Understanding Today’s Genocides – The Snare of Analogy

A short paper published by Global Dialogue (paywall).

The spectre of genocide is always that of a repeat of the last genocide. Many Israelis, faced with the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon, fear a ‘second Holocaust’. The UN works to prevent ‘another Rwanda’, and genocide campaigners believe that one happened in Darfur. Genocide politics is about recognition – claiming the label for the particular set of atrocities with which people are concerned – and it generally proceeds by analogy with previous events. The Holocaust remains the defining episode: as Jeffrey Alexander has argued, it has been constructed as a ‘sacred evil’, the ultimate embodiment of evil in the modern world, so that all other evils must be related to it. Defining ‘other’ genocides requires ‘bridging’ from (or to) the Holocaust, so that some of its sacred-evil quality rubs off on them. Indeed, genocide as such has become something of a ‘sacred evil’: without its recognition, atrocities become second class, ‘only ethnic cleansing’, and the demand for intervention or justice is strangely diluted.


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