Conceptualizing Mass Violence: Representations, Recollections, and Reinterpretations

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Jun 24, 2021
by Salzburg Global Seminar
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Conceptualizing Mass Violence: Representations, Recollections, and Reinterpretations

Salzburg Global Fellows contribute chapters to a new book exploring the varied memories of mass violence Navras J. Aafreedi (left) and Priya Singh (right) and cover of Conceptualizing Mass Violence: Representations, Recollections, and Reinterpretations (Photo of Aafreedi by Joel Mason-Gaines at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Several Salzburg Global Fellows have contributed to a new book exploring episodes of mass violence from the twentieth century to the present.

Conceptualizing Mass Violence: Representations, Recollections, and Reinterpretations was published on May 14, 2021, by Routledge, part of the Taylor & Francis Group.

Edited by Salzburg Global Fellow Navras J. Aafreedi and by Priya Singh, the book features essays by Salzburg Global Fellows Yael Siman, Srimanti Sarkar, Tali Nates, Güneş Murat Tezcür, and Stephanie Shosh Rotem. In addition, Charles Ehrlich, a program director at Salzburg Global Seminar, has also authored a chapter.

Aafreedi said, "The volume aims to encourage scholars, academics, and activists to come together to understand mass violence from a fresh perspective.  

"The primary intention is to comprehend how episodes of mass violence through history have been represented, reminisced, and reinterpreted with a view to rationalize the failure in preventing the same and consequently, what remedial measures can be adopted, such as Holocaust [and] genocide awareness and education, to restrict its occurrence in the future."

Conceptualizing Mass Violence: Representations, Recollections, and Reinterpretations is an edited collection including several papers presented at a conference Aafreedi organized in Kolkata in 2017 - Prevention of Mass Violence and Promotion of Tolerance: Lessons from History. Salzburg Global representation at that event included Ehrlich, Rotem, and Sarkar, as well as the late Edward Mortimer, then a senior advisor for Salzburg Global.

While Aafreedi has never directly experienced mass violence, an incident he had aged 13 left an impression on him. He said, "[I experienced] a curfew imposed in my hometown, Lucknow, in Uttar Pradesh, India, during the several months of Hindu-Muslim clashes in the aftermath of the demolition of the 16th-century Babri mosque in Ayodhya in 1992, which gave me a sense of threat to my life just because of what my communal affiliation was perceived to be.

"The fact that low-scale mob violence is cyclic in nature and intertwined with India's electoral politics triggered my interest in the subject of mass violence. I also noticed that in spite of the frequent occurrence of mob violence in India, there was no formal education about it at any level in Indian academia with the aim and objective of preventing it."  

Aafreedi said the absence of a memorial to lives lost during the partition of India in 1947 also caught his attention. He added, "The more I read about mob and mass violence, the more I realized how people in India could indulge in mob violence with a certain degree of impunity given the extremely low rate of conviction.  

"My desire to understand the causes of mass violence and what could be done for its prevention stimulated my interest in Holocaust studies. It, in turn, led to a desire to raise awareness of the Holocaust as I encountered a tendency to deny the historicity of the Holocaust or minimize its scale in certain sections of society."   

In 2009, Aafreedi organized a Holocaust film retrospective, the first-ever in South Asia. In 2012, he convened a workshop at Yad Vashem on how to educate Indians about the Holocaust. He has also attended events at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, including the Conference for International Holocaust Education in 2015. The graduate course on Holocaust and genocide studies that he started at Presidency University in Kolkata is the first of its kind in South Asia.

Within Salzburg Global Seminar’s Holocaust Education and Genocide Prevention (HEGP) series, Aafreedi has participated in the 2014 program, "Holocaust and Genocide Education: Sharing Experience Across Borders." In 2017, as part of the HEGP initiative “Combating Extremism and Promoting Pluralism,” he worked with other Salzburg Global Fellows to help advise on the establishment of a graduate degree program in "Conflict Resolution and Peace Governance" including a component on Holocaust education, in Morocco.

Essays in Aafreedi's new book "explore and deliberate upon the varied aspects of mass violence, namely revisionism, reconstruction, atrocities, trauma, memorialization and literature, the need for Holocaust education, and the criticality of dialogue and reconciliation."

The book, available as a hardback or eBook, would interest postgraduate students and scholars from the interdisciplinary fields of Holocaust and genocide studies, history, political science, sociology, world history, human rights, and global studies.  

Ehrlich said, "This book makes an exciting addition to the literature because it covers such a wide range of angles, geographically (across six continents) and thematically.  It examines not the mass violence itself but rather the memory of mass violence and how it is used for different purposes.  If we are to learn the lessons from mass atrocities, we need to remember them properly, and also learn the lessons from how they are remembered – this book illustrates these aspects across multiple contexts and disciplines."

Reflecting on his essay, "Holocaust, Propaganda, and the Distortion of History in the Former Soviet Space," Ehrlich said, "During my time working in the former Soviet Union and other post-communist countries, I witnessed the misuse of the Holocaust within current state (primarily Russian) propaganda and in false popular narratives in countries where the Holocaust took place.   

"Not only was a Jewish presence in Eastern Europe erased by the Nazis, but also the memory of that presence has been erased twice more: first by communists (later morphing into the current Russian narrative) and subsequently by countries regaining their independence from Russian occupation. My chapter thus addresses the distortion and misuse of history."

Tali Nates, founder and director of the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre, said she was delighted to contribute an essay titled "New Developments in Holocaust and Genocide Education in South Africa."  

Nates said, "The essay looks at critical questions such as 'How do you teach about the Holocaust and genocide and use these histories as tools to understand human rights and democracy?' This is a key question in South Africa, a country still recovering from the devastating legacy of Apartheid. The essay looks at the opportunities and challenges that Holocaust and genocide education offers in South Africa, looking at the case study of the work of the... Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre."

Güneş Murat Tezcür, Kurdish Political Studies program director at the University of Central Florida, has co-written an essay with Tutku Ayhan titled, "Overcoming' Intimate Hatreds:' Reflections on Violence against Yazidis."  

Tezcür said, "The self-styled Islamic State (IS)'s violent campaign against the Yezidis, a historically marginalized community, in northern Iraq in August 2014 was an unmitigated disaster for the community. In our contribution… Tutku Ayhan and I demonstrate that the relationships between Yezidis and their neighbors, mostly Sunni Muslims, exhibited complexity and countervailing tendencies that could not be accurately captured by a prism of minority victimhood.  

"At the same time, religious stigmatization transmitted across generations fomented anti-Yezidi violence and provided justifications for extreme practices. We reached a paradoxical conclusion: what is most unprecedented about the IS attacks is the growing international awareness of Yezidis and acceptance of them as a faith group entitled to rights, recognition, and dignity."

Srimanti Sarkar, assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at West Bengal State University, has written an essay titled, "The Genocide of 1971 in Bangladesh: Lessons from History."

Sarkar said, "History is constructed. The history of genocide in Bangladesh, too, is constructed. For drawing a reasonable lesson out of such a 'constructed' history of genocide, one must cautiously de-construct and subsequently reconstruct the widely professed historiography.  

"The chapter [I have written] highlights some of the immanent challenges within the Bangladeshi polity that prevent one from drawing an encompassing lesson from a history of genocide."

Yael Siman, associate professor of social and political sciences at Iberoamericana University, co-wrote a chapter with Daniela Gleizer, a researcher at the Institute of Historical Research, National Autonomous University. Their chapter is titled, "Holocaust survivors in Mexico: intersecting and conflicting narratives of open doors, welcoming society and personal hardships."

Siman said, "We have been working on the experiences and the narratives of Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Mexico since a few years ago. Our research has been largely based on oral history, although we have also analyzed historical documents from the National Institute of Immigration and family archives of Holocaust survivors.

"As we listened to the survivors' testimonies, we were puzzled by their stories, especially because they contrasted with the narrative of gratitude… still widely shared in Mexico. This narrative has been officially promoted by the government (through different administrations), museums, and the local Jewish community. But the testimonies of survivors tell a very different story: Holocaust survivors came to Mexico mainly because they had family in this country.  

"Even if their first encounters were warm, they faced various hardships that included difficulties to learn the language, find a job or pay for their education, obtaining a work permit, facing a numb community that did not want to listen to their trauma, and not being able to become citizens. Readers of this chapter will learn about the transnational histories of the Holocaust in Latin America while becoming aware of the hardships experienced by many survivors who, like other victims of mass violence, have been forced to leave their countries of origin and face structural obstacles, stigma and uneasy relationships in the new places of destination."

For more information on the book and to buy a copy, please visit Routledge.com