Respecting the Holocaust

By Namit Arora | Feb 2007 | Comments


The UN General Assembly recently adopted by consensus a resolution condemning the denial of the Holocaust. This US sponsored resolution "urges all member states 'unreservedly to reject any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event, either in full or in part, or any activities to this end' ... 'ignoring the historical fact of these terrible events increases the risk they will be repeated.'"

It can be argued that this UN resolution has a laudable symbolic value, especially in light of the recent Iranian conference that questioned the Holocaust. But this comes at the back of news from France, where a "French court handed a leading far-right French politician a three-month suspended jail sentence and fined him 5,000 euros... for questioning the Holocaust", also ordering him to pay 55,000 euros in damages to the plaintiffs. It also appears that "Germany is using its six-month European Union presidency to push for EU-wide criminalization of Holocaust denial."

Sounds like a denial of free speech, no? Not that free speech is an absolute right;  curbs on it have long existed. But if the denial of historical fact can be criminalized, why not the denial of a scientific fact like evolution? After fair laws and institutions, the best way to counter ignorance and prejudice is through education and evidence. Tolerating a loony fringe is the inevitable price of free speech. Besides, is it not far better to take a stand against hate speech than against denials of historical facts ? The latter doesn't automatically imply the former, even in the case of the Holocaust.

These developments, surely led by some dubious politicking and European national guilt, made me go back and reread the brilliant essay by the Jewish historian and activist Howard Zinn on the more honorable ways of respecting the Holocaust.

.. the memory of the Jewish Holocaust should not be circled by barbed wire, morally ghettoized, kept isolated from other atrocities in history.
To remember what happened to the six million Jews, I said, served no important purpose unless it aroused indignation, anger, action against all atrocities, anywhere in the world.

. If the Holocaust is to have any meaning, we must transfer our anger to today's brutalities. We must respect the memory of the Jewish Holocaust by refusing to allow atrocities to take place now . When Jews turn inward to concentrate on their own history and look away from the ordeal of others, they are, with terrible irony, doing exactly what the rest of the world did in allowing the genocide to happen.


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