Friday, September 23, 2005

When is Genocide not Genocide?

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has found itself in hot water of late over its campaign to have Holocaust Memorial Day scrapped and replaced with an event that is, in the words of Iqbal Sacranie, MCB Secretary-General, not ‘racially selective’. Writing this week in The Guardian, Sacranie banged the drum for his vision of inclusiveness again:
After the world vowed “never again” at the end of the second world war, though, we have seen the same barbarism again, against peoples in Vietnam, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Chechnya and recently in Darfur. So we said that our common humanity called upon us to also recognise the crimes perpetrated against other people, and we called for the establishment of an EU genocide memorial day.
The problem is that Sir Iqbal appears to be somewhat confused about which victims he would like to see included in this ‘EU genocide memorial day’. For example, Cambodia and Rwanda are recent additions to his list, Sacranie having somewhat cynically worked out that there is more political capital here than in the other dubious suggestions that the MCB have previously made. Here, by way of contrast, is Sacranie being interviewed by John Ware on the BBC Panorama programme in August:
John Ware: The principle the MCB say they were defending was to make Holocaust Memorial Day more “inclusive”. They wrote to the Home Office saying they would only attend if the event included "the sufferings of all people" and in particular what they called
"Other ongoing genocide and human rights abuses around the world, notably in the occupied Palestinian territories, Chechnya Kashmir etc."
John Ware: If it had been a principle.
Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Yes...
John Ware: I would respectfully suggest you would have included all kinds of conflicts all over the world involving not just Muslims but other faiths. You chose Kashmir, Chechnya, Palestine, in the reverse order.
Sir Iqbal Sacranie: If you look at the statement, and I would strongly advise you to look at the statement, advise you to look at what was the document which was submitted to the Home Office which made it absolutely clear that it is all atrocities¿ Rwanda, Bosnia, it happened to be the fact, it is there, the vast majority of atrocities that we have seen in these modern times have been Muslims.
John Ware: You've cited Rwanda in your statement?
Sir Iqbal Sacranie: It is, it was cited there, it's been quoted time and again.
John Ware: In your statement to the Home Office?
Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Indeed it is. It's clearly been mentioned."
John Ware: It’s true - the MCB did cite Rwanda - but only after the story broke accusing them of boycotting Holocaust Memorial day.
Ware was absolutely right. The MCB’s statement clearly did not mention Rwanda but listed instead a range of conflicts in which Muslims were involved:
In the light of the misleading report in The Sunday Times (23rd January 2005) the MCB has decided to place on record its letter on the subject from the MCB Secretary General to the Home Office minister responsible for Faith Community issues, Fiona Mactaggart MP: "...it is important that the Muslim community is represented at such National events and [it] would like to do so if the Memorial Day is inclusive of the sufferings of all people and does not exclude or ignore other ongoing genocide and human right abuses around the world, notably, in the occupied Palestinian territories, Chechnya, Kashmir, etc. I also wish to restate our position and our views on the tragic Holocaust event. British Muslims share with the Jewish community their sense of pain and anguish. None of us must ever forget how the Holocaust began. We must remember it began with hatred that dehumanised an entire people, that fostered state brutality, made second class citizens of honest, innocent people because of their religion and ethnic identity. Those who were vilified and seen as a threat could be subjected to group punishment dispossession and impoverishment while the rest of the world stood idly by, washing its hands of despair and suffering that kept getting worse. We must do more than remember and reflect on the past — we must be able to see when the same abuses occur in our time.
There is a major problem here. Not merely do Sacranie and the MCB merrily change their list of conflicts to suit their audience — note the cynical inclusion of Vietnam for the first time this week, a move aimed, I would suggest, at The Guardian’s readership — but it is also stretching the definition of ‘genocide’ to the point of meaninglessness to include Palestine and Kashmir in it. Facing injustice the Palestinians may well be, but they are not being rounded up by death squads and systematically exterminated. If genocide is to mean anything at all, then it is best left to the likes of the UNHCR to define it, which they do quite succinctly. Article 2 of the convention on genocide states:
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
A further worrying tendency of the MCB is their belief that genocide is not genocide when Muslims are doing the killing. It has taken until this week for the MCB to mention Darfur among its list of killing fields whilst the Armenian genocide of 1915-23, in which 1.5 million Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Turks, is casually dismissed by the MCB, despite the UNHCR clearly labelling it genocide).

To give you a flavour of the fate of the Armenians, here is an eye-witness report:
When the first batches of Armenians arrived at Gumush-Khana all able-bodied men were sorted out with the excuse that they were going to be given work. The women and children were sent ahead under escort with the assurance by the Turkish authorities that their final destination was Mosul and that no harm will befall them. The men kept behind, were taken out of town in batches of 15 and 20, lined up on the edge of ditches prepared beforehand, shot and thrown into the ditches. Hundreds of men were shot every day in a similar manner. The women and children were attacked on their way by the ("Shotas") the armed bands organised by the Turkish Government who attacked them and seized a certain number. After plundering and committing the most dastardly outrages on the women and children they massacred them in cold blood. These attacks were a daily occurrence until every woman and child had been got rid of. The military escorts had strict orders not to interfere with the "Shotas".
Eye-witness report by Sayied Ahmed Moukhtar Baas, 1916 [Source]
Yet the MCB toss aside such suffering. In 2001, they explained that their problem with Holocaust Memorial Day was that:
  1. Firstly, it totally excludes and ignores the ongoing genocide and violation of Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere.

  2. It includes the controversial question of [the] alleged Armenian genocide as well as the so-called gay genocide.
Given that the Armenian genocide is almost universally acknowledged, the only major deniers being the Turkish Government, for somewhat obvious reasons, the MCB’s stance is untenable. Indeed, quite how they can justify including Palestine and Kashmir in their list of genocides (neither of which qualify according to the UNHCR criteria) whilst excluding the Armenian massacres is mystifying. Do the MCB seriously believe that it is their role to decide what conflicts the term ‘genocide’ should apply to rather than, say, the UNHCR?

As others have pointed out, the MCB have complained that Holocaust Memorial Day is both too broad (it includes embarrassing events carried out by Muslims that they would prefer forgotten) and too narrow (it doesn’t include conflicts that nobody else has termed genocide). In short, it seems for the MCB that if Muslims are being killed, then the conflict is, by default, genocide. If Muslims are doing the killing, then we must stay silent. This is a shocking double-standard and makes Sacranie’s talk of a ‘common humanity’ look very hollow.