Genocide, Risk and Resilience

Posted: December 4, 2013 in genocide

I have a chapter, ‘The Concept of Genocide: What Are We Preventing?’ in a new book edited by Bert Ingelaere, Stephan Parmentier, Jacques Haers and Barbara Segaert, GENOCIDE, RISK AND RESILIENCE: An Interdisciplinary Approach, just out from Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978 1 137 33242 4

UCSIA Genocide book cover‘This collection adopts an interdisciplinary approach in order to understand the various factors at work in genocidal processes and their aftermath. The strong emphasis on legal norms, legal concepts and legal measures in other studies fails to consider further significant issues in relation to genocide. This book aims to redress this balance exploring social dynamics and human behaviour as well as the interplay of various psychological, political, sociological, anthropological and historical factors at work in genocidal processes. With contributions from top international scholars, this volume provides an integrated perspective on risk and resilience, acknowledging the importance of mitigating factors in understanding and preventing genocide. It explores a range of issues including the conceptual definition of genocide, the notion of intent, preventive measures, transitional justice, the importance of property, the role of memory, self or national interest and principles of social existence. Genocide, Risk and Resilience aims to cross conceptual, disciplinary and temporal boundaries and in doing so, provides rich insights for scholars from across political science, history, law, philosophy, anthropology and theology.’

This publication is the result of the international workshop on the topic of Preventing Genocide: Root Causes and Coping Strategies organized in Antwerp in 2011.

Entry on Genocide in Oxford Bibliographies, now online

Prize-winning article!

Posted: October 6, 2013 in genocide

One of my articles has won a prize for the best article in the European Journal of International Relations between 2010 and 2013. From comparative to international genocide studies: The international production of genocide in 20th-century Europe was published in 2012, and covers some of the same ground as my new book Genocide and International Relations: Changing Patterns in the Transitions of the Late Modern World, just published. The prize was awarded at the 8th Pan-European IR conference in Warsaw.

EJIR cover

Abstract: Genocide is widely seen as a phenomenon of domestic politics, which becomes of international significance because it offends against international law. Hence there are as yet inadequate International Relations analyses of the production of genocide. This article challenges the idea of the domestic genesis of genocide, and critiques the corresponding approach of ‘comparative genocide studies’ which is dominant in the field. It analyses the emergence of more fruitful ‘relational’ and ‘international’ approaches in critical genocide studies, while identifying the limitations of their accounts of the ‘international system’. As first steps towards an adequate international account, the article then explores questions of the international meaning and construction of genocidal relations, and of international relations as the context of genocide. It argues for a historical and sociological approach to the international relations of genocide, and examines 20th-century European genocide in this light. Arguing for a broader conception of this historical experience than is suggested by an exclusive focus on the Holocaust, the article offers an interpretation of genocide as increasingly endemic and systemic in international relations in the first half of the century. It concludes by arguing that this account offers a starting point, but not a model, for analyses of genocide in global international relations in the 21st century.

My personal take on the Ralph and Ed Miliband saga. A version has also been published on openDemocracy.

It is ironic as well as objectionable that the Daily Mail’s notorious piece on the late Ralph Miliband, which has so rebounded on the paper, should have brought into question his British identity. Not only did Ralph, as Ed Miliband was rightly quick to point out, fight with British forces in the Second World War. But Ralph’s intellectual and political projects, while framed within Marxist theory and socialist internationalism, were also in very important senses British.

The radical student response to Ralph Miliband

I went to the London School of Economics, where Ralph Miliband taught, in 1965 to study Sociology. While at school, I had been involved in Labour politics in the Newcastle-under-Lyme constituency of Stephen Swingler, a left-wing MP who had been prominent in the Victory for Socialism movement within the party. At LSE, I moved rapidly to the left in opposition to the Labour government’s backing for the US war in Vietnam, its anti-trade union policies and the appeasement of racism in its immigration policies. Swingler’s support for the latter – he had been co-opted by Harold Wilson who made him a transport minister – was a turning point in my own rejection of the Labour Party and movement towards the emerging far left.

As I abandoned the LSE Labour Club for the more radical Socialist Society, fellow students quickly pointed me in the direction of Miliband’s lectures. His authoritative, reasoned exposition of a Marxist perspective on power, soon to be published as The State in Capitalist Society (1969), was enormously impressive. As a lecturer, he had an open, relaxed but very careful manner that was very attractive; even a former Tory cabinet minister, Lord Moore, has testified to the integrity manifested in his teaching.

However Ralph Miliband’s bonds with his left-wing students were soon to be tested. Parliamentary Socialism (1964), which demonstrated the limits of reformism in practice, was already a classic in our eyes. It underpinned our rejection of Labour, as The State soon gave wider backing to our Marxist perspective. However as our theoretical perspectives transformed, Ralph’s works quickly came to appear too narrow, both in their overwhelmingly British basis and in their more general empiricism. (Although I should add that this does not mean that we uncritically embraced the French structuralism of Nicos Poulantzas, in the Miliband-Poulantzas debate of the 1970s.)

Moreover since ‘empiricism’ was well known to be a peculiarly British sin, the Miliband oeuvre was increasingly pigeonholed as a very British contribution to the burgeoning Marxism of the 1960s, even if it would be more accurate to say that it was closer to the radical Sociology of the non-Marxist American, C. Wright Mills. Indeed, Ralph was part of the formidable cohort of anti-Stalinist socialists, with generally loose and ambiguous relationships to Marxism as such, who clustered in the New Left of the late 1950s.

Within this very British phenomenon, Edward Thompson spoke for a distinctively English radicalism and Raymond Williams for working-class experience grounded in his Welsh border background. These local identities were not available, however, to a refugee like Ralph, however – or indeed to Stuart Hall who had come to Britain from Jamaica. The post-imperial British identity not only provided the overarching frame for the New Left but a specific reference point for those who were not English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish by background. It is an interesting counter-point to the Mail’s narrow casting of Britishness to reflect on the fact that part of the contemporary meaning of ‘British’ is its greater inclusiveness – for example we have British, but not English, Asians and Muslims.

It was not, however, Britishness that most tested Ralph Miliband’s relationship with the student left of the late 1960s. Although Ralph’s long-term collaborator John Saville wrote in his 1994 obituary, helpfully reposted by the Guardian this week, that ‘during the 1968 troubles at LSE he was outstanding in his defence of the students’ positions’, Miliband’s stance, like that of most of the left-wing academics, inevitably fell short of the radical students’ expectations. I mention this because it led my 20-year-old self to publish a name-calling criticism of Ralph in the International Socialist paper, Labour Worker – for which I was rightly slapped down by some more mature comrades. Ralph must have been aware of this, but with typical generosity never alluded to it in our later dealings.

Ralph Miliband and a political alternative to Labourism

Ralph welcomed student radicalism but was obviously wary of its excesses. Likewise, as one would expect from his critique of parliamentarism, he engaged with the anti-parliamentary left of the late 1960s and early 1970s but did not join any of its groupuscules. Empiricism could also be read as groundedness: Ralph was strongly rooted in British politics – indeed he had engaged with Victory for Socialism and was friendly with Swingler. He could tell the difference between small organisations whose narrow ideological stances would always limit their mass appeal, and a movement with the real promise of creating a real party to the left of Labour.

Even after this radical period, Ralph continued to argue for an alternative to Labourism and was always interested in any initiatives that seemed to promise movement in that direction. When I left the International Socialists after a decade, in frustration at their attitudes to democracy both in general and within their own organisation, he and Saville published my critical history of IS in The Socialist Register 1978. Ralph took a keen interest in the subsequent Socialist Unity movement, in which Socialist Challenge under Tariq Ali’s editorship joined with former IS members and the Big Flame group, but rightly intuited that this too was too narrowly based to lead to a breakthrough.

Later Ralph involved himself in a variety of socialist initiatives across the Labour/non-Labour left divide. His guiding line seemed to be to foster a vigorous, democratic and non-sectarian socialist current, whether inside or outside the party. Unlike many Marxist academics, he constantly involved himself in – Daily Mail please note – British politics.

Over to Ed

All of this is relevant now, of course, only because the Mail is taking aim at Ed Miliband, in the light of his successful Labour conference and popular proposal to control energy prices. Ed naturally, and accurately, emphasises that his politics are very different from his father’s. Yet the fact that Ed and David Miliband have become leading Labour politicians, often seen as supremely ironic, is not quite so surprising when we consider Ralph’s own trajectory and experience.

Ralph Miliband may have shown in Parliamentary Socialism that Labour, hidebound by parliamentarism, would prove incapable of achieving socialism. But his advocacy of an independent British socialist party failed to make a strong impact, and all the efforts in his lifetime to achieve something like that proved deeply unsuccessful. British politics have fractured and mutated over the last half century, but the beneficiaries have been sundry centrists, nationalists, greens and now (with UKIP) the reactionary right – everyone indeed except the socialist left. And this seems unlikely to change.

Where does that leave those motivated, as Ed Miliband claims to be, by the democratic socialist values that Ralph embraced? There are of course many extra-parliamentary means by which they can make a difference, within a capitalist society. But in a parliamentary democracy, it matters who wins elections and runs the government. It is a reasonable conclusion that we should try to use the major existing centre-left political force to make a difference too, and to find new ways of linking parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggles which will reinforce both. In this sense, Ed Miliband’s political project is both coherent in its own terms and a logical conclusion from the failure of his father’s. Moreover Ed seems to possess Ralph’s guts, integrity and honesty, which puts him (in personal terms) well ahead of the Labour leaders of the last two decades.

None of this is to say that Ed Miliband has shown a clear and coherent medium-term strategy for achieving reform. Nor is it to say that the Labour Party, in its present state, is a promising instrument for achieving even those modest goals which Ed Miliband has advanced. Evidently, forging credible social-democratic policies from the present position, starting from the dispiriting legacy of the Blair-Brown governments, and in the face of Tory-Lib Dem and press attacks, and winning the 2015 election with a real majority, are a tall order. The electoral odds – the negative experience of Tory rule, the pro-Labour bias of the electoral system, the UKIP drag on the Tory vote – suggest Labour will probably be the largest party. But anything more than that will require a serious shift in popular opinion, which so far Ed Miliband is far from achieving.

My new book is out (even if the Cambridge website still says ‘not yet published’, it’s on Amazon UK including Kindle)! The North American edition will be published next month and you can pre-order now.

Martin Shaw, Genocide and International Relations cover

‘Genocide and International Relations lays the foundations for a new perspective on genocide in the modern world. Genocide studies have been influenced, negatively as well as positively, by the political and cultural context in which the field has developed. In particular, a narrow vision of comparative studies has been influential in which genocide is viewed mainly as a ‘domestic’ phenomenon of states. This book emphasizes the international context of genocide, seeking to specify more precisely the relationships between genocide and the international system. Shaw aims to re-interpret the classical European context of genocide in this frame, to provide a comprehensive international perspective on Cold War and post-Cold War genocide, and to re-evaluate the key transitions of the end of the Second World War and the end of the Cold War.’

An excellent institute in Europe’s most attractive city – the ideal place to study! Foreign Affairs has just published an interview with me about the Master’s programmes at the Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals, where I am Research Professor.

The contradictions of the crisis: on openDemocracy:
Syria’s war is posing acute problems to western political leaders. The largest-scale use of chemical weapons to date, in opposition-held areas east of Damascus on 21 August 2013, killed over 350 civilians and hospitalised 3,000 more. The crisis this has unleashed is bringing the United States and France at least closer to direct military intervention, something that western states have avoided for over two years; though Britain, following the parliamentary vote late on 29 August, will not be involved as its government had wished. Indeed, the controversy in Britain reflects a wider lack of clarity in the international debate following the Ghouta attack. On all sides there is a great deal of confusion and uncertainty, especially on the issue of intervention.

The double conjuncture

Mass killings of civilians in the Syrian civil war are nothing new: it is estimated that 120,000 have already died since the early months of 2011. Many have been victims of deliberate violence against civilians, mainly by government forces. But the Ghouta massacre is a radical escalation: the world rightly regards the use of chemical weapons as a particularly heinous crime. Although sceptics ask what the regime had to gain by using them, it has been plausibly suggested that this was revenge carried out by Maher al-Assad, the president’s brother, whose division has been responsible for numerous atrocities.

The Damascus chemical attack came soon after the serial large-scale massacres of Muslim Brotherhood supporters by the military regime in Egypt, in which even more civilians died. This slaughter was particularly shocking because, unlike Syria, there is no civil war. True, there had been killings by the army and security forces at all stages of the revolution, but there was also a reform process after the previous authoritarian regime had (apparently) been overthrown. Yet the crude, exclusive policies of the new Brotherhood regime of President Mohamed Morsi fomented widespread opposition among secular Egyptians and provoked the military to seize power. Their mass killing, following the overthrow of the democratically-elected government, was directed almost exclusively against unarmed civilians.

It is important to look at these two cases together, for their similarities and differences alike. Both show extreme violence against civilians, and represent setbacks for hopes of democratic change in the middle east; yet they also highlight contrasting national-political trajectories, and very divergent international responses.

Two cases of genocidal violence

Both these mass killings are cases of genocidal violence. Syria and Egypt’s regimes are treating significant sections of the civilian population as enemies to be destroyed – the key criterion for genocide. In Egypt, the military’s overthrow of President Morsi and arrests of the Brotherhood’s supreme leader and many other key figures represent a comprehensive attack on the movement’s political and wider social power. The mass killings seem intended only to weaken the popular support which the movement enjoys among a large minority of the population (large enough to have produced Morsi’s win in the 2012 election), but also specifically to destroy its activist base and capacity for street mobilisation.

In Syria’s civil-war context it seems likely that in many cases, regime forces attack armed groups and civilians at the same time. This makes it more difficult to determine deliberate attacks on civilians as such, separately from the “collateral damage” of attacks on armed groups. Opposition atrocities, even though much smaller in scale, make the task of analysis more complex. In this situation, the importance of the new chemical attack for international perceptions is that it cannot be represented as a side-effect of the armed conflict.

The genocidal character of this violence has also gone unrecognised because of two major misconceptions about genocide. It is assumed that genocide must take the form of a coherent large-scale campaign against an entire population group, which must be defined by ethnicity, nationality, race or religion. But genocidal violence can also take more limited forms, such as genocidal massacres. It can be conducted against groups regarded mainly as political, rather than ethnic or religious, enemies.

The political role of genocide

In Egypt, genocidal massacres have so far been used as a method to reinforce repression. It is not clear whether the military’s campaign will escalate to all-out violence against the Muslim Brotherhood’s entire popular base and the comprehensive destruction of the movement, or whether the military will be content with having put the Brotherhood “in its place”, i.e. outside the political process.

The chances of escalation may well depend on how the Brotherhood responds. If the movement can sustain large-scale mobilisations, the regime may feel the need to use even deeper repressive violence. Equally, if the Brotherhood resorts to armed resistance, the regime may be emboldened to use violence in an even more sweeping way against the areas where the movement is presumed to enjoy most support. Egypt could descend into something like the “dirty war” that Algeria experienced after its Islamist party’s election victory at the end of 1991 was prevented.

In Syria, genocide has been used episodically to reinforce the regime’s military campaign, in sweeping bombardments of rebel-supporting areas, localised attacks on Sunni villagers assumed to support the rebels, and the rounding up of military-age men in some conquered areas.

Here also the future direction is unclear, even after the latest atrocity. The regime is already being blamed for further assaults such as dropping phosphorus-type bombs on a school in northern Syria. Yet it may still not have an interest in a wholesale campaign against population groups presumed to support the rebels, which would be internationally counterproductive and distract from the prime military contest.

The historical context

Both types of genocide have been widespread in other conflicts, so neither manifestation is very surprising. The genocidal targeting of politically defined populations has been recurrent at least since the Spanish military launched its campaign against Republicans, socialists, anarchists and communists at the start of the civil war in 1936. There were many examples during the cold war, such as the killing of around half a million presumed communist supporters by the Indonesian military and its allies in 1965, and the mass killings of leftists and their presumed supporters in several Latin American countries in the 1970s-80s (and later in Colombia).

In the post-cold-war era, electoral contests in many countries have seen bloody campaigns against supporters of opposing parties, often identified by a shifting combination of party and ethnic markers; Kenya, Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe are among the examples. In some of these cases, local party organisers and militias have been as important instigators of violence as national leaders.

Civil wars too, which often become internationalised, have been notoriously prone to genocidal violence. The new wave of “sectarian” killings in Iraq in recent months is a reminder that the mixed international-civil war following the United States-led invasion in 2003 led to mutual campaigns of genocidal killings and expulsions by Sunni-based militias against Shi’a, and Shi’a-based militias against Sunni, which turned four million Baghdadis and other Iraqis into displaced people and refugees.

Together these two more limited forms of genocidal violence – directly political and electoral targeting of civilians, and war-related targeting – are the principal forms of genocide in the 21st-century world. In other words, genocide in the “global era” takes a different from than the racially-driven centralised campaigns against ethnic or national groups that was seen in the mid-20th century. Genocide is now part of the messy political and armed conflicts of the era of democratic revolution.

The shocking upsurge of slaughter in the middle east, the world region where the most bitter conflicts of democratisation are concentrated, underlines the contemporary significance of Michael Mann’s argument that genocide is a “dark side of democracy”. As authoritarian rulers, militaries and security apparatuses fight or manoeuvre to hold on to power, they are prepared in the end to use extreme violence against populations.

The “democratic” context is also emphasised by the fact that in both Egypt and Syria, rulers have been able to count on substantial popular support for their murderous repression. In Egypt, indeed, much of the “secular” and “liberal” camp has endorsed the massacres, and the abuse of Mohammed al-Baradei for his resignation from the government suggests that some of those who reject the repression of the Brotherhood may share its fate, if the conflict escalates. In Syria, the Assad regime retains the support of many Alawites and other non-Sunni.

“It’s not even about Syria”

The difference in western governments’ responses to Egypt and Syria is only partly explained by the fact that Egypt’s military is at once an ally of Washington, supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf states, and a long-term enemy of Assad. It’s also important that Syria’s atrocities have continued for two years now, making a mockery of western condemnation and United Nations-backed international principles such as the “responsibility to protect”.

So when Britiswh prime minister David Cameron says, “It’s not even about Syria”’ (Times, 28 August 2013), he is not simply wrong. He means that the principle of preventing chemical attacks on populations is at stake, and that the “international community” must show that it upholds this. Western concern is certainly better than the indifference with which it treated Saddam Hussein’s chemical attacks on Kurds at Halabja in 1988.

At the same time, the phrase indicates the troubling nature of western leaders’ responses. Thousands of Syrians have suffered from the chemical attack: the victims, their families and communities need help and justice, as have millions of victims of the Syrian regime for more than two years. In this context, Cameron’s remark is simply crass at the most basic level. After the parliamentary vote, he is no longer in a position to use even limited force against the regime, and it is not clear whether, or how far, the military actions planned by President Obama will address Syrian civilian victims’ needs.

Indeed, the rhetoric surrounding the arguments for action betray confused motives. It is stated that Bashar al-Assad should be “punished”: indeed, but surely in the International Criminal Court (ICC), where Egypt’s General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi should join him. It is argued , citing the “responsibility to protect”, that future chemical attacks should be deterred; but Syrian civilians require direct protection now from huge, ongoing violence – whether chemical or not. The proposed missile attacks on command facilities cannot provide real protection, as the Syrian regime hardly needs sophisticated infrastructure to conduct atrocities against defenceless men, women and children.

Moreover, the deterrence argument is limited when seen in a wider context. Even if rulers elsewhere in the middle east continue to use guns rather than chemicals, massacres remain the norm; and when they take place in states allied to the west, the west largely tolerates them.

The basis of judgment

The western military action – if and when it takes place – is about Syria, of course, in that it will partially degrade the regime’s military capacities, as happened in Libya, and tip the balance more in favour of the opposition. But there have also been many suggestions from western leaders that we must “show” Assad that atrocities don’t pay. The overwhelming impression is that these will be limited, demonstrative strikes, not the beginning of serious western attempts to ensure Assad’s defeat and the opposition’s victory.

Ultimately, therefore, “It’s not about Syria” in a further sense. Western leaders are trying to act now, because they finally believe that they cannot be seen to be ineffective in the face of brazen disregard of what they profess to stand for. This putative military action is most obviously about the west’s credibility, about Barack Obama’s face – and for François Hollande of France, if no longer David Cameron – an opportunity to cut a figure on the world stage, to distract from domestic woes.

In the end, though, it is vital to judge military action in terms of its effects on Syria. It is unclear how much any western action will change the balance between government and opposition, and how the Syrian regime and its regional allies will respond. In the short-to-medium term, the war could become more savage as a wounded but not incapacitated regime seeks to assert its diminished strength, while the opposition seeks to take advantage of the western strikes.

If, then, the outcome is to provoke Assad into further atrocities, will this eventually lead to more decisive western action which will end his regime? That is anyone’s guess. What does seem certain is that there will be no end to the Syrian civil war, or a general reduction in civilian harm, any time soon.