“Morally Required Genocide”

August 08, 2017

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“Morally Required Genocide”

Professor Mohammed Abed is a man with a message: Genocide has gotten a bum rap. Sure, genocide can be bad, but in a pinch, genocide might just be your best friend…especially if you’re a “person of color.” Indeed, Abed reasons, it’s sometimes “morally required” to commit genocide, and he hasn’t been shy about advancing that argument in a series of lectures and essays that have somehow managed to stay under the radar of the media (especially the right-leaning media) over the past few years.

Abed, a tenure-track professor of ethics, social & political philosophy, and classical Islamic philosophy, believes that, in large part due to the overbearing historical presence of the Holocaust, the definition of genocide has become unnecessarily narrow. When someone cries “genocide” these days, folks expect to see gas chambers, crematoria, and Nazis stuffing Jewish children into trains. This “Holocaust standard” for genocide, Abed claims, betrays the vision of the fellow who invented the term, Raphael Lemkin. Lemkin, Abed argues, always intended for his gift to the lexicon to have a more open-ended, fluid definition. There are lots of ways to make a people, a culture, or a society disappear, and more often than not, there won’t be gas chambers, ovens, or manically emoting Hitlers.

It’s a fair point, and an appropriate topic for a professor of philosophy. But you know there’s gotta be more, right? Of course there is. Abed also claims that sometimes you just have to commit genocide in order to save the world, or some corner of it, from bad people…like racist whites!

Well, place a call to Topf & Söhne, because now we’re cookin’ with gas!

“Genocide is not always the physical extermination of a people. Sometimes it can be the erasure of their identity.”

Abed, a Palestinian whose views on Israel are not exactly “chummy,” deserves the right to have his say in his own words, and he’ll get it, very shortly. But first, I want to point out exactly where this guy works: the philosophy department at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA). Heard of that fine institution? It’s the public university in L.A. where students and teachers use violence and intimidation in order to keep anyone on the right from speaking on campus. Remember when invited speaker Ben Shapiro had to be escorted off the CSULA campus by police because angry, violent protesters stormed the event? Remember how CSULA forced the organizers of Shapiro’s speech to cough up the dough for extra security, a burden not placed on the school’s many far-left student groups? I have little doubt that had Shapiro been shot in the head during his aborted speech, the university would have charged the cost of the bullet to his family.

Last week, during congressional hearings regarding the sorry state of free speech on college campuses in the U.S., CSULA was frequently cited as an example of just how bad things are. Indeed, no less than the Huffington Post…yes, the Huffington Post...ran a piece about how CSULA is among the “worst of the worst” regarding the suppression of speech. For the record, CSULA also made headlines recently because of its segregated “no whites” safe-space housing for black students. University president William Covino explained at the time that the dorms-of-color were necessary because “Black students at CSULA have been, and still are, consistently made the targets of racist attacks by fellow students, faculty and administration.” “Faculty and administration”? Covino did not offer a single example of “racist attacks” from university employees. Odd, because you’d think the guy would, you know, back up his outright defamation of his own staff. But hey, Covino, I got your back, you pathetic boombots. You do indeed have someone on the faculty who has made incendiary comments about race…

...and with that we conveniently circle back to Mohammed Abed.

Abed’s academic paper “The Concept of Genocide Reconsidered” was originally published in 2006. Since then, it’s been approvingly cited in numerous highly regarded publications, including The Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies and The Concept of Cultural Genocide, and Abed has expanded on his treatise in lectures at various colleges and universities around the country. The version of the essay I’ll cite is from 2015.

Abed lays out his central thesis in the paper’s abstract: “Genocide is not in any sense distinctively heinous. Nor is it necessarily immoral.”

Morally justified genocide? Abed realizes this might be a tough sell:

Many will no doubt be shocked by these claims. Surely a view that has such unsavory implications should be rejected. In fact, it ought to be condemned in no uncertain terms. Reactions of this sort are overblown.

Of course, any such objections by fellow academics were almost certainly silenced once Abed named the skin color of the targets of his “moral genocide”:

One can certainly concoct a hypothetical scenario in which the deliberate annihilation of a group’s way of life is a “moral and political imperative.” And there may be a case for classifying as genocide campaigns of social destruction that are widely considered to be not only excusable but morally required. The institution of slavery in the American South was, arguably, a comprehensive way of life and worldview to which many whites were profoundly attached. It would not be wildly implausible to say that their investment in the culture and norms of the slave-owning community rivaled in its social meaning and significance an individual’s affiliation with a national or religious group. But because the kidnapping, enslavement, and lifelong exploitation of innocent human beings was a constitutive and thus ineliminable feature of the life led by many Southern whites, annihilating their way of life was a moral imperative. The right course of action was to strip them of an identity that gave meaning to their lives.

Abed admits that some may balk at his characterization of the Civil War and Radical Reconstruction as “genocide.” To respond to such criticism, he returns to Lemkin:

As Lemkin made clear, mass killing is not the only way of annihilating a group. Because specific motives are not constitutive conditions of the phenomenon, the fact that the North’s war effort was not motivated by racial hatred is beside the point. The community that benefited from slavery was intergenerational, and it arguably had a comprehensive worldview and way of life. Although that worldview and way of life were despicable and thus of no benefit to humanity, they were cherished by members of the group…. Once the spell of the orthodox view is broken, it quickly becomes apparent that there is nothing absurd about classifying the North’s war as a morally required genocide.