[When warehousing children in cages and tent cities is justified
as deterrence, the question of crimes against humanity is more than
academic. It is a deliberate effort to dehumanize and polarize, and an
intimation of what may come next.] [https://portside.org/]
PREVENTING CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY IN THE US
Nadia Rubaii and Max Pensky
June 22, 2018
_ When warehousing children in cages and tent cities is justified as
deterrence, the question of crimes against humanity is more than
academic. It is a deliberate effort to dehumanize and polarize, and an
intimation of what may come next. _
Immigrant rights advocates speak against Trump’s policies in New
Mexico. , AP Photo/Russell Contreras
There are those who say
comparing President Donald Trump’s rhetoric to that of Adolf Hitler
alarmist, unfair and counterproductive.
And yet, there has been no dearth of such comparisons nearly one and a
half years into his term.
Many commentators have also drawn parallels between the conduct and
language of Trump supporters and Holocaust-era Nazis
Recent news of ICE agents separating immigrant families
[https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jun/19/families-border-separations-trump-immigration-policy] and housing
children in cages
generated further comparisons
world leaders, as well as Holocaust survivors and scholars. Trump’s
use of the word “infest”
[http://time.com/5316087/donald-trump-immigration-infest/] to refer
to immigrants coming to the U.S. is particularly striking. Nazis
referred to infestations of Jewish vermin, and Rwandan Hutu’s
labeled Tutsi as cockroaches.
In August 2017, in the wake of the Charlottesville
the president used a familiar rhetorical strategy
signaling support to violent groups. He referenced violence on “both
implying moral equivalence between protesters calling for the removal
of Confederate statues and those asserting white supremacy. His
comments gave white supremacists and neo-Nazis the implied approval
the president of the United States.
Many of these groups explicitly seek to eliminate from the U.S.
Jews, immigrants and other groups, and are willing to do so through
violence. As co-directors of Binghamton University’s Institute for
Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention
[https://www.binghamton.edu/i-gmap/], we emphasize the importance of
recognizing and responding to early warning signs of potential
genocide and other atrocity crimes. Usually, government officials,
scholars and nongovernmental organizations look for these signals
in other parts of the world
[http://genocidewatch.net/alerts-2/new-alerts/] – Syria, Sudan or
But what about the U.S.? President Trump’s executive order
family separations provides Congress an opportunity to act. How the
legislators respond will be an important indicator of where the U.S.
Is it possible in the US?
The term “genocide” invokes images of gas chambers
Nazis used to exterminate Jews during World War II, the Khmer
Rouge killing fields
Cambodia and thousands of Tutsi bodies in the Kagera River
Rwanda. On that scale and in that manner, genocide is highly unlikely
in the United States.
But genocidal violence can happen in the U.S. It has happened.
Organized policies passed by elected U.S. lawmakers have targeted
both Native Americans
[https://history.state.gov/milestones/1830-1860/indian-treaties] and African-Americans
Public policies defined these groups as not fully human and not
protected by basic laws. Current policies treat immigrants the same
The threat of genocide
present wherever a country’s political leadership tolerates or even
encourages acts with an intent to destroy a racial, ethnic, national
or religious group, whether in whole or in part. While genocide is
unlikely in the United States, atrocities which amount to mass
violations of human rights and crimes against humanity are evident.
The U.N. defines crimes against humanity
any “deliberate act, typically as part of a systematic campaign,
that causes human suffering or death on a large scale.” Unlike
genocide, it does not need to include the actual destruction or intent
to destroy a group.
According to Holocaust survivors
the current visual and audio accounts
children separated from their parents in border detention facilities
reminds them of practices of the Nazis in ghettos and concentration
and extermination camps.
The Holocaust took the international community by surprise. In
hindsight, there were many signs. In fact, scholars have learned a
the danger signals for the risk of large-scale violence against
In 1996, the founder and first president of the U.S.-based advocacy
group Genocide Watch [http://www.genocidewatch.org/], Gregory H.
introduced a model that identified eight stages
[http://www.genocidewatch.org/genocide/8stagesofgenocide.html] – later
increased to 10
[http://genocidewatch.org/genocide/tenstagesofgenocide.html] – that
societies frequently pass through on the way to genocidal violence and
other mass atrocities. Stanton’s model has its critics
Like any such model, it can’t be applied in all cases and can’t
predict the future. But it has been influential in our understanding
of the sources of mass violence in Rwanda
The 10 stages of genocide
The early stages of Stanton’s model include “classification” and
“symbolization.” These are processes in which groups of people are
saddled with labels or imagined characteristics that encourage active
discrimination. These stages emphasize “us-versus-them” thinking,
and define a group as “the other.”
As Stanton makes clear, these processes are universally human. They do
not necessarily result in a progression toward mass violence. But they
prepare the ground for the next stages: active “discrimination,”
“dehumanization,” “organization” and “polarization.” These
middle stages may be warning signs
an increasing risk of large-scale violence.
Where are we now?
Trump’s political rhetoric helped propel him into office by playing
on the fears and resentments of the electorate
He has used derogatory labels for certain religious and ethnic groups
hinted at dark conspiracies
winked at violence
appealed to nativist and nationalist sentiments
[https://www.splcenter.org/20170427/100-days-trumps-america]. He has
promoted discriminatory policies including travel restrictions
Classification, symbolization, discrimination and dehumanization
Muslims, Mexicans, African-Americans, immigrants, the media and even
the political opposition may be leading to polarization, stage six of
Stanton writes that polarization further drives wedges
social groups through extremism. Hate groups find an opening to send
messages that further dehumanize and demonize targeted groups.
Political moderates are edged out of the political arena, and
extremist groups attempt to move from the former political fringes
into mainstream politics.
Do Trump’s implied claims of a moral equivalence between neo-Nazis
and counterprotesters in Charlottesville move us closer to the stage
Does housing children in cages at border detention facilities in the
name of deterrence represent a deepening dehumanization?
Certainly, there are reasons for deep concern. Moral equivalence –
the claim that when both “sides” in a conflict use similar
tactics, then one “side” must be as morally good or bad as the
other – is what logicians call an informal fallacy
Philosophers take their red pens to student essays that commit it. But
when a president is called on to address his nation in times of
political turmoil, the claim of moral equivalence is a lot more than
an undergraduate mistake.
Similarly, when warehousing children in cages and tent cities is
justified as a policy of deterrence, this is more than an academic
policy debate. We suggest this is a deliberate effort to dehumanize
and polarize, and an invitation to what may come next.
While the U.S. may not be on the path to genocide in the sense of mass
killings, it clearly is engaging in other crimes against humanity –
deliberately and systematically causing human suffering on a large
scale and violating fundamental human rights
Responding and preventing
Polarization is a warning of the increased risk of violence, not a
guarantee. Stanton’s model also argues that every stage offers
opportunities for prevention. Extremist groups can have their
financial assets frozen. Hate crimes and hate atrocities can be more
consistently investigated and prosecuted. Moderate politicians, human
rights activists, representatives of threatened groups and members of
the independent media can be provided increased security.
Encouraging responses have come from the international community, the
electorate, business leaders and government officials. German
Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the racist and far-right violence
in Charlottesville, and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May harshly
use of moral equivalence. More recently, Pope Francis and the
governments of various countries have spoken out
U.S. family separation practices.
The recent withdrawal of the U.S. from the U.N. Human Rights Council
that international pressure may not be effective. Domestic actors may
have more luck.
Individuals and groups are following the recommendations presented in
the Southern Poverty Law Center’s guide to combating hate
supporting victims, speaking up, pressuring leaders and staying
engaged. Business leaders have also expressed their discontent
Trump’s polarizing statements and actions. The American Academy of
Pediatrics has gone so far as to label the immigrant family
separations a form of mass child abuse
Local governments are struggling to maintain their status
as sanctuary cities
[https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/25/us/judge-blocks-trump-sanctuary-cities.html] or cities
These cities try to provide refuge for immigrants despite ICE raids
The general public and politicians of both parties and at all levels
are speaking out
the separations, and it appears they may be heard.
In our assessment, these actions represent essential forms of
resistance to the movement toward escalating atrocities.
The executive order
by President Trump this week provides the elected representatives in
Congress with an important opportunity. Will they be complicit in or
act to prevent further atrocities?
It also provides the general public an opportunity to strongly assert
a commitment to human rights. How Congress responds will be a clear
indicator of whether our democratic checks and balances are
functioning to stop atrocities from escalating, or whether we are
continuing down a dangerous path.
Co-Director, Institute for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention, and
Associate Professor of Public Administration, Binghamton University,
State University of New York._
Co-Director, Institute for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention,
Professor, Department of Philosophy, Binghamton University, State
University of New York._
* 1 view
INTERPRET THE WORLD AND CHANGE IT
Submit via web [https://portside.org/contact/submit_to_portside]
Submit via email
Frequently asked questions [https://portside.org/faq]
Manage subscription [https://portside.org/subscribe]
Visit portside.org [https://portside.org/]
To unsubscribe, click the following link: