Tuesday, 21 of October of 2014

Genocide: Why never again must not mean just one more time

My EMEL column from April 2012

We must be serious about the promise made not to massacre people or commit genocide.

In 1948, in the aftermath of the WWII, the member states of the UN General Assembly unanimously approved the Genocide Convention. People who targeted a particular national, ethnic or religious group would be punished.

In seeking to understand how the horrors of WWII happened in the heart of Europe, and to prevent a re-occurrence, the promise that echoed loudly was “Never Again”. Yet the truth is that instead of “Never Again”, genocide has happened again and again since then, in places such as Cambodia, Rwanda and Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

For those of us in the West, these are horrific incidents, deeply troubling for the collective human consciousness. But—and this is a shameful truth we must admit—they all seem rather far away, as though the West can say they were out of their hands. This is no excuse at all. But with Bosnia, even this pathetic defence does not hold. Here, in the heart of Europe, the promise of ‘never again’ became shameful lip service.

We constantly hear that if immigrants to Europe want to be accepted, they should assimilate and try harder to be more European. Yet Bosnian Muslims, European by ethnicity, who even ‘look’ European (whatever that means) and many of whom by their own accounts were Muslim by name only, were in fact entirely assimilated and still faced such atrocities.

These occurrences give lie to the myth that if you ‘assimilate’ then you will be accepted. This should be a sobering lesson as extremist voices like Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Douglas Murray in the UK are given airtime. Murray has previously said that “Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board,” and Wilders is well known for stoking up anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hatred.

Most worryingly, these are not fringe views; rather they are part of a mainstream call for either assimilation or rejection of Muslims. We must recognise the danger of these calls given they come with a backdrop of European history between WWII and Bosnia, a history that does not seem to have lived up to its promise of “Never Again”. Both these events show us that, in the worst-case scenario, the extreme conclusion of such calls can be gruesome.

When we remember the Holocaust, we must remember all the other genocides. We must address them all with respect and gravitas. It is when we join the dots between them that we have any hope to understand the causes of why they happen again and again. It also helps us to avoid reducing the value of any one people who have been killed, and instead create equivalence in human worth of all victims and all losses.

Thus, the greatest tribute we can offer to the victims of the Holocaust is to recognise that the blood-curdling genocide of Bosnia more than fifty years later means we still have lessons to learn. To remember the former, without acknowledging the latter, along with the many other genocides around the world, simply means that we prefer not to face the horrific truth that the promise of never again has in fact been broken many times. It means that we cannot pretend that whatever darkness lay at the heart of the horrors has been erased. It is a difficult and unpalatable truth to face, and so no wonder it is overlooked.

What we must take steps to avoid is another half-century elapsing with more of these shameful events taking place. That is why commemorating all genocides and promising that for all of them ‘never again’, with a clear look at their roots is so very vital. This is the action that must accompany our deepest most heartfelt prayers for all those who lost their lives, homes and loved ones in these inhumane massacres


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