Perhaps the only thing worse than knowing no history at all is to know only one piece of it. The coinciding this week of Holocaust Memorial Day with the ongoing European migration crisis provided a fine example of this.
In a matter of days the European media seized on a number of stories that suggested that Europe was about to replay the Holocaust all over again. In Cardiff a refuge which is housing migrants while their asylum applications were being processed was criticised for expecting people to wear small wristbands to signal that they were people from the refuge eligible for meals. Some media reported this and quoted migrants saying they found the wristbands demeaning. It was said to ‘echo’ the yellow stars which Jews were expected to wear in Nazi Germany said some of the press.
Elsewhere migrants in a town in the north of England complained that the
houses they had been given to live in all seemed to have red doors and that this seemed to single them out and make them feel excluded. The doors turned out not to have been painted red to ‘warn off’ other people as was claimed. Just another day and another ‘Nazi echo’ story. Elsewhere in Denmark politicians discussed a bill which would expect migrants who arrived in the country with assets to contribute to their own upkeep in the country rather than expect the Danish taxpayer to subsidise all of them entirely. This was said by the BBC and others to have ‘unpleasant overtones’ of the seizing of Jewish assets by the Nazis. And in the UK the use of the word ‘bunch’ by the Prime Minister in a passing reference to the leader of the opposition meeting migrants in Calais (as in ‘a bunch of migrants’) was seized on by some as ‘dehumanising’ language redolent of…. etc etc.
Far from people in Europe being ignorant of the Holocaust it sometimes seems to be the only thing some people know about. And the problem of only knowing about one thing is that everything can be alleged to have ‘echoes’ of it. In fact that there is no evidence that the Danish government’s efforts not to over-indebt the Danish people are a prelude to genocide. There is no evidence that David Cameron harbours extreme racist views towards anyone in Calais. And there is no evidence that the red doors scare or the use of wristbands in one Cardiff refuge are evidence that Britain is gearing up to herd migrants into gas chambers.
It is easy to see how such lurid and constant innuendo is good for
newspapers and political opportunists alike. It is harder to see how it has
become so completely acceptable. After all, it is not just insulting to the
intelligence and decency of public officials doing their best to cope with a
crisis of unparalleled magnitude. It is also a trivialisation of all those who were the victims of actual fascism. If everything resembles the Holocaust then the Holocaust becomes a somewhat banal and mundane example of human business as usual. Perhaps in the years ahead people can become more alert to attempts to trivialise genocide for short-term political and media purposes.
From the Director’s Desk
Iran is on the march in the Middle East. A fact we at The Henry Jackson Society are well aware of given the work our Centre for the New Middle East engages in, but which was hammered home this week at an HJS Parliamentary meeting addressed by Iraqi politician Mithal al-Alusi.
Alusi is a fascinating character. I knew the basic elements of his life
story owing to a previous meeting with the man himself, but was fortunate
enough to have been able to develop a more detailed understanding through the good offices of Joshua Muravchik, who had biographized Alusi in a chapter in his book Trailblazers of the Arab Spring.
A communist as a youth, Alusi became a Baathist sufficiently early to have been deemed a figure of note in that revolutionary regime. However, once he became aware of the brutal and corrupt nature of Saddam Hussein’s rule, he at first withdrew and then fled from Iraq in order to escape the dictator’s clutches. Pursued as an ally at times by the Syrians and then the Libyans on account of his strong anti-Saddam stance, he settled in Germany and stormed the Iraqi Embassy there in 2002 in order to liberate it, which led to his being imprisoned just at the time that Iraq itself was freed from Saddam’s rule.
Returning to his home country to play a part in its rebuilding, an
extraordinary decision to visit Israel and then advocate for peace between
the two countries led to the tragic murder of Alusi’s two sons in a car bomb attack meant for him. Undeterred, and despite further assassination
attempts, he has continued his brave attempt to build a better future for
Iraq through a political career and advocacy.
All of this is worthy of contemplation on its own, but Alusi’s message was
that Iran’s increasing control over Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and interference in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Yemen is what is fundamentally destabilising the Middle East today. Without this complicating factor, Islamic State could be faced down with ease. With it, attempting to rid the Middle East of one monstrous regime may well allow another to replace it, albeit more subtly and acting through various proxies.
Having once been sounded out by the Iranians himself as a potential partner in an extensive courtship, Alusi is under no illusions about the nature of the regime that tried to seduce him. In a week that saw the UK government appoint Lord Lamont – who has stated “I don’t buy into this Western narrative about Iran” as its trade envoy to Tehran, our leaders would do well to heed Alusi’s words of warning before rushing into an embrace they are likely to regret.
Dr Alan Mendoza is Executive Director of The Henry Jackson Society
Follow Alan on Twitter: @AlanMendoza
Quote of the Week:
“Saudi Arabia say they are the leader of the Sunni, Iran say they are the leader of the Shia. Society in the Middle East is suffering because of the Islamic religion”
Mithal Al-Alusi, Leader of the Iraqi Ummah Party