Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Progress, Eh?

This is an odd debate to have; the truth of the genocide is a no-brainer. Whatever the political implication, the world can ill afford such compromises with the truth.

I have a small Lebanese perspective of this; we’ve had our little genocide as well.

The Famine of Lebanon

Many villages in Lebanon did not have roads leading to them because it would bring in the Turkish "Askar"...

This isolation of Mount Lebanon was deemed necessary, even though Mount Lebanon depended on imports for most of its food supply as far back as we can remember. During WW1, the Turkish policies exacerbated the effects of the British blockade, and turned a shortage into a famine that spread as far back as Damascus and Jerusalem, where thousands died.

In Mount Lebanon, the situation was desperate. I recall stories about smuggling wheat past Turkish blockades. I have seen trenches carved in limestone, destined for wheat cultivation, and set up in such a way as to be invisible from the rare roads and pathways. Those stop gap measures could do little to stem the famine, and about 30% of the population of Mount Lebanon died between 1914 and 1918.

Surely, that too would qualify as genocide, though it is less "visible" than outright mass killings, and had many "parents", in addition to its Turkish main actors. But it is "impolitic" to talk about it, lest we upset powerful forces.

There are many similar cases nowadays, and it will get worse because of the increase in human population, the growing trade integration, and technological development makes it even worse.

One Significance of the Holocaust

The Anti-Defamation League’s position is significant, not only because the Armenian Genocide denial by the Turks is the only case of state-sponsored denial, but because of its role in maintaining the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. I feel that this role is important, and need to grow, as technological progress is far outpacing the growth of human wisdom.

This dark side of technological progress is darkly illustrated in the Holocaust; aside from the obvious death toll and hatred, it is significant in the sheer "efficiency" of the murderers. A true "industrial age" mass murder.

Modern Genocides

This efficiency is set to increase, as an AK-47 improves upon an MP-44, itself an improvement on the Mauser, proud successor of the “Chassepot”. We’ll soon have some new developments which will further magnify the power of otherwise feeble idiots, and give new courage to cowards.

With this in mind, the 21st Century is set to be bloodier than the first one; already 3 Million died in yet another genocide in Congo, with little fanfare. Other wars will be even uglier.

In facing off such truths, associations such as the ADL do not face the same limitations as the Lebanese or the Congolese. I feel that the sacrifice of the victims of the Holocaust deserve a more universalistic attitude; after all, Hitler’s “master race” had plans for all our races, one after the other.

The Need for More Idealism

The need for principled positions is more important today than ever; we humans are more technologically able while comparatively less wise.

We modern humans are still wielding our Stone Age brains, with all its limitations and nasty side effects. But now we’ve got ever bigger guns, and testosterone is still in plentiful supplies.

So we can ill-afford half measures, or any economies with the truth.

Update / Correction (August 22nd, 2007)”

It is essential to keep one’s facts straight, and I have to thanks to R for the heads-up.

As reported by Ha’aretz, “Abe Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League”, has now done “an abrupt about-face”, by referring “to the Armenian massacre as a ‘genocide’ for the first time”, after “consulting with Nobel Prize-winning author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, Foxman referred”.

To be fair, the ADL was not alone in its initial opposition; “other large Jewish organizations have also refrained from supporting the bill” that calls “on the Bush administration to recognize the 1915-17 Turkish massacre of its Armenian minority as genocide”.


R said...

The ADL has apparently reversed their decision:

but great pience nontheless... especially about universal values.

ghassan karam said...

George Orwell illustrated the sad fact that what revolutions accomplish is not a change in government but a change in oppressors, a change in tyrants. In Animal Farma the animals revolt against Jones who was abusing them but only to replace him with Napoleon who was just as cruel and unjust.

Unfortunately the same can be said of the ADL. It isn't that they want others to recognize the cruelty that the Jews had been subjected to but they are afraid that if they recognize the sufferings of others then this would take away from their own . But it does not stop here. ADL offers unqualified support to policies used by Israel that border on being as bad as the policies that the Jews had been subjected to.
Another relevant example of this game of musical chairs is the Iranian revolution. It turns out that the Mullahs are at least as undemocratic and as corrupt and unfair as the regime that they revolted against. It is sad but revolutions usually fail because they fail to liberate the oppressed, they mainly make them oppressors.

Anonymous said...

1. I'm glad the ADL did the right thing about this and recognized the Armenian genocide. I've been angry about their refusal for a long time. Basically, they were afraid to anger Turkey.

2. I hadn't heard about the attempt to starve the people of Mt Lebanon & environs. More info please?

3. I am generally fond of modern Turkey & the Turks that I know are wonderful people.

4. I think it would honestly best for Turkey itself if the Turkish state were to to admit what happened and reconcile with the Armenians. The alternative is for its frenzied denial to continue to cause otherwise anomalous distortions in Turkish society. Better to recognize what happened, take responsibility, deal with the fallout and reconcile. It's not like the present generation did it; today's Turkey is a very different place and today's Turks are not the people who committed the crimes. Every individual is responsible for his own actions.

5. Ghassan: oh, please. There is no comparison between what Palestinians experience, as bad as it is, and the Nazis' focused, deliberate attempt to rid the world of Jews. The Israelis have not murdered millions of Palestinians, nor have they locked entire villages in barns and set them on fire, nor have they conducted insane medical experiments on Palestinians, nor have they used scientific means to perform the extermination of children, etc. etc. etc. In fact even the "average" other country in the region (any Arab country except for the Lebanese, probably) would have dealt with Palestinian actions 100x as harshly as Israel has done. And the regimes in the region that resemble the Nazis would simply have slaughtered anyone who acted like the Palestinians, and paved over their bones; these are the Syrian Baath regime (remember the 30,000 or so people murdered in one week in Hama?), the Sudanese Islamist regime (300,000 murdered so far) and the former Iraqi Baathist regime (the Kurds remember the Anfal). The Iranian regime has not reached the same level... yet... but if they get nuclear weapons, we can expect Israeli and Palestinian Arabs to die by the 100,000s alongside Israeli Jews.


Regarding bloodier century - yes. Because we (the civilized world as a whole) are unwilling to do what it takes to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. Next thing you know, everyone in the region will need them. And all it takes is one madman... .


Amos said...

Ghassan, you claim that the ADL is

"afraid that if they recognize the sufferings of others then this would take away from their own."

This is a frequently heard complaint directed not just against the ADL but against Jewish organizations as a whole. I think it's not accurate in general, and a serious mischaracterization of the particular case in front of us. It is clear that the issue was geopolitics, not some sort of "victim competition."

Frankly speaking, the claim that Jews are hogging the victim card sometimes veers dangerously close to the old canards about Jewish misanthropy and chauvinism. To be sure, such "tribalism" exists among Jews, as it does among all other peoples. But what about the many cases of Jews and Jewish organizations working to prevent human rights abuses, especially genocide, precisely because of the legacy of the Holocaust?

And I second Zvi's points/questions 1-5.

Jeha - you're right that there is a lot to be pessimistic about. But there have also been some real legal advances in the past century. In a certain sense, this episode, which has resulted in both the ADL and the American Jewish Committee coming out and publicly recognizing the Armenian Genocide (you might call it a "no-brainer," but to a whole lot of NGOs and states in the world it hasn't been), makes me optimistic. Principled positions can win out. The ADL simply couldn't afford to maintain a position that wide sections of its constituency found morally repugnant.

Anyway, it's great to see you weighing in on this debate!

For all those interested in Armenian-Jewish cooperation on recognition (there's an important House resolution coming up), I run a blog on it with an Armenian friend of mine that might be of interest.

Jeha said...

A quick note;

1- I have corrected the link above. The best English language book that I know of is "Colonial Citizens", and I have updated the link. I hope someone like Ghassan or R could recommend others.

2- I know a lot of nice Turks too. Idem for Germans. But the trouble with Turks is this historic amnesia; the same could be said of Japan. While the Germans did their "devoir de mémoire", those other nations still lag behind. Aside from Teutonic racism, historical amnesia and hubris may well be "predictors" of future atrocities. Sing enough times that your nation is "Über Alles", and you will soon act on it.

3- On what the Palestinians are experiencing, I think I tend to agree/disagree with all. This is no attempt at side-stepping an issue, but my reasons are a bit more complex, as real-life causality is never really "linear".

My feeling is that Jews tend to be held to a higher standard, and so does Israel, because of it idealist claims. So, in a sense, I agree that as Zvi stated, the Palestinians experience i nowhere near "the Nazis' focused, deliberate attempt to rid the world of Jews". However, the fact that Israel was founded by so many idealists holds it to a higher standard among many Westerners at least. That could be the root of the disaffection among many in the Western Left, and that appears the foundation of Ghassan's main point.

What else would you expect of a country that contributed or claims the largest contingent of Nobel Prize and Fields Medalist winners? Zvi, Amos, the aim should be not merely "better" than some others; the initial aim, from Jacobitsky et al., was higher. I understand that they were far too idealistic, and that we will always need some grubbiness in politics, but we should never forget the larger picture here.

We're all (poorly) evolved primates, who barely made it across Bab El-Mandab. Now, we stand at the threshold of the nuclear age, an ever more dangerous crossing.

ghassan karam said...

Zvi, Amos..
I am at a loss as to how can anyone who has read my earlier short note conclude that I was "picking" on the Jewish people. My remarks were directed towards the human condition in general. I was merely responding to the fact that humans all throughout history have tended to complain when they were mistreated but usually when given the chance "selective amnesia" sets in and they do unto others what they did not want others to do unto them. This is not the place to enter into a deep, lengthy and referenced discussion but yet I did mention Orwell directly and Paolo Freire implicitly besides giving an actual current example; the IR and the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. I stand by the two mentioned examples but I stress that they were not used to show that ALL revolutions fail because the oppressed do not truly liberate themselves. BTW, that is the rationale for saying that if a revolution is not to fail then it has to create the proper circumstances that promote a constant revolution. This is nothing radically different than to argue that history unfolds itself through a dialectical process i.e. the conflict between an instant and its counter instant.

It might also help to note that I never talk as a Lebanese or an Arab. I have been since my early years an internationalist, a cosmopolitan. I refuse the tribal confines and so whether I mention Israel or Saudi Arabia you can be sure that I hold both to the same standards. On a side note, I read this summer "Einstein" by Issacsonand I felt let down by Einstein the man at a few places. I have spent mylife being in awe of this genius who has changed our understanding of who we are but then was let down when Einstein failed to explain how such an internationalist could , at the drop of a hat, agree to join Weisman on a fund raising tour of the US for a nationalist cause. Einstein was very much aware of the contradiction and he did not bother or maybe he was not able to explain it except by saying that he has grown up to feel that he has an obligation to his tribe. I look forward to the day when our main political identity is not defined by our race , religion or place of birth but simply by being human.

Amos said...

Fair enough.

I was responding to two very specific things that you said, Ghassan.

I agree with your more general, sad but true assertion

that humans all throughout history have tended to complain when they were mistreated but usually when given the chance "selective amnesia" sets in and they do unto others what they did not want others to do unto them.

Jeha - that book you recommended looks VERY interesting.

Roman Kalik said...

I have little to add on the subject at hand, as just about everything I wanted to add seems to have been said already.

Ghassan, about Einstein I will say that you have too much of a personal bias at play here when it comes to the internationalist man ideal. There is no contradiction with someone viewing himself as an internationalist yet being a nationalist, simply because being a jumble of contradictions is part of what makes us human.

And in any case, the International Man ideal is quite overrated and unrealistic. Just look what happened to the former Soviet Union with their experiments in creating the Homo Sovieticus, and the resulting post-experiment chaos. No, humans think in groups. The questions is only, do they run blindly with the pack or debate the path.