Monday, September 12, 2005

The return of the Holocaust (Day) deniers

From the (London) Times:

Advisers appointed by Tony Blair after the London bombings are proposing to scrap the Jewish Holocaust Memorial Day because it is regarded as offensive to Muslims.

They want to replace it with a Genocide Day that would recognise the mass murder of Muslims in Palestine, Chechnya and Bosnia as well as people of other faiths.

The draft proposals have been prepared by committees appointed by Blair to tackle extremism. He has promised to respond to the plans, but the threat to the Holocaust Day has provoked a fierce backlash from the Jewish community.

Holocaust Day was established by Blair in 2001 after a sustained campaign by Jewish leaders to create a lasting memorial to the 6m victims of Hitler. It is marked each year on January 27.

The Queen is patron of the charity that organises the event and the Home Office pays £500,000 a year to fund it. The committees argue that the special status of Holocaust Memorial Day fuels extremists’ sense of alienation because it "excludes" Muslims.

A member of one of the committees, made up of Muslims, said it gave the impression that "western lives have more value than non-western lives". That perception needed to be changed. "One way of doing that is if the government were to sponsor a national Genocide Memorial Day.

"The very name Holocaust Memorial Day sounds too exclusive to many young Muslims. It sends out the wrong signals: that the lives of one people are to be remembered more than others. It’s a grievance that extremists are able to exploit."

Come on, really?

Look, I have no problem with a day to remember victims of genocide more generally, nor even specifically: It's certainly true that the victims of genocide in, say, Armenia and Cambodia, or Bosnia and Rwanda, or even Stalin's Russia, are often forgotten, or at least subject to far less official remembrance than the victims of the Holocaust (and, even there, largely the Jewish victims of the Holocaust). Is this fair? Is it even a matter of fairness of victimhood? Maybe, maybe not. I'll let you decide that for yourselves.

But the fact is, there was, in my view, something truly exceptional about the Holocaust. It was the culmination of centuries and centuries of persecution. It was an attempt to wipe out an entire people — even the memory of an entire people. I realize that there have been similar genocides throughout history, but it's difficult, at least for me, not to view the Holocaust independently of, or at least as the ultimate event in, the history of genocide.

It could be argued, I suppose, that the Holocaust has been granted this "special" status as a result of highly effective lobbying and marketing by a powerful interest group — namely, Judaism as a whole, backed up by the state of Israel and its supporters throughout Europe and America. But this misses the point. We're talking about the United Kingdom here. It seems to me that the Holocaust means something there (and here in North America) that it may not mean, at least not to the same degree or in the same way) in other parts of the world. Obviously, jurisdictions with, say, large Armenian or Cambodian populations would likely afford those two genocides greater emphasis in terms of official remembrance.

To me, lumping genocides together means, ultimately, neglecting the singularities of each one. I see nothing wrong with recognizing a Holocaust Day, but then I see nothing wrong with recognizing a day for another genocide (or other genocides). That should be up to individual jurisdictions.

I realize that this is an incredibly sensitive topic, and I must admit that I was hesitant to write anything about it. It's too easy to write off this latest effort to do away with a Holocaust Memorial Day as anti-Semitism (as Andrew Sullivan does). It surely is for some, but there is indeed a case to be made, and not just for the sake of Muslim youth, for lumping together all genocides into a generic Genocide Memorial Day. But why do that? It's important to remember the Holocaust as the Holocaust, not as yet another example of humanity at its worst. It needs to be remembered on its own, just as all other genocides need to remembered on their own, independently of one another, whatever the similarities that bind them.

(See also my previous posts on North Korea (here and here), Rwanda (here), and Darfur (here and here).)

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