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Genocide scholar Adam Jones claims he has been “silenced” on H-Genocide, an academic mailing list for the genocide-studies community, after attempting to post materials and commentary on the U.S.-led military campaign against Afghanistan.
Jones, 38, is a Canadian professor of international studies at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE) in Mexico City. He is executive director of Gendercide Watch, a Web-based educational initiative that confronts gender-selective atrocities against men and women worldwide.
In three consecutive rejected posts to the H-Genocide list, to which he subscribes, Jones cited testimony from humanitarian organizations and United Nations staffers to the effect that the bombing campaign against Afghanistan was the major impediment to the delivery of desperately-needed food aid to the Afghan civilian population. In the first post (12 October 2001), Jones asked: “If coalition leaders are aware of the present situation, as most of the major humanitarian agencies and international media appear to be, and choose to continue the bombing in coming weeks … could any resulting largescale mortality legitimately be termed genocidal?” (For the full text of the rejected posts, and correspondence with the H-Genocide list editor, see http://adamjones.freeservers.com/h-genocide.html.)
Jones has also been outspokenly critical of the Taliban regime’s attempts to impede the delivery of humanitarian aid. In his second rejected post to H-Genocide (22 October 2001), he expressed “strong criticism of the Taliban’s recent behaviour towards foreign aid-workers, local staff, and food stocks in the country. If the Allies are indeed angling for genocide, the Taliban, with their harassment, assaults, and seizures, seem more than prepared to play the same ‘game’.”
List editor Alan Jacobs’ reply to Jones’s second attempted post stated that the H-Genocide editorial board’s “overwhelming opinion was that we were not going to publish a message that escalated the human tragedy that is developing to the status of genocide. This was seen … [as] a rather large error.” In response, Jones wrote (in the third rejected post, 23 October 2001): “There seems to me a fundamental question to be asked here. Is it up to the list editors to decide what can legitimately be considered a genocide and which interpretations are ‘erroneous,’ and to accept or reject posts on this basis? Is not the appropriate place to discuss and debate this issue the list itself?”
The visceral response of the H-Genocide editors to posts perceived as “anti-American” was amply on display in the invective they directed against Jones. In excerpted comments from their decisions, forwarded to Jones at his request on 24 October 2001, editorial board members referred to him as “a loose cannon” whose writings were “libelous and disgraceful” and evoked “anger and revulsion”; and who taught at “a hot-bed of anti-American and anti-Western thought.” (Jones’s institution, CIDE, is in fact a small, exceedingly mainstream research institute in the Mexican capital.) One editorial-board member accused Jones of “terrorist apologism [of the type] that is unfortunately becoming popular among the enemies of this great country [i.e., the United States],” while another claimed he is “simply sophomoric or … intentionally manipulative.” Eight out of nine list editors are based in the United States.
The rejection of the posts, and the editorial board’s comments about Jones, have generated significant controversy in the genocide-studies community. In a message to list editor Jacobs (25 October 2001), Norwegian scholar Hans Egil Offerdal wrote: “The responses that the editorial board has given is [sic] based on prejudice and a political philosophy that at best can be described as reactionary.” British genocide scholar Mark Levene also wrote to Jacobs on 25 October 2001: “If there is any scholarly arena where … the right to free opinion should be upheld it is surely in the field of [genocide] studies. In this context your committee’s muzzling of Dr Jones’ views is nothing short of outrageous.”
The “muzzling” is part of a broader pattern, according to Thomas Taaffe of the University of Massachusetts. “Censorship of any comments which even seem to criticize U.S. foreign policy has been rampant on this supposedly international listserve [H-Genocide], while others have had free reign to advocate military action against the Taliban, even before the events of September 11th. It is quite ironic for a listserve supposedly dedicated to preserving life.” (Message to Jones, 25 October 2001.)
In response to the apparent censorship on H-Genocide, Jones and others have created a new mailing list, Genocide_Studies, on Topica.com. Among its stated purposes is to “serve as an alternative outlet for posts rejected by the H-Genocide editorial board.”
“It’s clear to me that what has taken place on H-Genocide in the past couple of weeks is nothing less than the politically-inspired censorship of alternative views,” Jones stated from his office in Mexico City. “As such, it seems amply in keeping with the ‘chill’ that has descended over political discussion and debate in the United States, and elsewhere, since the atrocities of September 11. But it is particularly disturbing to see a censorious mindset reigning among editors of a mailing list that claims to ‘make every effort to encourage a free exchange of ideas’.
“This is doubly indefensible when, if the bleakest assessments are accurate, we could be facing mass civilian death on a scale seen only rarely, if ever, since the Second World War. To the extent that I and other genocide scholars and activists are able to call attention to the actions of the H-Genocide editors, this needs to serve the immeasurably larger purpose of generating urgent concern for the people of Afghanistan. The humanitarian crisis has been grossly underreported in the U.S. press so far.
“It is a legitimate question whether mass death from starvation, crucially spurred by Allied bombing, could be called ‘genocide’,” Jones said. “I personally think it could. Other genocide specialists could reasonably disagree — if they were allowed to hear the proposition put to them in the first place. It’s a real shame that the discussion can’t take place on H-Genocide.
“But whatever terminology we use won’t make a shred of difference to Afghans who have starved to death. It may already be too late to save hundreds of thousands of them. If it isn’t, and even if it is, the coming days and weeks are critical. I very much hope that moral policies will prevail, and aid will reach those who need it. But I’ve seen no sign of this so far, and time is terrifyingly short.”
Relevant web links: H-Genocide mailing list: composition of editorial board: http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~genocide/editorial-board.html H-Genocide statement of editorial policy: http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~genocide/editorial-policy.html H-Genocide general information page: http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~genocide/ Genocide_Studies mailing list: http://www.topica.com/lists/genocide_studies
Adam Jones can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org