10.24.2005

Monday Night — 10.24.05 — How to Teach about Genocide? — Dr. Joyce Apsel

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Date/Time: 24/10/2005 12:00 am


Monday Night — 10.24.05 — How to Teach about Genocide?
— Dr. Joyce Apsel
Contents:
1. About this Monday Night
2. About Dr. Joyce Apsel
3. Issues in Teaching about Genocide
4. links
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1. About this Monday Night
What: Presentation / Discussion
Where: 16 Beaver Street, 4th floor (directions below)
When: Monday Night 10.24.05 @ 7:00 Pm
Who: Open To All
How do we teach, and who do we teach about genocide?
How does learning about genocide affect students,
artists, politicians, the “public,” and can teaching
about genocide ever help to prevent it? What kind of
learning shapes public policy and leads to effective
public reasoning? Who is capable of doing the
teaching? These are some of the many issues that we
have the opportunity to address with Dr. Apsel, who
has been working against and teaching about genocide
for many years. As the title of the book she has
edited indicates, the crisis in Darfur, like those of
Rwanda and Bosnia, is going on “before our eyes.” How
do we teach ourselves about this genocide and the
political landscape that serves as its backdrop, and
what can we do about it?
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2. About Dr. Joyce Apsel
Joyce Apsel (M.A., Ph.D., University of Rochester, J.D. Rutgers School of Law, Newark) is a Master Teacher in Humanities at New York University where she teaches Social Foundations and sophomore seminars on genocide, human rights and peace studies. Dr. Apsel is the Founder and Director of Rights Works International, a not-for-profit human rights education project. She introduces human rights education into classrooms and trains teachers to introduce the subject as part of the curriculum.
She is NGO/DPI representative to the United Nations for the International Network of Peace Museums and on the executive board of the Institute for the Study of Genocide. She served as President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (2001-2003). She is a juror for the Lemkin Award, an international award granted to the outstanding work on genocide; she is also on the board of H-Genocide.net and Remember Rwanda. Dr. Apsel was elected to the Advisory Board (2005-2007) of the War, Peace and Conflict section as well as a member of Sociologists without Borders of the American Sociological Association.
She lectures and writes on issues of genocide, peace and human rights and is co-editor of Teaching about Genocide (3rd. ed. 2003), and editor of Teaching about Human Rights (2005) and Darfur: Genocide Before our Eyes (2005)
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3. Issues in Teaching about Genocide
(A longer version of this essay appeared in Human Rights Review;
contact the author for reprint permission at jaa5(AT)nyu.edu)
Dr. Joyce Apsel, New York University
Introduction
Courses in genocide and human rights present students and teachers with the challenge of confronting the history of attempts to promote human dignity and rights in the face of ongoing inequities, pain and suffering, and mass murder in history. On September 11, 2001, students in my courses on Human Rights (at New York University) and Post-1945 Genocide in the Century of Genocide (at Drew University in New Jersey) had just completed the first week of courses. One class was reading The Devastation of the Indies by Bartolome de las Casas , an account of the terror and atrocity inflicted by Spanish colonizers on indigenous peoples in the New World. The bombings of the World Trade Center and other terrorist acts resulted in a new generation of students in the United States grappling with the meaning —-and meaninglessness—of the intentional killing of civilians and issues of needless suffering and pain.
Initially, most students found inexplicable why anyone would want to target the U.S. and innocent civilians. As Akbar Ahmed in Islam Today observed, “For the West the sense of uncertainty and vulnerability was new. But for many peoples of the world, uncertainty and vulnerability were part of their everyday existence.” The study of genocide and other atrocities provided a perspective to examine the enormity of intentional human destructiveness throughout history. Why do so many different individuals and groups of individuals in various times and places participate in acts of mass destruction?
Students began to discover the ideological rationales in patterns of discontent and revolt, in destruction, denial and cultures of impunity. The immediate sense of loss, shock and fear gave way over the course of the semester to discussing the connection between: genocide, terror and religion; the role of U.S. foreign policy and its repercussions; debates over just and unjust wars; and issues of justice, revenge and prevention.
Students explored the post-1945 human rights revolution from the development of the United Nations to projects on non-governmental organizations including looking at what
a local non-profit such as New York Cares was doing to help victims of the 9/11/01 World Trade Center bombings.. At the same time, photos of individuals of different ages and backgrounds posted throughout New York and New Jersey by relatives and friends desperately seeking any information on the missing, made particularly real the terrible human toll of human destructiveness and the challenges of humanitarianism in history.
Rewriting the Curriculum
The development of courses in genocide studies was an outgrowth of larger developments in the late 1960s and 1970s that transformed the curriculum particularly in U.S. and Europe
An added incentive to introduce the Armenian Genocide into the curriculum was
the ongoing denial by the Turkish government that the 1915 genocide happened
and academic denial and distortion. Historian Richard Hovanissian at UCLA developed courses in modern Armenian history including study of the Armenian Genocide and trained a group of graduate students who continue to teach and do research in the field. Endowed chairs and programs in Armenian Studies developed in New York City, Boston, Michigan and California; all areas where there were a significant number of Armenian students and donors. Beside memoirs and other literature, from the 1970s on a small number of scholars notably Hovanissian and Vahakh Dadrian wrote texts documenting and analyzing the genocide, its repercussions on survivors, and the Armenian and Turkish communities.
Pressure by activist students for “more relevant” curriculum resulted in development of ethnic studies programs. At Fresno State University in California, ethnic studies programs ranged from courses in Armenian studies to the Asian American experience to Latino studies. New texts and courses revealed patterns of discrimination and violence such as the Rape of Nanking and the internment of Japanese Americans. Criticism of U.S. foreign policy in Vietnam prompted a re-examination of U.S. history and its use of power and coincided with critical analyses of domestic policy through new studies of Native Americans and African Americans. Perspectives of class, race, gender and ethnicity transformed the curriculum. The curriculum challenge remains ongoing of how methodologically to integrate these perspectives and voices into existent courses and simultaneously promote development of departments or interdisciplinary concentrations.
Genocide Studies
From the 1970s on, a small number of scholars, teachers and activists began to emphasize the patterns of genocide carried out by different peoples throughout history. For example, Leo Kuper (1908-1994) in Genocide: its Political Use in the Twentieth Century expanded the definition of genocide beyond the United Nations Genocide Convention to include political groups targeted and pointed out issues central to the politics of genocide. Early works included Irving Louis Horowitz’s Genocide and State Power (1976) and Helen Fein’s Accounting for Genocide (1979) that included an important chapter on the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust. Yehuda Bauer with Nili Keren wrote A History of the Holocaust that discusses the Armenian genocide as a precursor. Holocaust studies has dominated the curriculum and nature of the discourse on genocide; however, study of the Holocaust has been crucial in prompting study violence in history including other genocidal events.
Comparative genocide studies explore past and present patterns of intentional human destructiveness against targeted civilian groups. Emphasis and content differ depending on where the course is being taught and the history of that particular audience and country. Different approaches include emphasis on state sponsored mass murder (see Rudolf Rummel’s invention of the term democide and unique statistical analysis ) to such categories as ethnocide, politicide and ethnic cleansing particularly in courses on killings in the former Yugoslavia.
The Association of Genocide Scholars was founded in 1994 and had fewer than fifty members at its first conference in 1996; in 2001 the organization was re-named the International Association of Genocide Scholars and at its Fifth Biennial conference on “Genocide and the World Community” held at the Irish Human Rights Center, Galway, Ireland over 250 scholars, activists, lawyers and students participated. In 1999 the two-volume Encyclopedia of Genocide and the Journal of Genocide Research were published. Public interest in the subject is reflected in an entire issue of the periodical Dissent in Winter 2002 on The New Killing Fields: Yugoslavia Rwanda East Timor and Samantha Power’s ‘A Problem from Hell’ America and the Age of Genocide (2002) becoming a mass tradebook and winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Lemkin Award for the outstanding work on genocide.
Comparative studies of genocide have taken on new directions in response to academic trends such as cultural studies and links to legal studies, peace studies, transitional justice and violence studies. Anthropologist Alex Hinton recently has provided two important, innovative collections. Genocide: an Anthropological Reader (2001) includes essays by such scholars as Hannah Arendt, Helen Fein, Leo Kuper and Zygmunt Bauman as well new scholarship and perspectives by Alex Hinton, Lisa Malikii and other younger scholars. In Annihilating Difference: The Anthropology of Genocide(2002), Hinton points out in the introduction that he is attempting “to focus attention directly on the issue of genocide and to envision what an ‘anthropology of genocide’ might look like as a phenomenon.”
Courses in Human Rights link to Genocide Studies
Recent emphasis in genocide studies courses include issues of gender, and sections on denial and revisionism as well as on prediction, prevention and humanitarian agencies’ responses. While there have been a number of courses on a broad spectrum of human rights issues in undergraduate and particularly in law schools since the 1970s, the number of human rights clinics and courses have multiplied in the last decades which combine study of genocide, torture and other gross life integrity violations. Developments in international law and recent events have resulted in an increase in the number of courses from political science to professional schools (particularly law, public policy, and health) studying issues of law and genocide, humanitarianism and related human rights issues. Caselaw and international resolutions from the UN Security Council to decisions on Pinochet to rulings of the International Tribunals for Rwanda and Yugoslavia have provided new materials for study. Some courses analyze a broad range of human rights issues; other focus on recent events or one country such as Iraq from British colonialism to use of chemical weapons by Sadaam Hussein’s regime against the Kurds, the legality and effectiveness of economic sanctions and recent wars.
In addition, human rights courses may include issues from transnational terrorism to humanitarian intervention and peacekeeping to internally displaced people and refugees. Three new college courses taught in spring, 2002 that reflect recent approaches that combine genocide and human rights are: Human Rights: Challenges of Humanitarian Actions (a course I taught to graduate students at Drew University); American Foreign Policy and Humanitarian Intervention in the Twentieth Century (Frank Chalk, Concordia University); and Human Rights in International Relations (co-taught by Mort Winston and Marianna Sullivan at The College of New Jersey). A sample of current international law centered courses include the Holocaust and Law (U.S.); International Responses to Genocide and Similar Violations in Armed Conflict (United Kingdom) and Genocide and International Law (Australia). New court rulings and texts such as William Schabas’
Genocide in International Law provide valuable resources for these courses.
Rwandan Genocide and New Perspectives in Teaching about Genocide
The slaughter in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia brought to the forefront a series of issues in teaching about genocide: What impact has the post-1945 human rights revolution from the United Nations to the Genocide Convention had on deterring or stopping mass killings? How do the legacies of colonialism and racism continue? Why do patterns of genocide recur and so many people kill? Did teaching about the Holocaust or other genocides have any impact on public policy in terms of prevention? Why do domestic politics and foreign policy trump concerns about preventing and bringing to justice perpetrators of mass destruction? What is the politics of humanitarianism?
The Rwandan Genocide in 1994 served as a watershed in many respects and a point of radical re-examination in genocide scholarship and curriculum. The inadequacy and political hypocrisy of the pedagogical rationale of the Holocaust-centric view of “never again” was discredited by the slayings in Rwanda. Following on the killings in Bosnia
a year earlier, Rwanda proved the success of educating to hate and revealed the 20th century patterns of destruction were “ever again” not “never again.” mass killing and why so many individuals are willing to slaughter other human beings. The articles written by Philip Gourevitch for the New Yorker and wide circulation of his book We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families helped publicize what went on. There have been a series of journalist, historical and memoir accounts of the killings. Documentation of the killings by precinct began immediately; Human Rights Watch activist and African specialist Alison des Forges’ well-documented Leave None to tell the Story received the Lemkin Award for the outstanding work on genocide by the Institute for the Study of Genocide. Romeo Dallaire’s public appearances on television were among the public revelations of the “preventability” of the Rwandan genocide and the failure of the U.N. and its member states to intervene. From the dislocations throughout the Great Lakes Region to the trauma of victims including the use of rape and spread of AIDS the spillover effect of the killings continues. Hence, as these few examples point out, the Rwandan genocide generated renewed interest in study of genocide and its repercussions comparatively. While the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans also generated new texts and interest, there has been less integration of the events in the destruction into the curriculum. From the perpetrators’ control of displaced persons camps to international tribunals to the continuing destabilization and war throughout the region, the Rwandan genocide has generated new scholarship and directions in the field. A decade after the Rwandan Genocide, the dislocation, suffering and pain continue and new revelations appear in the international tribunals and witness accounts.
patterns of genocide. After the 1994 Rwandan genocide, more scholars and teachers in the human rights field focused on genocidal patterns and devoted sections of their courses to examining the Rwandan genocide and its implications. There was a radical re-examination of the philosophy behind and challenges facing humanitarian intervention particularly given the fact that Tutsi perpetrators terrorized displaced persons camps after the genocide. For example, Peter Uvin’s Aiding Violence:The Development Enterprise in Rwanda (1998) provides an excellent analysis of how the development community actually contributed to the racism and hatred in Rwandan society; his book has been followed by a series of works analyzing humanitarian agencies and interventions and the challenges they face. In particular, Fiona Terry’s work on the Paradoxes of Humanitarianism(2002)stands out as a passionately argued analysis
of the complexities facing non-governmental agencies on the ground in for example refugee camps in Pakistan, Zaire, and Cambodia.
Content, Psychological and Ethical Issues in Genocide Courses for Students and Teachers
There are a variety of themes and levels that courses on genocide and other examples of human destructiveness such as war crimes, terror or other life integrity violations simultaneously engage in. The following are some of the issues teachers and students explore in uncovering and trying to understand violence and evil in history, in human nature and in themselves.
1-historical and political background and context
Students often have a limited background in the sequence of events and geography. Part of the goal of the course is to introduce the complexity of the historic narrative leading up to specific genocidal events. Students are often unfamiliar with and surprised at the location, size and population density of for example Rwanda; and as Mahmood Mamdani has described it the history of colonization, decolonization and recolonization. The recent Palgrave series of atlases including one on The Balkans are valuable resources to introduce students to the geography in the region and complex events leading to ethnic cleansing.
It is necessary to emphasize to students that genocide often is carried out under the cover of larger events specifically war and revolution. Context and perspective are two important guidelines in teaching about specific genocides as well as comparative analyses. One of the challenges of Holocaust educators is to provide a background wide enough to see the Holocaust within the larger arena of world events and within patterns of world history. I recall a teacher’s comment to her students following a workshop I conducted on the Holocaust and Anne Frank. The middle school teacher stated with some relief that now she understood why the U.S. entered World War II; it was to save the Jews from the Holocaust. As the workshop leader, I had to try to re-emphasize the context of the second world war including the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. From comments afterward, it was clear to me that the teacher and many of her students held on to the idea of the Holocaust as crucial to U.S. entry in World War II. Through film and some reading they had certain popular images of the Holocaust and the workshop reinforced these images; they were unable to add on new or different information or discard false information on the role of the U.S. and the Holocaust. Combating popular images and misinformation is a challenge for educators from the example above to the “deep tribal hatreds” widely attributed as the cause of Rwandan Genocide. Educators need to at once try to explode current myths, misinformation and simplifications about genocide and specific genocidal events while examining both recurrent patterns and distinct processes particular to each occurrence.
2-genocide studies as a pedagogical approach and the patterns and politics of genocide
While there is no unanimity on what is to be included in a course on genocide studies, discussion of what events are put in or left out of the syllabus is important to provide context and understanding of the different types of life integrity violations that exist.
The political efficacy of genocide and its effectiveness as a political choice for elites to gain or hold onto power must be emphasized from the Ottoman Empire to Nazi Germany to Cambodia and Rwanda. By studying the similarities and differences of processes and patterns of destruction, students gain a deeper understanding of how elites compute a calculus of genocide and decide that eliminating certain groups is politically effective policy making . Emphasizing the “rationality” of genocide is crucial.
3-accomplices to genocide and cultures of impunity
Genocide can be a powerful lens to look at the variety and numbers of individuals and states who contribute to an environment conducive to mass death. Issues analyzed may range from the implementation, ideologies and effects of colonialism to the international traffic in sale of weapons used in the killings. Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge genocide is often bypassed within the social studies and university curriculum and genocide and human rights courses provide an opportunity to examine this case and its link to the concept of accomplices and impunity. Despite the U.S. history in the region, very few students know anything about its link to U.S. policy. The U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and bombing of Cambodia contributed to destabilization and receptivity to the Khmer Rouge. After the genocide, from the seating of the Khmer Rouge in the United Nations to the failure to bring perpetrators to trial, cultures of impunity, denial and the politics of genocide continue in the actions of the Cambodian government, and in U.S. and international foreign policy failures. New courses on genocide and human rights examine the role of foreign policy of different states as accomplices and failure of multilateral institutions to stop the killings. The international tribunals are one response to counter the prevailing cultures of impunity.
4-ongoing repercussions and costs of genocide
The ongoing impact of genocide on victims and their families, but also on perpetrators, bystanders, accomplices and on the community, region and world needs to be highlighted. Financial costs are enormous and continue afterward; introducing peacekeeping forces to defuse the situation or stop further killings are a fraction of the costs for humanitarian aid afterward. After the mass killing stops, the ravages and pain go on from mass displacement to cycles of revenge and violence. The “forgotten” genocide in Burundi contributed to the outbreak of genocide in Rwanda. The aftereffects of the Rwanda genocide both within Rwanda and throughout the Great Lakes Region included mass displacement and flight of many of the perpetrators. The First African World War between Rwanda, Congo and other nation-states is a direct outgrowth of the Rwandan genocide and part of the most recent attempt at a peace treaty includes the Rwandan government demand that Hutu perpetrators who sought refuge in the Congo be brought back to Rwanda.
Recovery is an ongoing process; those individuals and communities who survive undergo different degrees of recovery that attempt to re-establish meaningful lives and renew their cultural heritage. The stain of suffering and pain often reappear in succeeding generations. Bodies are never recovered or exhumed. The challenging role of peacekeeping forces and politics of humanitarianism are apparent world-wide from the Cambodia-Thai border to Bosnia to the Great Lakes Region.
5- demystification of evil
The ordinariness of killing and what Rene Lemarchand calls the “receptivity” to killing is crucial in learning about human destructiveness. From Hannah Arendt’s concept of the banality of evil to Helen Fein’s “calculus of genocide” to Browning’s ordinary men, courses on genocide confront students and teachers with the dilemma that within each of us is the capacity to do evil as well as to do good. These courses study the rationality of genocide and its political efficacy for various elites or groups to eliminate “enemies” and to retain power.
Ironically, teaching about genocide can and has served as an excuse to distance student and teachers from their own historic connections with atrocity and to reinforce a sense of national superiority and righteousness. The monster theory of history, that is, that one leader, usually Adolph Hitler, is responsible for genocide and the media reinforcement of this notion of blaming Pol Pot or Stalin takes away from the complexity and degree of complicity in the destructive process and of how many ordinary people become part of a process of destroying innocent lives. There can be rewards for the killers from confiscating homes and other property to settling resentments or disputes. The opposing viewpoint pedagogy taught in many schools weigh different viewpoints in history and can lead to a failure to recognize denial and falsification. In the face of denial that certain events took place, it is essential for teachers to point out that there are historic occurrences that happened and that is not a subject of debate. There are many types of denial from the Soviet policy of denial of the forced starvation in the Ukraine to the Turkish state denial of the Armenian genocide. The amount of denial and falsification in publications and on web-sites is enormous; and deconstructing false assertions and motivations of deniers (see recent work by Israel W. Charny on a range of motivations of deniers from “benevolent” to malevolent ) is an important classroom exercise.
6-the human capacity for good and evil and educating toward a civil society
The questions of evil and ongoing human suffering in earlier times were linked with belief in Fate or a Deity. In the modern secular view, there has been a shift toward human responsibility for creating needless suffering and killings for example in war. There is a belief in the responsibility of individuals to act to try to prevent such events and to alleviate human suffering. Modern technology has brought into our view images of the toll of human suffering around the world from earthquakes and famines to civil wars and genocides. Within this framework, the study of genocide and human rights presents students and teachers with the challenge not only to learn about the complex processes of history human destructiveness but also to act, to intervene, to become engaged in constructive human actions. “To some degree, courses on genocide and other crimes against humanity have a distinctly utopian aspect to them. They attempt to respond to profound ethical dilemmas and provide some answers on how to promote a civil society where individuals are engaged citizens committed to an international ethic of morality.”
In the United States, educational and popular culture stress political and civil rights, the American revolution and development of a balanced legislative, judicial and executive with checks and balances and a written constitution as a hallmark of democracy. The approach of peace and human rights educators such as Amnesty International whose educational newsletter The Fourth ‘R (reading, writing arithmetic and rights) emphasizes integrating human rights education into primary and secondary education has been largely ignored. Students generally lack any knowledge of international human rights and view the United States as a paragon of human rights in relationship to almost any other place in the world. This perspective promotes patriotism and pride in U.S. culture and history and resists a more critical examination of U.S. policy failures. U.S. hegemony in the world carries with it burdens and responsibilities as well as privileges and the relationship between the role of U.S. citizens, foreign policy and world power are all too often ignored in the curriculum.
Issues of ‘national interest’ and state sovereignty versus the well-being of the global community and international norms took on added signficance after the Septemeber 11, 2001 bombings. What are the priorities domestically and globally in terms of balancing security at home with civil liberties and international concerns? How can one work toward enforcing these universal laws protecting groups from children to women to indigenous peoples? While much of the course is taken up with gross violations of human rights, it is essential for students to understand that there exists a series of human rights covenants which governments world-wide have signed and discuss how these rights can be implemented. Why has the U.S. been so unwilling historically to sign these covenants? Since September 11, 2001 why has this policy under President Bush accelerated? What are the dangers of unilateralism given U.S. hegemony internationally?
Students often enter classes with limited awareness of the complexity and enormity of human destructiveness (there are popular images and misconceptions of war combatants and the Holocaust but little awareness of the range of targeting of civilians), and of problems in trying to“do good.” The enormity of human suffering may result in students feeling overwhelmed and powerless.
Students in my classes are disheartened and enraged to find out about denial and the ongoing politics of genocide. For example, students read Peter Ronayne’s Never Again? and the failure of successive U.S. administrations to adequately respond before, during and after genocides. They were particularly dismayed that under the Carter Presidency, a figure so strong identified with human rights, that the U.S. supported the Khmer Rouge gaining the Cambodian seat at the U.N. The politics of genocide inform students of how domestic and foreign policy politics may hinder justice for victims and recovery on a number of levels. Sometimes, students comment that what do you expects this is politics as usual. Herein lies no small challenge for teachers and students. Yes, the proof is overwhelming that self-interest, political expediency and factors from racism to domestic elections, often trump saving lives or doing the “right” thing for administrations and nation-states. But, throwing up one’s hands is in fact choosing to go along with these patterns. Sadly, yearly events such as the current atrocities in Chechnya and Darfur provide deadly new case studies.
Courses in genocide studies are courses in trying to develop our sense of the ongoing challenges of being part of an engaged, committed citizenry. Balancing the individualism of capitalist based democracy with the larger societal and global community is an enormously difficult undertaking. By “uncovering” the history of genocide, students can better engage in these debates and gain a commitment to justice that extends beyond their personal or short terms concerns. On the one hand, each student becomes aware of the patterns of genocide and the “receptivity” of each of us to participate in killing within a cultural environment of violence, fear and hatred. On the other hand, students understand the importance of promoting a humane foreign policy and addressing human rights violations at home and abroad. An ethic of caring is part of the underlying rationale of teaching and learning about genocide and human rights. Clearly, Genocide studies can be part of a meaningful transformation of the curriculum by addressing current as well as past patterns and by raising the awareness of and urgency of such questions as:
“What can you and I do as human beings and citizens to work against denial, violence and future genocides? How can individual citizens contribute to promoting human rights and reconciliation in the 21st century?”
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4. links
following are links to the texts of the 1948 Convention to Prevent Genocide (which went into effect around 1951) and

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