Tears marked with pain and searing loss. Years of running from violence and questioning if your family is still alive. Living in constant fear. Rationing the most basic necessities. This is the daily life of an individual fleeing genocide.
Genocide is the intentional dehumanization and mass killing of a group of people. Ervin Staub reveals in Origins of Genocide that “difficult life conditions give rise to powerful needs and goals demanding satisfaction.” Usually this results in electing a group of people as the scape goat for said difficult life conditions, placing all of the blame on them.
Actions and events leading to genocide occur over a long period of time. Staub highlights that small initial actions causing little harm allow further destructive actions to be made possible.Genocide requires premeditated actions that are well executed and thought out. We often forget that perpetrators are theorists first and barbarians second. Sometimes I question how someone could ever intentionally strategize to kill an entire group of people because they are so fueled by hatred. However, genocide requires a denial of reality. As a perpetrator, you must distance yourself from the events taking place. Dehumanization is necessary in the preparation and execution phases in order to not have to accept the damage being done. The outcome is so catastrophic that true pain is masked.
Amidst all of this pain, bystanders play a critical role in hindering or advancing the plot of the perpetrators. Bystanders are a powerful group because their support, opposition, or indifference drives the course of events. They usually represent the majority of the population and are quickly silenced by authority to suppress any hope the victims may be holding onto. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn describes below, it is crucial that we each work to restore humanity in a broken world, never assuming the role of a silent bystander.
“Everything which is further away, which does not threaten this very day to invade our very threshold –with all its groans, its stifled cries, its destroyed lives, even if it involves millions of victims –this we consider on the whole to be perfectly bearable and of tolerable proportions”
Lack of proximity and connection to injustices such as genocide tempts us to perhaps not deem this tragedy bearable, but to live as though it were. Our challenge is to make it relevant and connected to our lives. It’s time that we step up and stop letting the most vulnerable people slip through the cracks of society. Justice is messy. It is inconvenient and requires sacrifice. However truly loving our neighbor and bearing their burdens is the greatest service we can offer our world. Real love requires sacrifice — sacrifice of our pride, time, and gifts. I challenge you to sacrifice on your neighbor’s behalf. This could look like educating yourself on genocide, loving people better, or advocating for the oppressed. Laying yourself down to raise others up is the mark of selfless character, and I think that is something we should all be striving towards.