More From Alder's Ledge

June 18, 2013

Victims Behaving Badly

What Happens When Victims Fight Back?
(Screamers Post)

 (American Indian Movement Protesters, Wounded Knee 1973)

They were called terrorist, criminals, and the cook fringe of society. The government hated them. Their very act of defiance had pushed them over the edge of societal norm... they had been expected to accept their victim status. But there comes a point in time where the victims of genocide break the mold that their oppressors had cast for them. They raise up from the shackles of repression and bite the hand that never fed them. In an odd sense of irony, they become the hope they had placed in the onlookers... that sense that somebody, somewhere, had to do what was right. 

By fighting back the victims of genocide risk having society repeal their victim status. For throughout the history of genocide we have often labeled cases where the victims stop behaving as victims odd names like "civil war" or "ethnic cleansing". We refuse to admit that the instigators, the oppressive attackers, had pushed their victims to this breaking point. We refuse to allow the victims the opportunity to defend themselves when we obviously would not.

In places like Syria we watch as victimized communities have risen up to face their attacker head on. These "rebels" have taken up arms against a government that is ruled by a minority religious sect that has targeted the rest of Syria's religious and ethnic groups. Loyalist claim that the war there was unprovoked. They claim that Assad has kept to his role as a sovereign leader. They claim that the rebels are terrorist invading from unstable neighbors (like Iraq) where they bring al-Quida's radicalism. 

So why is that Assad needs to use helicopters and jets to pound civilian neighborhoods? Is the Free Syrian Army using the hugging tactic that Hamas uses? Or is it that Assad needs to kill innocent civilians to establish fear... dare I say, terror? 

The fact remains that due to the ability and desire to fight back, Syria's victims are not given faces... they are not given names... they are not given the protection that victimized communities deserve and need. Once a targeted community crosses the line from defenseless victims to the role of defenders the outside world backs even further away.

 (Armenians Defending Van During Turkish Siege)

During the Armenian genocide the United States knew all to well that the Ottoman Empire was committing genocide in Armenia. Our ambassador documented the extermination of the Armenians and reported it back to Washington on a daily basis. The immediate response from the White House was to issue an order to the ambassador to the Ottoman Empire... to remain silent and not to agitate the Ottomans.

This move was not only based on the events playing out in Europe at the time or the fact that the Ottomans were an ally in World War One. The United States government had also been made aware that the Armenians were rallying small militias to defend themselves against the "Turkification" process that the Ottomans were forcing upon Armenia and the outlying areas of the empire. This show of force in the face of total annihilation was considered "inconvenient" to the United States. For the West the Armenians were expected to go to their graves silently. By defending themselves the Armenians had managed to rock the boat... casting themselves overboard even to this day (politically speaking).

The move to defense, the move toward self preservation, is the last choice that many victims of genocide ever made. That decision is the moment when they decided that they wouldn't be the sacrificial lambs for another person's hate. By standing up and fighting back they sought dignity over despair. So why do we abandon them in that moment? Why do we back away in fear?

 (Jewish Partisan During World War Two)

My own ancestors in Croatia fought back as best they could. Those who could escape the Croatians' death camps fled and hid as best they could in a broken Yugoslavia. It was in this group of victims that the partisan movement in Yugoslavia was given a new reason to fight. In the face of certain death, these victims of genocidal Croats took up arms with Tito and other partisan leaders. It was through their bravery that resisters and dissidents like myself are around to fight another day. Their ability to make that decision to cross the line from hopelessness to outrage carried their fight to the next generation. 

Today we are faced with a host of genocide victims' offspring. Their scars are upon our souls. Their struggle is in our bones. We don't intend to defy their legacy by accepting the expected role of victims that the world has cast for us. Nor do we expect modern day victims of genocide to play that role for modern perpetrators. 

In a world where the media drags out images of dead or dieing children only to elicit political responses we don't need more victims. We need a movement of screamers who will bear the affliction of others as their own. We need a movement of individuals who will risk behaving in a way that our society may view as somewhat out of place. We need all of  you who are reading this to start making your voice heard in the most loud and creative ways you possibly can. 

We must reject the fear of not fitting in, not conforming, and simply make ourselves open to rejection. This means speaking out wherever and whenever possible. It means contacting your representatives in government relentlessly. It means joining or creating protests, demonstrations, events, and educational displays that put the plight of others on display for all to see. It means using your creative gifts to highlight the suffering of somebody else. This is the essence of screaming. 

In doing this, even those who of you who have no personal background of genocide, we stop being victims. In doing this we take up the struggle that those who came before us so passionately began. We become the screamers for those who have died at the hands of tyrants. We become the screamers for those who's cries go unheard in genocides still happening all around the world today. 

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Source Documents
(note: not all sources listed)

Voice Against Genocide

Genocide Watch

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

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