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Untouchable - The Uses And Misuses Of ‘Genocide Denial’



One of the wonders of contemporary propaganda is the extent to which corporate commentators are in denial about their use of the term 'genocide denial'. Clearly, they believe they are using a neutral, objective term to describe indisputable facts of genocidal killing and ugly refusals to recognise those facts.

The delusion is quickly exposed when we ask a few simple questions. For example: how often do we see 'mainstream' commentators describing US-UK sanctions on Iraq from 1990-2003 as 'genocidal', as affirmed by senior UN diplomats? How often do journalists describe supporters of the devastating Bush-Blair war on Iraq, the Obama-Cameron war on Libya, or May's war on Yemen as 'genocide deniers'? Can we imagine someone who supported the war on Libya being called an 'Obama apologist'?

Like 'terror' and 'terrorism', 'genocide' and 'genocide denial' are simply not terms that are applied to Western actions.

This really awesome level of bias points to the reality that 'genocide denial' is a propaganda term overwhelmingly used to portray Official Enemies as morally and intellectually despicable, in fact untouchable. As used in the 'mainstream', the term is antirational, an attack on honest debate.


'Push Forward On Chomsky'

Relentlessly directed at key voices on the left, like Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman and John Pilger, the real target is the public. 'Genocide denial' has been deployed by Western equivalents of so-called 'Russian bots' to deter people from even considering, much less sharing and supporting, dissident arguments that threaten the goals of established power. Ironically, then, 'genocide denial' is most often used to defend an extremely violent and exploitative status quo.

On the Mondoweiss website, Theodore Sayeed discussed a leaked memo of a meeting of the Henry Jackson Society from November 2005:

'One of the items on the minutes, listed prominently in fourth place, was to discredit Chomsky. Their tack was to allege that he is a "denier" of the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia. In the art of controversy, slapping the label "denier" on someone is meant to evoke the Holocaust. Chomsky, the furtive charge proceeds, is a kind of Nazi.'

Sayeed assessed the credibility of the claim:

'The only conclusion possible after surveying the material is that the evidence for this "denial" has all the merits of the evidence for chastity in a brothel.'

He added:

'The task of getting this slur into circulation was delegated to Marko Attila Hoare and Oliver Kamm. Among the papers chosen to carry the charge were the Guardian, the Times and the Spectator magazine. The individuals to be approached were then Independent columnist Johann Hari, former political editor of the Spectator Bruce Anderson, and the leader of the Muslim Council of Britain at the time, Sir Iqbal Sacranie. The memo, written in shorthand, states:

'Push forward on Chomsky / Srebrenica issue: Approach Guardian, Johann Hari, Bruce Anderson, THES, Spectator. Approach Sacranie and ask what he is to do about it. (Marko: coordinate with Oliver Kamm) Marko Atilla Hoare outlines the Chomsky case in the Guardian. In effect, this newspaper endorses genocide denial. Gideon Mailer mentions Jonathan Steel's piece in the Guardian also. It was agreed that Marko Atilla Hoare would get in touch with Iqbal Sacranie (for example) and ask what can be done about the denial of genocide against Muslims in Europe during the Balkan wars. It was also thought that this should be mentioned to Johann Hari and the THES.'

As Sayeed noted, 'genocide denial' is intended to present the target as 'a kind of Nazi'. The logic is crude but hidden: Holocaust denial is, of course, widely reviled as the product of minds so poisoned by racist hatred that they reject even obvious truth. Use of the word 'denial' is intended to invite the public to take a mental leap from 'genocide denial' to 'Holocaust denial', thereby tarring left dissidents with the same brush, rendering them intellectually illegitimate in the same way.

Sometimes the connection is made explicit. The same Oliver Kamm of The Times who featured in the Henry Jackson Society memo, wrote of us:

'The stuff [by Chomsky and Herman] that they find so impressive is not merely the moral equivalent of Holocaust denial: it is the methodological equivalent too, using literally the same techniques.'

This was 'literally' nonsense. But anyway, Kamm's real purpose was to suggest that we were morally and intellectually 'the same' as, 'equivalent' to, fascist Holocaust deniers. He has also written of us: 'Genocide denial is the organisation's orthodoxy.'

This use of 'genocide denial' is fundamentally antirational because it declares, not just that a particular argument is illegitimate, but that the particular person making the argument is illegitimate and should be shunned. The focus is on the intellectual and moral integrity of the targeted individual.

Thus, despite privately sending us numerous, oddly amiable emails over the years - beginning, for example, 'Hello, gents' (Email, September 16, 2017) - Kamm has repeatedly and publicly refused to debate with us on the grounds that we are 'genocide deniers':

'It's extraordinary that you consider you're entitled to be treated attentively, or conversed with at all, when you [engage in genocide denial]... Not with any reputable person, you're not.' (This comment was originally posted under an interview with us on the New Internationalist website, but is now unavailable)

The Kafkaesque logic was as comical as it was closed: Kamm described us as 'genocide deniers', but would not discuss the arguments for and against so labelling us. Why? Because we were 'genocide deniers'.

We dealt with Kamm's claims against us here. He has directed similar accusations at the journalist Neil Clark by whom he is currently being sued for stalking, harassment and defamation.

Consider, also, the complete redundancy of the term. In 2006, there was a good case for using the second Lancet study, which estimated 655,000 Iraqi civilian and combatant deaths as a result of the 2003 war, to challenge Iraq Body Count's (then) toll of 49,000 violent civilian deaths.

While one could certainly compare and contrast the competing methodologies and findings of IBC and Lancet, as we did, nothing at all would have been added by describing people engaged in the debate as 'genocide deniers'. The term adds nothing to a rational discussion. Quite the reverse, it actually demands that the argument is already settled. Indeed, as we have seen, it smears the 'denier' as morally debased, as beyond the pale, precisely because he or she is willing to debate an issue that is declared beyond doubt by all right-thinking people.

So, again, it is important to emphasise that the term is anti-intellectual and in fact an attack on rational discourse – it is an attempt to shut down debate.

Read more: Untouchable - The Uses And Misuses Of ‘Genocide Denial’

  • Written by Editor
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