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!” 

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