What would making “never again” real require us to do differently now?

Holocaust Memorial Day reflection

When will enough people be willing to make “never again” a reality? Or even become willing to recognise what sort of changes in international political structures and our attitudes would be required to make mass atrocities stop and never occur again globally? What has to happen to reach that point?

The photos I linked below are horrific, but that reality was actually what stimulated European human rights laws to be made and to be taken seriously by the generation who had actually seen war in Europe and seen mass atrocities and mass forced displacement. Some people need to see the horror.

Why is the Holocaust which happened in Europe memorialised so much more than genocides elsewhere, before and after? Because they were Europeans and the atrocities were carried out by “civilised” Europeans? When we selectively ignore and actually tolerate political mass killings of browner skinned people on other continents, is that not a bit of the same attitude of making exceptions along racial or national lines as led to the Holocaust?

When leftists carelessly and sentimentally choose to share populist-nationalist Yellow Vest social media propaganda, knowing that among the issues of potential benefit for European nationals they also want to harm non-nationals and naturalised immigrants, do they think or are they willing to consider the long-term consequences of normalising such nationalism again?

When liberals compromise and seek to appease populist-nationalist or fascist movements about asylum and migration narratives and policies, and most of the rest of society tolerates and chooses to be passively complicit with that, simply by doing nothing to stop them or make them change, do you think that is what making “never again” a reality would require us to do differently now?

When more than a critical mass of European society now passively accepts the political mass killing of refugees and other migrants in the Mediterranean ocean now and even more in the Sahara desert and still some people drowning in the Aegean sea most weeks, caused by European governments’ violent border policies, to use their deaths as a terror deterrent to others attempting to seek their right of asylum in genuinely safe and free countries, and most of us passively accept that political action because the victims are mostly African and brown skinned, so their lives and deaths are not given as much importance socially and politically as white ethnic Europeans, is that doing what it would really take to make “never again” a reality globally?

When the official leaderships of big Christian communities in Europe accept some of their clergy, e.g. Cardinal Péter Erdő in Hungary, propagating or tolerating anti-Semitic and islamophobic hate, and treat that as a tolerable fault, or as a matter of legitimate political difference, is that what it would really take to make “never again” to political mass killing real globally? Is that consistent with making amends for the millennia of Christian anti-semitism and scapegoating of religious and ethnic minorities in Europe, is that consistent with the sincere contrition required for true reconciliation?

In my opinion, the slightest degree of nationalism should be absolutely not tolerated, socially or in public life. Nationalism, i.e. the tendency to collectively narcissistically imagine one’s own (national) political community as better or more important than others, and to stereotype and scapegoat other groups, is inherently evil, and always leads to great harm, sooner or later. If a member of my own family turned a bit nationalist and obstinately refused to relinquish that evil view, I would cut them off and treat them as dead already, until they recognise it and commit to making amends. There should be zero social tolerance for even the slightest degree of nationalism.

Are we willing to tolerate or re-accept politicians who have actively or passively consented to political scapegoating, of “migrants” by almost everyone, of Muslims mostly by the right, and of Jews mostly by the left, again, and political mass killings, such as the deliberate policy of causing mass drownings of refugees and other migrants in the Mediterranean? Whether they are refugees or economic migrants is absolutely irrelevant to their fundamental human rights, including their right to be rescued when in distress at sea. We can examine their international protection needs after they’re safe, but not make negative presumptions before rescuing them and listening to them. Are we willing to make exceptions and partition off those politicians’ actions which killed or harmed ‘non-nationals’ because some of their other political actions we think are beneficial to ‘nationals’? Is that really how it works, making exceptions, trading off severe harms to others for relatively trivial benefits to “us”, in order to make “never again” a reality?

When e.g. the current UK government, or any other government or politician or public figure, speaks or acts in public undermining the value and respect generally attributed to human rights laws, whether in European or UK legislation, or to make exceptions for people who aren’t deemed human enough to deserve ‘inalienable’ rights, or to compromise the public belief in the inherent-ness and universality of human dignity and rights, is that just a side-issue, something which law academics and some “special interest” activists (like me) worry about but not important for everyone? Is that the attitude and actions it would really take to make “never again” a reality?

The current UK Opposition leadership also speaks and acts in public effectively to enable and tolerate political mass killings, by prevaricating about getting a UNSC mandate before agreeing to any forcible intervention to protect people from political mass killing and atrocities, which they must also know cannot possibly happen because of the UN’s constitutional structure and precedent of almost every time misuse of the veto, or when they make excuses and delays, effectively enabling atrocities to continue for longer, by talking of “political negotiations” as if that was a realistic alternative to using policing force internationally to stop atrocities first and to force the more powerful belligerent factions to then negotiate sincerely, is accepting them because we think they may do some good for nationals and partitioning off and making exceptions for the harm they have done and carry on doing to non-nationals, is that what making “never again” a reality would really require from us?

If the UN had existed in 1941 and assuming the Nazi regime would have been recognised as a representative State for Germany then, given the same assumption behind which nation-States have UNSC Permanent Member Status now, “Germany” certainly would also have used the veto to prevent any UNSC-mandated forcible intervention to stop or limit mass atrocities in German occupied territories and prevent any international action towards “regime change” against the Third Reich. The current UN constitution is definitely not fit for purpose, and anyone involved in international politics must know that by now, so to talk of waiting for a UNSC-mandate for intervention according to the Responsibility to Protect international legal convention, must be an action intended to give time to the group carrying on atrocities. That’s what Corbyn and his leadership team have done about Syria.

If we do not make major changes in political normality as it’s developing now, we are heading towards more mass atrocities, not fewer. So far it seems that continuing political mass killings are more likely to occur only outside Europe, but if we carry on the way we’re going accepting that as normal, it will also become more likely to occur again in Europe too. So instead of just another social and political performance this Holocaust Memorial Day with no sincere change of heart and practical actions, think and do what it would actually take to make “never again” to mass atrocities become real and effective globally.

When I first got involved with the refugee Mass Influx in 2015–2016, the first thing I did was helping to organise and send money to Hungarian volunteers to buy train tickets for refugees to get out of Hungary fast before they closed the borders and changed their laws to be even more violently hostile to refugees. Who donated the most to get refugees out of danger in Hungary fast? The Jewish community in UK, actually the liberal synagogue opposite my house. Quietly and without announcing it for show, they gave hundreds of £s for train tickets, so that the mostly Muslim refugees who were facing an unknown level of risk and the same kind of scapegoating political narrative in Hungary as when Jews had been persecuted there two generations before, could all escape in time. Genuine human solidarity, regardless of racial and ethnic and religious and national divide and rule tactics used to control us, is possible — there are real grounds for hope too! And no excuse for inaction.

Let’s actually do what it takes to make sure this really never happens again —

Written by

Lapsed biologist retraining as a social data scientist, often writing about refugee rights advocacy and political philosophy.

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