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Furthering AIPR’s long-term goal of having genocide prevention taught as part of the required curriculum at every college and university in the United States, AIPR and Professor Alex Hinton created a class on genocide prevention taught this spring at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. Taught by Prof. Hinton in the anthropology department, the course examined genocide prevention in the realms of public policy and academia.

The following websites were created by students of the class in May; as such, they do not reflect more recent events.

1) Cambodia: Anatomy of a Genocide
Divided into five sections (Origins, Processes, International Response, Justice, and Memory and Education), this site critically approaches the Cambodian genocide, examining whether it could have been prevented, and if so, why not?

2) Côte d’Ivoire: Genocide Watch
This site explains the origins of the conflict in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), in addition to discussing current diplomatic efforts there. The site’s creators seek to provide varied perspectives on, and solutions to, the situation in the country.

With a timeline that ends as NATO took control of the UN-backed no-fly zone over Libya earlier this year, these students discuss the international community’s inefficient and delayed response to the Libyan state’s atrocities against its own citizenry. They then go on to analyze whether or not Qaddafi’s actions are in fact genocide, using R2P as part of their framework.

4) Nuba Mountains, Sudan
With the recent genocide in Darfur and successful secession of South Sudan dominating news from that region, this site seeks to ensure that the genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Nuba is not forgotten or overshadowed. This website also goes beyond the scope of the genocide to help explain and preserve the culture and identity of the Nuba.

Today we present another guest preventer from Prof. Alex Hinton’s genocide prevention class at Rutgers–Newark:

Jade Adebo, Class of 2012, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Anthropology

When I heard about a class being offered on genocide prevention, I was skeptical. In my experience, classes on the subject of genocide usually focused almost entirely on the violence, devastation, and reconciliation efforts. If ever there was any talk of preventative measures, it was presented in a cynical way, as if every other option had been exhausted. The ever-present discussions and debates over definitions and autonomy of nations left me cynical and burned out. Why was it so necessary to argue about phrasing or over protected groups? Taking the Genocide Prevention class with Dr. Hinton, which was developed in association with AIPR, helped me to fully comprehend the differing dynamics and issues that need to be addressed if proper and effective intervention, and eventually prevention of genocide, can occur.

With all my prior knowledge in genocide studies through the broader scope of human rights, I always supported a change in the study of intervention, based on analyzing and understanding different dynamics within the culture and history of a given country or region. I disagreed with the Genocide Convention’s attempt to create a blanket definition that would dictate how preventative measures would be achieved. From the broader study of human rights, which is still newly accepted as a widespread right, the convention, in its rigid structure and language, assumes that human rights is an international basic human right. This was a discourse brought into many a discussion, and was addressed very well by Fred Schwartz, who referred not to the universality of human rights, but the universality of self-interest. This approach can be easily applied to mandates such as the Responsibility to Protect, or the early warning model.

As the course concluded, I was left with a better sense of direction as to what I personally could do in the area of genocide prevention, which had been the primary interest for my attempted major. The various speakers we had left me inspired and optimistic, particularly Sheri Rosenberg, Gregory Stanton, and Tibi Galis, all of whom were either political scientists or lawyers. Through them, I was able to see how much the legal aspect of genocide prevention ties in with the grassroots work and activism, giving me creative insights as to how my future pursuit of a legal career could still influence intervention, and ultimately prevention.

Today we present another Guest Preventer from Prof. Alex Hinton’s genocide prevention class at Rutgers–Newark:

Jeff Benvenuto, Ph.D. student, Division of Global Affairs

Being that I came to Rutgers for the express purpose of studying genocide, a subject in which I’ve been critically engaged over the past six years, I relished the opportunity to take this pioneering class. Through all of my studies, I’d never approached genocide from the preventive angle. As I expected, our class has sharpened my critical stance.

While I consider myself a participant in the anti-genocide project, I am very critical of the notion of genocide prevention. This is not to say that I think that it’s unpreventable in some cases, or that the whole campaign is not a worthy one. But I am skeptical of our community’s implicit aspirations of eradicating this “odious scourge.” Underpinning this naïveté is a deep faith in social progress, that our positivist advances in knowledge will improve the human condition. This is a fine intention, for sure, but it is also a myopic vision that fails to see how genocide is an inherent byproduct of our civilization.

First of all, the hope that genocide is curable presupposes that our conception of it is objective and deterministic. Concepts, however, are neither fixed nor static representations of reality. They are rather simplified versions of that reality which are filtered through our subjective perceptions. As such, what we call “genocide” is actually an amorphous and indeterminate phenomenon, highly contingent to local circumstances, and variable across space and time. Hence, the never-ending debates over definitions. In short, genocide cannot be prevented in every case because we will never be able to positively predict its occurrence.

Secondly, because our anti-genocide project is ultimately a product of the Western Enlightenment, there is a common misperception that it is something that happens “out there,” not as something that originates close to home. However, there is presently a wave of critical reflection infusing our field that is revealing the deep and complex relationships between genocide and modernity. (My mentor, Alex Hinton, is at the forefront of this critical turn.) According to such a perspective, the positivist faith that underpins much of our anti-genocide project is hardly the antidote—it is more likely part of the problem. Indeed, utopian visions have not only led to advances in social welfare but also to mass destruction. Genocide is the dark side of progress. Until we take a long, hard look in the mirror, and begin to dispel the paradigm of progress that undergirds our civilization, then our anti-genocide project is doomed to failure.

Today we present another Guest Preventer from Prof. Alex Hinton’s genocide prevention class at Rutgers–Newark:

Shant Afarian, Class of 2012, Biology major

My name is Shant Afarian and I am a third-year biology major. In addition to my penchant for science, I have a very deep-rooted interest in genocide. This interest stems from my heritage; I am a descendant of survivors of the Armenian genocide. From early on in my childhood I have learned of the genocide of my ancestors. I was young, however, and unable to fully comprehend the extent of the crimes committed. Now that I am older, I can better appreciate the mistakes of the past, but I still have many unanswered questions. Why, for example, did the international community remain silent during the Armenian genocide? Why was nothing done to end the atrocities that were committed against my people?

Professor Hinton’s class seemed like an appropriate place to have my questions answered. And to some extent, they have been answered, but they have been replaced with other, more daunting questions. These questions deal with the integrity (or lack thereof) of the international relationships that are necessary for effective genocide prevention.

What seems to be the most prevalent issue is the persistence of international disagreement. Unfortunately for genocide preventers, humanity’s best interests and the self-serving interests of sovereign states usually clash, effectively preventing most humanitarian efforts. This conflict of interests, coupled with the ambiguities of the loophole-ridden legal definition of genocide, stands as the greatest obstacle in our path to a genocide-free world.

The successes and failures of the past are examined in Professor Hinton’s class in an attempt to learn from the mistakes of our predecessors. We have examined many case studies and have had the pleasure of meeting and hearing from many key figures in the field. Their inputs have shaped our class discussions; by taking our initially confused outlooks and opinions and reinforcing them with key facts and philosophical musings, they have greatly expanded our knowledge of the history of genocide, thus allowing us to return the favor by passing on what we learned to future generations.

Indeed, as we have seen multiple times throughout the course, the lack of general awareness is a major contributor to the difficulty of effective genocide prevention. The first step was giving a name to the “crime without a name”—by doing this, a previously inconceivable horror was turned into a tangible concept. It follows then that the next step is raising awareness. Once the minds of the general public are as permeated with thoughts of genocide as ours, once we have we succeeded in bringing genocide to the forefront of our minds, then and only then can we hope to succeed in preventing genocide.

Today we present another Guest Preventer from Prof. Alex Hinton’s genocide prevention class at Rutgers–Newark:

Yannek Smith, Class of 2011, Political Science major

Professor Hinton’s genocide prevention course is the culmination of my undergraduate studies. I knew as soon as I heard about it that this was not something to pass up. Here was a unique opportunity to take a class sponsored by the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, taught by Alex Hinton, one of the world’s top genocide scholars. It includes weekly visits by prominent actors in the field of genocide prevention who come to teach the class about their work and share their views on this expanding field. This is something special, and I am grateful to be a part of it.

When most people hear the word genocide, it evokes certain images: the Jewish Holocaust, the Hutus’ massacre of the Tutsis, perhaps Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and (increasingly) the genocide of the Armenians. These are the most infamous cases of genocide in the 20th century, the ones that stick out the most in our recent historical memory. What the course does a wonderful job illustrating is that these atrocities are not isolated cases. Genocide is far more common than most people imagine; it cuts across class, culture, and ideology. The targets include a wide a range of groups, real and imagined, albeit several that are not included in the 1948 Genocide Convention’s narrow definition. More important than academic debates over what constitutes genocide is adopting a utilitarian approach and looking at the roots of this phenomenon and what can be done to stop genocidal behavior in its early stages.

In class, we are learning to see genocide on a spectrum, as a series of steps or stages that can be identified and addressed. We demystify the concept and look at it through a sober lens. This requires accepting many difficult truths: genocide is a huge part of human history (the United States and the greater “New World,” for instance, were founded on genocide), genocidaires are rational actors (there is always some kind of logic to genocide), and it can happen anywhere. Fred Schwartz, the founder of AIPR, would add that genocide, like rape or murder, will never cease to exist. Humans have always done it, and will continue it, and the challenge therefore is to detect it and defeat it in its early stages, or if it is too late, minimize the damage.

The human rights movement is essentially a fight to improve the human condition; to protect people on a global scale from abusive governments, torture, the torments of abject poverty, and—the gravest crime against our humanity—the crime of genocide. Prof. Hinton and our weekly speakers teach us about the shifting paradigms in genocide prevention, the different legal instruments that are out there, and the challenges and barriers of our current international order and the United Nations system. Things are changing fast, and many questions linger: What is the future of Responsibility to Protect? Why is the world sitting and watching as Libyan and Ivoirian people are deprived of basic human rights? How should we address the delicate issue of sovereignty?

The students in our class are in a privileged position: we are intellectually equipped to address these important questions. I hope that this educational initiative will not end with our class, so that in the future a broader range of students can become active participants in the fight against genocide.

Today we present another Guest Preventer from Prof. Alex Hinton’s genocide prevention class at Rutgers–Newark:

Kaefer Garcia, Senior, Class of 2011. Political Science major, History and Anthropology minors.

I am taking this class because I founded an organization that helps refugee youth through education and soccer to help them progress and learn life lessons. By taking the course, I feel I can learn things that can help me relate to the stories the youth tell and better understand where they are coming from.

I have learned many things while taking the class, but so far two things have caught my attention. Fred Schwartz, of the Auschwitz Institute, opened his lecture in front of the class with a truth that never dawned on me. Genocide is not abnormal behavior, but something that has become a normal occurrence throughout our history. I think this acceptance and acknowledgment is key to preventing genocide, for to see this crime in this light makes it easier to try and understand and prevent it.

Moreover, the fact that when you look around the room in our class and see people from different walks of life, ethnicities, and ideas together to discuss such an important issue in society globally, it is hard not to feel the palpable hope that exists. It sheds light into the dark room of genocide. It speaks volumes of the future generation and its concern and willingness to be aware. This aspect is complimented by the fact that leading scholars in the field are coming to speak to us, which is remarkable to say the least.

So far the class has been very enjoyable and is a great way to highlight my last semester at Rutgers–Newark.

As part of our mission of identifying and educating the women and men who will become tomorrow’s leaders in preventing genocide, the Auschwitz Institute, in conjunction with Professor Alex Hinton of Rutgers University in Newark, has developed an undergraduate course in genocide prevention. This semester Prof. Hinton is teaching the course for the first time, and AIPR has invited the students to share about it on our blog.

So today we present our first Guest Preventer from Rutgers–Newark:

My name is Konrad Ratzmann, and I am an anthropology major at Rutgers–Newark looking to graduate in 2012. The topic of genocide has intrigued me for several years, although mostly in a nonacademic sense. I had long wondered how humans could possess the capacity to inflict such vast amounts of suffering and death on the basis of identity alone. Coming to Rutgers and studying war, colonialism, violence, and genocide in various courses and disciplines provided me with some insights toward the systematic processes and psychological aspects that make such atrocities possible, but none of them seemed to discuss what could be done to prevent such horrors in the future. This always irritated me. After all, what good was studying such things if nothing was being done to stop them? Purely academic studies can provide meaningful insights to the fields in which they are performed, but I feel that there should be, at the very least, an attempt toward an academic activism of sorts. When I had to register for classes and I saw Genocide Prevention, I knew that I had found a class that could provide me with the experience I was looking for.

Of course some traditional academic concepts and theories were addressed at the beginning of the semester, such as the varying definitions of genocide and the conflicts that arise due to disparities between definitions. This frustrated me, to some degree, because I felt that genocide is an atrocity that is far too horrid to ever be defined to complete satisfaction—the academic quibbling about the semantics of genocide seemed to miss the importance of the issue and fall into self-centered patterns that hinder progress. After all, what is the use of debating whether or not something is “technically” genocide when the death tolls continue to rise? However, my outlook was soon changed as the course progressed. As noted by Adam Jones, who addressed the class on February 15, such discussions are important because they signify an increase and continuous interest in the field of genocide studies, and thus allow for more minds to focus on working toward prevention in a multitude of manners.

The opportunity to interact with the minds behind genocide study and prevention makes this course unlike any other I have taken before. It is in such meetings that the true beauty of this course exists. Being exposed to new approaches toward genocide studies and prevention efforts every week is not only enlightening and informing, but also inspiring. In actually meeting the minds behind conflicting definitions and approaches to genocide, I see the importance of the academic conflicts—different conceptions of what constitutes genocide allow for different approaches toward prevention; disagreements inspire greater focus on issues of contention. In this sense, such discussions allow for genocide prevention efforts to be more encompassing. If nobody was concerned with whether or not gendercide or politicide could be considered as aspects of genocide, then perhaps efforts to combat such sufferings would be overlooked. A lack of academic consensus does not hinder progress, as I had previously felt; instead, it is one of the most valuable tools at our disposal in ensuring that our efforts to reduce suffering and genocidal violence are as encompassing as possible.

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