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Robin Yassin-Kassab

Genocide Denial

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srebrenica

Srebrenica

I recently came across an article written in 2009 by Marko Attila Hoare. It concerns the self-absorbed nonsense of some academics and many prominent leftists (Chomsky, Tariq Ali, etc) in the west concerning the wars in the Balkans in the 1990s. This nonsense often amounted to outright propaganda on behalf of the Milosevic regime, and therefore to genocide-denial.

The article could have been written today with regard to the leftist denial of the counter-revolutionary extermination of Syrians. It could have been written in the 1970s, when Chomsky was denying the Khmer Rouge’s extermination of millions of Cambodians, or in the period from the 1920s to the 1960s when many western leftists denied or downplayed exterminations and genocides perpetrated by the Soviet Union and Maoist China.

One reason for this ugliness is the left’s general tendency to identify with authoritarian states rather than with oppressed people. Another is its ridiculous (and west-centric) binarism, in which the enemy of its enemy is its friend (this of course must be connected to a profoundly illogical and fact-free analysis – in Syria, for example, the US, Russia and Iran have more often collaborated than been opposed). And Hoare correctly points to a further motivator: racism.

It is the racism of those who view their own Western society, and in particular their own political or intellectual circle, as being composed of real people; of being the real world. Whereas they view war-torn Bosnia (or Darfur or Iraq) as not being the real world; of not being inhabited by real people with real lives and feelings.

Many leftists are outraged by this criticism. Not only the leftists who are themselves genocide-deniers, but also many who aren’t. A Marxist supporter of the Syrian revolution once grew hot with my anger against ‘the left’. It’s not the left, he said, it’s just some ignorant sections. My response was, when the majority of the most prominent leftist celebrities, TV channels, publications and parties oppose and slander the Syrian revolution, and when very many of them hint at or openly espouse genocide-denying narratives, then yes, it’s the left.

Here’s Hoare again:

Leftists of this kind are not bothered by the enormous hurt and offence among the survivors of genocide in the Balkans and their friends, caused by the anti-Balkan racism of a Michael Moore, the genocide-denial of a Noam Chomsky or the support for Milosevic of a Harold Pinter. They are, however, upset when the former respond to anti-Balkan racism, genocide-denial or support for Milosevic by attacking the left-wing celebrities in question. For such leftists, Western left-wing celebrities are real people in a way that the nameless, faceless untermenschen persecuted by Milosevic’s forces in the Balkans are not….

My own alienation from traditional left-wing politics was not simply due to the very large number of prominent and less prominent left-wingers who supported or apologised for the Milosevic regime’s genocidal policies in the 1990s. It was, if anything, more due to the fact that other left-wingers who were not themselves deniers or apologists continued to treat the latter as fellow members of a common ‘Left’. Leftists of this kind tend to be much less outraged by left-wingers who deny genocide or support fascism, than they are by those of us who denounce such ‘comrades’.

Again, this is absolutely relevant today. Many of the (very few) American leftists who (supposedly) support the Syrian Revolution voted for the Green Party’s red-brown ticket, thereby assisting the Trump victory. (Clay Claiborne has a lot to say on the topic.) Candidates Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka have been prime conduits for Assadist and Putinist genocide denial, but that was considered a minor detail. Only ‘building the movement’ matters.

But any movement you build with genocide deniers will not only be irrelevant to real people’s real world struggles, it will end up directly assisting fascism. If people who consider themselves leftists want to have any positive influence whatsoever in the future, they need to drive genocide deniers (and the conspiracy theory mindset which replaces facts with convenient myths, analysis with demonology, and human compassion with racism) out of their movement completely. Had they done this in the 1990s, perhaps the response to Syria would not be so appalling today. Until they do it, their brand is entirely busted. It will be comic at best, dangerous at worst.

Human beings, leftist or otherwise, have a responsibility to promote truth, not lies. As I described here, the failure to distinguish between truth and lies is a prerequisite for fascism. Just as Stalin and Hitler had their shills, so today British priests (Giles Fraser, Andrew Ashdown), journalists like Fisk, and rightist and leftist conspiracy theorists are busy parroting victim-blaming fascist narratives. As a culture and society, we should practise a zero-tolerance policy towards the ever-spreading filth. The church hierarchy should expel fascist priests. Publications (e.g. the LRB, the Independent) which print debunked, disproved nonsense should publicly apologise and correct. If not, they should be boycotted. Political parties (like Corbyn’s) which base their foreign policy on fascist conspiracy theories should be considered beyond the pale.

I think most people (not just leftists) think my position is too extreme. If that’s you, well, let’s wait for the coming years and decades and see. Syrians are targetted by these lies today, Bosnian Muslims yesterday. In the future it could be any other group, including ‘leftists’ and even priests. Once you accept the notion that ‘the narrative’ is sexier than the reality, you don’t get to choose which narratives gain most traction. So I endorse Hoare absolutely when he writes:

By choosing to deny genocide and promote hatred against its victims, genocide-deniers have forfeited the right to be treated with intellectual or political respect. It is with the feelings of the victims and the enormous hurt and offence caused them by the genocide deniers, that we should be concerned. A spade should be called a spade.

 

 

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

April 22, 2018 at 3:58 pm

One Response

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  1. Gareth Browne went on the propaganda trip with British peers and priests, and wrote about it here. https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/the-crazy-club-inside-the-british-propaganda-trips-that-seek-to-legitimise-assad-s-barbarism-1.724176

    And George Morris wrote this on the British priests in particular. https://www.newstatesman.com/world/2018/04/british-christians-taking-tours-assad-s-syria

    Robin Yassin-Kassab

    April 24, 2018 at 6:43 pm


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