what does genocide mean to you?

We are back again to the age old debate of language and the way it is used – this time however the consequences are much greater. Genocide, how do you define it? In a Slate News, Senator Obama’s comments are noted when referring to genocide. The article, titled “Getting comfy with genocide”, gets deep into the definition of genocide and the consequences of our current use of the term.

Lemkin’s definition, which was finally adopted in 1948 by the U.N. General Assembly, classified as genocide ‘acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.’ It is a definition that has lasted nearly six decades, and it is important to remember that it refers not merely to war between nations or war within nations, however terrible. It is not about the death of soldiers in armed combat or in foreign or civil strife. It is about the mass murder of defenseless civilians—men, women, and children—because they belong to a certain kind of group. And it’s not just a matter of words. The United Nations convention on the prevention of genocide, signed by 138 nations, holds genocide to be a special category of crime that justifies “action appropriate for the prevention and suppression of genocide.” The convention does not exclude abrogation of the sovereignty of a nation engaged in genocide in order to effect a humanitarian military intervention. The problem is that while it’s going on, when it can still be stopped, it’s often not evident just how grave a crime is being committed or whether it will eventually result in genocide if it’s allowed to go unchecked. At what point, for instance, does “ethnic cleansing” become genocide? “Ethnic cleansing” can refer to the forced transfer of populations—bad enough—rather than the indiscriminate murder of them. “Ethnic cleansing,” that hideous euphemism, becomes genocide when it involves mass murder with the intent to exterminate. Genocide is about annihilation.

In the debate candidates were asked how they would handle the genocide in Darfur. Slate News says the real question should have been:

“What would you do if you saw another Rwanda developing? In other words, a genocide that has little to do with previous U.S. intervention and is not our fault in any direct way, but one we could prevent—at a cost: U.S. troops, U.S. lives. President Clinton has apologized for his failure to intervene in Rwanda. Do you agree that the United States should commit itself to preventing genocide anywhere it threatens to occur?”

We have come to talking about the genocide in Darfur in a ‘feel good’ way. We cover it in debates, make up solutions that are not so feasible, and attempt to show how much we care. Is it possible to get comfortable with genocide? I covered that idea that it is very difficult for our minds to fathom the extent of genocide and the amount of mass killing that it entails, but is this the reason that it is so easy for us to be comfortable? This could be part of the argument, but I think it may also lie in the political framing that the world loves to use.

At any rate, it is pointless to argue the fine points of language; the definition of genocide – and actual work to stop genocide. This can be done in the same ‘feel good’ manner, but it can also include actions that everyone can take at home. Currently, Michigan’s congress is working on bills of divestment from corporations that operate and support the government of Sudan. This would cut off a great deal of funding to the government of Sudan and hinder the country’s ability to further the killing of their own people. The bill has passed the Michigan House of Representatives and is not working to pass the Senate. This bill is expected to be much harder to pass in the Senate, so if you live in Michigan call your senator and ask them to support this bill. There are numerous advocacy groups around the world. Michigan State University’s campus has one such group associated with a national organization STAND: Students Taking Action Now Darfur. Check out what the MSU STAND: Spartans Taking Action Now Darfur chapter is doing and learn more about the genocide in Darfur. We can say “genocide is bad” as much as we want to, but it is still there looming, killing, waiting for us to completely forget – don’t allow yourself to forget.

iraq, a humanitarian crisis as much as darfur?

Is the Iraq conflict now seen as a humanitarian crisis as much as the more well-known Darfur genocide? How can the two be compared. For starters we can look at US commitments to both conflicts. Back in 2000 when Bush was handed a press release about the Rwandan genocide, he wrote, “not on my watch” in the margin. In 2003 we became involved in Iraq to fight terrorism? The polls now tell us taht Americans would rather be involved in Darfur than Iraq. Why? Maybe because we would rather save lives than assist in their destruction. David Bosco of the LA Times writes of the ugly truths in his blog on the Foreign Policy website. Recent UN findings have totaled over 34,000 Iraqi deaths in just 2006. “The death toll for Darfur has become a political football, but the U.S. State Department’s most recent estimate is that 200,000 people have been killed by the violence since it began in 2003, and over 2 million people have been displaced,” writes Bosco. However the estimates vary and many state that over 400,000 have been murdered in Darfur. Bosco wants is trying to make us think of the possibilities of our actions in both Iraq and Darfur. Is it too late in either case? Is one life more valuable than another? His closing statement sums it all up, “Yet, while it’s not clear to me that the U.S. military is doing “no good” in Iraq, absent a more realistic regional strategy from the White House, what little it is accomplishing by staying is probably not worth the costs.”

Accompanying the cry for US military action in Darfur is a push to divestment from Sudan, much like what was done during apartheid South Africa. The US congress has called for sanctions and divestment, yet has ‘suprisingly’ taken no action to move divestment along. Yet again the US policy on Africa entails the action of a pen to paper. There have been numerous campaigns and petitions within the government and also outside the government to pressure the US government to drop interests in Sudan. Check out the full report by Africa Action (here).

More recently the insecurity of the region is driving out aid to millions as aid agencies leave to ensure their own safety. This will only intensify the humanitarian crisis already pushed beyond the tipping point. This crisis has met the drowning victim under the sinking boat level. We need to be the skilled rescue divers who can turn turn this conflict around through actions on the ground in the US and Darfur. There have also been reports that the Sudanese government continues to bomb the people of Darfur without holding back.

Yesterday I attended an amazing Hip Hop concert sponsored by the Spartans Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) chapter at Michigan State University. MSU was just one stop on the national Save Darfur Tour. It was a great show with a fair attendance. The artists such as Alexipharmic and Freestyle spoke to the real issue at hand and our potential to make a difference. Besides being the best performers of the night, in my opinion, they also understood the complexity of the Darfur genocide. Freestyle of the Arsonists was an amazing performer. He had great beats with great lyrics and knew how to really involve the crowd of mostly stiff white college kids who had no idea what hip-hop was all about. I am not going to lie I was standing there in my shirt and tie (after coming from meetings all day) putting my hand in the air and feeling the beats. That made me think – what is the color of hip-hop? I concluded that hip-hop obeys no set rules so therefore it is not an only-black, or only-white thing. Freestyle also spoke to the myth that hip-hop is dying. Let me tell you hip-hop is alive and well, check out the artists of underground hip-hop and learn the history and ideal behind the movement. Hip-hop is not dead, I have seen it alive and well, knocking on the front door of my consciousness and directing my compass of compassion to empower the world!