Here’s how decent people can help prevent genocide
In a 1988 speech, Holocaust survivor and renowned psychiatrist Viktor Frankl expanded on an earlier conclusion that there are only two “races” of people, the decent and the indecent, both of whom are found in every social group. Frankl cautioned, “Danger threatens where a political system promotes the indecent persons to the forefront and then allows this negative element in a nation to take control … No nation is immune against this threat. And, therefore, I dare say: In principle, each and every nation is capable of another Holocaust.”
A valuable tool for assessing decent and indecent behaviour, and thus the circumstances Frankl described that will lead to mass extermination, was provided by Dr. Gregory Stanton. He calls them the 10 Stages of Genocide. They are present in every genocide and help us to understand how racism evolves into extermination. More importantly, however, Stanton explains how decent people can respond, and thus prevent genocide.
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Stage one of genocide is CLASSIFICATION and stage two is SYMBOLIZATION. These are common forms of human behaviour that become problematic when combined with other stages of genocide.
Stage three is DISCRIMINATION. Here we see classification and symbolization incorporated into discriminatory laws. The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has referred to their state’s legalized mistreatment of Palestinians, for example, as a form of apartheid.
Stage four is DEHUMANIZATION. Israeli columnist Gideon Levy stated, “The systematic dehumanization of the Palestinians … enables us Israelis to live in peace with everything because if they are not human beings like us, then there is not really a question of human rights.”
Stage FIVE is ORGANIZATION. Genocide is usually carried out by the military of a country or by militias. The Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians were clearly well organized. The Israeli army has been used for years to control the movement of Palestinians. Decent people would, therefore, object to the supply of weapons to both groups.
Stage six is POLARIZATION. The groups are driven apart, and the voices of moderates are silenced. At this point, it becomes dangerous to speak for decency, but we see people like Gideon Levy and members of B’Tselem risking their own safety and welfare to do so.
Stage seven is PREPARATION. Genocidal intent is clear, and there is a plan to carry it out. Hamas was well prepared for their attack on Israel. There have been strong hints from government officials that a plan is in place for Israel to expel Palestinians from Gaza; however, to date, nothing official has been confirmed.
Stage eight is PERSECUTION. This is where the act of genocide begins. The target group is isolated, terrorized, and often placed under siege. Prominent members of the group, such as leaders and journalists, are also targeted. It is difficult to argue that this has not happened in Gaza.
Stage nine is EXTERMINATION. Because the people being killed are not seen as human, to the killers, it is extermination. At this point, only international intervention can prevent this process from continuing. Ideally, this is done through diplomacy, but history has proven that military intervention is often necessary.
Stage ten is DENIAL. This takes place after extermination and is present in all of the earlier stages of genocide as well. It can be argued that the refusal to use the g-word in the mainstream media is a form of denial. Most people, however, now get their news from alternative sources, and many Americans are using the moniker “Genocide Joe” to refer to their disgraced president.
Viktor Frankl speculated that decent people would always be a minority in every society. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, however, kindness, acceptance, and courage have been idealized. I’m therefore not convinced that the decent are still a minority. Despite this, indecent people have indeed come into positions of political power.
We can only hope that the voices of decent people around the world will be successful in saving Gaza.
Gerry Chidiac specializes in languages, genocide studies and works with at-risk students. He is the recipient of an award from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for excellence in teaching about the Holocaust.
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