Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The UN contemplates Holocaust 

The United Nations General Assembly has held a special session to ponder on the Holocaust and genocide, just a few days before the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz death camp by the Red Army (as the London "Times" notes, it's the first time in the UN's history that the Holocaust has been commemorated by this august body).

Israel's foreign minister Silvan Shalom said that one would never know whether the United Nations, had it existed then, could have prevented the Holocaust. Shalom is an intelligent man and I'm sure that - based on the League of Nation's behavior before the war and the UN's afterward - he knows the answer and was just teasing the gathered.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel thought that we did not learn enough from the experience of the Second World War: "If the world had listened, we may have prevented Darfur, Cambodia, Bosnia and naturally Rwanda... We know that for the dead it is too late. For them, abandoned by God and betrayed by humanity, victory did come much too late."

If the world had listened. If... Coming himself from a family decimated by the Holocaust, Paul Wolfowitz offered the most realistic assessment: "We know that there have been far too many occasions in the six decades since the liberation of the concentration camps when the world ignored inconvenient truths so that it would not have to act or acted too late."

It's not that we don't know what the Holocaust was, or what its lessons are - it's just that whenever next crisis comes by we do too little too late because to act forcefully and in time seems too difficult, too costly and too messy. The problem is not ignorance. Cowardice, "realism", indifference, yes; anything but ignorance.

Still, it's good that the UN is at least discussing the topic in a public forum. When else would we have a chance to hear Germany's foreign minister Joschka Fisher say that Israel can "always rely" on German support because "the security of its citizens will forever remain nonnegotiable fixture of German foreign policy." Or the French foreign minister Michel Barnier engaged in breast-beating: "When the first signs of persecution of the Jews announcing the Shoah occurred, how many stood up? How many spoke out?"

As Reuters writes: "The meeting was first called by the United States and backed by Annan, who polled the 191-member assembly. More than 150 nations agreed to the session, including Islamic nations. But among Muslim nations, only Afghanistan and Jordan's U.N. ambassadors are scheduled to speak to the General Assembly, often accused by Israel of being anti-Semitic."

On January 27, the world will commemorate the Holocaust Day, with main functions being held in Poland, at the site of the Auschwitz camp. If, as a blogger, you want to contribute to the commemoration, get involved in a special
"blog burst" on the topic.

not everyone is happy about the Holocaust Day:

"British Muslims are to boycott this week’s commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz because they claim it is not racially inclusive and does not commemorate the victims of the Palestinian conflict.

"Iqbal Sacranie, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, has written to Charles Clarke, the home secretary, saying the body will not attend the event unless it includes the 'holocaust' of the Palestinian intifada.

"He said similar events held in other European countries was an 'inclusive day' that commemorated deaths in Palestine, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, as well as the former Nazi death camps."
(hat tip: Joe Gandelman at Dean's World) Indeed, as a subsequent report notes, the Jordanian ambassador to the UN used the opportunity to address the General Assembly's special meeting to castigate Israel: "What sense can we make of this important commemoration, when we allow through our inaction, year after year, one people to dominate another, to deny the latter many of its most basic rights, and so, with the passage of time, also degrade it as a people."

I guess it partly depends on what your definition of "Holocaust Memorial Day" is. Does it commemorate "the" Holocaust, the extermination of the European Jewry, or does it commemorate other holocausts, as in genocides, such as the Armenian genocide, the Rwandan genocide and many others? I write "partly depends", because even if the Memorial Day is an all-inclusive commemoration, the word "genocide" has been so degraded and devalued as to cease to have any useful meaning. Nowadays, any degree of oppression, real or imagined is considered to be a genocide, which does nothing either for the memory of the victims of real genocides or the credibility of those pushing the new and fashionable grievances.

wrote some time ago about the absurdity of talking about "Palestinian genocide". Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the Middle East conflict - and I, just like any reasonable person, want to see the end to violence and a peaceful resolution - the genocide of the Palestinian people must be the only one in history which has resulted, according to the official Palestinian figures, in the explosion of the exterminated population. Even though some research suggests that the Palestinian authorities are grossly overestimating Palestinian population numbers, arguably for political reasons, while the context of several decades of conflict is not healthy, the Palestinian population figures certainly continue to be.

And so, sadly, sixty years on, we still live in a world where the very terms like "genocide" and "Holocaust" are political and rhetorical footballs and where historical commemorations get invariably marred by present-day politics, all at the same time when the world community keeps repeating the mantra of "never again", knowing full well that never again has already happened many times in the past and will, with a sickening inevitability, happen many times in the future.


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