Martin Shaw (the academic, not the actor) writes on genocide (spotted via PTDR).
He follows the émigré Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, who “stressed that genocide involved ‘a synchronized attack on different aspects of life of peoples’ in the political, social, cultural, educational, economic, religious and biological fields.”
Shaw argues for a “broad, sociological concept of genocide” under which the destruction of a social group need not involve the killing of its members: “Killing whole groups was more about destroying social institutions and values than murdering individual bodies, although it often involved that, too.”
There is a fair point in this: you can destroy a community by forcibly dispersing its members and/or preventing them from living their lives in the way they have been used to – without actually having to kill them. And this can nonetheless be a terrible thing to do. But when he notes that, in genocide, “groups are targeted because of their particular identities and affiliations”, I start to wonder. (I’ve written sceptically about identity politics before, and will doubtless do so again.)
What about, say, the ban on fox-hunting? People identified themselves as fox-hunters; it was an important part of their lives; they formed themselves into groups based on their shared passion. The banning of this activity (right or wrong) has destroyed the ability of groups to identify themselves (and hence to survive) by their participation in it.
We could hardly bracket this with the mass butchery of Tutsis, though, or the industrial annihilation of Jews. And of course, no doubt, Shaw wouldn’t do any such thing. Preventing people from participating in some culturally prized activity (thus inflicting perhaps ‘fatal’ damage on the groups so defined), even if some force is sometimes used to enforce the ban, is a far cry from forcing people out of their homes, let alone murdering them.
All of which leads me to ask: if the destruction of the group is the only commonality in these cases, and if the differences between these cases are manifest in the degree of suffering inflicted upon individuals, then what role is the concept of genocide playing here?
Do groups have rights over and above the rights of the individual members? If a group cannot be destroyed without harming its members, then does the destruction of the group constitute a wrongdoing distinct from the individual harms done? Does ‘genocide’ then describe a crime or just a motive?