Monday, 14 April 2008

Methods of genocide denial, by Oliver Kamm

Read the full article here

"Genocide denial is an ugly subject. I wrote a post about a recent variant a few months ago, relating to Ed Herman, one-time collaborator of Noam Chomsky. Herman has devoted himself in recent years to rubbishing the notion that 8,000 Bosniaks were massacred at Srebrenica. In an article last October entitled "Genocide Inflation is the Real Human Rights Threat: Yugoslavia and Rwanda", published in the far-left Z Magazine, he went one better, and insisted: "To an amazing degree, the Western media and NGOs swallowed the propaganda line and lies on Rwanda that turned things upside down." (...)

The proponents of genocide denial are not a weighty force, and some of them are very trivial indeed. But there are reasons for refuting them.

First, while I don't wish to sound melodramatic, once you let go by default the arguments of Herman and others, you have in effect granted the legitimacy in debate of the equivalent methods of reasoning of Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial, pace Chomsky's frivolous and absurd remarks, necessarily has malevolent implications.

Secondly, it's surprising how some of the propositions of genocide deniers can insinuate themselves into respectable forums without their being recognised as such. I noted an example last year when the novelist Kurt Vonnegut died. In his best known work, Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut directly relies on the discredited claims of my reader David Irving concerning the death toll at Dresden. Portraying the Allies as war criminals while downplaying the crimes of the Nazis is one the techniques of Holocaust deniers such as Irving.

Thirdly, there is matter of honour. It is plainly not logically impossible that fewer than 8,000 men and boys were murdered by Bosnian Serbs at Srebrenica; but the means by which Herman and his followers advance that conclusion are a violation of the methods of critical inquiry. That's what is wrong with genocide denial - not that it's an offence to our feelings, but that it's an offence against historical truth.

Fourthly, while the proponents of genocide denial are on the fringes of Western intellectual life, this is not necessarily true elsewhere. Holocaust denial has gained ground in the Muslim world. In particular, it's espoused by the puppet-president of a state that seeks a nuclear capability and anticipates the extinction of the Jewish state."

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