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At the Death Camps, Muslim Leaders Grapple With Jews’ Pain
August 15, 2010 12:35 PM   Subscribe

"We pray to God that this will not happen to the Jewish people or to any people anymore." -- a group of American imams visits Dauchau and Auschwitz.
posted by empath (38 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Qadhi said that he couldn’t peer into the displays of children’s toys and shoes without thinking about his own four children.

This is what it's all about, putting yourself in the shoes of victims. Very powerful stuff.
posted by nola at 12:43 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Was just about to post this, empath. I found it very moving.

As someone who teaches in (relatively) heavily Arabic Dearborn, Michigan, I have had a handful of very uncomfortable classroom exchanges with students of Middle Eastern descent (full disclosure: I am of Middle Eastern descent, too) who have tried to argue that the Holocaust has been grossly overemphasized or hyperdramatized. I try my best to make it a teaching moment, but as someone who teaches Ethics, I know that you cannot get too far in the literature without someone invoking the Holocaust (and for good, that is to say, evil, reasons). I find that once I fill in some of the more brutal details, the sheer scope of the horror becomes more apparent to the doubters. I would not go so far as to say that I have had out-and-out deniers in my classroom, but there does seem (anecdotally) to be a certain baseline of We-get-it-the-Holocaust-was-bad-can-we-talk-about-something-elseism at work in some particular individuals, and so I applaud efforts such as these.

I know that Arabic and/or Middle Eastern does not equal Muslim, obviously; was just setting the context.
posted by joe lisboa at 12:59 PM on August 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Very cool initiative. Thanks, Empath.
posted by Wataki at 1:06 PM on August 15, 2010


I wanted to see the conservative response to this, so I went to FoxNews.Com to look for this story. No matter what I type in the search box, it won't show up. Mostly just junk about the "Ground Zero Mosque" that's actually 2 blocks away.

But I digress. This is really touching, and it's humanity at its best.
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:07 PM on August 15, 2010


Out of context, as an American Jew who had relatives exterminated in the camps, I have to say I am all for "We-get-it-the-Holocaust-was-bad-can-we-talk-about-something-elseism", or at least something to get fellow American Jews my age out of their whiny victim/persecution complex.

In context, this is great.
posted by cucumber at 1:08 PM on August 15, 2010


And I meant "some particular individuals" literally, no code words intended. Man this stuff is so hard to talk about, all the more reason to encourage dialogue, I guess. Bowing out now.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:09 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have to say I am all for "We-get-it-the-Holocaust-was-bad-can-we-talk-about-something-elseism", or at least something to get fellow American Jews my age out of their whiny victim/persecution complex.

There's a level on which I agree to this, albeit not in the way it was stated. I'm a Russian Jew -- well, American Jew born in Russia and raised in the American Russian Jewish culture -- and I've seen the Holocaust used far, far too much as a starting-off point for sheer hatred. With the older generation (my grandparents'), the generation who experienced ghettoization, and the War, and the Holocaust first-hand, there's an almost unanimous hate for the German people and nation. My great-aunt, who lived in a ghetto, can't so much as bear to hear the language without getting ill. With the younger generation, due at least in part to the establishment of the state of Israel, it's metamorphosized into an awful Islamophobia. There is a widespread and terrible attitude of xenophobia that is, considering the history of the Jewish people, somewhat understandable and yet still terrible. I wish there was a way to do this the other way around, to expose Jews to Muslim culture and let them see that no, they are not the successors to the Nazis, intent on a second Holocaust. I have no idea how one would do that, but it needs to be done.
posted by griphus at 1:22 PM on August 15, 2010 [12 favorites]


By "the younger generation" I mean my parents'. My peers seem to be split between following that generation, or, thankfully, developing a more global and granular consciousness when it comes to the Islamic world.
posted by griphus at 1:25 PM on August 15, 2010


argue that the Holocaust has been grossly overemphasized

Would that be the Holocaust of The Armenians - the event that had Churchill use the word Holocaust to describe?

Perhaps genocide should be used - that way every group who's been slaughtered gets a seat at the table.
posted by rough ashlar at 1:28 PM on August 15, 2010


I think I understand your point, rough ashlar, but I have to imagine there are more diplomatic (i.e., thoughtful) ways to put it. And I assumed, given the context, that the expression "the Holocaust" referred to the Shoah and that sincere participants in the conversation would understand it as such.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:32 PM on August 15, 2010 [5 favorites]


Basically, we just need to quit killing each other.
posted by vibrotronica at 1:34 PM on August 15, 2010 [18 favorites]


There needs to be a way to differentiate the events, rough ashlar. You can refer to the Armenian Holocaust as such, but you can't refer to the Shoah as "the Jewish Holocaust" because that kicks out everyone else. Although you still have arguments for the fact that either "the Holocaust" or "the Shoah" refers only to the slaughter of the Jewish people (which is what the "six million" number refers to,) but that doesn't make a lick of sense to me.
posted by griphus at 1:36 PM on August 15, 2010


Well, I certainly hope none of those Imams visits Ground Zero in an attempt to gain insight and understanding into the American experience of 9/11. I would hate to unnecessarily heal any wounds that Fox News and Sarah Palin could pour salt into to further their own selfish gains.
posted by chasing at 1:40 PM on August 15, 2010 [7 favorites]


It does not follow that a single article in a Jewish newspaper immediately must be mirrored by a “conservative response” anywhere, let alone on Fox News. Journalism is not Newtonian physics, with every action met by and equal and opposite reaction.
posted by joeclark at 1:44 PM on August 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


Joeclark, I was just curious, as the demonization of the Muslims seems to be most intense in conservative circles in America.
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:47 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Journalism is not Newtonian physics, with every action met by and equal and opposite reaction."

Yeah. Too bad those shows on FOX, MSN, and CNN have little to do with journalism.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 1:52 PM on August 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I also took that comment not as having to do with its publication in a Jewish paper (which I didn't notice until you brought it up) but as having to do with the humanization of Islam -- specifically, Muslim leaders -- which the Fox/Palin/psychotic Right complex (I don't even want to call them 'conservatives' anymore) would seek to jump on and tear apart immediately.
posted by griphus at 1:54 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, just to be clear, I thought it was just a normal newspaper. I read it in my state's paper this morning (NJ Star Ledger).

The thing is that the right wingers I've seen in-person and online act like we're fighting a war on Muslims, not a war on terror. There seems to be an undertone among them that all Muslims would love to kill us if it were convenient for them to do so, or at the very least impose Sharia law in America.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:14 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not every right winger, mind you, but more than the movement should be comfortable with.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:32 PM on August 15, 2010


PS, it's called Dachau, not Dauchau.

I went there. Nice little town north of Munich. With a KZ on the outskirts.

So. Fucking. Grim.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:56 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


. Although you still have arguments for the fact that either "the Holocaust" or "the Shoah" refers only to the slaughter of the Jewish people

And there are historical arguments that 'the holocaust' was what happened to the Armenians long before the events of WWII. When I have the spare time, I'm gonna go dig 'round in the dusty stacks to see if pre-1940 dictionaries tie holocaust to the events of the Armenians.

"The Shoah" - I've seen no arguments that other events get to claim that label however. Might be better to use that one.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:07 PM on August 15, 2010


Thanks for this link. Things like this give me some glimmer of hope for the fate of humanity.
posted by gnutron at 3:24 PM on August 15, 2010


Does anyone know if they are still forcing elementary school kids in the US to watch documentaries on the Holocaust? I still remember being led to the lunch room en mass back in the seventies to skip my first PG, R, X and snuff movie straight to those horrible mass snuff films. I sure got that message.

To this day I am constantly surprised when I hear - sometimes for the first time - about other genocides no one bothered to mention even later through HS or college.

I would love to see some statistics that capture the number-dead-to-words-expressed ratio for an American Indian, Chinese or Cuban peasant, Cambodian teacher, Ukrainian/Armenian farmer, German communist - to name just a few from a long list of horrible stories going back in history that seldom seem to reach air time. Yet, not a week goes by without encountering another book, article, drama, movie, mifi posting, NPR interview etc... on what seems to be our favorite genocide story.

In the US, we seem to have a weird fetishistic cult(ural) pre-occupation this for this one and only one horrible story alone. It's even got a place on our national mall. Is it because we were the heroes in this one case?

Is it anti-Semitic to say I am simply bored with hearing about this particular genocide? If you are an author or other media type - why not look beyond the walls of Dachau for your next story about people trying to wipe each other out. There are lots of them out there waiting to be told.

While I'm glad, but not surprised, to hear that Muslim leaders know what I learned in grade school, they're not the contemporary leaders keeping a Semitic people crouched in Ghettos on this day today. Those are the leaders I worry about and hope never forget 'never again.'
posted by astrobiophysican at 4:33 PM on August 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


I agree with you griphus (I am a Budapest Jew, come to America if it makes any difference).
posted by cucumber at 4:35 PM on August 15, 2010


Although, I guess I should say I agree with how I stated it before. Sometime, but not this thread, we can have that debate.
posted by cucumber at 4:38 PM on August 15, 2010


[few comments removed - please take derails to email or metatalk. rough ashlar, you're being asked nicely to please not make this thread all about you.]
posted by jessamyn at 5:08 PM on August 15, 2010


Is it anti-Semitic to say I am simply bored with hearing about this particular genocide? If you are an author or other media type - why not look beyond the walls of Dachau for your next story about people trying to wipe each other out. There are lots of them out there waiting to be told.

Truth be told, I never really tire of hearing about genocide (though it's never pleasant), as I continue to learn a lot about humanity (and inhumanity) from the stories. But I realise that these lessons aren't really absorbed in any meaningful way by most people; for many, the Holocaust exists as a series little morality tales or as a kind of anti-nostalgia that makes today seem a little better than yesterday, or as a kind of low-grade pornography of brutality . . . or fodder for the imagination, where we could help Wallenberg or hide a family or save Anne Frank with our wit and friendship. Little evocative stories wherein we can insert ourselves and make some sort of difference, retroactively. There's a sort of romance to it, though it's sad I can even say that honestly.

If you are really concerned with actual horror and human travesties, look around you. Deal with the here and now.

Every time I hear the phrase "never again," I want to cry, and I feel a dark space in the center of my body. Few statements of human boldness and promise have been as utterly betrayed - and as quickly made a lie - as that one. Genocide is a daily event. It's personal, too; my family did not take the precautions we could have when we were attacked by genocidal monsters. We believed, fifty years after the Holocaust, that the civilised world would not again allow such an atrocity, at least not in the middle of Europe. We were fools, and now only I survive to dwell on the misery of our familial naïveté. But we were like everyone, we felt the world was a better place now, but we did nothing to ensure that was so.

Personally, I think that every genocide should be commemorated by its victims with a little less effort than that group - whether they are Jews or Armenians or Bosnian Muslims or whoever - puts into ending the genocide of the day. That'd be far more in the spirit of "never again," but sadly, a few individuals aside, it just doesn't seem to occur to people to try it.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:27 PM on August 15, 2010 [24 favorites]


In the US, we seem to have a weird fetishistic cult(ural) pre-occupation this for this one and only one horrible story alone. It's even got a place on our national mall. Is it because we were the heroes in this one case?

Astrobiophysician wrote: US heroism is not a bad thing to acknowledge but I think the reasons are more prosaic than that. World War Two is emphasised too - you don't hear nearly as much about the Korean War, the Spanish-American War, or even World War One. The Holocaust is obviously associated with WW2 and I think they're both emphasised for similar reasons. They were hugely significant events that largely took place in parts of the world with which the USA has historical affinity. They're well within living memory, and they're well documented because they took place when modern media had just become well established.

As for teaching about other genocides, that's a great idea.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:40 PM on August 15, 2010


Honestly, astrobiophysician? I think the U.S. has some collective, unconscious guilt about our, shall we say, late entrance to the party. What if the United States had entered into World War II earlier? How many lives would have been saved?

I don't mean this in a finger-shaking sense, as in, "The United States should have done X, Y, and Z." Rather, I think it's just this nagging suspicion that, for all of the patting ourselves we do on the back for WWII, maybe our self-congratulations could also be self-distracting. And so we keep this one in mind, because we mull over what might have beens.
posted by adipocere at 5:50 PM on August 15, 2010


In the US, we seem to have a weird fetishistic cult(ural) pre-occupation this for this one and only one horrible story alone. It's even got a place on our national mall.

I think this one horrible story has some characteristics that make it sufficiently different from others to hold our interest. First, it's relatively recent, within living memory as Joe in Australia mentioned. Second, we Americans get to think of ourselves as the good guys. Unlike adipocere, I don't think there's really any national guilt about what we didn't do to end it earlier - despite plenty of evidence that we knew more about it at an earlier time than we generally acknowledge.

But there are two more factors that I think have even more explanatory power. One is that this genocide (and more-than-genocide, including Roma, gays, political prisoners, etc) is modern. And by modern, I don't mean recent, but rather using modern mechanization, bureaucracy, documentation, recordskeeping, etc. There's a museum on the Mall for this because there's so much to be put in a museum: pictures and papers and artifacts, hair and teeth and shoes. Most genocides disappear into the earth with their victims, but not this one, which makes the cause of Holocaust deniers so quixotic and pointless. The second factor is how close we were and are to the Germans. Germany was considered to be a civilized country - as civilized as the US and England, and more civilized than other European countries. When American soldiers went to Germany, they felt more akin to the Germans than they did, say, to the French. Most genocides are (from the American perspective) committed by alien races against other alien races, and we can hold ourselves above those events and say "that would never happen here." But we can't get away with that distancing so easily with this one.
posted by me & my monkey at 6:50 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Personally, I think that every genocide should be commemorated by its victims with a little less effort than that group - whether they are Jews or Armenians or Bosnian Muslims or whoever - puts into ending the genocide of the day. That'd be far more in the spirit of "never again," but sadly, a few individuals aside, it just doesn't seem to occur to people to try it.

I understand what you're saying, but commemoration is one of the ways that we prevent future and stop current genocides.

Also, my impression is that Jewish groups have been at the forefront in raising awareness about Darfur, for instance.

I also found this article from 1995 from the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs:
Criticism of the U.N., the U.S. and the Europeans has been widespread, and rightly so, but some groups which claim human and civil rights as their brief have decided not to add their voices to those calling for action. A late July press conference called at Washington, DC's National Press Club by the American Task Force for Bosnia (ATFB) and its director, Khaled Saffuri, brought together 23 civic and religious organizations active on the Bosnian issue. The number of participating American-Muslim organizations, including the American Muslim Council, Muslim Public Affairs Council, the International Union of Muslim Women, Mercy International, the Union of Supportive Shurists and Solidarity International for Human Rights, will come as no surprise.

What was surprising was that there were three times as many American-Jewish groups as American-Arab organizations present at the conference. The Arab American Institute and the National Association of Arab Americans were at the meeting, and both have been very active on Bosnia. Yet there is a discouraging tendency among some individual Arab Americans and Arab-American organizations to shy away from Bosnia and claim it is not "their issue" since it is Muslims who are being killed.
posted by Jahaza at 7:19 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


A further point is that modern Europe and, to a certain extent, the whole modern international order were reshaped by World War Two. Part of the reshaping was specifically because people were revolted by the old sort of state nationalism that led to dreams of a Greater Germany. You can see a consistent path that has been taken over the past fifty years, from mutual pacts to regulatory alignment and from there to delegated authority and a sort of super-citizenship that has really eroded the old national borders. That's not to say that nationalism isn't a very real force in Europe today - but it has increasingly been separated from the bureaucratic mechanisms of the states and it has become something of a dirty word.

The UN is obviously a child of WW2, and a lot of its attitudes were crystallised at the moment of its birth. There was a recent FPP about refugees, for instance - the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was originally intended to only deal with the refugees of WW2 who were unable to claim citizenship rights in their countries of residence. In other words, it was written to deal with Jewish refugees (because ethnic German refugees were seen to be Germany's own problem) who were disadvantaged both because they were foreigners and because they were Jews in areas that were still pretty antisemitic. So the convention's focus is basically on helping displaced Jewish Europeans have normal lives: they have to have a right to work, their professional qualifications ought to be recognised, they have the same rights to social security payments, they are allowed to transfer assets to third countries and so forth. Later treaties extend these rights, but I think if we started from scratch today the treaty would be a lot different and it wouldn't assume that most refugees have a similar background to that of their host nation.

Anyway, my point is that the Holocaust is at the heart of a lot of assumptions about how relations between national and inter-national entities ought to work. It's not necessarily a very good model - as Dee Xtrovert pointed out, it didn't help them much in the former Yugoslavia - but since it's part of the events that formed our current international order and our current human rights framework it has become an important point of reference.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:15 PM on August 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


If I remember correctly, I saw the Genocide Factor on PBS a while back and it managed to document genocide after genocide after genocide and was of course informative but also incredibly depressing and haunting.

The focus on the Holocaust of World War 2 is a primary focus for many reasons but in terms of research and knowing what happened it also happens to be incredibly well documented as mentioned above.
posted by juiceCake at 8:42 PM on August 15, 2010


Although the Shoah is not essentially unique, there are several reasons, other than the ones mentioned by other posters, why it matters so much to the West. The first of which is the number of people who were killed, the relatively short time they were killed in, and the clinical expertise with which that killing was dispatched. In short, this particular genocide's magnitude and logistics affect us uniquely.

Another factor that makes the Nazi holocaust (let's use Finkelstein's term just for fun) exceptional is the history of the Jewish diaspora, i.e. the virtually ceaseless ignominies European Jews had been subject to since their expulsion from Palestine by the Romans. Once the figures and images started to emerge, the insanity of the concentration camps made the blithe Anti-Semitism of Western gentiles suddenly untenable. Whereas, before the Shoah, it had been fine in most all-gentile settings to paint Jews with whatever broad (and incoherent) brush was suitable for the point at hand (they're neurotic, status-obsessed, untrustworthy in business, too successful, socialistic, hermetically communitarian, think-they're-us-when-they-never-will-be, etc.), people became painfully aware that their anti-Semitism was, in a sense, Hitler's. His was an insane amplification, but the continent-wide hostility (or, more mildly, discomfort or suspicion) felt towards Jews was seen to be all of a piece. I believe this recognition of culpability, however abstract, marked the genocide as exceptional. Lastly, the context of the conflict, virtually global as it was, and the exceptional evil that Hitler embodies as an historical character, all guarantee that we remember this holocaust with special horror.

Astrobiophysician's question as to whether he is Anti-Semitic because he's weary of being reminded of this genocide but not any others seems fair at first glance. But his question is not directed at those who would use the Shoah to preempt critiques of Zionism. Rather, the subtext of his comment is that "some people matter more than others because those people exercise an inordinate influence upon society". Dude, I'm sorry, I'm not trying to call you out--you may be Jewish for all I know--but there's a whiff of something foul in you being bent out of shape because you have to be reminded of something you really should be reminded of.
posted by Roachbeard at 11:09 PM on August 15, 2010


As always, I enjoy the thoughtful and free exchange of ideas on Mifi. Roachbeard - I'm no Mel Gibson. You seem a bit trigger happy for foul conspiracies. I think all the reasons for the fetishism of this particular genocide everyone mentions above are spot on. But maybe Roachbeard and Mel are on to something?

I just ran through a list of all the concentration camps I could think of. My list of those that were in Germany sixty plus years ago is longer by twice than the names I know of concentration camps that exist today in Sudan, Israel and other places such injustice continues to be tolerated. Is genocide less bad if it is slow and painful?

Roachbeard - your suggestion that Zionism uses this shoah branded genocide to hide their own crimes against humanity is an interesting one I hadn't thought of. You are right that it is wrong for people with inordinate influence to keep people in concentration camps because they are simply different.

But I risk derailing this thread - can someone post a touching YouTube video of Rabbis visiting their interns and swearing to end Ghettos/Genocide/Shoah/Cruelty - whatever you want to call it. Maybe Tony Judt and Roachbeard are right.
posted by astrobiophysican at 1:12 AM on August 16, 2010


Roachbeard: Rather, the subtext of his comment is that "some people matter more than others because those people exercise an inordinate influence upon society".

I think a more correct subtext would be "why are these people more important than those people, when both genocides were similarly vicious?"

As Dee alludes to, one would think that mass killing in the present would outweigh mass killings 65 years ago, but it doesn't seem to work out that way.

And what the hell does it matter if he's Jewish or not? I read your subtext as being "you're anti-semitic for saying that."
posted by Malor at 2:02 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Malor wrote: I think a more correct subtext would be "why are these people more important than those people, when both genocides were similarly vicious?"


I don't think anyone has said that they are. In any event, you don't need to silence people studying or commemorating the Holocaust in order to study or commemorate other genocides.

As Dee alludes to, one would think that mass killing in the present would outweigh mass killings 65 years ago, but it doesn't seem to work out that way.

You seem to think that empathy is a zero-sum game: that people conscious of the loss of their family and culture in the Holocaust are less capable of compassion. Surely the reverse is true: selfless acts are most typically found among those who have experienced tragedy.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:06 AM on August 16, 2010


And what the hell does it matter if he's Jewish or not? I read your subtext as being "you're anti-semitic for saying that."

Sorry, I guess I wasn't being clear. Obviously, I meant to say that complaining about the preeminence of the Nazi holocaust or the regard for it as exceptional does smack of Anti-Semitism. I made the Jewish comment because it can be quite galling for Jews to hear themselves accused of that. However, looking back at my comment, it was a bit trollish and I'd like to apologize for that.

Astrobiophysicist, you might want to see Norman Finkelstein's Holocaust Industry. Also, the film "American Radical" on his life examines how the ghetto and camp experiences of his mother made her fiercely intolerant of oppression and how she passed that fire onto her kid. Honestly, he seems a bit unhinged at times, but perhaps a manic dedication to exposing injustices will do that to a man.
posted by Roachbeard at 9:51 AM on August 16, 2010


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