July 25, 2016
Genocide is currently a gimmick of American soft power. A consideration of Olympics politics indicates that the term genocide is in the company of theories about mosquitos as a tool of American cultural influence on attitudes and behavior worldwide
Ever since the term genocide was first invented in Washington during World War II and promoted in New York immediately after the war, it has been largely redefined and applied according to American interests. Even though genocide is a legal term that was articulated in an international convention, its use had been dominated by American soft power for decades before judges could lay eyes on a case of it being charged in a competent tribunal. An abundance of American-produced cultural material, spread around the world by political actors who are independent of the U.S. government such as activists, entertainers, experts, journalists, lobbyists and religious leaders had affected public opinion on genocide before impartial judges could..
Interestingly, the American handling of the Olympics as an arena of international politics may shed some light on how the term genocide has been used according to the interests of American powerholders.
Power is used more effectively when it is possible for the powerholder to shift from hard power measures such as using force or sanctions to soft power efforts such as persuading without being seen to be doing so. This change is observable in the American treatment of the Olympics when the games are hosted by a geopolitical rival.
In 1980, the U.S. simply boycotted the Moscow Games – a hard-power measure – at the cost of losing the opportunity to influence by mutual participation, in addition to letting down American athletes, fans, and sponsors. In 2014, when Russia was set to host the Sochi Games, there was an moral criticism from American human-rights organizations – a soft-power effort – that cost Russia, all without an American abandonment of its place in a major event for the international community.
Following the transition from a government-sanctioned boycott to a nongovernmental boycott, the effect was that many potential visitors and participants decided to give Sochi a miss, especially after the American mainstream media networks called attention to the seemingly unguided activity on social media, which had the hashtag #Sochi Problems, and showed images from the Olympic village of stray dogs, cats on beds, yellow water, no water, strange toilets and toilet rules, inadequate rooms and ongoing construction.
This points to an American game of Olympic politics, which these days involves claims about mosquitos, and several years ago involved claims about genocide.
Long before the start of the Rio Games, which begins next month, American soft power has already rendered these Olympics a public-relations disaster for Brazil. How would the fearmongering news about something as daunting and haunting as birth defects not have a significantly detrimental impact on the arrival of tourists for the games? The controlled information about the Zika virus began with a trickle a year ago, before sharply increasing in January, and doubling in February. Without scientific conclusiveness, the following discourse has been put together and disseminated: a mosquito-carried virus is linked by certain experts to cases of infants with underdeveloped brains in Brazil. Not to be too obvious, the supposed link has been made in connection to other Latin American countries as well. The link leaves out plenty of variables other than the Zika virus that could explain microcephaly in the area. The American-led media has given a platform to experts who express a selective view of what could be causing the disease.
However, an agenda to keep people from going to Rio, as competitors or spectators, is more likely to have prompted this sudden body of knowledge about Zika than a genuine attempt to better understand a medical phenomenon. By now, the related news-items can even stay away from the scientific incertitude and focus on the reactions that references regional anxiety and desperation in the midst of an outbreak have generated. Once the framing was completed, the narrative began being filled out with articles about panic. The public is invited to think that if those who live there and those who were supposed to participate in the event or cover it are running scared, then it must be unsafe to be there and unwise to travel there.
As a result, there will be less interaction between Western society and Brazil this summer, for many are put off by the idea of risking optimal procreation. The political effect is that the U.S. can worry less about Brazil riding the Olympics for further momentum and posing a continental threat to U.S. hegemony in America. The political stamp is marked by other shadow-casting news-items about water pollution and political corruption, with the tally being a Western conviction that Brazil is somewhat of a failing state. Instead of acquiring prestige among the nations to cap its economic rise, Brazil is facing the reality of a financial hit and a bruised image.
Similarly, China's excitement about being the host of the 2008 Summer Olympics turned into a realization that the Beijing Games were being held hostage by American soft power. The ransom was compliance with American calls for intervention in Sudan at the expense of China's commitments there. The gun that was pointed at the games was genocide claims. The games were dubbed the "Genocide Olympics" as an attempt to shame China into adopting a different policy in Africa. After decades of seeing their nation explicitly exploited and carved-up by Western powers, the Chinese witnessed that even their symbolic moment in the sun as a proud nation was to be spoiled by Western interests.
The soft power campaign is part and parcel of the inability to prove that the U.S. government was directly behind it. The White House, U.S. State Department and Congress labeled the events in Darfur genocide, but on the eve of the Olympics then President George W. Bush's administration kept quiet on this issue and was carefully depicted as being restrained due to diplomatic considerations. This dissociation meant that the campaign against China would appear grass-rooted, and that those who run it would appear credible. The media credited the success to actress Mia Farrow who was shown as leading the way for others in Hollywood and for human-rights activists around the world.
While the American-inspired campaign influenced world public opinion about China and Darfur, it did not seem to matter that no competent tribunals had found members of the Sudanese government guilty of genocide in accordance with Article 6 of the Genocide Convention that says what qualifies as a charge of genocide, and it did not seem to matter that the U.N.'s report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur in 2005 had clearly stated that the counter-insurgency purposes of the government in Sudan were not tantamount to a policy of genocide. It also did not seem to matter much in terms of the damages done to China when the International Criminal Court (ICC) confirmed that genocide would not be included in its warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's statement on Darfur when he was prime minister in 2009 echoed the legally minded position that a state's endeavors to quell a violent rebellion does not constitute genocide. Nonetheless, several years later, the American-founded journal, Genocide Studies International, published articles in which scholars, who continued to label the events in Darfur genocide despite the position of the ICC, accused the government of denial, as if to use the vilification of Turkey in the Armenian context in order to transfer believability to genocide scholarship's claims about Darfur.
Olympics politics are played indirectly through prodded independent actors as narrated by trusted sources of information. The concept of soft power instructs that for the sake of credibility, the American government is best served by invisibility while it is still an American narration that structures the situation and dictates occurrences by way of self-fulfilling prophecies. The New York Times said to expect an intensification of the debate over whether it is reasonable to hold the Rio Games "amid a public health emergency," just as it also said to expect ahead of the Beijing Games, "Darfur-related protests at Chinese embassies."
This is the same newspaper that told Armenians what emotions were to be on display at the 50-year commemoration of the Armenian suffering in 1915 almost a year ahead of the event, and sparked the systematic association between the Armenian memory and genocide. The newspaper that considered it fit to print the Dalai Lama's accusation that China is committing cultural genocide in Tibet four times in one week in March 2008 is the same one that on May 30, 1964, published a letter to the editor by Vahakn N. Dadrian, in which the Turks were suddenly accused of genocide and compared to the Nazis.
In this, Dadrian played what became Farrow's role, but unlike her, the agitator was later empowered and elevated in the genocide scholarship to the status of an eminent and pioneering scholar. Dadrian is less a student of genocide, and more a social mobilizer who abuses the term. It was the platform given to him by American soft power that first sparked the genocide movement among Armenians, tempting them to construct a national identity around genocide claims. It is the genocide discourse that inspired and motivated Armenians to challenge Turkic sovereignty in eastern Anatolia and Nagorno Karabakh through violence. The movement, now led by Armenian lobbyists without the American strings being in clear sight, has since come a long way. The Armenian narrative on genocide has become a desired commodity in European houses of parliament, as recently reflected in French and German legislative trends.
Genocide is currently a gimmick of American soft power. A consideration of Olympics politics indicates that the term genocide is in the company of theories about mosquitos as a tool of American cultural influence on attitudes and behavior worldwide. For genocide to be a legitimate instrument of international law, it cannot be abused for state interests.
* Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Utah