When is a Genocide a Genocide?

When is a Genocide a Genocide?

by Dr. Abdul Cader Asmal


The recent debates within segments of the Muslim community (The American Muslim, 4/26/2015) about the terrible tragedy that befell the Armenian people just one hundred years ago raise two important questions: how the ‘event’ should be accurately and respectfully categorized, and whether the Muslims in America have an obligation to memorialize it in any way. According to United To End Genocide:

In the past 150 years, tens of millions of men, women and children have lost their lives in genocide or mass atrocities. Millions have been tortured, raped or forced from their homes. The past genocides and mass atrocities described below represent just some of the historic examples that serve to remind us what’s at stake if we let genocide happen again. We must learn, remember and take action to end genocide once and for all.

Beginning in 1915, ethnic Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were subjected to a combination of massacres, forced deportation marches and deaths due to disease in concentration camps and is estimated to have killed more than 1 million ethnic Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks between 1915 and 1923.

Germany’s Nazi Party implemented a highly organized strategy of persecution, murder and genocide aimed at ethnically “purifying” Germany, a plan Hitler called the “Final Solution”. Six million Jews and five million Slavs, Roma, disabled, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and political and religious dissidents were killed during the Holocaust.

When the Khmer Rouge took control of the Cambodian government in 1975 between 1.7 and 2 million Cambodians died in the Khmer Rouge’s “Killing Fields.”

Civil war broke out in Rwanda in 1990 leading to an organized campaign of violence against Tutsi and moderate Hutu civilians across the country resulting in over 1 million deaths.

When the republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnia) declared independence in 1992 the Serbs targeted Bosniak and Croatian civilians in areas under their control in a campaign of ethnic cleansing. The war in Bosnia claimed the lives of an estimated 100,000 people.

Over a decade ago the Government of Sudan carried out genocide against Darfuri civilians, murdering 300,000 & displacing over 2 million people.

For hundreds of years a mixture of colonial conflict, disease, specific atrocities and policies of discrimination has devastated the Native American population.  It is estimated that over nine million Natives died from violent conflict or disease. For too long this history has been under-recognized and too little discussed.”

With the above list comprising just a few of the endless crimes against humanity, how and why should Muslims living in this country choose to commemorate some and ignore others? From a purely humanitarian point of view we have a responsibility to remember and condemn all acts of inhumanity by man to his fellow men. To remember, to commiserate and to reflect with the purpose of learning from our inglorious past should be our incentive, so that when we say ‘never again’, we mean what we say!

The current brouhaha in the Muslim community centers around whether the ‘leading’ Muslim organizations should have referred to the massive atrocity against the Armenians as a ‘genocide’ or just a terrible ‘civil war’ in which a disproportionate number of civilians were killed or displaced. Whereas USCMO (US Council of Muslim Organizations) has been criticized for its ambivalent depiction of the carnage, in showing due deference to the Armenian people but at the same time being sensitive in not alienating the Turks, CAIR (LA) in a measured statement called for ‘reconciliation between the Turkish and Armenian peoples’ escaped such reprobation. In contrast, Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Berkeley issued a powerful challenge against the national organization, ‘we direct our outrage and condemnation toward those who continue to deny the Armenian genocide.’ In their opinion, based on Quranic injunctions, it is an act of moral turpitude for Muslims to disown the reality.

This firestorm in the Muslim community begs the question as to why Muslims in America have to enter this highly controversial debate. It is one thing to recognize the tremendous suffering of a people, to display empathy for their pain, to engage to resolve ongoing concerns and to cooperate to prevent the recurrence of such a catastrophe in the future. It is quite another to take sides in a highly politically charged discourse.

At the present time just over 20 countries worldwide have designated the event as a ‘genocide’. Our country, the United States of America, as with Israel and over 100 countries worldwide have refused to refer to it in that term. If that is the case then why do we as Muslim citizens of this country feel obligated to contradict our country’s official position? Without in any way minimizing the monumental significance of the indescribable loss and pain of the Armenian people, is it an issue that Muslims living in this country need to address over and above those of seminal importance both to the Muslim community itself and the American society at large, such Islamophobia, institutionalized racism, the escalating wealth discrepancy and the dark money in politics that threatens the very foundations of our democracy? Or are we reacting in this fashion simply because the Turks are Muslims? If this is the case do we again bear the collective guilt because the perpetrators were alleged Muslims? Are US Muslims of today guilty for the actions of Turks 100 years ago, any more than the Turks of today are culpable for the atrocities of their forefathers?

Are Muslims going to set themselves up again in the same manner with which they got themselves embroiled in the ‘terrorism’ debacle? Instead of declaring at the outset that Muslims the world over had no responsibility for the actions of isolated groups of terrorists in disparate parts of the globe whether it was Hezbollah attacking the marine barracks in Lebanon or the PLO wreaking mayhem in Israel? We clearly do not seem to have learnt from that lesson. So we have ended up as a global community of Muslims having to ‘defend’ Islam every time some fringe group conducts terrorist acts in any part of the world in the name of Islam.

With our Muslim track record we run the very likely risk of ending up apologizing for not only every act of terror against non-Muslim groups, especially as such acts of terror could cumulatively add up to constitute an act of ‘genocide’, but for every act of ‘genocide’ as well! Thus the question arises, when is a genocide a genocide? The cynical answer is when no one has to ask the question, ‘What’s in it for me?’

Till then, in citing the Quranic verse in support of justice, ”O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: ” [Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 135], The Students for Justice in Palestine could have used any of the examples noted above, not the least deserving of which is the staggering injustice of the racism that is now engulfing our country( http://www.Muslimarc.org/blacklivesmatter/)..


See also:  US Council of Muslim Organizations Armenian Genocide Statement Controversy, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/us-council-of-muslim-organizations-armenian-genocide-statement-controversy/0020392


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