Genocide: Prediction, Hatred, and Exclusionary Ideologies
E. N. Anderson
Dept. of Anthropology
University of California, Riverside, CA
Barbara A. Anderson
Salvia Education Services
Riverside, CA 92507
A predictive model of genocide has been developed. Genocide occurs when an authoritarian regime is consolidating power and can do so by mobilizing hatred against particular groups of subjects or citizens, and then moving to exterminate them. Geenocide involves the political manipulation of ethnic, religious, and political hatred, through development of an official or quasi-official exclusionary ideology. Anthropological study of genocide requires investigation into the nature and background of hate and an understanding of how it can be politically mobilized. Psychology and ethnography (especially of genocides) allows us to construct a model on this basis. Hate is a general emotion, but mobilizing it requires specific conditions and can be prevented.
Genocide may be the defining crime of the 20th century, and is maintaining itself in the 21st. Not only genocide itself, but indifference to it by the international community, remains a huge problem for the world (Apsel and Verdeja 2013; Hinton 2005; Hirsch 2014; Power 2002; Totten 2012, 2014).
Violence in a hierarchic, repressive society almost invariably triggers outbreaks that seem to the outsider to be literally insane. People afterwards often recall feeling out of their minds—either crazed with blood lust or feeling like automatons (Anderson and Anderson 2012 review a long literature; see also Staub 1989, 2011). From a considerable literature on evil and human hate, especially valuable are Scott Atran’s Talking to the Enemy (2010), Roy Baumeister’s Evil (1997), Aaron Beck’s Prisoners of Hate (1999), and Erwin Staub’s The Roots of Evil (1989).
- N. Anderson and Barbara A. Anderson constructed a model for predicting genocide in the book Warning Signs of Genocide (2012; Doughty 2015; Heying, 2013). The book followed the original definition by Raphael Lemkin: “the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group” (Lemkin 1944:79; see Lemkin 2013). He included cultural destruction through forced assimilation, and also partial or attempted genocide that did not totally succeed. (Indeed, few totally succeed.) The book further defined genocide as murder by a government of its own citizens or subjects, when they are accused of nothing consequential other than belong to a particular demographic category.
This category can be a religion or sect, a political philosophy, a “race” (however defined by the genociders), an ethnic group, or any other essentialized but ultimately arbitrary cultural category. Killing of actual enemies, however general and ruthless, does not count, which means we are using a quite different definition from Ben Kiernan’s in his magistral work Blood and Soil (2007). Kiernan, in a truly great study of “genocide,” defines it as any mass murder of noncombatants, even enemy noncombatants in an active war. Since all wars involve this, he studied war in general, throughout all history. He found that most involved “blood and soil”—descent groups, and land to appropriate, conquer, or loot.
Restricting genocide to murder of a government’s own peaceful subjects eliminates almost all Kiernan’s cases. It leaves us with two quite different types: Settler genocides (Wolfe 2006; these are well covered by Kiernan), and modern total genocide. In the former, an ethnic group takes over an area and clears the land, once the people are subjected, by methodically exterminating them. This occurred in the New World with many Native American groups, and in Australia with the Aboriginals. In modern total genocide, a government picks on long-established citizen groups and exterminates them for what appear to outsiders to be arbitrary or inadequate reasons. The classic case, of course, is Hitler’s extermination of Jews, Roma, homosexuals, handicapped and mentally ill persons, political dissenters, modern artists, and several other categories. Other particularly horrific examples include the massacre of Armenians by the “Young Turk” government of Turkey (Akçam 2012) and the genocide in Cambodia in the 1970s (Frye 1989; Hinton 2002a, 2002b, 2005; Kiernan 2007).
Genocide remains rather difficult to define. Martin Shaw, in his new book Genocide and International Relations (2013), critiques much of the usage of the term for being too restrictive; like Kiernan, he would expand it to include almost any violence against defined groups, and also sees it as typically on ongoing process. This, of course, makes genocide virtually universal, eliminating, for instance, the close link between genuine mass violence and dictatorial regimes based on exclusionary ideologies. Shaw is right in pointing out that the killings often spill over into neighboring countries and involve other governments, and often have significant linkages with international politics. Shaw notes the hypernationalist policies that went worldwide after World Wars I and II, with massive resettlement of populations all over the planet. The mutual genocidal killings of Greeks and Turks in 1922-3 were pursuant to population deals in the Treaty of Lausanne, for example (see Appendices I and II).
Lemkin’s definition, by contrast, is rather strict. It rules out, for instance, most of the extermination campaigns against Native Americans in the United States. Most were either actual wars against genuinely combative enemies not under control of the United States Government, or they were informal massacres carried out by local people without government authority. Only a few actual genocidal massacres had official government blessing. Those few included the Cherokee Long March, the Shoshone-Bannock “war” of the 1870s, the Sioux campaigns of the 1890s (Mooney 1896), and several other cases, but not, for instance, the mass murders committed in missionization and later de-missionization in California (which have often been called genocide). Lemkin was defining a real and extremely important type of killing, and one that vastly and explosively increased in the 20th century, making it exceedingly important as a factor in world history. Overgeneralizing his term loses us a category that needs serious study.
However, genocide does include “wars” in which a vastly disproportionate percent of the killing was government extermination of innocent noncombatants, such as the Guatemalan terror of the 1980s, in which over 200,000 people died in what was called a civil war, but the government was responsible for at least 95% and possibly 97% of the killings, and virtually none of those were combat deaths (see e.g. Stoll 1993, 1999).
By this definition, at least 100 million and possibly more than 200 million people were killed by genocide in the 20th and early 21st centuries, in at least 67 countries (Anderson and Anderson 2012; De Dreu et al. 2010; Rummel 1994, 1998; Tilly 2003:55). This makes it as potent a killer as malaria or tuberculosis.
Anderson and Anderson (2012) found, working with a sample including every 20th century genocide, that modern genocide was predicted by 1) authoritarian government; 2) a major challenging situation to it, almost always either consolidation after it just seized power, or civil or international war in which loss by the government was very likely. Hitler’s genocide, for instance, began with WWII but did not become total—the “Final Solution”—till it was uncomfortably apparent that the Axis was losing ground and would probably be defeated. Settler genocides (and conquest genocides that are structurally the same) are expected when a government of settlers (conquerors) is consolidating control, and has reduced the conquered people to subjects but is still afraid of rebellion or outbreak.
Barbara Harff, a student of conflict and civil unrest, developed a model essentially the same as that in Anderson and Anderson (2012). She and her husband Ted Gurr were leading authorities on conflict (Harff and Gurr 2005). Harff uses Lemkin’s definition. She further follows the UN definition, elaborated from (and partly by) Lemkin (but she and we follow Lemkin and not the UN in including political-ideological massacres). She defines genocide as governmental attempt “to destroy, in whole or in part, a communal, political, or politicized ethnic group” (Harff 2003:58, her italics). She does not make a point of noncombatant status, but she sympathetically cites others who do; she does not deal with the possibility that religion, gender identity, or modern art could be definers, but they often are. She specifically includes politics, thus including Charles Tilly’s “politicide” (Tilly 2003). Her sample in 2003 was genocides from 1955 to 1997. Anderson and Anderson’s was 1800 to 2007.
In her predictive model of genocide, Harff (2003, 2012) summarized the direct correlates of genocide succinctly: “almost all genocides of the last half-century occurred during or in the immediate aftermath of internal wars, revolutions, and regime collapse” (2003:57; cf. Ben Kiernan, 2007:393: “By 1910…a new phenomenon emerged: genocides perpetrated by national chauvinist dictatorships that had seized control of tottering, shrinking, or new empires…”—difficult to define but close to Harff’s findings). She has also, and perhaps more importantly, identified the critical role of what she calls “exclusionary ideologies” (Harff 2003, 2012). These are the ideologies of the leaders who call out genocides. Ideologies of this type, however, are not confined to genocides or genocidal leaders. They are widespread, and create much killing outside of actual wars or genocides. Harff points out that all genocides must have, underlying them, some ideology that not only legitimates mass murder, but makes it seem like a noble cause. Her model (like Anderson and Anderson’s of 2012) predicts that authoritarian governments led by such ideologues will become genocidal if stressed by events that seem to challenge their power, especially consolidation of a new regime, or civil war or unrest. More or less similar ideas have recently surfaced in genocide scholarship (see e.g. Aijmer and Abbink 2000; Jones 2011; Lewy 2012; Mann 2005; Meierhenrich 2014; Stanton 2013; an anonymous posting on Motherboard, 2015, notes the use of words like “cockroaches,” long known to be associated with genocide, are actually predictive of it).
She stresses the role of autocratic governments, and also “political upheaval” (p. 62); again, her italics) as the near-invariable immediate cause. She emphasizes the frequency of prior genocides in a nation’s record, which Anderson and Anderson did not find, due to working with a larger sample over a longer period of time, which tended to wash out this variable. She discusses the existence of “ethnic and religious cleavages” (p. 63) and found no correlation; all nations have diversity but only some have genocide. “Low economic development” (p. 64) also bought her little variance, and again the wider sample confirms this, destroying any correlation. Major genociders included Germany at a time when it was one of the three or four richest countries in the world, and within her time frame there were genocides in Argentina, Chile, China, Serbia, and elsewhere, as she notes. More recently, Israel has engaged in genocidal activities in Palestine, with calls by major government figures for outright extermination of Palestinians (Robinson 2014). Several other affluent nations have hovered on the brink.
She finds that recent genocides have more likely in countries that were relatively isolated or independent of the world-system (p. 65). Again this does not hold for older genocides. Even in her sample, it is difficult to defend, because of such issues as China’s genocides in remote western areas (Tibet, Xinjiang) while being open to the world (p. 69).
Her final result as of 2003 (p. 66) was that autocratic government and prior genocides were both correlated at .9 with genocides that occurred, but of course both conditions also existed in countries without genocide. Other political upheaval correlated only .47, but “exclusionary ideologies” (“hate ideologies” in Anderson and Anderson 2014) and rule by members of a self-conscious ethnic minority both correlated .69. Openness to trade, a proxy for world-system incorporation, correlated .7. She admits that the model did not predict genocides in rich, trade-involved countries (e.g. Chile), or even poor but trade-involved ones (Philippines, El Salvador, several others).
In 2012 she reaffirmed her risk factors, and predicted serious troubles in several countries. First on the list was Myanmar, which in fact has had genocidal attacks on Rohingya Muslims since she wrote. As she pointed out, it was rather a simple prediction, since the country was a military dictatorship with almost continual war against minorities. Second was Syria, and we know what has happened there. Third was China, and indeed the Uighur genocide has come up since she wrote. Fourth was Sudan, but the breakaway of South Sudan damaged the government so much that it has not had the energy to do much more than harass Darfur, though that long-running bloody action continues. Meanwhile, South Sudan has had genocides of its own. Less successful predictions were the next few: Pakistan, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Iran, though the first two have had a great deal of violence and repression. Then comes a hit, D. R. Congo, but genocide was already ongoing there when she wrote. A number of lower-risk countries follow, of which only Central African Republic has had a genocide, and there—for once—the international community moved fast to damp it down (Brown 2013). The others include very stable countries like Saudi Arabia.
The Anderson model has the advantage of breaking regime consolidation out from response to disruption, and also noting that economic and military disruptions are both causative and predictive.
Harff and others have independently come to stress more and more the ideological side. Governments that live and maintain themselves by mobilizing hatreds are almost always forced sooner or later to exterminate the people they say they hate. In one well-studied case this did not happen: Mahathir bin Muhamad’s Malaysia in the 1970s. That case may be instructive. Mahathir took over on a ticket of hatred and suppression of the Chinese, after several years of ethnic rioting and violence in which Bumiputera (Malays) and Chinese battled. Under Mahathir, the Chinese gave as little cause as they could for actual repression, tolerated a great deal of impact, and meanwhile worked terribly hard to build up the economy and make sure Mahathir and his group were beneficiaries of this. His position softened in direct proportion to his own and his political group’s economic success. Thus hate ideologies are real and dangerous, but enough economic success may convince most haters to be more quiet. This has not happened recently in the United States, however, where every new statistic showing the US is economically flourishing seems to make the racists and religious bigots more and more extreme.
Meanwhile, Samuel Totten, veteran student of genocide and especially of mass murder of Indigenous minorities, has added his own more immediate warning signs—signs that genocide is ongoing, not just that it is potential:
–A specific groups is “demeaned, ostracized, marginalized, segregated, excluded, or isolated”;
–“mass deportations and forcible transfer”;
–Government forces “kill unarmed civilians at will” [hardly a warning sign—the fact itself!];
–“test massacres are carried out”;
–“mass rape and enforced pregnancy are taking place.” (Totten 2014:24).
A somewhat similar list is found in “The Ten Stages of Genocide,” posted by Gregory Stanton (2013) on his Genocide Watch website—a very useful resource. The ten stages are classification, symbolization, discrimination, dehumanization, organization, polarization, preparation, persecution, extermination and denial. They are indeed stages to watch for, and Stanton gives quick definitions and suggests countermeasures, including things for governments and the United Nations to do. Dr. Stanton maintains on his website a list and map of countries that are genocidal or threatening to become so: http://genocidewatch.net/alerts-2/new-alerts/. The assessments are similar to Barbara Harff’s (whom he cites). An earlier posting, “Twelve Ways to Deny a Genocide” (2005), neatly summarizes that unpleasant aspect of mass murder.
With Harff and Stanton actively predicting risks and advocating preventive measures, and with other new work summarized below, knowledge about genocide prevention has been revolutionized. One hopes that this will translate into action, but continued fecklessness of the world community in the face of ISIS and Boku Haram indicate that the lessons are not being learned.
In a review of Warning Signs of Genocide, Kristin Doughty (2015) identified several needs for future work. These include “the political and moral economy in which violence and humanitarianism occur,” and looking more at “recent anthropological work on violence, the state, collective belonging, and human rights” (Doughty 2015:175); she also points out that when genocide is defined as state murder of its own citizens, there should have been an an extension for genocidal pursuit of people across national boundaries (as earlier noted by Martin Shaw, 2013). This was obvious from Hitler’s massacre of the Jews and others—he murdered all he found in any country under his control—and also from on the hot pursuit by Tutsi and Hutu of each other into the Congo. Finally, she asks some questions:“how the act of labeling violence is political and…mobilized within specific historical trajectories of global configurations of power” (Doughty 2015:175); Ben Kiernan, Taner Aksam, and other cited sources cover this issue. Much more serious is her other question: “What are the warning signs that the human tendency toward group hate is being exploited by powerful people for violent ends?” (Doughty 2015:175). The appalling failure of the world at large to spot this in the Koch brothers’ manipulation of the Tea Party, the Saudi Arabian manipulation of extremist Islam, and many other governments’ exploitation of hate shows this is indeed a particularly pressing problem.
Civil war is quite different from genocide, epidemiologically and otherwise. Economics is clearly associated with civil war (Collier and Sambanis 2005). In contrast, genocide is countereconomic; eliminating a large percentage of one’s workers and taxpayers cannot really be beneficial. Civil war usually occurs when a region feels oppressed and wishes to break away, or when a huge rebellion seriously threatens a regime (Collier and Sambanis 2005); genocide occurs when the regime preempts such situations by exterminating the groups that might so act. A link with newly independent nations that arise from the collapse of empires has been traced for civil war (Wimmer and Min 2006), and holds for genocide also; the two tend to merge into each other in such situations.
A final note on cause is another epidemiological one: how genocide spreads. Rudolph Rummel (1998) documented in great detail how it spread with Leninist-Stalinist Communism, occurring in essentially all countries that adopted that particular form of Marxism. (Marx himself did not, of course, advise any such thing, however much he may have counseled the elimination of ruling-class elements.) Rummel also documented the spread of genocide under fascism, especially, of course, Hitler’s particular form of fascist doctrine. A point somewhat missed by Rummel was the degree to which the United States spread genocide, via its CIA operations in Latin America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. How much this was foreseen—let alone deliberately planned—is controversial. However, genocide followed CIA-backed takeovers in Guatemala, El Savador, and Chile, and often the genociders had been trained at the School of the Americas operated by the U.S. Department of Defense in Fort Benning, Georgia. This school trained Rios Montt of Guatemala and Roberto D’Aubuisson of El Salvador, as well as participants in the genocides in Haiti and Argentina (AlJazeera 2012). It taught a range of techniques and established a values system based on exterminating perceived enemies of military regimes. Also, the Guatemalan and Argentine armies, at least, had long-standing relationships with Hitlerian fascism; the Guatemalan army had been trained in the 1930s and 1940s by pro-Hitler Germans, and Mein Kampf was required reading for Argentine military officers in the years before the genocide of the 1970s there (see e.g. Lewis 2001; Timerman 2002). Thus, many of the 20th century genocides can be traced to three origin points and to a very few men.
“Genocide has two phases, one, the destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor” (Lemkin 1944:xi, quoted by Shaw 2013:55).
This quote reminds us that genocide is definitely about culture; it is about the elimination of a lifeway as well as a people. That leads us to consideration of hate ideologies. Others call them “extremist ideologies.” The most extreme form of hate ideology, when open extermination of the group is advocated, has been called “eliminationism” in Daniel Goldhagen’s monumental and intense history of genocide (2009). A very sensitive history of genocide and its ideology, using Foucault among other sources, has been written by Jacques Sémelin under the significant title Purify and Destroy (2007).
The common exclusionary ideologies are fascism (Neumann 1943, 1957), racism (Sussman 2014), the more extreme and radical forms of communism, and extremist movements within religions. These ideologies are defined simply: they all advocate indiscriminate violence to eliminate or terrify by mass killing some particular large group of people, defined such that men, women, children, old people, the sick, and noncombatants in general are all equally targeted. The roots of all these in religious killings, going back to the movements to exterminate heretics (such as the Catharist “crusade” and anti-Jewish pogroms), have been explored (Anderson and Anderson 2012; Rubinstein 2004).
They are generally splinter movements within splinter movements. Radical terrorist Islam, for instance, is an extreme offshoot of Wahhabism, itself an extreme offshoot of Hanbali Sunni, which is itself the most rigid and narrowly legalistic of the Muslim law interpretation schools. The terrorist form is almost universally condemned by Muslims and Muslim scholars and religious figures (see e.g. Schewitz 2015). The extremist Christianity that leads to murdering abortion clinic workers, gays, and Muslims is similarly far from the teachings of Jesus. Blaming religion in general for the murderous behavior of ISIS or the anti-abortion bombers and murderers is about as accurate as blaming democracy, or, for that matter, blaming bread (the staple food of the relevant groups).
Maoist and Stalinist communism is extreme by communist standards. Fascism, by definition, is a murderous hate ideology, but there has been considerable variation in how bloody the fascist regimes have been; Franco, repressive as he was, actually protected Spanish Jews from Hitler.
An important point made by few students of such movements is that they cannot promise only hate and gratification of hate. They cannot succeed if they simply call for indiscriminate mass murder. They need some professed high ideals. Most often, these are the most exalted ideals of all: those of world religions. Secular ideologies, however, must have equivalents. Fascism and racism promise purity, prosperity, and safety from hordes of criminal and inferior minorities. Communism professed ideals of equality, progress, social justice, and welfare that it did indeed deliver in some of its milder manifestations, but failed to deliver when it drifted into genocidal extremism, as in Stalin’s USSR and Mao’s China. Genocidal movements in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and elsewhere promised prosperity, peace, homogenous societies, and similar benefits if the enemy ethnic groups were eliminated.
As pointed out by Ben Kiernan in his book Blood and Soil (2007), similar ideologies animated settlers taking over land from Indigenous peoples; they would have peace and prosperity if they could take over the land, eliminating its rightful owners in the process. Concepts like “Manifest Destiny” were created to justify this. However warped and twisted all these benefits may seem in retrospect, they provided excuses for eliminating or decimating vast numbers of ethnic groups worldwide.
Thus, a hate ideology must have more than hate going for it. Even Hitler managed to promise progress, purity, virtue, superiority, and other goods, promises still associated with fascist leanings in some parts of German society (Voigtländer and Voth 2015).
Rios Montt’s fascist rule in Guatemala may have failed to eliminate the targeted groups partly because of his failure to tell a convincing story. In spite of his deployment of evangelical Christianity, he provided thin promises. He has been judged guilty of genocide (Fausset 2014; Sanford 2013) but the judgment was annulled, and many Guatemalans still yearn for a mano dura (“firm hand”) rule (Torres 2016). However, Christians in Guatemala were not convinced that mass murder of innocent people is a Christian act; the evangelical churches there are not, on average at least, as right-wing as US ones (at least in our research experience in Central America). By contrast, ISIS sells itself by offering the revival of the Caliphate and the glories of Islam. Its publicists can sound downright utopian. Scott Atran has found that it is these utopian calls, not the murder and bloodshed, that attract young Muslims, especially those facing prejudice and discrimination in Europe and America (Atran 2015a, 2015b).
On the other hand, direct, unsubtle hate appears to be necessary to make people torture and kill; subtlety does not work well in hate ideologies. Kteily, Bruneau et al. (2015) found that hate ideologies tend to compare people either to disgusting animals (rats, cockroaches) or to unfeeling machines (robots). These can be ideologically represented, and always seem to be in hate ideologies, especially the animal comparisons. The authors noted a tendency for richer groups to be “robots,” poorer minorities to be compared to animals, but there was substantial overlap, especially in the animal insults. Following up on this, Kteily, Hodson and Bruneau (2016) found that these stereotypes get mutually applied: stigmatized groups return the favor by dehumanizing their oppressors, and a vicious cycle emerges in which groups demonize each other more and more. We have seen this over the years in Israeli-Palestine conflicts and now in the widespread mutual dehumanization of each other by Muslims and right-wing Europeans and Americans, and consequent escalation of terrorist bombing by extremist Muslim groups and of indiscriminate air strikes by European powers and the United States.
Dehumanization, however, is only one part of a continuum that extends from simple dislike and devaluing to contempt, callousness, deliberate irresponsibility, bigotry, and ultimately real hatred. The common theme is rejecting people as people. Structural violence (Galtung 1969) can be as bloody and total as genocide. Corporations that simply take no notice of pollution-caused deaths, dam-builders that do not plan to resettle displaced persons, and oil companies that allow local militias to “protect” company operations by indiscriminate violence are on a very slippery slope toward genocide (Anderson 2010).
Hatred ideologies win over countries through military coups, elections (Hitler was democratically elected—by a bare plurality), or outright revolutions. Sometimes an already authoritarian state turning suddenly more extreme, almost always when challenged by stresses, but sometimes simply through normal succession practices that happen to bring a brutal ruler to power, as has happened today in Xi Jinping’s China.
Finally, a very important point is made by S. I. Wilkinson, as quoted by Martin Shaw (2013:160): “’…the constructivist insight that individuals have many ethnic and nonethnic identities with which they might identify politically. The challenge for politicians is to ensure that the one that most favours their party is the one that is most salient in the mimnds of the majority of voters…in the run-up to an election’ (Wilkinson 2006:4). By the same token, the challenge for activists mobilizing riots and other…violence is to stigmatize the ‘enemy’ through the most lethal combination of identities that can be ascribed to it.” Strategic negotiation and deployment of group identification is a well-studied phenomenon in politics, but not often applied to genocide cases.
Religious extremism—what used to be called “enthusiasm” and “fanaticism”—is currently attracting the most attention, especially in connection with genocidal or near-genocidal behavior. This includes the mass murder of Yazidis and Syriac Christians by ISIS in Iraq, but also the mass murders of Muslim Rohingya by Buddhists in Myanmar—a genocide that seems ironic to anyone steeped in the American stereotypes of peaceful Buddhism and murderous Islam. Netanyahu’s rhetoric and behavior in Israel are variants on the same theme, with genocidal ideation openly stated by some government figures (Robinson 2014). Atheists too have been genocidal in the name of religion—eliminating it by mass murder, notably in Mao Zedong’s persecution of religion in China in the 1950s and 1960s. Stalin and other extreme communists also killed simply to repress religion.
In the United States, leading Republican clergy (e.g. Ted Cruz’ friend and advisor Kevin Swanson) and other Republican leaders have called for literal extermination of gays. A ballot proposition was seriously introduced in California to proceed with this. (It was blocked by the state Attorney General.) A video game called “Kill the Faggot” was briefly marketed (Hayden 2015). Genocidal rhetoric about Muslims and other minorities has also been heard, and rising violence by the Ku Klux Klan and similar bodies has been chronicled by human rights groups. We live in a period when people’s insecurities and fears are dealt with by reactionary religiosity. It is highly significant that the extremisms of the 20th century were often forward-looking extremisms like communism and even the early forms of fascism.
The same people who fueled commuinst movements—the poor and excluded working classes, especially young people—now fuel movements that promise return to a mythical golden past. This tells us a great deal about their expectations, and the changes therein over the last few decades.
Scott Atran, leading expert on the anthropology of Islamic terrorism, has provided many findings on extremist Islamic ideology (Atran 2010, 2015a, 2015b). Most of them boil down to the familiar tenets of advertising: find out whom to target, find out what they respond to, try campaigns and see what works. Atran has worked only on Islamic (or pseudo-Islamic) terror, but his findings probably apply, mutatis mutandis, to any and all violent religious movements. One can read the following paragraphs substituting “the Communist movement” or “the KKK” for “ISIS.” The many studies of the rise of Communism in China and Vietnam, for instance, reveal the same basic picture, including the disproportional and wholly unsuccessful efforts by the US to stop it all.
The people targeted by ISIS and related extremist Islamic groups are the young, disaffected, nonaffluent Muslims or would-be Muslims in European slums and throughout the Muslim world, and in particular “those seeking meaning, glory, esteem, adventure, respect, remembrance, camaraderie, justice, rebellion, self-sacrifice and structure around personal chaos” (Atran 2015b:3). Most of the terrorists are not well versed in Islam, which is not surprising when one recalls that Islam forbids killing innocent civilians in war unless there is no way to avoid it. Many of the terrorists are actually converts, up to 1 out of 4 in France and allegedly even higher rates in the United States.
Atran notes that the media contribute greatly: “our own media are mainly designed to titillate rather than as a public servidce to inform; it has become child’s play for ISIS to turn our own propaganda machine, and the world’s mightiest media, into theirs—a novel, highly potent jujitsu style of asymmetric warfare that could be countered with responsible restraint” (Atran 2015b:4). “Many governments are sacrificing liberties for security, which plays into ISIS’s hands” (Atran 2015b:5). On the other hand, he notes that there are many Muslims willing to do anything they can to stop ISIS.
Atran has found, and has stressed, that the extreme and non-negotiable commitment people have to their religions and communities is a key factor in both extremism and opposing it; this is the opposite of “rational choice,” and cannot be dealt with as if it were simple economic decision-making. The ISIS recruits are idealistic and hopeful; like fighters for causes everywhere, they see fighting for a glorious future as the best of all possible lifeways.
ISIS and other hate ideologies emphasize development of strong personal ties, making people willing to sacrifice themselves for comrades (Atran 2010, 2015b:7). He emphasizes the need to study actual networks. Peer-to-peer recruitment is the norm. “Few are recruited in mosques” (Atran 2015b:10).
He notes that “The 9/11 attacks cost between $400,000 and $500,000, whereas the response by the US alone is on the order of 10 million times that figure…. On a strictly cost-benefit basis, the violent movement of which Al Qaeda and now ISIS are the spearheads has been wildly successful” (Atran 2015b:14).
Atran also reminds us: “In academia, you’ll find very many who criticize power…but very few willing to engage with power. They thus render themselves irrelevant and morally irresponsible…. As a result, politicians pay them little heed and the public could care less” (Atran 2015b:16). Fortunately there are many exceptions.
The one thing lacking in this assessment is the threat aspect. In its areas of strength, ISIS, like other such movements, does use direct threat to individuals and their families. It systematically uses show-trials and public executions to induce terror, as did all other extremist movements that succeeded in conquering and holding territory, including Christian sects in the medieval and Renaissance periods, and, for that matter, settlers in North America dealing with Native Americans (see e.g. Kiernan 2007). Veiled or open threats are a recruitment technique; they simply scare most people, but to those intrigued by extremism, they can force a decision: get out of the “gray zone” and commit to ISIS, or suffer the consquences of not doing so (cf. Atran 2015b:2).
In general, the ideology of ISIS is far from Islamic, and is close to if not identical with the ideology of right-wing Christianity in the US—the latter being similarly far from the New Testament, and similarly identified with followers who know very little about their religion. Right-wing Judaism in Israel and extremist Buddhism in Myanmar and Sri Lanka seem more or less identical. There are similar extreme movements within other religions and ideologies.
Common themes include, first (of course), a dedication to hatred of the vast hordes of enemies of the faith. Next comes repression and oppression of women, murderous hatred of gays, and other strong sexual controls; there is, to our knowledge, no thorough explanation of why sex is so terrifying to the orthodox. (Assertion of power over the elemental force of sexuality is part of it, but not all of it.) Then come opposition to science and learning, obedience to a very narrow construction of religious rules, hatred of nonreligious authority, and above all a devotion to violence as a first and best recourse. This is no new ideology; it was abundantly represented in the religious wars of Europe from Rome to the present. It needs to be more tightly defined and studied.
One very significant difference between ISIS and American fascism and religious exclusionism is that the support for the most extreme candidates in the United States comes from older, less educated whites as opposed to young minorities with limited hopes. The former is exactly the demographic that has recently been found to have a rapidly rising death rate due to skyrocketing rates of drug and alcohol abuse and suicide (Case and Deaton 2015). It is also the demographic most hard-hit by absolute and relative decline in economic well-being, as industrial jobs are increasingly exported to other countries, often by the same individuals who fund the far right.
Someone has to fund extremist ideology. Hitler had his giant corporations: Krupp, Volkswagen, I. G. Farben and others. Mussolini had corporate backing. ISIS lives by selling oil on black or gray markets, with added income from looting anquities and selling Yazidis and Christians into slavery. They also have the benefits of major remnants of Saddam Hussein’s military, who have joined them (Sly 2015). American hate is funded by a handful of wealthy interests long associated with right-wing causes: Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers, the late Richard Scaife, and others, especially the giant oil corporations and arms interests (see Blumenthal 2015). Most of these pretended to be in favor of small government and free markets, but now are largely interested in taking over the government and using it to eliminate groups of people and to control markets and corporations. Naturally, the funders wind up having disproportionate power to define the movements and set agendas—ideological, economic, and political. Big government has replaced small. Cutting welfare and related expenses dedicated to the less fortunate seems more a matter of persecution than of saving money; the astronomical sums poured into indiscriminate bombing of Islamic populations dwarf the savings into rounding errors. Subsidies to oil, agribusiness, munitions, and chemical corporations also dwarf the welfare cuts.
A genuinely fascist movement is sweeping the US, fed by such right-wingers as Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers via their massive funding of the Tea Party and many other “Astroturf” organizations, and of the most extreme Republican candidates at national and state levels. The Koch brothers are the sons of a leading Nazi sympathizer and supporter of Hitler’s regime, who actually sought out a German Nazi nurse to raise them—they absorbed their politics from birth (Mayer 2016). Their “libertarianism” is actually socialism for the rich; one must rememeber that “Nazi” is short for Nazional Sozialismus, and the Kochs’ economic theorists were Ludwig von Mises, an active and enthusiastic Nazi supporter, and Friedrich Hayek, also a sympathizer with fascist regimes (Robin 2012). The Kochs now dominate the Republican Party and its funding and ideological operations.
Beyond Scott Atran’s prescriptions, the three things that stand out are a need to promote tolerance and valuing diversity, a need to make hatred socially unacceptable, and a need for directly but rationally and coolly confronting hatred and bigotry. The surest cure for hate is making it a social sin. Hate is an emotion that hugely dominates the human animal when it is aroused, and it can be dealt with only by patient, rational discourse kept up with constant pressure. Prayers, good will, love, and other favorite recourses of good people do not have much effect.
Prevention of genocide and bringing genociders to justice have moved forward. Governments are more aware of international sanctions. Marcus Alexander and Fotini Christia (2011) found that schools in Bosnia that had been well integrated ethnically did not have the hatred and problems of schools that had not. The journal Genocide Studies International moved up from newsletter to serious major journal in 2014, with a stunning introduction by veteran genocide scholar Herbert Hirsch that bluntly calls out the world powers for failing to deal with the problem (Hirsch 2014).
Many effective remedies and preventions have been proposed in the available literature, notably by Samantha Power (2002 and subsequent writings) and Daniel Chirot (Chirot and McCauley 2006). Immediately bringing massed international force to the scene seems to be the only really effective way of stopping killing once it begins (see e.g. Brown 2013 for a recent case). Before that, however, international condemnation, in no uncertain terms, is necessary, and should be backed up by severe economic sanctions.
The Gurr group’s biennial survey of conflict has moved to new editors (Hewitt et al. 2012; Barker et al. 2014). International denial and national denial have been rigorously analyzed by Kaligian (2014). Carol Kidron (2012) compared Jewish and Cambodian refugees in their approach toward their genocidal past; Jews talked more and worked it over, Cambodians talked less and had more problems, but the situation is not as simple as talking vs. silence; there are many issues of community support, how one does the talking, whether one is listened to, success in the new society, and more (Barbara Anderson had little trouble getting most Cambodian refugees to talk, but it did require counseling skills and some never opened up). A new collection of texts by Bartrop (2013) gives enough anguished stories to convince anyone that genocide should be stopped.
The challenge to social science in these models is abundantly clear. Social science has overwhelmingly assumed that people were rational, and acted in their rational self-interest. Such is clearly not the case; humans are often creatures of irrational hate. Many are psychopaths, out of the reach of normal economic or social restraints. The Harff, Totten, and other models have extremely high success in predicting and explaining behavior based on the implicit or explicit assumption (implicit in Harff and Gurr, explicit in the Anderson model) that humans are primarily social and primarily creatures of emotion, and that they often give priority to fear, because ignoring a threat can be deadly. Fear, if not dealt with by rational means, often leads to hate. Then, there is no amount of self-interest that people will not abandon to kill their rivals, and even their friends and neighbors.
Social science will have to start over from the ground up, with the basic principles that people are basically social and emotional, and that hate takes priority in times of threat and disturbance. Love and solidarity may rule, or reasonable self-interest or unreasonable greed may rule, the rest of the time; in any case, emotion is the usual driver. This may make sense in a world that is often threatening, and in which we never have the “perfect information” on which rational choice models depend. We have to be alert to danger, and prioritize response to it when threatened—which is a lot of the time.
Better things are possible. Some years ago, John Heidenreich (2001) gave us a number of ways that diplomacy and political resolve could stop genocide. Far more ambitious is Ervin Staub’s life work, epitomized in Overcoming Evil (2011). This book summarizes all possible causes of genocide and terrorism, and gives an extremely comprehensive and detailed account of what can be done by ordinary people to damp down the vicious cycles of hate and violence that lead to mass murder. The methods range from getting people from the different sides to talk to each other and work out their problems (the classic group therapy techniques) to active-bystander intervention, and on up to political, media, and educational approaches. The latter will certainly be needed, since encounter groups can never be comprehensive and widespread enough to do the job—though they are surely desirable, even necessary. Staub emphasizes the need to see others as ourselves—to see that we are all in the same boat, all humans together (see summary point, p. 515).
The successes he describes appear to come from damping down vicious cycles—from turning positive feedback loops of hatred into negative ones. The germs of genocide are the millions of imagined slights and trivial hurts that we all suffer every day in our capacity as social beings. They almost always get constructed into annoyance and exasperation, and then projected on scapegoats. People angry at their loved ones take it out on safe targets, often minorities and other vulnerable people. Politicians find this tendency very easy to exploit. They deliberately whip up hatred and direct it against scapegoats. They they get caught in the vicious cycles they have started.
We will all have to confront these crimes at national and international levels, and throw the whole weight of citizenry behind ways to reverse vicious spirals and get people to see each other as all in the same lifeboat, and not fighting over the provisions on it.
Appendix I. Evaluating Martin Shaw’s Recent Model
Shaw’s main point is that genocide does not exist in isolation; it comes from an environment of nationalist and colonialist killing in which displacement of people, mass killing in war, and forced acculturation of minorities are standard operating procedure. He uses the term “degenerate war” for what others call “collateral damage”: Large-scale killing of civilians due to indiscriminate use of massive deadly force. “’International context’ was the emergent idea that I appropriated from the existing genocide literature…. I rejected a rigid idea of the ‘international system,’ but I have continiued to use this notion in a historicized way, arguing that we should understand the system as one that undergoes constant change, not only of an evolutionary but also, throuigh periods of major upheaval, of a more radical kind” (Shaw 2013:196).
He notes several ways “the European inter-imperial system was implicated in genocide” (Shaw 2013:69): Colonialism and imperialism set the stage and often involved genocide; centralized states were formed in less than pretty ways; “the internal homogenization of empires’ ‘national’ cores fed into the often genocidal processes of settler coloinal settlement” (Shaw 2013:70, his italics). This led to further colonial and liberation wars. There were settler genocides in the 19th and early 20th centuries, including American genocides of Native American groups. During and following WWI, there were central and east Europe’s imperial collapses, including the appalling Turkish genocides of 1915-22. This was followed by the collapse of all the world empires in the post-WWII era, and the collapse of the USSR and Yugoslavia after 1989, and the genocides following postcolonial transitions of power in Africa in the 1990s and 2000s. All these led to the rise of ethnic rivalry, displacement of persons, and genocidal nation-states; relations between empires played out in ways that impacted large populations, often in devastating if not quite genocidal ways. He also notes the correlation of communist genocides with mass killings by imperial powers in liberation wars, anti-Communist wars, and, most recently, anti-Islamic wars. The rise of militant Islam since 2000 has been associated with not only genocide but violent wars that seem especially targeted at civilians, with the United States heavily involved (see esp. 200f). Shaw does not quite say that genocide comes out of civilian-targeted war—it clearly does not always do so—but he certainly sees a correlation.
In our book, we commented on the genocides and near-genocides following the end of WWII and sometimes, ironically and vengefully, directed against Germans, in central European countries. Shaw also notes this (2013:79). Throughout the 20th century, international and national politics “increasingly stimulated nationalist population politics,” with inevitable feedback loops; led to “radical nationalists for whom violent expulsion was an acceptable means of solving population ‘problems’”; radicalized population displacements in wars; caused governments to fear their own citizens (especially when losing wars, as we showed in Anderson and Anderson 2012); and reified all this in treaties (Shaw 2013:81-82, his italics).
This all makes much more sense of genocide history, including the frequency of near-genocides: wars that turn into simple butchery (like the US wars against the Plains Indians from 1870 to 1900), massacres that are not actually done by governments but are winked at by them (again several Native American cases come to mind), wars that involve systematic terrorist massacre of civilians (like the Mongol conquests), apartheid in South Africa (oppression and frequent killing without actual mass murder), the ambiguous civil war/international war/genocide that has ravaged Iraq for 15 years now, and so on. Shaw counts these as genocides, and uses them to link from outright mass murder like the Holocaust to ordinary wars with their inevitable civilian deaths. (Shaw never quite defines genocide, using Lemkin’s classic definition , but qualifying it by expanding it without quite specifying the limits.)
Appendix II: The Turkish Genocides
Many aspects of genocidal ideation and response to it are explored in recent work on the Armenian genocide during WWI in Turkey. This can now be added to Hitler’s far more wide-flung and deadly campaign as a particularly well-analyzed genocide. The definitive study of the Armenian murders is Akçam 2012. The context in the history of the Middle East at the time is found in Fromkin’s book significantly titled A Peace to End All Peace (2009) and by Hofmann (2015).
Genocide began in 1895 but did not get serious until after 1914 (Melson 2015). It spread quickly, spilling over borders into countries where Armenians took refuge. Roger Smith says: “Scholars describe…both domestic and external genocide, and, of course, the two can take place at the same time, as they did with the attacks on Armenians…. As the social psychologists say, we learn by doing, and genocide perpetrators are no different, perhaps even quick studies” (Smith 2015:1). The Turks were helped by the lack of solidarity among Christian communities, some of which turned on others (Gaunt 2015). Turks also killed Greeks (Meichanetsidis 2015), though the Greeks gave as good as they got in the war of 1921-22.
German involvement was critical to the development of hate ideology, but peripheral in the genocide (Akçam 2012; Dadrian 1996; Gaunt 2015; Hofmann 2015). Poems and interpretive memories are an important part of survival for Armenians today (e.g. Whitehorn 2015 and n.d., but much more from my personal contacts). Last, denial by Turkey of the holocaust has become an international embarrassment, more and more peripheral to history as more and more facts come out. It now turns out that the Turkish government hired the same public relations agents that ran the denialist campaigns against the health risks of smoking and the danger of global warming (Mamigonian 2015)!
Appendix III: Background to Hate and Killing
A final issue concerns the degree to which hate and war are natural to humans. Since the ancient Greeks, and certainly since the days of Thomas Hobbes, the world has been divided into those who believe humans are instinctively hateful and violent (as most recently argued by Chagnon 2013), and those who believe it is all cultural or political. The truth may be somewhere in between. Humans certainly evolved with conflict, which indeed may have driven their evolution of the ability to cooperate in very large groups (Bowles 2006; Turchin 2015). H. H. Turney-High showed long ago that conflict is common among small-scale societies (Turney-High 1949). A recent collection of papers edited by Douglas Fry, War, Peace, and Human Nature (2013), discusses the alternative views in a reasonably dispassionate way and with a vast amount of data. The extreme views of people as basically extremely warlike (Chagnon, Turchin) are clearly wrong. Some scholars in Fry’s book have a much more irenic view of humanity; most are aware that people are very widely bloodthirsty but point to many peaceable societies as proof that we can do better. (Pinker and especially Turchin exaggerate the extent to which anthropologists deny warfare, and Turchin makes the frequent scholarly error of claiming Rousseau believed in the peaceful “noble savage.” Rousseau never used that phrase, and his “savage”—his model for the wild ancestor of humanity—was the chimpanzee, which he knew perfectly well to be a violent animal. In fact, his take on chimpanzees as our ancestors is very much like that of modern anthropologists who stress chimpanzee violence. See Rousseau 1986.)
Recent confirmation that serious war is no new thing comes from a site near Lake Turkana in Kenya, where 27 individuals, including six children and a pregnant woman, were brutally killed and left sprawling where they fell on the edge of a lagoon (Lahr et al. 2016). They were obviously massacred. From comparisons with more recent hunter-gatherer conflicts, I suspect this was a fight over land, specifically the lagoon with its rich resources. The group in question was apparently rather large and sedentary as African hunter-gatherer groups go.
Milder views of people as chronically prone to war but able to control it (Pinker 2011) appear exaggerated, but not far from the truth if toned down to fit the data. Pinker and Turchin argue that people have become much more peaceful over the millennia, but Douglas Fry and others show this to be mostly due to Pinker’s and Turchin’s exaggeration of the extent of pre-state war, their understatement of the bloodiness of modern war, and above all their ignoring of “structural violence” (Galtung 1969; Fry 2013, passim). When a dictator, as a deliberate political act, invokes a famine that kills a large percentage of his citizens, as Mao did in 1958-61 and as the Dergue did in Ethiopia in the 1970s, that is genocidal violence, not mere lack of food.
Most anthropologists are at pains to show that “their people” are models of behavior—a commendable practice in many ways, but not always helpful to our mission here, since today it means that anthropologists try to show their people in a peaceable light (Pinker 2011; he is correct here; for a classic case, writing off even sober and well-attested findings, see Arens 1980). Fortunately, in the 19th and early 20th century, “bravery” and “martial ideals” were considered virtues more than defects, so ethnographers of that era pulled no punches in descriptions of wars. (This reached a pinnacle in George Grinnell’s superb work The Fighting Cheyennes [1956, orig. 1915], a quite admiring chronicle and ethnography of warfare among that extremely militant group.) Conversely, however, travelers’ accounts from that period and, even more, from earlier centuries are filled with horrific, and obviously invented or exaggerated, tales of violence and “savagery”; Pinker and Turchin are taken in by some of them.
In fact, all societies from ancient times to the present have confronted violence. The US has been almost continually at war throughout its history. As Randolph Bourne said, “War is the health of the state” (Bourne 1918). The usual immediate motives are land, loot, strategic advantage (including preemptive strike), and sheer culture and custom, as well as individual prestige and respect. The real cause in modern societies is usually a militaristic ruling elite with a militarist ideology (typically involving honor and prestige), with the backing of a munitions industry. Peaceable leaders do not do it. Neither do leaders who are too busy controlling their own; the quite violent and autocratic emperors of Ming China and Yi Korea, among others, made no external war except for defense, because they simply could not afford to.
The usual targets of offensive war are smaller, weaker countries or tribes that have something the big, strong one wants (mostly land and loot) or are a thorn in the side (as ISIS is today). Only overweening self-confidence gets countries or tribes to take on equally strong polities. Usually, leaders are sensible enough not to do that.
This rather diminishes the ability of Chagnon, Pinker, Turchin, et al. to argue that people just naturally make war. Few really want to die young and horribly. War requires several causes, usually at least three. Wars were rarely started unless the leading perpetrators had a militaristic ideology, the chance of a great deal of land and loot, and a very good chance of surviving (through ordering the young, idealistic men to do the dying). Even notoriously warlike societies like the Yanomami turn out to have multiple reasons for war, again mostly land and loot, but, contra Chagnon, not usually women (Ferguson 2015).
People do not like to kill. Soldiers in combat usually do not fire—only about 20% in hot battles, unless they have had special training (Hughbank and Grossman 2013). War stories, from Native American folktales to the novels of Norman Mailer and Joseph Heller, invariably contain much detail about “psyching up” to get men to fight. Records of street gangs show the same patterns. Even in Chagnon’s Yanomamo, people do not want to fight and will not do it without major cause (Ferguson 2015).
As to hate, some people appear to be simply prejudiced, for whatever reason (Forscher et al. 2015). More generally, however, psychologists observe that hate comes from fear—from people who are naturally anxious and have had various types of bad experiences. Oddly, this whole area has been poorly studied (what has been done is reviewed in Baron-Cohen 2011; Baumeister 1997; Beck 1999; Sternberg and Sternberg 2008). Suffice it to say that hate is a powerful emotion, that it usually (but not always) comes from fear, but that culture can establish certain hatreds and bigotries as conditions for social acceptance, in which case ordinary people who have no reason to fear or concern themselves with the hated groups will hate them through pure social convention. The end of this is that hate is far stronger and deeper than almost any anthropological account suggests or admits. Even anthropological accounts of genocide often focus on the ordinary people caught up in the strife rather than the actual leaders and instigators. Of course this has not been true of the historical literature, especially on Germany (and also Guatemala and Rwanda), so we have a good deal of comparative material.
The vast majority of the literature on war and violence takes either a rational-choice model that is clearly inadequate, or leaves the emotion described, sometimes examined, but not analyzed in a comparative or human-wide perspective. I am not aware of any anthropological studies of hate across cultures.
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