I KNOW it can be painful and indeed heart breaking. To talk about holocaust and to remember the pains of the past can be painful. For sure, to dig back into history and divulge into remembering millions of people murdered in the Holocaust, under Nazi persecution, is agonising.
Much more devastating is to recall and reflect on not long distant genocides which followed after the holocaust, here I mean the atrocities in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. I sympathise with the reader in case, in one way or the other, you went or are going through such pains.
Take courage! All that said, however, it is once again January 27 the time, when the world marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp.
Each year on this day Holocaust Memorial Day takes place. Well, we know that the holocaust profoundly affected countries in which Nazi crimes were perpetrated, but we should remember that the tragic event also had universal implications and consequences for many other parts of the world, some of which are still fresh today.
Sadly, as we commemorate this day, prejudice and hostility against people based on their identity continues hurting many communities around the world. For this reason, I write to remind my readers that to participate in the commemoration, of unfortunately tragic events in human history, and paying tribute to communities, which suffered then and suffering now, is appropriate.
Indeed, benefiting because by doing so we want to ensure that the lessons of these sad events are properly understood and acknowledged. And it is an opportune time because the problems are not over yet. So, to you my readers let the Holocaust Memorial Day of 2021 encourage a flash of remembrance in a world scarred by genocide.
We are still, near and far, across the globe, in increasing levels of denial, division and misinformation. For me, this is an urgent call and indeed a reminder that we must remain vigilant against hatred and identity-based hostility. I wish all would understand what the slogan ‘never again’ means.
As Steven Arthur Pinker, a Canadian-American cognitive psychologist, linguist, and popular science author puts it, as long as [peoples’] ideology identifies the main source of the world’s ills as a definable group, it opens the world up to genocide.
We do not want this to be the case! Likewise, Robert Paul Weston, a British-born Canadian children’s writer is right when he writes: ‘historical atrocities have certainly shown that dehumanising any group is the first step towards genocide’.
But will the slogan ‘never again’ work? Is it really well understood? Does it really matter? If it matters, why is it that prejudice and hatred continue today? Why identity-based persecution, misinformation, and denial of justice seem to be the order of the day? Well, the increasing levels of denial, division and misinformation in today’s world remind us that we must remain vigilant against hatred and identity-based hostility.
In other words, we cannot, therefore, be complacent, but continue addressing these challenges. The ‘never again’ concept will become real if the world protects and, therefore, avoids vulnerable places for another catastrophe like the Rwandan genocide of the 1994.
Even more importantly, the world needs leaders who can stand for their people. Every time I think of the atrocities of the past, I look at the country of Rwanda which has successfully emerged from the dark history. Again it has all to do with leadership.
As Rudolph Joseph Rummel (1932-2014), a political scientist and professor, who spent his career studying data on collective violence and war with a view to securing their resolution or elimination aptly suggests, ‘the way to virtually eliminate genocide and mass murder appears to be through restricting and checking power.
This means to foster democratic freedom’. By good committed leaders, like Rwanda, any country will enjoy economic growth, as well as other successes such as those of universal health insurance and aggressive anti-corruption laws.
They are successful because they were serious about the process of recovery and reconstitution of Rwandans, community, and systems of justice. I know the task is not over, but for the success testified the world community and many other witnesses, surely deserve commendation.
So, the world should continue fighting head on these challenges because they are still real. That is why I insist that we need to get on with the missing items briskly, to make up lost ground, both of the past and current.
This I highlight because we still have perpetrators among us whose agenda is to divide society into those considered worthy of human treatment, and those who are not. And these wrongdoers are not necessarily the powerful elite. They can be mere citizens, be it from the villages of Mugweli or Mumiterama in Ngara, north-western Tanzania, or Mugiteranyi and Kobero in Burundi.
Do not underestimate them. These have the potential to design distortions and deploy them using propaganda and stereotyping to identify and victimise a specific group or groups, followed by discrimination. In extreme cases, when the problem is well embedded in our communities, they often tend to be enshrined in laws.
And one of the ways in which we could best commemorate this day, is to encourage one another and remind governments across the world to reaffirm their unwavering commitment to counter antisemitism, racism, and other forms of intolerance that may lead to group-targeted violence we witness today.
By doing so the motto ‘never again’ will bear fruits. Additionally, the ‘never again’ call will work if the world continues taking collective responsibility for addressing the residual trauma, maintaining effective remembrance policies, caring for historic sites, and promoting education, documentation and research, decades after the genocide.
So, as we remember those who were murdered for who they were, let Holocaust Memorial Day enable us to remember – for a purpose. Let the day give us a responsibility to work for a safer, better, future for everyone. Everyone can step up and use their talents to tackle prejudice, discrimination and intolerance wherever we encounter them. So, it is once again Holocaust Memorial Day.
I wish to conclude my article by paying tribute to all victims and survivors of atrocities and human rights violations. I commend their immense bravery. On several occasions, I have heard of your position that the world must listen to the voices of victims of serious human rights violations and atrocities.
You are right. To add to your proposal, I think the world should also continue providing normative standards, and the route to prevent the recurrence of any future serious human rights violations. It is my hope that the world will hear you, speak with you and your communities, instead of talking about you. Cheers!
● Dr Alfred Sebahene, PhD Social ethics specialist and anti-corruption consultant, St John’s University of Tanzania Dodoma, Tanzania Email Addresses: arsebahene2@ yahoo.co.uk, firstname.lastname@example.org Mobile: +255 767 233 997