The Corner

World

‘His Own People’

Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the dictator of Sudan, has been removed from power.

His crimes, as the Washington Post put it, include “genocide against his own people.”

I have always been uncomfortable with that formulation–“against his own people” — for three reasons.

First, it is a cliché, and clichés should be avoided. (Like the plague, the copyeditors’ joke goes.)

Second, there’s that possessive pronoun. His people? The idea that the people belong to the potentate in the same ways that all the game in the forest used to be assumed to be royal property is an idea that, perhaps because of its formulation within a cliché, receives insufficient examination. Surely the people of Sudan belong to themselves, and not to the dictator.

Third, there’s the implicit moral argument that it is somehow worse to commit atrocities against one’s own subjects, as though it would be better to invade the country next door and commit genocide against “someone else’s people.” We heard a lot about how Saddam Hussein brutalized “his own people.” He brutalized a lot of other people, too. Did the Kurds of northern Iraq feel the Halabja massacre especially keenly, or did the Shia of Dujail, because they were the tyrant’s “own” people? Did the 50,000 to 100,000 Iranians killed by Iraqi chemical weapons say to themselves, as they died of asphyxiation in convulsions and terror, “Well, it least it wasn’t our own government!” 

Most Popular

Elections

The 2020 Battle Begins

The 2020 campaign begins in earnest next week in Florida, when Donald Trump officially launches his reelection bid. On June 26, 20 Democratic candidates and five moderators hold the first of two nights of debates. Where do things stand? According to the polls, President Trump starts at a disadvantage. He has ... Read More
Energy & Environment

The Climate Trap for Democrats

The more the climate debate changes, the more it stays the same. Polls show that the public is worried about climate change, but that doesn’t mean that it is any more ready to bear any burden or pay any price to combat it. If President Donald Trump claws his way to victory again in Pennsylvania and the ... Read More