The Difference Between Genocide and Diplomacy


Mike Huckabee could not have picked a worse week to say that the Iran deal will “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”  I have spent the last three days, and will spend the rest of my time in Paris at the Mémorial de la Shoah looking at primary source documents from the Nazis.  It has been an emotionally intense couple of days and to wake up this morning to Huckabees comments are infuriating.  

First there is the issue of the Iran deal.  It is a sound deal that has taken us nearly a decade to reach.  It is preventing the Iranians from developing nuclear capacity.  Its a win.  I could go into detail, but since this is my fathers area and he can explain its merits much better I will refer you to one of his articles.

I on the other hand, can speak to the ludicrous and offensive comparison to the Holocaust.  For the past couple days I have spent eight hours a day staring at pages with the Nazi Eagle stamped on the bottom.  Yesterday, I was looking through documents from the French Office on the Jewish Question.  In that folder I found the document where the French authorized the deportation of all foreign Jews living in France, but demanded French Jews stay.  Over seventy years ago, this piece paper was signed and then sent to the German occupying forces.  This paper is what allowed French soldiers to carry out the roundups of Velodrome d’Hiver, where 13,000 foreign Jews (mostly women and children) where rounded up in Paris and deported to Drancy.  The majority of who were sent to Auschwitz where they died.  This piece of paper set off a chain reaction, resulting in the murder of tens of thousands of innocent people.

If I was doing research in France back then, instead of today, that piece of paper would have essentially ordered my death.  Since I study genocide people often ask me if this is somehow tied to my Jewish heritage.  I say no.  For every genocide I study and every mass grave I visit I feel the same deep visceral and human emotions.  I did not feel more at the concentration camps, because I am Jewish.  My heart hurt in Poland, in Bosnia, in Germany, and in Rwanda because I am human.  I will admit, however, there is an added degree of emotion, when you know without a doubt, that in this conflict you would have been killed.  

The Holocaust was one of the most brutal events of the 20th century.  The killings so violent and systematic, that Raphael Lemkin felt a need to invent a word for what had transpired.  In those six years, millions of people, not just Jews, were marched to the gas chambers and annihilated for inalienable aspects of their identity.  I, like Huckabee, have been to these camps.  I have visited Majdanek, Treblinka, Auschwitz, Birkenau, Sobibor, Plashow, Belzec, and Neuengamme.  I have stood in the gas chambers, and seen fingernail scratches in the cement, the walls stained blue from human skin reacting with Zyklon B.  I have seen ashes of 80,000 people piled high in a mausoleum.  Huckabee seems to think that because he’s visited Auschwitz, he can make these comments.  Bearing witness to history, does give him the right to manipulate it for his own political goals.

Not only did Mike Huckabee compare the systematic extermination of eleven million people to the potential outcome of the Iran deal, he also used the two dirtiest words of genocide studies, “Never Again.”  People started with this mantra after WWII and ever since it has been the broken soundtrack of politicians in post-conflict settings.  We said never again to the Holocaust.  We said never again to Cambodia, to Rwanda, to Bosnia.  A few decades ago, this phrase lost its meaning.  Politicians shout “never again” loud enough so their constituents can hear them, but not so loud that they actually have to do anything.  

Genocide is a complex issues and although Iran is the only state that officially denies the Holocaust, they’re not about to start another one.  His statement also implies that Israel is incapable of defending itself.  Huckabee’s comments are insulting to a myriad of people.  They’re offensive to Jews, to anyone who’s worked on the Iran deal, to the state of Istael or really anyone who has studied genocide.

I write this post from the Mémorial de la Shoah, in the old Jewish neighborhood in Paris.  In a building with steel doors, an x-ray machine, armed police, and members of the military guarding it.  Anti-Semitism is alive and well, I don’t deny that.  There are places in this world where it is unsafe to be a Jew.  The signing of the Iran deal has not condemned the Jewish people to anything. The deal is an act of diplomacy.  Theres a big difference between diplomacy and genocide.  I suggest that Huckabee hits the books and learns that before he considers continuing with his presidential campaign.


Going to War

I have never enjoyed math. Its not something that fits well with my logic processes, and for this reason I was one of the few students in school who really enjoyed word problems.  When lines of numbers were translated into hypothetical situations, I could visualize it.  When I see something I can understand it.  I also have a tendency to rationalize things.  I can spend hours working and reworking things in my mind until they can fit into a reasonable logic.

Because of these two traits, I recently arrived on a strange comparison between what I study and my pain. I keep a pain log, where I track the patterns of my condition and how the acute and chronic pain flares.

This week has been particularly challenging.  On top of the standard pain levels, I have had acute pain in my trapezius for the past three weeks, which will not
subside.  Then on Monday my right arm felt a little strange, I went to work anyway. It wasn’t until I left that office that I realized by whole arm had
seized.  I couldn’t (still cant) raise my arm above my head, fully extend my elbow, or rotate my wrist without shooting and debilitating pain.  These are the
sorts of flares that keep me in bed or literally make me dizzy and dry heaving from the pain.  It is unpleasant to say the least.  The pain in my right side has
persisted, with slightly lessened intensity, through the week.  It makes working and even functioning challenging.

So I turned to my logs, to try to rationalize this change.  Hoping that I was somehow responsible and I would see a change in behavior that would explain my
increased pain.  There was no point of origin. It seems there is no pattern, which for someone like me is immensely frustrating.  My next thought is that I am essentially in an intractable conflict with my body, where my condition is the aggressor, but what are the parameters of the conflict?  I supposed if my genetic condition were a war it would be indiscriminate non-state violence of subjugation.

I know this sounds insane, but it actually helped me think through what was going on in my body, so bear with me.  This condition is genetic and appears either hereditarily or in a gene mutation.  The people affected by EDS are an indiscriminate population, its not based on gender or race.  Under the current
medical understanding, it is pretty randomized in the way it presents.  Also this “violence” or pain in my body is not reactionary.  There are certain aggressors, like if I went for a run I would be in a great deal of pain, but on the whole my pain is not dictated by behavior. EDS is committing indiscriminate violence against my body.

In international law, if two states are at war there is a certain body of laws that must be abided by.This is called International Humanitarian Law (IHL), like the rules of war.  Modern states have signed a number of treaties (think Geneva Convention) saying what is acceptable in times of war. If they do not abide by them they are (hypothetically) held accountable by the UN and the international community. One of the problems with contemporary conflict is that more and more often countries are fighting wars against non-state actors like militias, rebels, or terrorist groups.  These groups have no reason to abide by international treaties.  The states must still play by the rules, but these groups get to rewrite the way the game is played.

EDS is like a non-state actor.  I have all these rules, assigned by society and the medical community – expected methods of how a disease can and should be approached.  EDS does not really care about our rules and is going to do its own thing.  I am sticking to the “IHL” of treatment: massage, physical therapy, stretching, tens units, exercise, rest, and medication.  The classic “lines of defense” are not built to fight against a condition that most medical professionals do not consider a serious threat or one that follows the normal rules of pain.

The last category is subjugation.  Typically mass violence can be categorized in many different ways, but the classification of violence to subjugate and violence to eradicate are usually mentioned. Violence of eradication is when the perpetrator is trying to kill a population.  In contrast, subjugation is when a perpetrator is trying to commit sufficient violence to incite fear in a population and make them submissive.  EDS is not an issue of eradication.  It is not fatal.  It is not going to kill me, but it is trying to control me.  It is trying to make me afraid to live at my fullest capacity and dictate my behavior.

My thought process only got weirder from here.  If I was studying my condition and its effects on my life the same way I study a conflict, what would be policy recommendations be?  My first idea was diplomatic negotiations, but as much as I personify my condition, I can’t really ask it to come to the table and talk to me.
The next option was strategic military intervention and peacekeeping forces, but in some ways that’s what I’ve been doing.   The lifestyle changes are like peacekeeping forces and the pain meds are like military intervention, but they’ve done little to maintain a stable peace in my body. The only remaining intervention is my personal favorite, non-violent civilian resistance.  So I was faced with
the task, how do I create non-violent resistance against my pain?  If this was in fact indiscriminate non-state violence of subjugation, I would have to be creative in my approach.

I decided that I would refuse to subjugate.  I would try to avoid doing things that I knew would further exacerbate my pain, but there is no way in hell I am going to lie down and let it take control.  Monday night I gave it a go.  My pain was at its worst and my vision literally blurred. All I wanted to do was lie in bed and give in, but instead I tossed my book in my purse and headed out.  I took myself to dinner at Le Comptoir, a restaurant I’ve been meaning to try since I arrived in Paris.  The metro ride over to the restaurant was brutal.  Each lurch of the train felt like a personal assault.  When I got to the restaurant I felt like I was going to faint and I was seriously questioning my decision making process. But then I had a fantastic dinner and really interesting conversation with the folks around me.  For a few hours, it didn’t hurt so bad and I could focus on something else.  My non-violent resistance was to try and create something positive when my pain was at its worst.  I realized my pain is not going to back down, but then again neither am I.

Waiting for Change

There were a couple big anniversaries this week in the world of conflict resolution.  The first was July 9th, which marked South Sudan’s fourth year of independence.  The second is today, July 11th, which is 20 years since the genocide at Srebrenica. Both of these days have professional personal significance for me.  They should be days to remember those who died, but also celebrate the respective progress of the nations.  They are not.  I find myself, in both cases, mourning lost opportunities.

I first got involved with the South Sudanese community in Boston when I was in 5th grade.  I met some of the lost boys and started volunteering/hanging out at the South Sudanese community center in Cambridge.  Throughout the rest of middle school and high school I spent large portions of my free time at the center.  The South Sudanese in Boston welcomed me as an extension of their community.  Their history was the first human rights cause I ever learned about and for that reason it holds a very significant place in my heart.  I spent years with watching the progress of South Sudan with nervous anticipation. I passionately discussed succession politics in the years leading up to the referendum. I waited for the decision, in an AME church in Dorchester, surrounded by the South Sudanese community, praying for separation.  July 9th 2011 was a day filled with hope and it felt like a massive victory.  It meant that the dictator Omar al-Bashir, who’s militia had tormented the population of the South was now separated by an international border.  Many of the South Sudanese I knew repatriated.  There was great hope for the presidency of democratically elected Salva Kiir.  There was a suspended moment of naivety where I believed that peace had finally arrived for South Sudan, but that hope quickly disappeared.

The following years of crisis in were disappointing, but not at all surprising.  It was a familiar story of struggle, corruption, and failure in a developing country.  I and many South Sudanese in the diaspora, believed that the international community would be heavily involved in creating a new government for South Sudan.  The U.S. and the international community played a crucial role in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, which ended the Second Sudanese Civil War, and monitoring the following six years of peace.  So there was reason to believe, even precedent that the international community would have a hand in creating democracy in the worlds newest country.  Some might say this would have been seen as neo-colonial, but the South Sudanese were asking for help.  The new nation was fragile and they wanted helped building infrastructure. They didn’t get it.

Today South Sudan is once again ensnared in conflict. Now they have moved up to the number one ranking in the fragile state index.  In the past four years there has been brutal fighting in Abyei and Kafia Kingi, two parts of the border which were not demarcated in the succession agreement. There has been an attempted coup by the Vice President, violence in the capital (Juba), and immense corruption.  There has been outcry from the international community about how disappointing the current state of the country is and how they expected more. They fail, however to recognize their own culpability.  This is a classic problem in human rights cases, instead of early intervention, the international community waits until things have reached a point of extreme crisis, so there is greater political support, and then they come in on their white horse.  But their white horse is more of a donkey and is doing little to save the day.  It’s been four years and there is no peace in Sudan.  Many reports talk of indiscriminate violence against civilians.  Four years later and there is no resolution, just a different kind of conflict.

The story is different, but equally heartbreaking in Bosnia.  It is a country that I have always studied from a far, due to my interest in genocide, but this April I visited Bosnia with one of my courses on study abroad. In this case, my academic knowledge proceeded my emotional connection, but after I visited the mass graves at Srebrenica I felt undeniably connected to the events there.

I have written about this in an earlier post, but the crimes at Srebrenica, the international failings, and the current ethnic tensions seem to be forgotten by history.  Bosnia is a country where there are three presidents, one for each of the ethnic groups.  Schools are ethnically segregated and do not teach the conflict. The history textbooks go until 1992 (the start of the war) and the next chapter is 1995 (the Dayton peace agreement).  Some Bosnians have told me that the ethnic tensions are worse today between the three groups than they were before the war. Roughly fifty percent of youth in the country are unemployed and about seventy percent want to leave to country.  Bosnia refuses to address the violence from the war and they cannot agree upon a single version of the truth, but the silence is poisoning their country.

During the genocide, the United Nations forces fled and over the course of a few days 8,372 Bosniaks, primarily men, were murdered by Mladic’s forces.  Systematic rape of Bosniak women was also a common tactic during the conflict. The U.S. and NATO forces were heavily involved in monitoring the peace in 1995, but this had trauma of its own.  There was widespread rape, a large portion of whom were minors, by NATO forces.  The failures of the international community was two fold in this case.  The first was their failure to get involved or prevent the genocide. The second was their own human rights abuses when they were in the country.  Today Bosnia is struggling, living in an unstable peace that is held together by ethnic segregation, that only breeds more prejudice.

There is little to no acknowledgement by the government of the genocide in Srebrenica and many of the citizens deny its existence.  Today as the international community convenes in Bosnia together to mourn the 20th anniversary of the genocide, I find myself also mourning the current state of things in Bosnia.  There is no national recognition, justice, or memorial of the war.

Like in South Sudan, Bosnia was filled with possibilities.  Both countries were racked by ethnic violence and ignored by the international community. Both had to promise to be success stories, but have fallen incredibly short.  The countries themselves, the UN, and international actors are at fault for this.  Today the UN and the corrupt governments are not suffering, the civilians are.

Around the world on July 9th and July 11th many people were celebrating, but I was not one of them.  For all the resources and energy poured into these countries, fragile peace is insufficient. In South Sudan civilians are getting murdered by their government and militias for power and access to resources.  Many of these people are poor, rural, agricultural families, with no one to advocate for them or tell the world when they die.  In Bosnia ethnic tensions are worsening, the country is financially corrupt, and the international actors that are still present are becoming exasperated.  These are not days for celebration, but for reflection on how little these situations have changed and how more work we have to do. 

Sorry, You’re Just So Lucky

It seems as though many of my conversations in the past week have been built around feminism. With friends from the states, people here in paris, my family, and even at work. This seemingly perpetual conversation is centered around the the roles of women in society and the associated discourse. Now I am the first to admit that my life is riddled with privilege. Im white, american, financially comfortable, and I have social access, but at the end of the day I am still a woman which means I still feel the side effects of living in a patriarchy. 

Its a question of performance in someways. The way both men and women choose to portray gender. This comes across in the language I use to describe myself and the language used towards me. Oftentimes being a women involves a series of calculated decisions this is evident in a Business Insider article that gained a lot of popularity this week. In which, the author added the growing list of words that women must strike from their vocabulary so as not to inadvertently subjugate themselves. She explained that women use the word “just” at a considerably higher frequency than men. “I just wanted to ask a question” “I just need a minute of your time” and in doing this we give power to the other. We declare that they can decide whether what we have to say is important. Another prime example of this is women’s excessive use of the word “sorry.” I find that women are constantly apologizing for their presence or existence by saying sorry. It’s very similar to the use of just, when someone bumps into us or inconveniences us, we apologize. Oddly enough this was pointed out by a Pantene video a little while back. Ever since then I have been trying to strike those words from my vocabulary. It’s strange to think that women must have an affected vocabulary to further our own equality.

In contrast there are certain words that when coming from men remind us of our inferior place in society. Sometimes this subjugation is accidental and well intentioned, such as times when I have been told “you really shouldn’t be traveling alone as a woman.” This typically comes from a place of concern for my physical safety. Which is in sentiment kind, but in reality putting limitations on my actions because of my gender. Perhaps men (and obviously not all men) should stop doing things that compromise my well being if I’m alone. 

Other times, these comments are both sexist and ill intentioned. This presents a secondary challenge, since if someone is sexist in their worldview, getting mad at them, giving them a lecture on feminism, or trying to explain your point of view usually backfires. In these cases, men will usually tell me that I am essentially proving their point by being overly emotional, sensitive, or dramatic. My words are met with much mockery, but then again I’m not going to sit there and let someone tell Hillary cannot be president since she is a woman or that men and women cannot be friends. This usually results in me getting heated and flustered which does nothing for the situation. 

Recently at work, I realized a whole new form of verbal oppression that I had never noticed before. I was telling someone about my plans work this summer, my time in Rwanda, and my research in general. They proceeded to say “you’re so lucky!” I was slightly taken aback and the more I thought about it, this is something that would never be said to my male counterpart. When men are successful in their careers and professional life, they are anything but lucky, they are hardworking, diligent, and perseverant. 

There are many reasons why I am lucky, I was born into a race, nationality, class, and certain about of wealth that has afforded me a number of societal privileges. I have also had the continued support of friends and family as I go off on these odd adventures. To get this job, the necessary grants, and accomplish my research however, I have worked my ass off. I have made a number of sacrifices, spent many hours, and worked with a relentless attitude to get where I am. I am not lucky. I am dedicated. 

The more I notice these patterns of language, in men and women, the harder it becomes to ignore it. I know plenty of good men. My father was the first feminist I ever met. But it still shocks me when I am faced with these micro forms of sexism. Some might say this subversive oppression is irrelevant, but they’d be wrong. Today, in the U.S. at least, social oppression has changed. In many ways minorities are equal. According to the law I should make the same salary as men with equal positions, but the reality is that I will probably make 0.77 cents on the dollar. In the eyes of the laws, blacks and whites are equal, but black are less likely to be hired for a job, and way more likely to be arrested by the police. The same goes for the LGBT community, who are in theory equal, but so far 10 black transgender women have been murdered in 2015. The complicated thing is that we have moved from a period of overt institutionalized identity oppression, when discrimination was legal, to a period of covert cultural oppression. It’s no longer about changing laws, it’s about changing mind sets, perspectives, and vocabularies, but I’m not sure how we’re going to do that.

On the Job

So I am about a month into my job here and Paris and I haven’t explained what exactly it is that I am doing.  I am here for a two month internship for an incredibly talented professor of comparative genocide studies.  During my time here I am working on some projects with him, as well as getting his advice about my own research.  So far it has been a wonderfully rewarding experience. 

I spend my days from 9 to 6 working on different projects relating to genocide.  This entails doing lit reviews, writing comparisons about different works, researching primary sources, fact checking, etc.  So far my readings have focused on Rwanda and Cambodia.  At work I have had two pretty important realizations so far.  First, this is exactly what I want to be doing with my life.  Second, it cannot be all that I do with my life.

I mean that in a few different ways.  I love the research, but for me it would not be enough.  I need to be out in the field, on the ground, and working with non-profits so I feel like I am actually contributing the the current state of things.  I may be too much of a people person to be an academic.  The other meaning is that full time genocide work is exhausting.  During the course of the day I read and write about some of the darkest periods in the last century of history.  Times when people were murdered for inalienable aspects of self.  If I want to keep doing this work, I need to have other things going on.

Lucky for me, when I am not in the office I off exploring somewhere in Paris.  Its a worn out cliche, but theres not quite like this city in the summer.  I absolutely love it.  Theres beautiful architecture, an endless amount of pastries, and plenty of interesting people to meet.  This summer, unlike my last time in Paris, I have managed to make quite a few friends, most of whom are also interested in history/political science/conflict.  This means many of my post work conversations actually fall on the subject of conflict.  

This lead me yet another thought.  Its not necessarily that I need a break from discussing what I am passionate about, what I need is a little face-to-face time with humanity. In the solitude of academia it is easy to forget the good.  When I am around people, even discussing these sorts of things, I am reminded that people are kind.  These nightly conversations over wine are the sort of break I need.  Its not the polarization of studying genocide and then going to rave (which would be a little jarring).  Instead my distractions are a little more human and little more subtle.  

On my way home from the office I can either walk or take the metro, depending on the weather.  If I walk, I cut through Luxembourg Gardens, which is my favorite park in Paris.   I’ll usually stop and get an ice cream for the walk.  On the trip home I often find myself thinking how incredibly lucky I am.  This work is hard, this work is challenging, and it is often devastating, but I am in one of my favorite cities in the world where I am relentlessly pursuing what I care about.