Thursday, August 12, 2021

On Genocide

I had not been following this, but the Canadian Historical Association issued a statement last Canada Day entitled "The History of Violence Against Indigenous Peoples Fully Warrants the Use of The Word “Genocide.”

There is now a Open Letter, signed by a number of historians (and welcoming other signatures), that questions whether the use of the word "genocide" is warranted. It also disputes the CHA's statement that, regarding genocidal intent," there is a broad consensus on this point among historical experts."  The letter is to appear in the Literary Review of Canada and Le Journal de Montreal, but can currently be found here.

On the central question, I think the CHA is correct: the description "genocide" is warranted. (There is a good statement why in Harry Laforme's 2019 article "Yes, Genocide."

On the second issue, casting doubt on the existence of broad consensus among historians, the open letter asserts that "by pretending that there is only one interpretation, the directors of the CHA are insulting and dismissing the scholars who have arrived at a different assessment" and that "in insisting that there is only one valid interpretation, the CHA’s current leadership has fundamentally broken the norms and expectations of professional scholarship."

I don't know. Aren't membership organizations permitted to take stands on issues of public concern? (I'm not a CHA member.)  Or is the CHA statement a discouragement, as the Open Letter puts it, to "lively debate amongst scholars, many of whom differ in their assessments of this question."

Update, August 13: Helen Webberley writes: 

For historians who disagreed with the use of the word “genocide”, what was their opposite view?

Thanks. Rather than attempt to paraphrase, I recommend the actual text of the dissenters, linked to above and again here

Update, August 26:  Stephen High, president of the Canadian Historical Association, has published an update, "Recognizing Genocide in Canada," on the CHA website. He notes that it was written for publication in the National Post, which had published three recent articles criticizing the CHA's stand on this matter, but it went unpublished there.

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