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SydWalker.Info is a personal website. I live in tropical Australia near Cairns. I oppose war, plutocracy, injustice, sectarian supremacism and apartheid. I support urgent action to achieve genuine sustainability and a fair and prosperous society for all. I rely upon - and support - free speech as defined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (see below).

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Against ‘Ethnic Cleansing’
January 10th, 2009 by Syd Walker

I’m against ‘ethnic cleansing’?

“Who isn’t?” you may be thinking. “Why bother to say it?”

Ah, but I don’t just mean I’m against people being driven from their homes, murdered and otherwise maltreated on the basis of their ethnicity. Of course I’m against that. It’s one of the filthiest things I know that happens on this planet.

What I mean is I’m against using the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ at all.

It’s a implicit false assertion, packaged as a two-word term – and disseminated so effectively that almost the entire English-speaking world now uses this revolting expression and has done for over a decade.

It’s worth remembering that use of the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the English language goes back less than 20 years. It came into popular use as late as 1991+, in the context of the then-smoldering 1990s Balkans War.

When I first heard a commentator speak of ‘ethnic cleansing’ I felt a  strong sense of revulsion. My father, a man of great decency, expressed similar sentiments. I remember discussing it with him at the time. How utterly absurd to use a phrase that embodies a vile notion beyond all civilized norms! What on earth is clean about attacking, destroying, rape and pillage, violence and refugees?

To use the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ as a descriptor for the activities to which it refers is as absurd as describing rape as  ‘rough-sex-fun’.

For some reason I cannot fathom, people all over the English speaking world quickly adopted this revolting phrase. These days, it’s not uncommon to hear people complain that Israel is committing the crime of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Palestine.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The State of Israel’s notion of ‘ethnic purity’ is psychotic. Its ongoing attempts to implement this twisted vision and impose institutionalized bigotry in Palestine are war crimes. Nothing is ‘clean’ about this insane and malevolent project!

Predictably, soon after the new term was coined, ‘ethnic cleansing’ was hotly debated by academics with time on their hands. The definition is the subject of much discussion. There are debates about whether specific incidents constitute ‘ethnic cleansing’ or something else.

I may have missed it, but I haven’t noticed anyone state the obvious: the term itself is not worth defining. It’s what is known, in the popular vernacular, as a crock of shit.

I have limited impact on rest of the world, but this is my domain.

Whenever you read the words ‘ethnic cleansing’ on this blog, they’ll be safely inside inverted commas. It’s my way of highlighting the inverted view of the world embodied in this very unpleasant, misleading and crime-justifying English language expression.

Here’s a suggestion: stop using the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ completely.

Who knows? If we don’t say it any more, we might stop doing it…

NOTE

Responsibility for first use of the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ is unclear.

Amy Sturgis writing in Reason Online says:

In 1992 the United Nations Security Council created a Commission of Experts to explore the violent situation in the Balkans. The resulting report defined a new term: ” ‘Ethnic cleansing’ is a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas. To a large extent, it is carried out in the name of misguided nationalism, historic grievances, and a powerful driving sense of revenge. This purpose appears to be the occupation of territory to the exclusion of the purged group or groups.”

This is an excerpt from today’s Wikipedia:

The term “ethnic cleansing” entered the English lexicon as a loan translation of the Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian/Montenegrin phrase etni?ko ?iš?enje [dubious – discuss] During the 1990s it was used extensively by the media in the former Yugoslavia in relation to the Yugoslav wars, and appears to have been popularised by the international media some time around 1992. The term may have originated some time before the 1990s in the military doctrine of the former Yugoslav People’s Army, which spoke of “cleansing the field” (?iš?enje terena, IPA) of enemies to take total control of a conquered area. The origins of this doctrine are unclear, but may have been a legacy of the Partizan era.

While it’s exact origins are somewhat obscure, it is clear that term spread very quickly. By the late 1990s, almost everyone was chattering away about ‘ethnic cleansing’.

The origins of ‘ethnic cleansing’ is a topic that cries out for research. Who injected the term into the English language? Who promulgated it? What, if any, are the equivalent terms in other major languages? How did each of them come into popular use?

Informed comments very welcome.


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  • dave hutsell writes:
    June 1st, 20099:29 amat

    ok Syd. thanks. just saw your comment on Gilad’s blog.
    can you expand your comment on “genocide”?
    ‘preciate it.
    dave

      

  • dave hutsell writes:
    June 1st, 20099:29 amat

    ok Syd. thanks. just saw your comment on Gilad’s blog.
    can you expand your comment on “genocide”?
    ‘preciate it.
    dave

      

  • Paul T (Crash) writes:
    May 9th, 20098:53 pmat

    I agree in theory, and even in the relevance of evidence sited. However, one point is this, any language – all language is forever changing (evolving even). If an understanding of a geo-political action has changed it will be given a new word.

    No-one at the time, it seems, had given a lot of thought to ‘naming’ the invasion by the tribes of South Asia into Europe – in the 11th – 12th, 13th-14 century.
    Later they were known as the ‘Mongol hoards’ or ‘barbarian invasions’.

    Today, it would be called ‘ethnic cleansing’ (the displacing, killing and terrorising of a civilian population by an invading state).

    The reliance on words – and even their dictionary appropriation is as meaningless as arguing over preference. Surely we now have a much deeper understanding of words, language and it’s meaning?. It’s contextualised. A few years ago the word texting would mean nothing to us. It still doesn’t in some countries.

    I agree with you in principle. I even agree with you in spirit. I just can’t agree in application.

    And yes, I agree that the re-appropriation of words is spurious and self serving. Such as what you describe.

    I personally doubt that an explanation of the source of propaganda is enough.

    But I love the fact that people are trying.

      

  • Paul T (Crash) writes:
    May 9th, 20098:53 pmat

    I agree in theory, and even in the relevance of evidence sited. However, one point is this, any language – all language is forever changing (evolving even). If an understanding of a geo-political action has changed it will be given a new word.

    No-one at the time, it seems, had given a lot of thought to ‘naming’ the invasion by the tribes of South Asia into Europe – in the 11th – 12th, 13th-14 century.
    Later they were known as the ‘Mongol hoards’ or ‘barbarian invasions’.

    Today, it would be called ‘ethnic cleansing’ (the displacing, killing and terrorising of a civilian population by an invading state).

    The reliance on words – and even their dictionary appropriation is as meaningless as arguing over preference. Surely we now have a much deeper understanding of words, language and it’s meaning?. It’s contextualised. A few years ago the word texting would mean nothing to us. It still doesn’t in some countries.

    I agree with you in principle. I even agree with you in spirit. I just can’t agree in application.

    And yes, I agree that the re-appropriation of words is spurious and self serving. Such as what you describe.

    I personally doubt that an explanation of the source of propaganda is enough.

    But I love the fact that people are trying.

      

  • Grumblingone writes:
    January 27th, 200910:25 amat

    Excellent point.
    Semantics are a tool. Like all tools it can be used for good or evil.
    Changing “Genocide” to “Ethnic Cleansing” is just a trick of words to get folks to be less revolted by it. It sounds “Official” and “Specific”, when in actuality it is more the opposite .
    There are many words like this used in politics of course, but I totally agree it is disgusting to gloss over MASS MURDER.

      

    • Syd Walker writes:
      January 27th, 200911:16 amat

      Thanks for your comment Grumblingone.

      I have some problems with the term’ genocide’ also – a product of the 1940s, invented by a Jewish American (immigrant from Europe) called Rafael Lemkin
        

  • Grumblingone writes:
    January 27th, 200910:25 amat

    Excellent point.
    Semantics are a tool. Like all tools it can be used for good or evil.
    Changing “Genocide” to “Ethnic Cleansing” is just a trick of words to get folks to be less revolted by it. It sounds “Official” and “Specific”, when in actuality it is more the opposite .
    There are many words like this used in politics of course, but I totally agree it is disgusting to gloss over MASS MURDER.

      

    • Syd Walker writes:
      January 27th, 200911:16 amat

      Thanks for your comment Grumblingone.

      I have some problems with the term’ genocide’ also – a product of the 1940s, invented by a Jewish American (immigrant from Europe) called Rafael Lemkin
        


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