The Trouble with Genocide


The trouble with our definition of the crime of genocide is that it doesn’t go far enough. 

Don’t get me wrong, the coining of the term genocide in 1943 by Raphael Lemkin, was an important conceptual advance for humanity.

Lemkin combined two root words – genos (Greek for family, tribe, or race) and the Latin suffix –cide (which means to kill) – thus creating the word genocide as a description of the deliberate and systematic destruction of any ethnic, religious, racial or national group.

It was also an important advance for humanity when, in 1948, the United Nations adopted the International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

The definition and outlawing of genocide was largely undertaken in the 1940s in the wake of WWII.  It was a hugely important departure and a giant leap of understanding. But now we need to redefine it.  Now we need to come to an understanding of genocide which will help us deal with the needs – and crimes – of our time.

Because the trouble with genocide is that our definition of it is based on the notion of otherness. It is an altruistic notion of otherness.  A tolerant and well-meaning notion of otherness but a notion of otherness all the same.

As a consequence, many atrocities are still taking place in the world because there is international disagreement as to whether or not the crimes constitute genocide.  Very often these situations are recognised as genocide when it is too late to intervene and save the victims.

We need to move towards a situation where we see the entire human race as one genos – one family, one tribe, one race.  Instead of otherness we need to develop our ability to understand and operate a system of oneness.

If we do that, then whenever anyone is targeted for harm as a result of his or her individual belief, race, background or nationality – we will define it as genocide and no longer need to waste time with semantic arguments and bureaucracy.

All crimes against humanity – our family – will concern us.  All injustice.  All suffering.

The nobility of man and his spiritual development will lead him in the future to such a position that no individual could enjoy eating his food or resting at home while knowing that there was one person somewhere in the world without food or shelter. (2)

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(1) http://www.preventgenocide.org/genocide/officialtext.htm

(2) ‘Abdu’l Baha – quoted in Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, vol. 3, p. 126