Faculty Publications
 

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2005

Excerpt

Genocide is a legal term whose deployment carries political, cultural, and moral implications. It is a juridical vessel for a number of specifications: morality and notions of evil, ethics and the instrumental (or political) nature of representation, lived event (what “actually” happened), and how things are narrated and remembered (the felt cultural, political, and moral needs of the perpetrators and victims, as well as the witnesses). As Straus puts it, “Genocide is a contested concept: there is much disagreement about what qualifies for the term.”

Abstract

In this article, I ask: What is the relationship between law and morality in response to mass violence and suffering abroad? How does law shape and determine our moral response to mass death and suffering? We repose in the law itself a desire to define the moral and the ethical parameters of legal-political action. Thus, when faced with mass violence and suffering abroad, law functions as a proxy for morality. The legal prohibition under the Genocide Convention defines morality, or cabins the variety of moral responses into a single and universally applicable ethical-legal norm of response to genocide. The moral response to atrocity is linked to fears and sentiments concerning love and death, community and exclusion. A mass atrocity in another country, motivated by the attempt of a people to cleanse itself of the other within, evokes within us a unique sense of horror, not only because it recalls the Holocaust, but also because it touches on the ambivalence of identity, nationality and belonging. This article offers an analysis of these fraught and ambivalent feelings evoked by instances of genocide, and offers a critique of the rhetoric and genealogy of the word itself and its discursive link to deep-seated apprehensions surrounding the erotics of life, death, identity, and the law.

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