[A close point of view] From dehumanization to genocide

Sep 1, 2020 | A close point of view

Starting from today, once in a while we will publish on our website articles on various topics, not necessarily related to the Eaglewatch’s activities. It will be a series of feuilletons under the title „A close point of view”, and as the title indicates, sometimes they will be ironic and with some humor, while other times they will touch upon very serious issues.

We will try to stay away from topics that are political or socially sensitive, but it is impossible to avoid them completely. It will be entirely our point of view on things that we consider important. I hope that you will like this form and share your opinions with us in emails and comments on social media.

Today’s text will be related to a topic which I came across personally, and whose history goes back to… exactly. Let’s start with two short definitions.

Dehumanization – the process of depriving a person of human qualities, perceiving a person as an animal or an object. Treating people as if they were deprived of human thinking capacity. In this context, every act or thought that treat someone as less than human is an act of dehumanization.

Genocide– A term created in 1944 by the Polish lawyer R. Lemkin, describing mass murder or extermination of groups of people, adopted in the international law after the Second World War. Genocide is “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, such as: a) killing members of the group; b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; e) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; f) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Alright. Maybe these definitions are not short, but it is worth analyzing in which cases we deal with the crime of genocide and the reasons behind it. What has pushed me to write this article and to launch this series is our attempt to convince the Polish Government to recognize the crimes committed against the Yazidis by ISIS as genocide. What has been used till now concerning the events that took place in Iraq in 2014 is a vague phrase “a crime bearing the hallmarks of genocide.” But there is a difference between prosecuting common bandits or criminals that aimed at exterminating the entire ethnic group. Genocide has no statute of limitations. History mustn’t be forgotten.

But let’s turn back to definitions, as several points need to be explained. I will talk about dehumanization in a moment. Let’s focus now on genocide. First, the date when this term was used for the first time was not accidental: the war unleashed by Nazi Germany had just ended and the Nuremberg Trials were about to begin. That was when the word “genocide” entered the legal dictionary. I do not want to write here about terms that were in use earlier or about rules of international law. I will focus on the 20th and 21st centuries. During the First World War, the Ottoman Empire committed genocide against the Assyrians, the Armenians, and the Greeks. To this day Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, denies these genocides. From our history we know the biggest genocide of the 20th century, namely the Holocaust. I guess I don’t need to explain the reasons and consequences of the events that took place between 1939 and 1945. We also know the consequences of the Great Famine in Ukraine meticulously planned and carried out by the Stalinist regime. Contemporary history shows us that we have not learned from mistakes. The civil war and massacre in which 1 million people perished in Rwanda in 1994, the 1995 Srebrenica Massacre, the civil war in Sudan, and countless victims. And the genocide of the Yazidis, the results of which I have witnessed many times with my own eyes. What connects all these crimes? What is their common denominator? Each one of them is not only a one-off murder of an ethnic or religious group. These are acts whose consequences will be felt by the afflicted communities for years and decades to come.

The genocide definition includes not only „killing members of the group”, but also “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group”, “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group”, “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”, all of which lead to a destruction of future generations. According to the law of many Middle Eastern countries, a child “inherits” religion after father. It is crucial in the case of the Yazidis who do not allow conversions to Yazidism. No one can become a Yazidi but needs to be born one. It is one of the reasons behind the abduction of several thousands of girls and women by ISIS. Rapes they were subjected to in captivity aimed at conceiving children that were born Muslim. In “our world” that’s unthinkable, but let’s remember that the world does not end in Europe. Every country has its own customs. Such a law exists in Iraq and the terrorists were very well aware of that. It also proves that their crime was not spontaneous, but meticulously planned. The total extermination of the Yazidis was the goal that ISIS wanted to achieve utilizing all possible methods. There is no doubt that every act they committed was deliberate. Even their military defeat has not put an end to the genocide. It still goes on and will continue until it brings the intended result. It will stop only when the victims regain their economic independence.

The title of this article is “From dehumanization to genocide” and I would like it to provoke several questions. Firstly, is it possible to prevent another genocide? How to recognize that somewhere in the world a similar massacre is about to happen? Maybe there are some signals which could be read early enough to protect people from a terrible crime? Definitely, the first symptom is the dehumanization of a particular group of people. Calling someone “rat” or “rubbish”, trivial on the surface, can lead to serious consequences. The word “unbeliever” is nothing else but an attempt to deprive a person of human qualities. Accusing of dealing with the devil, or calling the Yazidis “devil worshippers” is such an act. There are many such examples and we can conclude that we could have expected early enough what was going to happen. But no one will dare to take action before something bad happens as this could lead to an accusation of aggression. Are we then powerless? Are we supposed to simply watch how people are dying? Are we supposed to say that it does not concern us, to turn a blind eye? Well, then we can be accused of failing to act. Our conscience will be harmed. To keep it clear, we can remove the results of genocide. We can help the ISIS victims to stand back on their feet. It’s a great responsibility, but also a challenge to show what kind of a world we want to live in.

Author: Dawid Czyż

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