The term ‘cultural genocide’ did not ultimately make it into the 1948 Genocide Convention, much to the dismay of Raphael Lemkin, the pioneer of the Genocide Convention itself. However, that does not make this issue any less important than issues and crimes officially recognized and legalized by the international community.
There may be misconceptions and vagueness surrounding the term ‘cultural genocide’. It is in fact quite similar to the crime of genocide itself, in terms of process and final objective of the perpetrators. Cultural genocide refers to acts of intentionally weakening the cultural values and practices of groups and communities, with the ultimate goal being ultimately erasing those cultural values and practices (Davidson, 2012).
The age of globalization has turned the world into a global village. Even if this is the case, we generally have our own little world in our local area where we physically spend most of our time in. This is true for most of the general public. The surrounding neighborhood where we live is where we spend the most time. Our local area is thus very familiar to us. Following this train of thought, we rarely interact with other communities with different cultures that are outside this locality. This can mean that there is a lack of direct interactions among people of different cultures, and this opens up space for false and misleading information, censorship, and propaganda to influence our decisions and thoughts. Our dependence on the media, politicians, governments, other news outlets for information on these different, ‘other’ groups can narrow our perception of them. This, in turn, can lead to people viewing other cultures as potentially negative influences, while ignoring how these cultural practices are just as important to these other groups, as they are to the people from the first group (Davidson, 2012)(Luck, 2018).
What this can lead to are actions taken to spread and establish a group’s culture as dominant and superior to other groups. This includes deliberate methods of reducing the scope and opportunities for performing the cultural practices of other groups and reducing public support for them through information networks that people rely on. Over time, a collective pressure erodes away cultural aspects of groups that are not dominant in an area and making them highly inconvenient to be carried out. The media, influential leaders, and information outlets will use their existing reputation to justify this cultural domination. This is often done by portraying these cultural practices of other groups as negative influences, outdated for the progressing civilization, or similar negative views. In turn, this provides ample space for the practice of dominant cultures and reducing and ultimately eliminating opportunities for cultural practices that are not as dominant but are integral to the lifestyle of these ‘other’ groups (Davidson, 2012)(Sautman, 2006).
As an example, the active suppression of the cultural practices of American Indians has been ongoing since the colonial presence in the continent. The initial friendly relations between the European settlers and Indians began deteriorating when the settlers brought their foreign concept of private land ownership to the collective ownership of land practiced by the Indians. Massacres of the Indian population in several stages reduced their generous numbers to a dwindling minority during the early decades. The retaliation by the Indians resulted in the death of many colonists as well. However, by that time the colonists were already much larger in number, and their aggressive measures in reducing public support for American Indian culture continued, and suppressed to a fades existence without significant public support from the wider population descended from European settlers (Davidson, 2012).
It is to be noted that for communities, cultural practices can be as far-reaching as all political, social, and economic worldview and lifestyle choices, that have persisted across generations. Far from the Western influences that have encroached to the Middle Eastern countries and countries in Asia, cultural genocide is a more deliberate set of actions to ultimately eliminate cultural identities.
Davidson, L. (2012). Cultural Genocide. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.
Luck, E. C. (2018). Cultural Genocide and the Protection of Cultural Heritage. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Trust.
Sautman, B. (2006). Cultural Genocide and Asian State Peripheries. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.