concentration, slave labour and death camps. Cattle cars with dying people in them traveled through towns. 34 000 Jewish people were murdered at Babi Yar in one week in September 1941 by the Einsatzgruppen: mass murder on this scale had witnesses – and witnesses who were not directly involved in the genocide.
The Nazi genocide was not committed by Hitler, Goebbels and a couple of other people. It was committed by huge numbers of people living across Europe and indirectly supported by countries like the UK, US, Canada, Spain, Switzerland who denied entry to Jewish, Roma, Sinti families desperately trying to escape.
We also knew it was happening. The British press was reporting mass murder in 1942. In July of that year, the New York Times ran an article about the killing centre in Chelmno. This idea that no one knew about the genocide is a post-war myth designed to minimise responsibility of those directly and indirectly involved. And, we need to be brutally clear here: the Nazis may have started the genocide but they were well supported by members of all the countries they invaded: from Poland to France and the USSR.
Nothing that challenges the liberal, Western view of themselves as saviours of humanity is allowed to exist though. So, we prance about saying Never Again with completely straight faces even though genocide has continued non-stop since 1945 and our country continues to sell arms to anyone who can afford to buy them, despite knowing they were selling to governments, mercenaries, terrorists, and criminal gangs.
This is why I was so incensed with this statement by Grace Dent in an article today in the Independent*:
In Isis we are observing a level of atrocity towards mankind that, post-Nazism, we hoped we would never again witness. But with Isis there’s no excuse for not knowing what “they” are up to. There will no big post-war reveal where we can wring our hands saying, “Well, this is awful, but we had no idea”.
Isis are committing war crimes on a daily basis. But, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this level of war crimes of genocide since 1945. We just don’t give a shit about the genocide in Cambodia or Syria or the 40 women who are raped every hour in the Congo. We know about these war crimes, like we knew about the Nazi treatment of people with disabilities, but still we do nothing. Instead, Grace Dent claims that Isis are engaged in a “level of atrocity” not seen since the Nazis. I suspect the Kurdish communities slaughtered by Saddam Hussein using British technology would beg to differ.
This idea of genocidal top trumps is lazy, inaccurate journalism. War crimes are happening every single day and we do nothing. People are dying in war zones not just from from weapons but from lack of healthcare (Palestine), clean water, sanitation and food. Why aren’t we talking about the millions of people who are forced to depend on NGOs for food – who are dying of starvation because profit is considered more important than people, whilst the IMF supports rich countries in their exploitation of others. Isis are a violent organisation who are committing mass murder – but they aren’t the only group currently engaged in war crimes today. The crimes committed by Isis cannot be decontextualised from the war crimes and genocidal practises of hundreds of other groups across the globe.
We need to discuss why 3 teenage girls from England flew out to join Isis despite knowing the crimes they are committing – just as we should ask why former British soldiers join ‘security forces’ to work as mercenaries in war zones knowing that they will be committing war crimes. And, why can Grace Dent write an article insisting that these 3 teenage girls not be allowed back into the UK when former mercenaries can return to draw army pensions?
Because these two questions are connected. And, how we define genocide and war crimes is a huge part of why the UK can pretend its the saviour of Africa whilst engaged in deliberate policies to extract the natural resources of the second largest continent in the world without giving a thought to the people we are killing in order to have diamonds.
* For an analysis of the extremely problematic content of the rest of the article check out the twitter stream @WritersofColour