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Despite vow to ‘never forget,’ mass amnesia perpetuates genocide

Tamor Khan/The Cougar

Reports from the various genocides throughout history come in scrambled bits and pieces from survivors. Whether it be Armenia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Myanmar, Palestine or Guatemala, these narratives rarely receive international recognition due to Western nations’ entrenched culture of neglect and forget when it comes to genocide, a word distorted politically and culturally.

Children orphaned by the Armenian Genocide in 1917. | Courtesy of K. Polis

These mass atrocities have forced millions from their homes and led to the torture, rape and murder of even more. The international community cannot be bothered to remember these historic and ongoing cruelties, yet it simultaneously totes the slogan “Never Forget” as the Holocaust continues to be the only mass ethnic cleansing recognized by most of our history books.

We ask ourselves how this manages to happen over and over again, how a majority rises to power and eradicates an entire group of people for bearing the burden of their identity. The answer lies in apathy — extreme apathy — and purposeful amnesia that allows for history to repeat itself viciously and take more victims as each new genocide coincides with the next generation of weaponry.

The Nuremberg trials were the first international attempt to hold monsters accountable for crimes against humanity. It was a noble effort. The world was left horrified in the wake of the Holocaust and the loss of 6 million Jewish lives to Hitler’s Final Solution.

We are taught from a young age in the United States that this must never happen again, that hate and bigotry must never trump justice and compassion.

We are taught that the U.S. is the watch dog of liberty, despite once having a president who ethnically cleansed 4,000 Native Americans and eradicated 16,000 in the Trail of Tears.

We are taught the Holocaust should be the only tragedy to stain history books, despite the forgotten Armenian genocide that preceded the Holocaust by only 18 years.

Yet 30 years after the world vowed to never forget, 1.7 to two million political dissidents, doctors, teachers and students were tortured and murdered in the Cambodian genocide. Fifteen years later in 1994, 800,000 to one million innocent Rwandans lost their lives in the Rwandan Genocide. A year later, 100,000 Bosniak and Croatian civilians were cleansed by the Serbs in the Bosnian Revolution. Eight years after, in 2003, while the United States unnecessarily invaded Iraq, the Sudanese government murdered 300,000 of its own Dafuri civilians.

We ask ourselves why human history is plagued with such monstrosities.

We can claim ignorance, we can claim apathy, we can claim every damn excuse in the book, and there’s enough to fill all the history books that lay vacant from the gaps in reality. Every country that had the power to prevent these horrors from occurring has blood on its hands. The United States has a guilty conscious.

We’ve grown desensitized to the word genocide because it has become a weapon in the political arsenal to defame third world nations. It has been robbed of the distinction that ignites infamy.

These crimes follow us today. From Myanmar to Ethiopia to the Democratic Republic of Congo to Sudan to Syria, ethnic cleansing continues today, according to the International Alliance to End Genocide. The statistics are enough evidence to prove we recognize what is happening. It is better to admit the international community does not care than to maintain this façade of ignorance.

The Rohingya in Myanmar are among the most persecuted people on Earth. Their stories are characterized by the utmost cruelty mankind is capable of; stories of women being gang raped, children being murdered in front of their parents, babies being tossed in fire. These stories should break our hearts, should spur us to action, but no one is listening.

No one, especially not in the U.S., can be bothered to call this a genocide because that means we’d have some responsibility to help.

This violence is intimate. It is purposeful and driven by centuries of ethnic hatred. The scariest part of these brutal cases all over the world is they are entirely intentional.

What is happening in these places does not feel like open persecution, and that is intentional. Many people are victims of what is referred to as incremental genocide, or a steady application of conditions on a group that assures its destruction. A prime example is Palestine, where the identity of the Palestinians is being slowly eroded and deconstructed. Israel has managed to convince the world that what they’re doing is not genocide, and that is because they’re successful at this incremental tactic.

Incremental genocide makes mass persecution palatable to an international audience.

There have been too many victims because of this staged amnesia, and their voices in Myanmar and Palestine and Syria and every other corner of the globe are begging for at least our attention and at most our aide. They deserve so much more than our apathy and superficial concern.

Our propensity to forget turns history from our most intimate ally to our most vengeful enemy, and the casualties sustained by it are always inflicted on the innocent.

Opinion Editor Anusheh Siddique is a finance freshman and can be reached at [email protected].

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