There are photos on Facebook proclaiming that “THERE IS A GENOCIDE IN SYRIA”.1 The Assad regime is, no doubt, committing mass atrocities2 for which there can be no forgiveness, and for which those responsible must be brought to justice. And it is admirable that people on the Internet are trying to raise awareness of the situation there. However, the use of the word “genocide” to describe these crimes against humanity is a dangerous inaccuracy.
Using the word “genocide” is a quick and effective way to get people’s attention. But it is a word with a very specific meaning, and it seems that the situation in Syria, while it may conceivably become a genocide, is not exactly that. The situation is more of a civil war – albeit a very lopsided civil war in terms of fire-power, and one with a sectarian element.
Assad’s regime represents the Alawite minority, whereas the majority of the country is Sunni; Genocide Watch warns of genocide “[if] the Alawite government […] it is about to lose all power in a zero-sum, winner take all revolution”. But there are Sunnis loyal to the Assad regime, as well as Alawites amongst the rebels: the divide is not mainly ethnic/sectarian, but more between Assad loyalists and various dissenting groups.
The possible implications of using “genocide” for an ideological conflict scare me. It might insinuate, to some, that the victims of genocide are killed for holding and/or fighting for certain beliefs. This would mean that the victims have a choice in the matter. And you know what? When it’s genocide, the victims really don’t have much of a choice, except to try to run for their lives.
Dissenting points of view are welcome, in comments below (unlike under Assad.)