Genocide denial: here we go again

It seems that every time a genocide happens a group of people, who often have no connection to the events or expertise in the relevant fields, claim very loudly and for their own reasons that the genocide never happened.

The obvious example is the denial of the Holocaust by Neo-Nazi cranks like David Irving and Ernst Zundel who have the obvious motive of rehabilitating fascism. More recently, parts of the far left got into the act by downplaying the atrocities committed by Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbian army in the Balkans during the 1990s – most prominently Noam Chomsky and his Medialens tribute sect. As Oliver Kamm wrote: ‘I don’t mean just that it’s ethically the same approach as Holocaust denial. I mean it’s the same approach.’

Now the vultures descend on Africa. Over a hundred days in 1994 Hutu government and independent militias carried out a war of racist extermination against Rwandan Tutsis. This brief generalisation is accepted by everyone connected with the subject.

Via Michael Ezra, I have found a review of Edward Herman and David Peterson’s book The Politics of Genocide. In it Chomsky disciples Herman and Peterson attempt to do for the Rwandan genocide what they did for the Balkan genocide, and for the same motives – portray the killings as an imperialist lie to justify American expansion.

Gerald Caplan’s piece is long, but essential:

Their main target, which is none of the cases mentioned so far, can be found squarely in the heart of the book. It’s chapter 4, the longest single section, and its purpose is to show that the 1994 genocide of the Rwandan Tutsi never happened. In fact the entire ‘genocide’ in Rwanda is an elaborate American conspiracy to ‘gain a strong military presence in Central Africa, a diminution of its European rivals’ influence, proxy armies to serve its interests, and access to the raw material-rich Democratic Republic of the Congo’.

Yes, in order to blame the American empire for every ill on earth, Herman and Peterson, two dedicated anti-imperialists, have sunk to the level of genocide deniers. And the ‘evidence’ they adduce to back up their delusional tale rests solidly on a foundation of other deniers, statements by genocidaires, fabrications, distortions, innuendo and gross ignorance. In this Grimm fairy tale, everyone who contradicts their fantasies is an American/RPF pawn – Paul Kagame, human rights investigator Alison des Forges, the head of the UN military mission in Rwanda during the genocide General Romeo Dallaire, and entire human rights organisations.

The main authorities on whom the authors rest their fabrications are a tiny number of long-time American and Canadian genocide deniers, who gleefully drink each other’s putrid bath water. Each solemnly cites the others’ works to document his fabrications – Robin Philpot, Christopher Black, Christian Davenport, Allan Stam, Peter Erlinder. It’s as if a Holocaust denier cited as supporting evidence the testimonies of David Irving, David Duke, Robert Faurisson or Ernest Zundel. Be confident Herman and Peterson are now being quoted as authoritative sources on the genocide by Robin Philpot, Christopher Black, Davenport and Stam, Peter Erlinder.

On the other hand, there are other writers on Rwanda on whom Herman and Peterson do not rely. They are many in number and they are totally ignored, except for the late Alison Des Forges, who is shabbily denigrated. In fact they include the overwhelming number of those who have ever written about the genocide. They include academics, human rights activists, journalists who were in Rwanda during the genocide or soon after, and others whose work brought them in close proximity to the events of 1994. Without exception, every single one agrees there was a genocide planned and executed by a cabal of leading Hutu extremists against Rwanda’s Tutsi minority.

There are of course also the many grim testimonies of both Tutsi who somehow survived and Hutu who are confessed genocidaires. Both kinds are now widely available in published collections or online; the three volumes by French journalist Jean Hatzfeld are a good beginning. Not a single such testimony or collection is referred to in ‘The Politics of Genocide’, and in fact I’ve never yet met a denier who had the guts to make his case before an audience of survivors.

Edward Herman and David Peterson have written a very short book that’s not nearly short enough. It should never have seen the light of day. It brings shame to its two American authors, its publisher Monthly Review, and all those who have provided enthusiastic jacket blurbs, many of them prominent in progressive circles – Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Norman Solomon, David Barsamian. If this is what Anglo-American Marxism, or socialism, or anti-imperialism has degenerated into, we can hang our heads in shame for the future of the left.

The Chomskyite/anti-imperialist crowd: still fucked after all these years.

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