Dehumanization refers to the process of stripping a person’s human traits and reducing him to a lesser value or treating him like an animal. It amounts to deliberately degrading people by taking away their individuality. Governments, nation and political leaders often skillfully use dehumanization to manipulate the public. Enemies are projected as people less than human and worthy of punishment. As a result destroying or dehumanizing them is considered to be morally justifiable. Dehumanization ultimately leads to oppression and genocide.
Dehumanization may be propagated by a state or any such organization or may be the result of individual actions and emotions as in racism. Dehumanization may be directed towards particular ethnic races, foreigners, genders, religious groups, homosexuals or people with uncommon sexual orientations. Groups which are commonly dehumanizes also include the disabled people, people belonging to the lower economic strata such as the homeless and other deprived social classes. Dehumanization can be the result of religious fervor as in the Crusades, where Christians were tutored to regard the enemies to be subhuman. Some settlers of the New World viewed members of a different Christian sect as that of the devil.
Dehumanization forms the crux of all wars. The idea of dehumanization is propagated by the governments when they project the enemy as sub human so as to gain the support of citizens who might otherwise view the war as a kind of mass murder. Hitler’s dehumanizing action towards the Jews during the holocaust led to the loss of lives of millions of people. The Rwandan Genocide is a case of atrocities perpetrated by a campaign of dehumanization, organized by the government. Colonial Europeans are often accused of dehumanizing the indigenous races. The Europeans considered them inferior and felt it natural to dominate them.
Once certain groups are stripped of their rights and stigmatized as inferior, the dehumanization of these groups is accepted as a norm. The high incidence of violence and aggression against such groups gets perpetuated and may go out of control. Perpetrators of violence may consider that the destruction of the other party is essential and do so as a morally acceptable thing. The result is an ever widening chasm between the warring parties and a probable loss of innocent lives. Dehumanization leads to war crimes, violation of human rights and genocide. The atrocities on the Jews in the Holocaust and those in Cambodia, Rwanda and Yugoslavia are all examples of dehumanization.