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A Crime without a Name


Genocide is a powerful and emotive term. First coined by the Polish Jewish law professor Raphael Lemkin in his 1944 book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe to denote the killing of a race or a clan, its application to “the crime of crimes” emerged out of the formulation of “crimes against humanity” in the context of the Holocaust and the Nuremberg trials that followed. Given its legal origins then, genocide has become inextricably linked to the mass murder of European Jews and other ethnic, national, and religious populations by the Nazis and to the methods employed by them in the perpetration of their monstrous crimes in the modern imagination.

It is little wonder then that the suggestion Britain committed genocide against the Gaelic people of the Highlands and Islands during the later Clearances in Scotland is met with an immediate and robust denial, ridicule, and even outrage. Voices on both sides of the independence debate have responded to this suggestion in much the same way; either dismissing it as an exaggeration of historical events or downplaying the entire process almost to the level of absurdity.

Invariably, those who deny the suggestion make the mistake of dismissing it because it bears scant resemblance to other genocides and, more particularly, to the crimes of the Nazis. The mass evictions and expulsion of the Gaels – “the persecutions, deportations, and atrocities”, to quote the prosecution at Nuremberg – were not accompanied by wholesale slaughter, mass graves, and extermination centres, and therefore cannot be considered, in the minds of those who disagree, as genocide.

That the Clearances were unlike any number of other recognised genocides does not preclude them from being considered an act of genocide

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About iScot Magazine

March 2018 Issue number 39 The only independent Pro Scottish magazine on sale today