What does it mean to be a contemporary bystander to

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What does it mean to be a contemporary bystander? To begin with, let us consider this question not from the expected viewpoint — that of the bystander — but from the two viewpoints provided by the parties directly involved in the event.To put it as simply as possible: From the viewpoint of an agent of genocide, bystanders are persons possessing a potential(one needing to be estimated in every concrete case) to halt his ongoing actions. The perpetrator will fear the bystander to the extent that he has reason to believe that the bystander will intervene tohalt the action already under way, and thereby frustrate the perpetrator's goal of eliminating the targeted group. That said, we immediately need to differentiate among the different categories of bystanders introduced above. It is obvious that the more knowledgeable and otherwise resourceful the bystander, themore the perpetrator will have reason to fear that the potential for such resistance will translate into action, meaning a more or less direct intervention by military or other means deemed efficient to reach the objective of halting the incipient genocide. Of course, one should distinguish between bystanders who remain inactive and those who become actively engaged. Nonetheless, the point to be stressed is that, in principle, even the most initially passive and remote bystander possesses a potential to cease being a mere onlooker to the
events unfolding. Outrage at what comes to pass may prompt the judgmentthat ‘this simply must be stopped’ and translate into action promoting thataim.But is not halting genocide first and foremost a task, indeed a duty, for the victims themselves? The answer is simple: The sheer fact that genocide is happening shows that the targeted group has not proved itself able to prevent it. This being so, responsibility for halting what is now unfolding cannot rest with the victims alone; it must also be seen to rest with the party not itself affected but which is knowledgeable about — which is more or less literally witnessing — the genocide that is taking place. So whereas for the agent, bystanders represent the potential of resistance, for the victims they may represent the only source of hope left. In ethical terms, thisis borne out in the notion of responsibility of Emmanuel Levinas (1991), according to which responsibility grows bigger the weaker its addressee.Of course, agents of genocide may be caught more or less in delicto flagrante. But in the age of television— with CNN being able to film and even interview doers as well as victims on the spot, and broadcast live to the entire television-watching world (such as was the case in the concentration camp Omarska in Bosnia in August 1992) (see Gutman, 1993) — physical co-presence to the event at hand is almost rendered superfluous. One need not have been there in order to have known what happened. The same holds for the impact of the day-to-day reporting from the ground by newspaper journalists of indisputable reputation. In order to be[end page 521]

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