See update for May 22, 2021, at end of post.

I understand ‘genocide’ to mean the attempt to erase a people, that is, to create an appearance that the subject people do not exist either within a particular territory or universally. This certainly applied to Nazi treatment of the Jews in the Holocaust. It applies now to Israeli treatment of Palestinians—Israel even insists on calling the latter ‘Arabs’ in an effort to erase even their identity. And it applies to Chinese treatment of Uyghurs.

Genocide is an extreme variation on a notion that to be united, a nation must be homogenous.[1] In China, that seems to mean Han Chinese.[2] In Nazi Germany, it meant ‘Aryan.’ In Israel, it means Jewish and preferably white.[3] In authoritarian populist and paleoconservative constructions of Amerikkka, it means white, English-speaking, conservative Christian, and capitalist. As a means of suppressing cultural and ethnic diversity, it conforms to a paleoconservative understanding of what a community should be.[4] It is a crude means of limiting dissent and may therefore be existential to functionalist conservatives—this is likely how we should understand the Chinese case.

Genocide need not take the form of mass killing. So-called “re-education,” as with Chinese detention camps for Uyghurs[5] is an attempt at erasure and therefore genocide.

Update, May 22, 2021:


The crucial thing to remember is that any attempt to erase a people, whether physically, or culturally, or in any other way, constitutes genocide. It is the erasure, not the means, that is the crucial attribute.[6]

This is happening in Palestine with the Palestinians. It’s happening in Xinjiang Province with the Uyghurs. It’s happening in Burma with the Rohingya. It is likely happening in other places with other people whom I have failed to learn about.

  1. [1]Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 2006).
  2. [2]Associated Press, “China cuts Uighur births with IUDs, abortion, sterilization,” June 29, 2020, copy in possession of author
  3. [3]Michael Lerner, “Racism and Israel’s election: How did the Jewish state become an oppressive state?” Tikkun, April 9, 2019,; Oren Liebermann, “An off-duty police officer shot dead an unarmed black teen, sparking riots. But it didn’t happen where you think,” CNN, July 4, 2019,; Mohamed Mohamed, “Right of return is the heart of Palestine’s struggle,” Electronic Intifada, September 6, 2016,
  4. [4]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  5. [5]Associated Press, “China cuts Uighur births with IUDs, abortion, sterilization,” June 29, 2020, copy in possession of author; Emma Graham-Harrison and Juliette Garside, “‘Allow no escapes’: leak exposes reality of China’s vast prison camp network,” Guardian, November 24, 2019,; Ivan Watson and Ben Westcott, “Uyghur refugee tells of death and fear inside China’s Xinjiang camps,” CNN, January 21, 2019,
  6. [6]David Benfell, “Genocide,” Not Housebroken, June 30, 2020,