Event Report: Genocide Memorial Day 2021

GMD’s annual event took place online for its twelfth consecutive time on 17 January 2021. This year’s theme was ‘Starting Genocide: Demonisation’, focusing mainly on the divisive politics that results in the demonisation of communities. Demonisation forms part of the dehumanisation process, the third of a series of eight stages of genocide famously expounded by Gregory Stanton.

The event was attended by a worldwide audience including academics, grassroots organisations and civil society who are concerned about the normalisation of the politics of division and demonisation of ethnic, religious as well as other groups.

The event was opened by Syed Wajahat Ali who recited different verses from Surat An-Nisa and followed by English translations by Fatima Merchant.

This year, Genocide Memorial Day consisted of a series of videos where a heavyweight line-up of speakers discussed different themes, from the persecution of Rohingyas and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to the African Holocaust, the path that led to the genocide of Bosnians and the Nazi uses of science and medicine.

Imam Dawud Walid is a researcher, lecturer and writer on the Islamic faith and a racial justice proponent. He is currently the the Executive Director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI), member of the Michigan Muslim Community Council (MMCC) Imams Committee and a Senior Fellow at Auburn Seminary based in New York.

He is the author of the book Towards Sacred Activism, co-author of the books Centering Black Narrative: Black Muslim Nobles Among the Early Pious Muslims and Centering Black Narrative: Ahl al-Bayt, Blackness & Africa and author of essays in the 2012 book All-American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim as well as the 2014 book Qur’an in Conversation.

Imam Dawud Walid began his presentation by addressing the history and some of the contemporary effects of the Maafa or the African holocaust in America. He addressed the famous event known as Bacon’s rebellion to explain that from that uprising it “began to be in the consciousness more so of white folks in America that there needed to be a splitting up of oppressed groups”. He also stated that “the system of mass incarceration with black people is a continuation of the Maafa of the African holocaust”. He further added, “Black people are grossly and disproportionately incarcerated in comparison to our white counterparts and this is a legacy that goes all the way back to Bacon’s rebellion that then goes into governmental policies and social engineering that has real-time effects on black people today”. Imam Walid did not want to end his presentation without remembering the great Malcom X who said, “Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research” and concluded by saying, “It is good for us to study history, so that we can learn the lessons of history so that hopefully we can work to stop future genocides from taking place and to work together as a human family to stop the current genocides that are taking place right now”.

You can watch his lecture here.

Professor Haim Bresheeth-Zabner is a filmmaker, photographer and a film studies scholar. He now teaches at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). His films include the widely shown State of Danger (1989, BBC2), a documentary on the first Palestinian Intifada. His books include the best-selling Introduction to the Holocaust -the first version was titled Holocaust for Beginners (1993) and was reprinted a number of times. His most recent book is titled “An army like no other: How the Israeli defence force made a nation”.

He spoke about the ethnic cleansing and genocidal expulsion of Palestinians. He started off his presentation saying that “marking others as disposable is a necessary phase in the process of ethnic cleansing and genocidal expulsion”. He also explained that “Christian Zionism which actually started before Jewish political Zionism … was also based on anti-Semitism marking the Jews as the other of Europe. Therefore, they needed to be where they are not the other and by designating Palestine as the place it was possible to justify removing them from Europe to Palestine”. The narrative that Zionism uses repeatedly to describe the indigenous population of Palestine is not just negative but continuously tries to dehumanise and demonise Palestinians. In his own words “by doing that, you open the gateway to the ideological, the political and, in the end, the military gateway to processes of genocidal expulsion and ethnic cleansing”. In his lecture, Professor Haim went through other processes of genocidal expulsions and concluded that the “Zionists and the British authorities did not consider the Palestinians either as a people, as a nation, as an ethnic group or as a group of human beings with human rights”.

You can watch his presentation here.

Demir Mahmutcehajic is one of the founder members of IHRC. He arrived at the UK in 1994 as a refugee from the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. From 1997 until 2004 he was a IHRC activist and President of the board of Bosnian Islamic community in London. He returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2004. From 2005 until 2010 he was active in the civil rights movement in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2011, he returned to his hometown of Stolac where he started his formal political activism. He was elected president of the Stolac branch of Social Democratic Party in 2015, for a four-year term.

Mahmutcehajic started his presentation ‘Bosnia and the Path to Genocide’ by reflecting on the 25 years’ commemoration of the Bosnian genocide which took place in June 2020. He shared his personal learning and experiences about the recent history of Bosnian Muslims. He wondered “how humans lose all emotions towards another human being” and continued his lucid presentation explaining that the current narrative about refugees and immigrants in Europe is leading to the process of dehumanization and the path of genocide, particularly in Bosnia.

He concluded with a worrying message: “Now we are facing in Bosnia the very important struggle that the Bosnian Muslims are involved in. It’s a struggle for our own soul, a struggle to resist becoming like those who are slaughtering us like cockroaches.”

Watch his presentation here.

Yakov M. Rabkin is a Professor Emeritus of history at the University of Montreal in Canada where he has taught since 1973. His areas of interests include the history of science, studies of modernization and contemporary Jewish history. He has studied Judaism with rabbis in Montreal, Paris and Jerusalem and was among the founders of Independent Jewish Voices Canada. He has authored over three hundred articles in several languages as well as books that include Science between the Superpowers, A Threat from Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism (available in fifteen languages) and What is Modern Israel? He has co-edited several collective volumes, including Interaction between Scientific and Jewish Cultures and Demodernization: A Future in the Past.

He began his brilliant presentation by showing different slides which addressed the links between Jews’ dehumanisation and the use of science and medicine. Jews were portrayed as a threat, an evil people with horns and with the idea that they were the mortal enemy of Christianity. That idea survived for many centuries and the prejudices were transformed into ‘scientific fact’: “The transformation of religious prejudice into a scientific fact began quite early and it was in fact initiated by anthropologists who were at the service of the then dominant ideology of colonization”. In the video, he showed a poster published by the Nazis in 1935 which depicted the idea of purity of blood and how Jews had to be identified according to different configurations of the mixture. He explained: “The so-called Nuremberg laws which were put into practice in 1935, and of course the idea was to show that inferior races have to be somehow separated from the healthy body of the German nation”.

To close, Professor Rabkin highlighted the idea that in the case of the genocide of the Jews, “we are not talking about a religious prejudice, we are talking about a scientific fact as it was understood then, so the secularization of Europe led to the transformation of religious prejudice into a scientific fact and that was extremely dangerous” […] “by these scientific and medical arguments that the German nation has to purify itself and become great again by getting rid of these dangerous Jews who cause all kinds of problems for the country”.

You can watch his presentation here.

Dr Maung Zarni is Burmese scholar and UK-based fellow of the (Genocide) Documentation Center-Cambodia, co-founder of FORSEA.co, a Southeast Asian activist organization, and Burmese coordinator of the Free Rohingya Coalition, with 30-years of engagement in activism, scholarship, politics and media. He is a commentator on human rights, genocide and Myanmar current affairs in the mass media.  His writings have appeared in the Times, New York Times, the Guardian, and the Washington Post, among others. He regularly writes for Anadolu News Agency. For his impactful combination of scholarship and activism, Zarni was recognized with the Cultivation of Harmony Award by the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 2015 and shortlisted for Sweden’s Right Livelihood Award in 2018.

Dr Zarni began by giving an introduction on what genocides are and how they should be understood. He then focused on why Myanmar is committing ‘Slow Genocide Against The Rohingya People’ and how it has been going on for over 40 years. He said, “We don’t need to find gas chambers and extermination camps and labour camps…they do have to have the intention or shared or common intention that perpetrators really want to wipe out or exterminate a population that has a distinct characteristic such as nationality, their own religion or faith, they have their own ethnic identity or racial identity, and some would say political identity as another form of group identity”.

He explained in detail the current situation that facing Rohingyas in Myanmar and how the Burmese state and Burmese popular imagination portrays them as invaders, illegal immigrants and a threat to the national security. Dr Zarni concluded his presentation stating that “the Rohingyas today find themselves utterly homeless country-less and there are more Rohingyas today living or driven out and having survived the genocidal purges since 1978 than there are Rohingyas inside their own ancestral land, so therefore it is so crucial that we keep on demanding that international system of governments such as the United Nations and other conscientious governments should step in to end this ongoing genocide”.

You can watch his presentation here.

Professor Ilan Pappe is an Israeli historian and activist. He graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1978, and in 1984 obtained his PhD in history from the University of Oxford, under the guidance of Arab historian Albert Hourani and Roger Owen. His doctoral thesis became his first book, Britain and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. He is a professor at the College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, director of the university’s European Centre for Palestine Studies and co-director of the Exeter Centre for Ethno-Political Studies

Professor Ilan is considered one of Israel’s New Historians who, since the declassification of Israeli archival material in the early 1980s, have been rewriting the history of Israel’s creation in 1948 and the expulsion or flight of 700,000 Palestinians in the same year. In 2006, he published ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’ which argued that the expulsions were not borne of war as other historians have suggested but by design in accordance with Plan Dalet drawn up in 1947 by Israel’s future leaders.

Pappe has for many years fought against the Zionist regime’s oppressive policies towards the Palestinians.

Professor Pappe wanted to focus on when exactly the discourse of genocide began to be used in the case of Gaza and assess its significance. He mentioned the former Roman Catholic priest and former Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann who did not hesitate to describe as genocide the atrocities carried out by Israeli army in Gaza. He mentioned other voices from within the western media such as the influential journalist John Pilger who helped to describe the events that occurred in Gaza in 2009 as genocide. He shared the following reflection: “The question is can we take this rare expression or discourse on genocide that was quite dominant in 2009 and use it today in 2021? As we know this discourse did not enter or did not penetrate the mainstream media, mainstream academia; definitely is not referred to or is not employed by the political elite in the west and yet we feel, of course, that terms such as ethnic cleansing, colonization, genocide is a irrelevant term to Israeli policies at least towards the Gaza Strip if not towards other sections of the Palestinian people”.

Professor Pappe ended his lecture with an encouraging message “we should continue with the work that we have done in universities, in media and towards the general public, and include genocide in the necessary vocabulary and dictionary that we are employing for describing events in Palestine either in the past or in the present”.

You can watch his presentation here.

Before the event came to a close, Fatima Merchant -IHRC’S volunteer co-ordinator- read out loud the different genocides that have happened across the globe followed by a one-minute silence to remember those who lost their lives. This part of the event has become a regular feature but hearing it every year does not lessen the impact.

To close, Massoud Shadjareh, chair of IHRC, thanked the hugely varied attendees, panellists and volunteers for their efforts to make possible this annual event. He highlighted the importance of Genocide Memorial Day project which started twelve years ago with the purpose of addressing different topics such as the issues of demonization, cultural genocide, weapons of the genocide like nuclear weapons, and weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Shadjareh said: “We are currently seeing danger zones in Palestine, in Syria, in Yemen and in China, and many other parts of the world and we need to stand up in support of those who are facing genocidal acts. We need to make sure that will be the voice of the voiceless”.

Watch the full event here:

GENOCIDE MEMORIAL DAY, BRUSSELS

GMD in Brussels took place on 16th January 2021. Bruxelles Panthères organised a conference on ‘Criminalization of Muslim political activism in Europe’. Speakers for the event were, Professor Hatem Bazian, Professor of Theology at Zaytuna University and Professor of History at UC Berkeley, Houria Bouteldja, decolonial political activist and member of the Decolonial International Network (DIN) and Youssef Boussoumah, decolonial political activist and member of the Decolonial International Network (DIN).

Watch the video of the event here.

GENOCIDE MEMORIAL DAY, AMSTERDAM

Decolonial International Network (DIN) and International Institute for Scientific Research in The Netherlands organised a webinar on ‘the famines in India during colonialism’ in the context of Genocide Memorial Day on January 17th.

In her lecture Dr. Mehta gave a short chronology of famines that took place during the colonial period and then focus on 1943 famine. She showed some photographs and paintings and play music related to 1943 famine. Furthermore, she addressed the theme about people’s response to the famine in terms of famous Tebhaga movement in Bengal.

Watch the webinar here.

GENOCIDE MEMORIAL DAY, MALAYSIA

The Malaysian Consultative Council of Islamic Organization (MAPIM) organized the Genocide Memorial Day online on 16th January 2021. The GMD is an annual event organized by MAPIM in Malaysia to raise public awareness especially amongst the youth. You can watch the video of the event here.

SCHOOL RESOURCES:

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in schools shutting down across the world. Every month, IHRC  sends out regular emails to schools including a collection of free school resources and activities which have successfully helped students, educators and families to enrich and support their distance learning. We currently have a total of 16,985 subscribers in our school database who have benefited from our online school resources from the Genocide Memorial Day project.

Genocide Memorial Day school resources were designed to introduce the topic of genocide, the causes of genocide and genocide prevention in various subjects including history, politics and government, English literature, citizenship, civics, sociology, PSHE and religious education. The lesson plans are listed according to age groups, and some cut across age groups.

In past years, our resources were available at Times Educational Supplement, a cloud-based platform where parents, teachers and students can find free resources to assist them with home learning.

A blog with backdated articles on school resources as well as new resources can be found here.

Apart from school resources, in December 2019 IHRC launched the Genocide Memorial Day Anthology. This anthology brings together all the entries from winners, runners-up and those highly commended from 2012 – 2019 Genocide Memorial Day poetry competition in one volume. It offers much to reflect on and provides a glimmer of hope that with increased understanding comes the chance of a better future.