Monday, March 12, 2012

Explaining the Killing Fields

Douglas B. Levene asks why it is that the mass murder that occurred in Cambodia in the late 1970s persists in being labeled as "genocide" when that term is usually reserved for extermination by race or ethnicity or religious identity?  He points out that Cambodia was then and remains now one of the most racially unalloyed countries in the world.  Whatever prompted the slaughter, it was not the product of one group's determination to rid itself of the "other".

So why then?  Levene:
[W]hat happened in Cambodia is what happened in the French Revolution, and in Stalin’s purges and mass collectivization campaigns, and in Mao’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, only on a proportionately larger scale. It was mass murder in the name of equality. It wasn’t “genocide”; it was Communist utopianism carried to its logical extreme. The Khmer Rouge, who called themselves Maoists, believed that the most important social and political value was equality and that in order to create their new, classless society in which everyone was equal, it was necessary to exterminate anyone who might be smarter, or better educated, or wealthier, or more talented than anyone else. Thus, they killed the educated, the bourgeoisie, the middle classes, and the rich; movie stars, pop singers, authors, urban residents, and workers for the former government; and anyone who protested — as well as the families of all the above. Towards the end, they also killed cadres who were thought to be a political threat.  Whatever their crimes were, the Khmer Rouge do not seem to have been motivated by racial, ethnic, or religious hatred.... 
...However, I suspect that the most important reason for the usage [of "genocide"]worldwide is that many people in the international media, international agencies, and international NGOs (not to mention academia) are reluctant to face up to the crimes committed by Communism in the name of equality. To do so might call into question the weight attached by them to equality as the most important social value and undermine the multicultural faith that evil is predominantly the product of inequality, racism, ethnic hatred, or religious fanaticism. That cannot be permitted, so such crimes must be either ignored or mislabeled. And, of course, the remaining Communist regimes in the world are only too happy to cooperate in characterizing the killing fields as the products of irrational paranoia on the part of Pol Pot and his gang rather than the perfectly rational result of the quest for perfect equality. (my italics)

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