Friday, 27 May 2011

The Judgement of Genocides

It is only a few months ago when I sat in a room with Professor Yehuda Bauer and twenty other British clergy as he addressed European scholars by weblink. The topic of his talk was genocide, a subject he is well qualified to discuss. He is the Director of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and probably the single most significant authority on the subject of the Shoah (Holocaust / Heb: 'calamity' ). A tiny frail old man was helped into the tiny room where we were all crammed, but a man far younger than his considerable years emerged as he talked on the subject of genocide. 

He talked of the distinctiveness of the Shoah compared with, as it were, generic genocide, though this is not a matter for this post. What is a matter for this post is that he was quite clear how genocide-immune we seem to have become in Western civilization. Instinct would surely cause any right minded soul to react abruptly and angrily to such a damning claim, but we must not forget that even in my 38 years on this planet we call home Pol Pot ordered the murder of 1.7 million souls in Cambodia, Menghistu his 1.6 million in Ethiopia, Kambanda's near million in Rwanda, Saddam's count in Kurdistan and Iraq, Mullah Omar's in Afghanistan, the million murders orchestrated by Gowon in Biafra, Brezhnev's efforts also in Afghanistan - and those at the hands of the man featured here, Ratko Mladic. I sit here as a man of, hopefully, compassion and love, a crusader against injustice and inhuman crimes - yet I had to look all these genocides up to be able to write them here. Yes, I am only too aware of the Shoah, but that is more to do with it being a topic in my former history classes.

The very knowledge of these calamities, these grotesque mass-murders, is crushing. That they happen unchecked (or so it seems at times) in apparently enlightened, 'information overload' times adds to a growing sense of despondency that I could very quickly acquire at this realisation. Yet today's news gives me a little hope in global justice. It comes hot on the heels of a similar event fairly recently when 'the littlest of the little fishes', John Demjanjuk, was finally reeled in for his part in the  murder of 28,060 Jews in Sobibór during the Shoah. A frail old man, maybe, but a murderer who faced justice. And so we hear about the arrest of Ratko Mladic a 'mere' fifteen years after the Srebrenica massacre of Muslim men and boys in the former Yugoslavia. Another frail old man of failing health has finally been dragged in. In and of itself, this is good, but it is altogether more important for another reason. It is a sure sign that genocide always faces justice in the end. Often it takes many decades, and often its perpetrators have died gentle and private deaths in comfy homes surrounded by loved ones. But judgement always seems to come. 

I am left to ponder why events that, to me, represent the worst of humanity's criminal capability, only become clearly visible in considerable retrospect. Why does it appear to take decades for civilised compassionate and educated societies to find the ability to formally judge these catastrophes. Perhaps the murder of millions of people we do not know is too big or distant to fully comprehend - unlike the murder of individuals in our own country where we can sense national outrage. There is a clear difference between how we react and yet that seems quite wrong. Perhaps such behaviour mitigates (though never full excuses) the apparent blindness so many of the 'bystanders' during the genocides that were unfolding in their midsts over ages.  


  1. Thank you for a thoughful, thought provoking post.

    I don't have any thing to say, apart from prayer for the souls of the departed and for repentance from those responsible. If they have any conscience at all.

  2. To which I would add prayer for us all that we may try to be less wilfully blind in the future and also work against the attitude of mind which classifies some people as of less worth than others for any reason.



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