anonymous on Tue, 6 Apr 1999 12:16:09 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Genocide: what's in a word?

>analyses like this used to be interesting, but at a certain
>point this endlessly persnickety examination of rhetoric be-
>comes a circular enterprise. 

I agree that the rhetorical use of simile (NATO/Milosovic are like the
nazis) can distract from the actual debate by focusing on who is most
nazi-like rather than what is happening, and what can be done. 

However, the use of historically loaded phrases such as Genocide clearly
change both the meaning of the word and the perception of the situation to
which it is being applied. 

Genocide as a word is linked to the specific situation of European Jewry
during the Holocaust. It has already changed in meaning by wide
application. It originally referred to the destruction of a (perceived)
genetic stock, specifically the Jews. Hitler saw the Jews as a menace to
humanity and advocated their global annihilation. 

Milosovic is not continuing this project with the Kosovan Albanians. He is
expelling all and killing young men, not annihilating the entire genetic
stock. He is removing what he perceives to be a political and military
threat. This is no reason not to use the word, but it is important to be
aware of its changing meanings and associations. 

There are, however, jargonistic terms which have reached their widest
circulation in the Balkan crisis. I am referring to that appalling phrase:
ethnic cleansing. 

Can anyone tell me where this phrase originated? Was it a journalists
invention meant to link the expulsion and extermination of the Kosovan
Albanians to the plight of the Jews in W.W.II Europe? or is it the
rhetoric of the Serbian perpetrators themselves? 

Either way, the phrase is designed to liken the victims of "ethnic
cleansing" to dirt. 

Overuse has normalized and legitimized it and an accompanying vocabulary
based on the same hygiene metaphor has sprung up. I have recently heard
BBC newereaders refer to ethnic "purification" and "purity" without any
apparent disgust. 

"Ethnic cleansing" has spread through media-speak like a rot, and has
become a standard neutral bureaucratic term. 

Don't use it. 

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