by Karyn Becker
Genocide: The deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.
Ethnic Cleansing: The elimination of an unwanted group from a society, as by genocide or forced migration.
Any discussion of genocide or ethnic cleansing would seem to be straightforward, both in the subject matter itself and in the myriad examples one could bring to mind. As these topics are studied in greater depth, however, the discussion invariably becomes far more complicated. Defined as “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group,” genocide tends to evoke thoughts of the Holocaust of World War Two–the most egregious and infamous example of the mass killing of people based on their ethnic or religious background. For many people, that is the full extent of what genocide means. Today, however, the word genocide draws upon an even more complex body of history and scholarship, focusing on the motivation of the perpetrators. By narrow definition, genocide can only occur when there is a deliberate attempt to completely destroy all members of a particular group. As such, there are few clearly identifiable examples of genocide.