In Denial: Genocide denial, why Spiked shouldn't exist and why Jacobin cannot stand

... can you give Tribune back to?

In the 20th century, ‘never again’ tended to become ‘okay, well, occasionally’ as genocide occurred frequently during the second half of the century. Right now, China is engaged in systematic murder and abuse of the country’s Uighur population, which many international observers (and me) consider to be genocide. Human rights crimes monitoring NGO, Genocide Watch, has a running list of ‘at risk’ countries where genocide is likely or already in progress.

One of the fundamentals of polite society — although, who the fuck needs a polite society? — should be that you don’t deny genocide. Don’t eat peas off your knife, don’t burp at the table, wash your hands and… don’t deny genocide. Of all of those etiquette rules, ‘not denying genocide’ should be the easiest one to stick with. But it’s apparently impossible for Jacobin, which decided to publicise an article that minimised and denied the facts around the Srebrenica massacre.

I’m not linking the Jacobin article. Why? Fuck that is why.

But let’s take a look at some choice ‘highlights’:

The Srebrenica massacre was a tragic event. But for the last twenty years, it's been used to justify more war and US intervention.

That’s the lede. You don’t talk about genocide and then drop the b-word. Everything before the ‘but’ is invalidated by what follows it. And ‘tragic event’ makes it sound like the writer is talking about that one time he dropped an entire ice cream cone down a storm drain. The Srebrenica massacre was a crime.

Over the course of 11 days in July 1995, 8,000 Bosniaks — mostly the men and boys — living in and around Srebrenica were mercilessly murdered. There is no doubt in international law that Srebrenica was genocide in the eyes of international law — in 2004, a unanimous ruling in the Prosecutor v. Krstić case at the Hague declared that the events were genocide, accompanied by the forced transfer and abuse of between 25,000 and 30,000 Bosniak women, children, and elderly.

And yet, Professor David N Gibbs, with weasel words, does his best to minimise and distort the clear realities:

Ethnic Serbs feared that Muslim-Croat dominance in Bosnia would undermine their interests, and these fears set the stage for war. When Bosnia officially became independent in April 1992, the Serbs seceded from Bosnia, taking their superior weapons with them, and began forming militias. In a bid to expand their landholdings, Serb forces engaged in mass ethnic cleansing, using killings, rapes, and other crimes to drive out members of competing ethnic groups, especially Muslims.

Good to know the Serbs had superior weapons, Dave.

While Serb soldiers are most to blame for the massacre, the Bosnian government also contributed to the tragedy. According to Swedish diplomat Carl Bildt, who served as the European Union mediator during the Bosnian War, Bosnian officials deliberately allowed Srebrenica to fall to the Serb military. In his memoirs, Bildt notes that Bosnian government forces assigned to protect Srebrenica were “not putting up any resistance. Later it was revealed that they had been ordered by the Sarajevo commanders not to defend Srebrenica.”

…Retrospective efforts to whitewash the actions of the Bosnian government, and Izetbegović in particular, have played an important role in establishing the Srebrenica massacre as a morally simple affair, with villains and heroes, thus retroactively justifying US military involvement in Bosnia. Equally important, widespread mischaracterizations of the massacre have served to portray interventions in Bosnia and elsewhere as acts of benevolence.

Gibbs is engaged in revisionist history. He denies that. But it’s his project. In a response to critics of his ‘work’ on Srebrenica, he says:

We have seen how invoking memory of the Srebrenica massacre has helped to justify humanitarian interventions in general, while suppressing criticism of these interventions. In his response to my article, John Theis of Lone Star College in Texas offers a case study of how such suppression is conducted. Theis recounts how his college invited social activist Michael Parenti to lecture on the subject of imperialism, and the college was subjected to an international campaign of intimidation – with eighty-seven separate letters directed to the college – aimed at preventing Parenti from speaking. The campaign was led by Balkan activists who objected to Parenti’s views on the Bosnian war.

This is a kind of gaslighting, twisted semantics. He seems to argue that you cannot criticise him or other people who appear to deny genocide without being branded as part of ‘intimidation’.

Later in his Jacobin article, Gibbs tries to pick at the genocide decision for the Hague:

The Srebrenica massacre was surely a horrific act, but did it constitute genocide? In a controversial 2003 decision, the ICTY tribunal answered in the affirmative…

Until 1990, the word genocide was used almost exclusively to describe deliberate mass killings of exceptional size and scale, generally in the range of the hundreds of thousands or millions. 

Why am I relitigating this article? After all Gibbs and Jacobin first published it in June 2015. Because Jacobin decided to re-publicise it on Twitter on Srebrenica Memorial Day. It was a calculated decision to ‘capitalise’ on the news hook.

Jacobin could learn some lessons from the example of Living Marxism, though hopefully not too many. You’ll see why I say that…

Living Marxism was the journal of the British Revolutionary Communist Party, a fringe of the fringe, which rebranded in 1992, and was drop-kicked out of print in March 2000, after a colossal libel trial.

Living Marxism’s editor, Mick Hume, published an article by Thomas Deichmann in a 1992 issue of the magazine; it claimed that ITN had misrepresented the Bosnian War in its coverage. The publishers were sued for libel by ITN. People like Doris Lessing, Paul Theroux, and Fay Weldon leapt to Living Marxism’s defence.

Living Marxism’s article — ‘The picture that fooled the world’ — argued that ITN’s footage in which an emaciated Bosnian Muslim man stood behind a barbed fence was designed to portray an extermination camp. Deichmann claimed:

"It was not a prison, and certainly not a 'concentration camp', but a collection centre for refugees, many of whom went there seeking safety and could leave again if they wished.”

It was the language of Goebbels.

In March 2000, after a protracted battle, Living Marxism was forced to close, with the smeared reporters Penny Marshall and Ian Williams each being awarded over £150,000 and Living Marxism required to pay £75,000 for libelling ITN.

Asked by The Times if he’d repeat what he published, Mick Hume said:

Would I do it again? We could have got out of the case by apologising, which seems to be the fashionable thing to do. But I believe in the unfashionable freedom to state what you understand to be true, even if it causes offence. I would do almost anything to avoid ever again setting foot in Court 14. But some things really are more important than a mortgage.

Living Marxism didn’t die. Like a particularly shit Pokemon, it evolved and became Spiked. Right now, that’s what I fear for Jacobin, further descent into crackpot-ism.

The Living Marxism to Spiked metamorphosis — which also includes the Battle of Ideas, the Insitute of Ideas, and a regular column in The Times for Mick Hume, as well as daily TV appearances across the news channels by contributors — is one of the media’s greatest and most terrifying news stories. And, of course, Brendan O’Neill is their big-foreheaded king.

Genocide deniers don’t suffer in the UK. They get columns and appearance fees. They become Prime Minister. Jacobin should see a reckoning. Spiked should too. And the Prime Minister? He’s beyond redemption.

Analysing the forehead: What does Brendan O’Neill actually believe — Brendanology