I find this whole debate over Holocaust Memorial Day unpleasant and unnecessary but there a few things I want to note after reading David Cesarani’s piece in the Guardian.
Cutting through the opportunistic use by certain Muslim ‘spokesmen’ of the fashionable phrase ‘exclusivity’ he gets close to the heart of the matter:
The real reasons for the hostility to HMD lie elsewhere: anti-Zionism. Of course it is understandable that British Muslims feel solidarity with Palestinian Muslims, and they have every right to campaign vigorously against Israel. But targeting HMD betrays a misunderstanding of history, insensitivity and poor political judgment.
Sacranie and the Muslim Council of Britain appear to be prisoners of several myths about the Holocaust. One is that commemoration is a Jewish-Zionist plot to induce guilt among non-Jews and foster sympathy for Israel. This connection was made in disturbing terms by Ahmad Thomson, of the Association of Muslim Lawyers. Thomson described reference to the death of 6 million Jews as a “big lie”. He claims that Jews have no right to a state and sees “sinister” groups trying to realise a “Zionist plan” by putting pressure on the government.
Ibrahim Hewitt, who campaigns for the welfare of Palestinian Muslims, objects to the exclusion from HMD of any reference to Israel’s displacement of Palestinians in 1948. To him, that was “pretty genocidal”. Well, the Palestinians experienced a catastrophe in 1948 and still endure the consequences, but to call it “genocidal” and place it on a par with Auschwitz exposes the distorted use of the term.
Indeed. But then Ceserani goes on to point out several ways in which Muslim groups might use an eventual support for Holocaust Memorial Day as (in his words) “leverage” to gain recognition for other issues.
I think his advice is well-intentioned but it leaves me, as the debate as a whole does, feeling rather uncomfortable. Why does anyone have to encourage people, offer them incentives, cajole them, into accepting a memorial day to the holocaust?
My feelings on the matter are this:
1. (This really shouldn’t need to be pointed out but, we live in strange times) Remembering the holocaust does not undermine in any way at all the ability to call for solidarity with any oppressed people or to remember the victims of any genocide or atrocity.
2. If any group feels uncomfortable about a memorial day for the holocaust, let them say so, let them explain exactly why and let their views be challenged. If certain Muslim groups wish to come out with nonsense about the ‘genocide’ against Palestinians as a reason for non-support then it is better that they come out with that nonsense and have it challenged rather than have those people squirming uncomfortably at a ceremony because it is seen as politic to do so or a way of gaining “leverage”.
3. Not one inch should be given to those who wish to water-down, broaden, reform or abolish Holocaust Memorial Day in order to appease those who feel ‘excluded’ by it.