Every time we witness genocide we say ‘never again’ – but human nature tells us something different

Holocaust expert Israel Charny’s new book makes uncomfortable reading, as he asks us to examine ‘a truth we haven’t faced fully enough’

 Demonstrators in Los Angeles commemorate the 103rd anniversary of the Armenian genocide

Demonstrators in Los Angeles commemorate the 103rd anniversary of the Armenian genocide ( Getty )

Confronted on a warm, soft Jerusalem evening by one of Israel’s venerable Holocaust scholars – and a psychologist to boot – a visitor to Israel Charny’s retirement home should perhaps keep a certain silence, especially if the new arrival is a journalist.

Charny, author of the monumental Encyclopedia of Genocide – and much hated by the Turks who are outraged by his conviction that the 1915 Armenian genocide was a reality – speaks with the low, rather pondering voice of a US east coast academic. Not unlike the great Noam Chomsky, I note injudiciously. The American linguist and philosopher is a hero of mine, but a rather less prestigious figure in Charny’s eyes. “God forbid!” announces the 87-year-old head of Israel’s Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem. “You don’t know this – but I lived at the Chomsky house, as an undergraduate.”

He flourishes his most recent book, The Genocide Contagion, which asked readers to reflect on their own reaction to a future genocide in their own lives. It makes uncomfortable reading.

In today’s world, Charny says – slowly, carefully and with little forgiveness of us humanoids – he can see no “concerted political or culture-wide consciousness to take care of people”. On the contrary, “what I see is another replay of a truth that we haven’t faced fully enough. And this is that the human species – with all of its beauty – is a horrible, uncaring, destructive species that has delighted and excelled in the taking of human life for centuries. And there is no real addressing of this issue in our evolution that I know of.”



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