Genocide denial and natural law

ararat - suren manvelyan

A couple of weeks ago I asked why Muslim groups in the US supported Turkey in genocide denial. One theory was that Muslims saw themselves as incapable of committing genocide.

Erdogan, it turns out, said just this in defence of Sudan’s Omar al Bashir in 2009.

But a better reason for supporting genocide denial is one based in Islamic law. At the turn of the century, Armenians were protesting unfair taxation and treatment by an Islamic government. Declaring themselves equal to Muslims was dangerous to the umma, and the secular Young Turks therefore had strong support among their subjects when they declared all Armenians a threat to society.

20th century Turkey was built on the Ottoman remnants of unfair tax laws and building restrictions. Similar policies continue today.  The Islamist practice of denying building permits for new churches – the same policy across the Islamic world in countries such as Egypt – is alive and well in Turkey, and continues to form the basis for discrimination against its Armenian minority. The Greek Orthodox church in Turkey, still the ‘primus inter pares‘ authority, is still not able to rebuild the the 70 or so churches that were destroyed in 1955.

The continued discriminatory legal code is one clue to why Ottoman, Young Turk, Nationalist, and Islamist narratives all agree that Armenians were a legitimate threat in 1915.

The Byzantine military historian Edward Luttwak recently reviewed Ronald Grigor Suny’s book, ‘They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else’: A History of the Armenian Genocide‘ (Suny is a historian from the University of Michigan, and formerly U. Chicago, and Luttwak apparently “raises cattle in the Amazon”).

There were a couple details that caught my eye – ones that don’t usually make it into news reports:

1) Erdogan freely uses the word genocide in criticism of nations that persecute Muslim minorities (Chinese + Uighus, Israel + Palestine)

2) Jewish, Orthodox, and Armenian minorities continued to pay discriminatory taxes in the 20th century – in the 40s and 50s, sometimes more than 200% higher than Muslim counterparts. These were the same policies that Armenians were protesting in 1896. Pogroms destroyed some 73 Orthodox churches in 1955, none of which are allowed to be rebuilt today.

3) The initial pluralism of the Young Turks (Ben Gurion was among the future leaders, and studied in Istanbul) was rejected partly because of fear that Muslims would be eclipsed by the patriotism of non-Muslim talent. A secular Turkey would have also given Armenians an advantage in the business world.

4) Decades after Edward Said’s Orientalism, Islamists continue to deflect criticism by pointing out colonial hypocrisy.

Davutoğlu called the (EU) resolution (to recognize the Armenian Genocide) ‘a reflection of Europe’s racism … where are those aboriginal people? Where are the Native Americans? Where are the tribes of Africa? How were they wiped out from history?’

This is all very true, but it simply panders to the much expanded (and appropriate) Western guilt based on Natural Law, where Erdogan shows none because Muslims are apparently incapable of evil.

In Canada, we are just now coming to terms with the “cultural genocide” of Aboriginal peoples – especially the government program of taking children away from their families to “kill the Indian in the child.” This really was an attempt to wipe out a distinct heritage, and it was partly based on religious motives.

One of the prerequisites for the Truth and Reconciliation process was an increased secularism.  In other words, religious pride (sometimes indistinguishable from nationalist pride) kept Canadians from acknowledging the evil done to their neighbors for 100 years. This religious pride was a product not only of sermons, but a long tradition of legal discrimination against Aboriginals.

Despite their calls of hypocrisy, it is precisely the secular natural law view of human rights that Islamist groups refuse to acknowledge – Islamic law, as far as I know, admits of no natural law readings of justice.

It is from this brotherhood of religious pride that American Muslim groups declare solidarity with Turkish policy. And it is not just an interpretation of history that American Muslims support, but a legal code – one that led to the events they deny.

As of last week, Erdogan’s Justice and Development party is no longer in majority. In an interview with Foreign Policy, one party official blamed you know who: “There’s an economic lobby in the world, which is under the hand of the Jewish lobby, and these are the ones who want the AKP to fall. Not only the Jewish lobby, there is another movement – the Crusaders. Because the AKP government is the voice of the Muslims in Turkey, and all the world.”

The idea that Turkey would be the voice of the umma was perhaps a policy objective of the AKP. Whether they could ever achieve this, one thing remains constant – the continued discrimination toward minorities in Turkey based on religion that has been handed down through the Ottoman legal code.

By signing on to Armenian genocide denial rather than call for legal reforms, American Muslims are hinting that Islamic Law can never be superceded by Natural Law. It will be interesting to see whether their view changes if a secular democratic process in Turkey leads to the acknowledgement of past evil.

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