why dehumanisation matters 

I just came across this section in Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate, by Abdel Bari Atwan, pg 141. I think that philosophical debates about humanism are often self-important, resting on an inflated sense of the significance these obtuse words hold for the affairs of the world, but I do think the social scientific evidence about ‘dehumanisation’ is pretty substantial and so attacks on our capacity to draw the underlying distinction bother me. All the more so when they’re framed as a concern to overcome ‘anthropcentric prejudice’ (etc):   you don’t produce political change by drawing philosophical distinctions but that doesn’t mean that those distinctions shouldn’t be evaluated politically.

Dehumanising the victim relaxes intrinsically felt moral restraints; enemies are often depicted as repulsive animals like rats or cockroaches. US soldier Steven Green, along with four colleagues, gang- raped then murdered fourteen- year- old Abeer Qassim al- Janabi in front of her parents and family who were then also killed; he said, ‘I didn’t think of Iraqis as human.’ 8 In the context of war, the overarching imperative is to terrify the enemy and assert superior levels of ruthlessness. This is what we are currently witnessing in the excesses of Islamic State. The Americans have a term for it: ‘Shock and Awe’.