Yes, do compare atrocities!

the wrong comparison. It invites obliviousness to what makes Assad different from lesser monsters.

Though it is nothing like the cause of Syria’s misery, one culprit has played a major role in its perpetuation.  It not only erodes the will of the West to do something.  It also actually undermines the international order.  That culprit is the human rights discourse that has built up since the end of the Second World War.

The development of human rights discourse has consistently broadened the world’s notion of atrocity to the point where accusations of atrocity simply carry no weight.  This began when Raphael Lemkin created the term ‘genocide’ in 1944:

By ‘genocide’ we mean the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group. This new word, coined by the author to denote an old practice in its modern development, is made from the ancient Greek word genos (race, tribe) and the Latin cide (killing)…. Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. Genocide is directed against the national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group”.


Lemkin was inventing a concept.  He wanted to transcend immediate circumstance, give his idea the majesty of a wide sweep.  So he opened the door to most expansive views.   No, he’s saying, genocide isn’t just killing people.  The ‘foundations of the life of national groups’ is not the same as ‘the survival on this earth of the members of those groups’.  It almost seems as if you plan to destroy the national identity of some group, even without violence, that’s genocide.

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