Genocide in Gaza
Are you aware of the genocide in Gaza? The sides dispute the actual casualty figures (of course), but there’s no question that hundreds of Palestinian women and children have been killed by Israel in Gaza since early July. Many people see Israel’s attacks as a form of genocide against the Palestinian people. That sentiment is especially common for those who view Gaza as an occupied territory whose inhabitants have understandably – and maybe a bit heroically – risen up against an unlawful occupying force.
Wait, that’s not genocide! Israel is doing what it must in defending its people against terrorist attacks. Hamas is responsible for the tragic civilian deaths in Gaza because it purposefully operates among the general population, firing rockets, taking refuge and storing arms next to homes and even in schools. Israel even fires warning shots to allow civilians to flee from bombs aimed at Hamas targets – that’s hardly genocide.
Genocide in Iraq
Well, perhaps you’ve heard of the ongoing genocide against Christians and children in Iraq. In its push to establish an Islamic caliphate, ISIS (or is it ISIL? IS?) has basically cleansed northern Iraq of its former Christian population. And, according to an Iraqi activist in the US, ISIS even has been “systematically beheading” children. Many are describing ISIS’s actions as genocide aimed at a Muslim-only nation.
ISIS’s actions against Christians in Iraq sound more like religious cleansing than genocide. It’s terrible that so many Christians have been driven out of their homes. But the videos ISIS has posted of mass killings appear to involve mass extermination of Shiite Muslims, not Christians. And other than the claims by the one activist, there’s no evidence of mass beheadings of children by ISIS. It’s a bit of a stretch to call any of that “genocide.”
Okay, then how about the genocide against the Yazidis? ISIS views the Yazidi religious minority in northern Iraq/Kurdistan as devil worshipers. When ISIS swept into their area, thousands of Yazidis were killed when they refused to convert to Islam. Meanwhile, tens of thousands more fled to Mount Sinjar to escape the ISIS onslaught. Cut off by ISIS troops and with no food, water or shelter, the Yazidis trapped on the mountain faced almost sure extinction. Worldwide, cries went out against the impending genocide of the Yazidi people, and the US responded by striking back against ISIS and making airdrops of food and water to the people on the mountain.
Yeah, I’ll grant you that we could have been faced with genocide of the Yazidis. But it looks like that crisis has been averted, with tens of thousands of people already having been rescued from Mount Sinjar. Maybe we should refer to ISIS’s actions there as “attempted genocide,” just to distinguish them from the horrors of actual genocide.
Forget the F Word
Whatever you think of these particular examples, the fact that we invoke the name of “genocide” in all of them points to something broader. People generally still agree that genocide is bad. Really, really bad. We are quick to use the G word as hyperbole to garner sympathy for the plight of people caught up in war. Some even have referred to the shooting in Ferguson as part of a larger genocide against young black men in the US.
It’s no mistake that we use the G word, either. That word calls to mind the prototypical genocide of Nazi Germany, from the horrifying images of piles of corpses in concentration camps to the staggering numbers of Jews and other undesirables murdered in just a few short years.
As the more recent examples show, genocide doesn’t just strike us as wrong because of the high body count. We are offended most by genocide because it involves killing whole groups of people simply because of who they are.
The Most Moral Genocide
Even today, though, there’s an ongoing genocide that escapes most people’s attention. It’s not limited to a small strip of land bordering the Mediterranean – this genocide is happening all over the world. No one is about to come to the rescue of the people being killed in this genocide.
The targets of this genocide are being wiped out in mass. In Taiwan, 96% of their population is being extinguished. In Europe, 92% are killed. In the US, upwards of 70%.
And these people are being killed not because of anything they have done, but solely because of who they are. Their community reaches across gender and across national and ethnic boundaries. The thing each of them has in common is some extra genetic material on their 21st chromosome; we know them as having Down Syndrome. Disdain for these people is nearly universal: 90% of women choose to terminate the pregnancy when their baby tests positive for Down Syndrome.
Wait, we’re talking about abortion? Here we go again. Abortion as genocide: yawn.
Yes, we’re talking about abortion. But to a certain extent, abortion as the instrumentality of their death is beside the point. We recoil from Hitler’s atrocities against the Jews not mainly because he used gas chambers to accomplish his goal. The main evil we see in his actions is that he slaughtered millions of people simply because they were Jews, along with smaller numbers of people simply because they were Gypsies or homosexuals.
Similarly, what matters most in the ongoing genocide against those with Down Syndrome is that they are targeted because they have Down Syndrome.
In any event, this issue does not break down along traditional battle lines of Pro-Choice vs. Pro-Life. Many people that identify generally as pro-choice remain queasy about the sheer number of people with Down Syndrome that are aborted. There’s something a bit dark and sinister about an entire generation of Down Syndrome children being wiped off the map worldwide.
Ah, but not to Richard Dawkins! For the uninitiated, Dawkins is a leading figure of the modern atheist movement and something of a hero to those who may have softer views on religion, but still admire his progressive, humanistic thought leadership. Dawkins garnered some attention last night for weighing in on the (theoretical) plight of a pregnant woman who learns that her baby has Down Syndrome:
Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.
Dawkins backpedaled a bit in the face of criticism, suggesting that he wasn’t actually telling her what to do. But he stuck to his guns on the main issue, insisting that the decision to abort a Down Syndrome baby is the “most moral” decision a woman can make:
Women have a right to early abortion. Choice is theirs. Down Syndrome is 1 of the commonest & most moral reasons to exercise that right.
The statistics would suggest that, deep down, most people agree with Dawkins. We hate genocide. But this is an acceptable genocide. This is even a moral genocide because . . . Choice. The highest good here is not the protection of an entire population of people. The highest good is protecting would-be parents of these children from the burden of raising them. Better to wipe out entire generations of among the most vulnerable individuals on the planet than to burden our society with the feeding and care of those individuals.
Better to protect the purity of Choice at all costs. Substitute the purity of Islam, and that’s a genocidal argument ISIS could get behind.