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Since the 1990s there has been a virtual academic consensus that a genocide was perpetuated by Germany during the Herero and Nama War. But the question of responsibility and continuity are still being debated.

In the last two decades, the Herero and the Nama have sought justice, recognition and reparations from the German government for the genocide they endured at the beginning of the 20th century. Recently, they have taken their struggle to an American court, which started hearing their case a few weeks ago. The German government officially referred to the 1904-1907 events as a “genocide” only recently (in 2016) and still refrains from dealing with who was responsibility and rejects calls for reparation. Instead, Germany has attempted reconciliation through other channels, such as providing aid to the Namibian government and returning victim remains that were stored in Germany after the genocide.

The historiography of German colonialism and Namibian history has witnessed fierce debate regarding the events that took place in Southwest African between 1904-1907. Still today, some historical questions remain. This short essay will try to identify the main debated issues of this genocide and will highlight the most important ideas of the historians who have researched this subject.

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The Enemy arises as an immemorial figure of our imaginations. The Enemy, also named the Adversary, relating to the biblical figure of Satan, is located at the heart of the European, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern pre-modern worlds and cultures, playing a very central role in the three monotheisms: Judaism, Christianism and Islam. Satan is a prototypical figure of temptation, setting doubt and disorder. Also known under the name of Lucifer, “the bringer of dawn” or “the morning star”, he is the former purveyor of light who became a fallen angel.  His rebellion and ban have been exemplary sung and narrated by the British poet John Milton in Paradise Lost (1667). He has been celebrated two centuries later as the “Prince of Exile” by the French poet Charles Baudelaire with “Les Litanies de Satan” in Les Fleurs du Mal [The Flowers of Evil] (1857). This figure can overtake different forms, faces, or genders. Lilith, the female demon, who has the capacity to take the shape of diverse nocturnal animals, is already present in different Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian traditions (see for instances Myths of Babylonia and Assyria by Mackenzie, 1915). This adversary, previously known as a light bringer, eventually condemned by divine justice to an unending exile both physical in spiritual, could be an impeccable metaphor reflecting the uses and misuses of ideologies and identities and the very important function that affects and emotions are playing out within the realm of reason, which, like our worldviews and understandings, is incredibly limited.  As Gershom Scholem reminds us in the Jewish Kabbalistic tradition, Satan, or evil, is the product of a crisis ascending through the severity of divine judgment. Its advent occurs during the development of that great fire of anger that burns in God, which is normally tempered by his mercy. But when the latter is no longer sufficient to appease this pruritus, an imbalance operates, an energy exhales and breaks away from the divine, finding its own autonomy, that is “evil” (Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 563). This dialectic between evil and freedom has been highlighted by the German philosopher Rüdiger Safranski in his 1999 essay Das Böse, oder Das Drama der Freiheit [Evil, or the Tragedy of Freedom]. Freedom, free will and the issue of establishment of norms and laws are inseparable from political action, something that essentially defines power as Michel Foucault states. In his “Critique of Violence” essay written in 1921 during the first years of existence of the Weimar Republic in defeated Germany, Walter Benjamin questions the relationships between divine violence, justice, and power in a secular society: “Law-making is power-making, and, to that extent, an immediate manifestation of violence. Justice is the principle of all divine end-making, the power of the principle of all mythical law-making.”

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We are saddened beyond words and grieve for the lives lost by the attack on the Etz Chaim (Tree of Life) Synagogue in Pittsburgh last Saturday. We are not surprised, however. You only need to glance at the vast literature on genocide and political violence to understand that in an environment of institutionally backed hate speech, the accumulation of hate crimes and smaller acts of bigotry, a major attack usually follows.

via LA Times

Earlier this year the Anti-Defamation League reported nearly 2,000 anti-Semitic incidents occurred , an increase of almost 60% from the year before and the highest rates in the United States in decades. In 2017, all 50 states reported anti-Semitic hate crimes, the first time since 2010. From Holocaust deniers running for Congress to the dramatic increase in white supremacist language on American campuses, anti-Semitism is becoming normalized. As the ADL Director Johnathan Greenblatt said on last Sunday’s ‘This Week’: “We are seeing an environment in which antisemitism has moved from the margins to the mainstream as political candidates and people in public life literally repeat the rhetoric of white supremacists.” Tragically, this hatred manifested itself again on Saturday in Pittsburgh, resulting in the deadliest act of violence committed against Jews in American history.

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Professor Philip Spencer once remarked that genocide robs humanity of diversity. This phrase has stuck with me for several years mainly due to its elegant simplicity. At its core, it suggests that we should care about genocide because denies us a chance to be diverse in the various forms and depths the word entails. Thus, a genocide against the Yazidis or the Rohingya means we lose cultures, religious practices, languages, bright futures etc. This simplicity masks the intense depth that it brings with it as well since it places the impetus on us and challenges us to consider how important a loss of diversity is to us. It is even more memorable because it does not seek to compare genocide and other atrocity events such as war crimes and crimes against humanity for it to sound profound. I am reminded of this conversation because it seems like that time of the year again, when various atrocities in Africa are trotted about and debates about whether they are genocides or not dominate the media discourse. To what extent is then the term genocide, and discussions whether the events fit the UN convention’s definition, inhibiting rather than enabling prevention and response?

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The Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies recently organized a museum visit through its Human Rights, Genocide & Mass Violence (HGMV) Graduate Group to view and discuss works related to genocide currently on exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.  In advance of the meet-up, CHGS did an interview with local artist, Rowan Pope.

Rowan Pope is a lifelong artist from Minnesota. He and his twin brother, Bly, employ photorealistic techniques as a method of storytelling. Rowan addresses dark subject matter through his work, including portrayals of Franz Kafka’s novels and depictions of the Holocaust and the Cambodian genocide. He seeks to explore broad-ranging human emotions and to commemorate the lives of victims and survivors of violence through his art. “The Liberation of Buchenwald,” among other pieces by both Rowan and Bly, will be on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Art through October 28th, 2018.

You can learn more about the event here.

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Staff, faculty and students affiliated with the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota grieve the passing of Fern Badzin.

Fern and her late husband Bernard established the Badzin Fellowship in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, which has supported for the last decade graduate students in the College of Liberal Arts committed to research in the field.  Bernard and Fern also created the Badzin Lecture Series fund, helping to bring renowned experts to campus. More recently Fern generously supported the Genocide Education Outreach (GEO) Program, which sends young scholars into the community to teach about the Holocaust, other genocides, and related issues directly affecting students and communities at large.

Fern had a unique personality and generous soul that has impacted many of us in various ways. She was a warm, upbeat and delightful person and we were fortunate to have Fern as a supporter and participant at events on campus. She leaves us with many fond memories.

CHGS will honor Fern’s legacy by continuing to support the professional development of graduate students, hosting community events and public lectures, growing the GEO program, and reaching ever wider audiences in our firm commitment to educate about the Holocaust and the recurrent problem of genocide.

The 13th Twin Cities Arab Film Festival is upon us. The film festival is organized by Mizna and will run from September 27th to September 30th. This year, the festival commemorates 70 years since the nakba (Catastrophe), when 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes in 1948. The festival features over 30 films from Syria, Iraqi Kurdistan, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, and the USA. Many of the screenings will be the premiere in either Minnesota or the US, with a special advanced screening of Capharnaum! Capharnaum is directed by award-winning Nadine Labaki, and tells the story of a Lebanese boy who launches a lawsuit against his parents for the crime of giving him life. Despite a profound list of films with award winning actors and directors, federal authorities have denied entrance visas to several actors and directors who were scheduled to visit the film festival.

Below, we have compiled a list of films and events that may interest our readers. See the full schedule of the festival and buy the tickets here.

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Growing up in Myanmar, the back of every newspaper had a section with big, bold letters that read, “BBC is lying, VOA is lying, RFA is lying; Sky full of lies”. The appearance of those words in newspapers, television, and books was stopped in 2010, when the government launched a series of political reforms. But, here I am in 2017, and I hear the same narrative that “the international media is lying” again. Surprisingly, this time, the narrative is being advanced not only by the military and the government, but also by the vast majority of Myanmar people, including even those who spent their whole lives in prison because they had called for democracy and human rights.

The Rohingya exodus, one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the world, has inspired people to echo the narratives set by the military regime over the past few decades is. Following the attack by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on police outposts in August 25 2017, the military conducted a “clearance operation” in the area where the attack happened. As a result, over 700,000 Rohingya population had to flee to the neighboring country of Bangladesh. Rohingya are a marginalized Muslim minority who have lived  in the West of the country for generations. According to the existing citizenship law passed in 1982, the government wiped out the citizenship of the majority Rohingya population, and the government and the public do not recognize them as an ethnic group of Myanmar since then.

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When governments and citizens instead of being armed with weapons, are equipped with historical perspective they reshape our national and local discussions on the rationale for certain monuments and memorials. And if the end result of this public dialogue culminates in a towering figure being toppled, the sound is resounding. This past week, a Confederate statue fell on a college campus in America, but the Civil War I am writing about here is the one that still haunts Spain.

On August 24th the Spanish government of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez approved a decree to exhume the preserved corpse of General Francisco Franco from the Valley of the Fallen, a gigantic mausoleum near Madrid that the dictator had designed to eternally enshrine his victory in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The site is also the final resting place of Falangist Party founder Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera and contains the remains of some 35,000 civilians and soldiers, many of them Republicans executed by Franco’s regime, and transferred to the site on his orders.

Why has it taken so long to decide to remove the body of a dictator from a sanctuary that celebrates and in essence beautifies his rule? And why now?

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Flowers in a Khmer Rouge jail cell by alex.ch.

In the twentieth century, 40 to 60 million defenseless people were massacred in episodes of genocide. The 21st century is not faring much better, with mass murder ongoing e.g. in Myanmar and Syria. Many of these cases have been studied well, both in detailed case studies and in comparative perspectives, but studying mass murder is no picnic. Scholars have also examined how conducting research, including ethnographic fieldwork, archival investigation, and oral history interviews, can affect the researcher in profound ways. Among a broader set of difficulties that obstruct research on this wretched subject, two stand out in particular: political constraints and psychological attrition.

Political constraints

All social research operates in a dense political field. Of all the political actors constraining research on mass murder, states stand out. They often have a vested interest in misrepresenting the truth, because for many, the memory of a genocide (or its denial), is part and parcel of their collective identity. States that consider themselves heirs to perpetrator regimes, such as Turkey, Russia, Indonesia, China, or Serbia, make great effort to influence the scholarship on episodes of mass violence. They deny access to archival collections and libraries, intimidate and prohibit them from conducting field work. (The opposite is also possible: governments may try to foster or manipulate research by funding politically useful research, by pushing for the establishment of academic chairs at home or abroad, or by offering scholarships.)

Having to contend with the taboos, restrictions, prescriptions, and outright threats of authoritarian regimes keeps scholars working on these topics under permanent threat. Researchers bold enough to travel into these societies to visit sites, uncover evidence, interview witnesses, and have got to fear the security services and intelligence agencies of these states. One consequence of this discouraging atmosphere is that, in general, less research is carried out on those instances and episodes of mass murder, an undesirable blind spot due to the importance of the events. (Some researchers ingratiate themselves with the authorities for privileged access.) A second consequence poses a methodological dilemma: due to such constraints, does one launch a sting operation, like undercover journalism? Or does one use informants, fixers, and mediators on the ground? Does one pay the possible interviewees for taking the risks?

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