The term “genocide” has been getting thrown around a lot as of late, with many competing narratives claiming themselves as victims of such a heinous crime. Both Palestinian and Israeli spokesmen have respectively described the Simchas Torah massacres, and the subsequent Israeli bombardment and invasion of Gaza, as war crimes, and have invoked the terminology of “genocide” in order to bolster their positions and justify their sides’ actions. Without getting caught up in the current conflict, I would like to explore the origins of the term and divert some attention to Europe.
“Genocide” itself is a neologism, used for the first time by Polish-Jewish activist Raphael Lemkin in his 1944 treatise “Axis Rule in Occupied Europe,” in direct response to the horrors of the Holocaust which he fled. It was invented to help devise protective measures against the wholesale destruction of a particular nation, or ethno-religious group, and to provide legal recourse for victims of such crimes in the framework of an international legal system. However, owing to the esoteric nature of international law and to the weakness of its stilted institutions (many countries, including both the U.S. and Israel, do not recognize the International Criminal Court’s authority), the relevance of any accusation of “genocide” remains severely limited and open to relative interpretation. Given such ambiguity, and lack of authority on the issue, I would like to propose an alternative definition in order to expound upon the true meaning of the contested term.
Before addressing “genocide,” we must first consider what constitutes a group, an ethnicity, or a nation. Taken to the extreme, a blanket protection of any group could preclude even necessary government intervention directed against terrorist activity, cults, or religious extremism. In order to protect society, governments must provide ample security against disorder and armed insurrection, however, they must not encroach upon the private matters of legitimate, genuine associations of people, and should not act in any deliberate manner against their interests. To that end, I would conclude that, at least from an American perspective, there seems to be a distinction made between ideological and political expressions of solidarity (e.g. Communism, Zionism [vs. Judaism], Palestinian Nationalism [vs. Levantine Arab Nationalism], etc.), which have historically fallen prey to government interference, and the “natural” congregations of faiths and ethnicities (excluding, of course, the persecution of the natives), generally protected by America’s strong pluralistic ethos.
This fundamental assertion of apolitical association, supported by the nominal “separation of church and state” established by the First Amendment, runs counter to the governing ethos of much of the “old world,” which had insisted on state religion and ethnic homogeneity. The French persecuted the speakers of langues d’oc into submission, the English and the Germans fought civil wars over religious affiliation, and the Spanish, of course, expelled all non-Christians from the Iberian Peninsula and proceeded to persecute religious minorities through the Inquisition. While the Americans’ initial attempt at settling such conflict is commendable, it would be naïve to claim that they have had much success. Christianity, specifically Protestantism, remains a defining feature of American society and affects even those who identify with other faiths. With the rise of Christian nationalism and the evangelical right, along with the corresponding “woke” left, many have come to question the purported neutrality of America’s religious and cultural interests. In particular, many Europeans have come to reassess their allegiance to the U.S. in light of the deteriorating state of its domestic political situation and its irresponsible foreign policies.
While ostensibly accepting of cultural differences and diversity, American policy in Europe has been historically averse to such values, instead advocating for the complete dissolution of traditional European national identities with the goal of constructing a new “Europe” in America’s image, and consolidating government authority under a more perfect “European Union.” Over the last few decades, the dialogue surrounding “multiculturalism” has been relegated to marginal issues surrounding religious tensions with Muslim immigrants, thereby neglecting the immediate cultural, economic and political needs of the many nations of Europe. The resulting superficial “European” identity fails to represent the deep historical underpinnings of the individual nations of Europe, and perpetuates an authoritarian, racist view of a universalist, predominantly white identity that overtly rejects Europeans’ right to self-determination.
Western apologetics will respond by claiming that such a de-nationalization of European politics is justifiable in light of the atrocities that were committed there in the name of race and nation in the first half of the past century. However, the continued denial of nationhood, and the sustained, concerted effort of Western actors to eradicate the notion of any coherent national identity would seem to contradict the same international treaties upon which the Western-dominated international order was founded. In my opinion, the case for ascribing genocidal intent to some Western anti-nationalist, neo-liberal interests operating in Europe cannot be ignored. The crimes the Nazis and Fascists committed are unforgivable, but that cannot justify the spiritual destruction of the Germans, Italians, etc., as proud, distinct peoples!
As an Ashkenazi Jew whose extended family was slaughtered in the Holocaust, I feel that I must speak out against the ongoing persecution of European nationalists, along with their socialist brethren, by interests associated with the U.S. and its European collaborators. I protest against the manipulative appropriation of my people’s narrative as justification for the continued denial of European nationhood and urge my fellow Americans to wake up, take responsibility for our country’s actions, and work towards the eventual dismantling of NATO.
* * *
“For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:5-6)