Monday, April 12, 2010

Holocaust Day thoughts

Today Israel commemorates the Holocaust (other countries have different dates for this). The message is "Never Again".

Here are some of the lessons that I believe should be learned from the Holocaust:

First of all, there does seem to be something different about antisemitism compared with other forms of racism, and this does justify the existence of the State of Israel, since living as a minority in other countries never seemed to work out very well for the Jews.

Second, there is the danger of charisma and rhetoric. Charmismatic leaders can easily sway a population to accept and collude in immoral ideology and actions. As individuals, we must remain vigilant and always question the motives of leaders and our own motives. "Only obeying orders" and "everyone is doing it" are very weak excuses. Individuals are ultimately responsible for their actions, and so should beware the influence of persuasion.

Thirdly, and most importantly, group thinking is dangerous. Members of a group have one or several characteristics in common (for example: ethnicity, location, language, culture), but they are still individuals, and each group contains the full spectrum of individuals on any trait you wish to examine. There are intelligent and stupid, good and bad, responsible and selfish, peaceful and aggressive, individuals within every group. To think of groups is to reduce or remove the individuality of the people composing it, and this is the first step to dehumanizing them.

Many believe that Holocaust Day should serve to remind the world that the Jews suffered genocide, in order to prevent it happening to the Jews ever again. I believe this is not enough. We must prevent it happening to any group ever again. There have been other genocides since the Holocaust, and the memory of the Holocaust did not seem to prevent them or oblige the world to intervene fast enough.

Not only is there still a risk that anyone could become a victim, there is still a risk that anyone could become a perpetrator. One of the worst things I have ever heard someone say, with a sincerity that sent chills down my spine, was "Let's do a Holocaust to the Arabs".

For me, the strongest message of the Holocaust is that we must avoid this sort of thinking, recognize the individuality of all humans, be very careful using generalizations about groups, and strengthen our empathy so we genuinely cannot consider doing to others what we would not want done to ourselves.

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