Is India Heading Towards A Genocide?: Drawing Parallels From History (Part-I)

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Ajay Bisht, or better known as Yogi Adityanath, recently sparked a row with his statement that Congress, the oldest national political party, currently leader of opposition, was affected by a “Muslim League virus”. The verbal duel was sparked off by a tweet from the standing CM that read “Muslim League is a virus. If someone is affected by this virus, he cannot survive and today main Opposition party Congress is affected by it. Think, if they win what will happen? This virus will spread in the entire nation.”

Hate language refers to terms which are used to stigmatize, demonize or dehumanize groups defined by their national, ethnic, religious, racial, or political identity. Dehumanization in particular refers to hate language which includes metaphors – usually from public health and medicine – which induce disgust, revulsion and hate for the other.

Perpetrators use hate language to incite groups to commit genocide and other mass atrocities directed against vulnerable populations. When mass murder is low tech, dehumanizing hate language and incitemen is indispensable for mobilizing and motivating huge numbers of persons to stab, mutilate, rape, bludgeon, shoot, gas, burn and bury large numbers of victims and plunder their homes. It was the gas chambers that killed at Auschwitz, but as Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “Auschwitz was built not with stones, but words.” Equally important, perpetrators use HL&I to silence, intimidate and desensitize bystanders. Edmund Burke’s famous quote reminds us that “For evil to flourish, all that is necessary is for good men to do nothing”

Dehumanizing hate language and genocide: A thumbnail chronology

The Young Turk regime in 1915 called the genocide of Armenians the eradication of ‘dangerous microbes’ in the body politic. Lenin described the bourgeoisie as parasites, insects, leeches, bloodsuckers.

Such dehumanizing terms went hand-in-hand with pseudo-medical terms for measures to get rid of disease. Stalin and Beria in the early 1930’s used artificially produced mass famines to kill millions of Ukranians, and used a pseudo-medical term – ‘purge’ (‘chitki’) – when later deporting (‘korenizatsiia’) over two million members of ethnic minorities, former members of the bourgeois and kulak classes to slave labor camps in Siberia. Half a century later, in 1988, the Soviets used the term ‘ethnic purge’ (‘etnicheskie chistki’) to describe expulsions of Azerbaijanis from Nagorno-Karabakh.

Hitler called the Jews ‘parasites, plague, cancer, tumor, bacillus, bloodsucker, blood poisoner, lice, vermin, bedbugs, fleas, racial tuberculosis’ on the German body that would supposedly be killed with the ‘Jewish disease.’ Later, the Nazis used the term `Judenrein’ which means ‘Jew-free’, to stigmatize the victim group as a carrier of filth and disease, and then, as the disease itself to be eradicated. The term predated the term ‘ethnic cleansing’, a euphemism often used by perpetrators to justify their genocidal actions and by bystanders to rationalize inaction.

Mao Tse Tung’s Communist revolutionaries in China used similar language when overseeing mass murders of their enemies, as did the North Koreans who used mass starvation to kill populations considered hostile to the Communist regime.

In the 1970’s, the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia used terms such as “microbes”, “parasites”, “worms” and cancer to stigmatize their victims as they carried out the mass murders of 3 million of their own countrymen. In the early 1990’s, Radovic Karovic stigmatized Bosniaks as not “belonging to the family of nations, …of desert origin, …and originating from a specific gene of the Ottoman Army”.

Thereafter, victims of Serbian genocide in Kosovo themselves killed many belonging to Roma minorities, whom they described as “majupi”, or lower than garbage. In the 1990’s in Rwanda, Hutu radio in 1994 used the term ‘cockroaches’ (‘inyenzi’) to incite mass murder of Tutsis by machete-wielding militias.

Hate language and its pseudoscientific origins

In the 20th century, endemic bigotry, xenophobic nationalism and racist biology created an ambience conducive to the spread of dehumanizing medical metaphors of hate language to stigmatize victim groups. This ambience both fed and was fed by the flawed constructs and pseudoscience of late 19th and early 20th century eugenics and social Darwinism. Eugenics sought to promote human progress by selection of groups and individuals considered to be genetically superior and best fit to survive and by restricting reproduction of the unfit, in keeping with distorted interpretations of Darwinian science.

In the US, proponents of Eugenics provided the justifications for compulsory sterilization of inmates of mental institutions and for restrictive immigration. In Germany, medical scientists used the ethically flawed constructs of eugenics to promote “racial hygiene” of Nazi Medicine and its horrors. Starting with euthanasia of mentally impaired, Nazi doctors became leaders in implementing the Final Solution to make Europe ‘Judenrein’ including many inhuman scientific medical experiments on Jewish subjects, regarded as lab specimens. Flawed theories of race led to classification of Rwandans into short Hutus and tall Tutsis differentiated by nose lengths, carefully measured by Belgian anthropologists. Notions of racial superiority provided similar rationales for racism in North America and South Africa In the 20th century and many other locales world wide.

State sponsored hate language and incitement as an early warning indicator in models of genocide

A classic model of genocide identifies dictatorship and asymmetric power relationships, past conflicts, unrest, political and economic failures and vulnerable target groups as circumstantial predictors. This model does not address the role of hate language and incitement as intrinsic direct triggers of violent conflicts along racial, ethnic, religious or political lines.

Charny’s Genocide Early Warning System and Stanton’s Eight Stages of Genocide pioneered in drawing attention to the use of language of hate, stigmatization and dehumanization by perpetrators to recruit, motivate and mobilize followers and deter bystanders. Classification, Symbolization and Dehumanization, the first 3 of Stanton’s Eight Stages, all contain elements of incitement, and they lead to Organization, Polarization, Preparation, Extermination, and Denial.

Hate language and incitement: Public and Private

There is a need to recognize that not all hate language and incitement leads to genocide, and genocide may occur without evidence of hate language or incitement. Furthermore, there can be incitement without dehumanizing hate language, and hate language without incitement. The distinction between the two may be important for legal purposes, but their consequences are usually the same.

Sometimes they go together and sometimes they do not. Hate language and incitement together increase risks for genocide, especially when they come from the top down in authoritarian regimes with their environments of coercion, direction and instruction.

Perpetrators sometimes commit genocide without explicit external hate language and open public incitement, such as when they deliberately seek to conceal their genocidal aims, e.g. exploiting famine, either from natural disaster or man-made, to starve populations they identify as enemies Often, so as to camouflage intent, perpetrators simultaneously project several different messages, aimed at different populations, at the same time. When the messages are in “local” language, vernaculars and dialect, i.e. not English the texts, subtexts, and contexts are disputable. One message is portrayed to the western free world, (for example, the leader might take on a role as protector of human rights).

A second, is aimed at the potential victims— in more explicit threatening language. A third message— the operational one— could be aimed at their own people – to incite to action, or to desensitize local bystanders.

Hate language without incitement and direction is present everywhere— and by itself, is generally not subject to legal prosecution. Racist, religious epithets and expressions of bigotry directed towards the other are endemic the world round, at the kitchen table, in the barroom, the locker room, (i.e. Archie Bunker), the market place, and the board room. The messages may be explicit, euphemistic or coded. It is difficult to regard such language, though offensive, as an early warning sign for genocide or mass atrocities, since its specificity and predictive value is so low, and it lacks a larger context of coercion, threat, direction, intimidation or danger.

But from the standpoint of public health and social psychology, the use and spread of such language is the case for action for educational interventions, directed at the communities in which it is endemic—and becomes especially critical in the era of hate language and incitement spread by the internet. However, the past century has taught us that when leaders of movements or governments in power use explicit pseudo medical and epidemiologic metaphors, such as microbes, filth, cancer, typhoid, and rats, to dehumanize victim groups, it is prudent to regard such language as an urgent warning sign of imminent genocide, and the burden of proof is on those who deny their ominous portent.

This burden of proof becomes heavier when perpetrators propagate notions of in-group exclusivity based upon myths of hygiene or purity, and when their incitement is accompanied by direction, instruction, supplying, informing, and supporting those who become the agents of genocidal actions.

Genocide and its prevention both result from human choice. But if state sanctioned hate language and incitement predict, promote and catalyze genocidal scenarios, then the case is compelling for applying the Precautionary Principle to prevent genocide by preventing such hate language and incitement, which mobilizes and motivates perpetrators and desensitizes bystanders. Such prevention requires developing world wide networks for epidemiologic surveillance of hate language and incitement. These networks would trigger interventions before perpetrators start carrying out mass atrocities against victim populations. Such interventions can exploit existing legal tools available under international law, but there are extra-legal interventions as well. Surveillance would give force to existing tools of international law to detect, deter, prevent and punish for the crimes of hate language and incitement.

Other forms of incitement which need to be monitored are the recycling of demonizing myths such as those of genocidal antisemitism. One lesson from the Holocaust is that there may be existential dangers associated with ignoring state sanctioned dehumanizing hate language, with and without explicit incitement, propagated by rogue regimes. We suggest that the spread of dehumanizing hate language drives a new world-wide axis of genocide.

The perils of neglecting the propagation and spread of state sanctioned and state sponsored hate language and incitement are ominous, especially in an era of push-button genocide, nuclear terror, rogue regimes, terror groups, nexus of fake news and wide spread social media outreach. Conversely, when regimes propagating such incitement are developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the case is imperative for stopping them from doing so, given the fact that such incitement is an early warning sign (EWS) until proven otherwise.

As we draw this parallel while India votes for their next PM, what makes India stand on this tipping point? We’ll talk in next segment.


Taken From “Can we prevent Genocide by preventing Incitement?” by Elihu D Richter , Yael Stein, Alex Barnea, and Marc Sherman

Feature Image: Bernat Armangue

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