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Of holocausts, past and future

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  • mohammad imran
    Date:30/12/2005 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/2005/12/30/stories/2005123003151100.htm Opinion - News Analysis Of holocausts, past and future Hamid Ansari
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 29, 2005
      Date:30/12/2005 URL:

      Opinion - News Analysis

      Of holocausts, past and future

      Hamid Ansari

      Despite its horrors, the Holocaust was not a singularity and was
      preceded by others of lesser or greater dimensions.

      THE PRESIDENT of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has earned the ire of the
      world by his much publicised remarks about the Holocaust. His logic is
      convoluted; his indiscretion has not gone un-noticed in Iran and in the
      world at large. A debate has also surfaced about the language used, its
      syntax and context. Some have argued that calling an event a myth does
      not amount to a denial but only to drawing attention to the
      embellishment that may have been ascribed to it. Some others have drawn
      attention to what Professor William Beeman called the deep-rooted
      juxtaposition of the internal and the external — baten and zaher — as
      an inherent trait of the philosophy of dualism that has been pervasive
      in Iranian culture down the ages.

      Now a dimension to the controversy has been added by the remark of the
      Chief Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, fresh from his
      electoral gains in parliamentary elections, supportive of the viewpoint
      of Mr. Ahmadinejad. This may, in a sense, reopen a wider debate about
      happenings, responsibility, and contrition. An audible echo, away from
      West Asia, is recorded with regularity in China's relations with Japan.

      The historian Ibn Khaldun, in his path-blazing Introduction, talked
      about "lifting the veil" from the events of the past since "the pasture
      of stupidity is unwholesome for mankind." Regrettably, and seven
      centuries later, the advice goes unheeded and the past is defended or
      denounced with infinite passion.

      Was the Holocaust a singularity in history? Have there been other
      holocausts? Does the debate hinge on premeditated mass killing, or on
      such killing using a particular methodology in a specific context? Is
      the catalogue to be confined to our own times, or to all periods of
      recorded history?

      Paul Johnson has devoted a long chapter to the Holocaust in his
      History of the Jews. His findings are noteworthy: "The German people
      knew about and acquiesced in the genocide," the Austrians contributed
      to it "out of all proportion to their numbers," the Rumanians "were no
      better than the Austrians," in France "there was an important section
      of opinion willing to take an active part in Hitler's Final Solution"
      and the British and American governments "were in theory sympathetic to
      the Jews but in practice were terrified that any aggressive pro-Jewish
      policy would provoke Hitler into a mass expulsion of Jews whom they
      would be morally obliged to absorb." As a consequence, in the judgment
      of Arnold Toynbee, the Palestinian Arabs were "made to pay for the
      genocide of Jews in Europe." The efficacy of this decision stands
      proven, its morality less so.

      Despite its horrors, the Holocaust was not a singularity and was
      preceded by others of lesser or greater dimensions. If human history,
      therefore, is the evolution of the idea of freedom and if pastures of
      stupidity are to be avoided, then all must be noted and lessons taken
      on consequences of human intolerance.

      Robert Fisk, in a seminal work recently published, writes of the First
      Holocaust — of the one and a half million Armenians killed in Turkey in
      1915 by the Committee of Union and Progress in an effort "to destroy
      the Armenians." Despite much debate and factual evidence, the matter
      remains in a state of denial. Interestingly enough, even in Israel
      there is an effort to do so, as would appear from an interview given by
      Shimon Peres to a Turkish news agency. "We reject," he said, "attempts
      to create a similarity between the Holocaust and the Armenian
      allegations. Nothing similar to the Holocaust occurred. It is a tragedy
      what the Armenians went through, but not a genocide."

      Not alone in denial

      Nor is Turkey alone in a state of denial. A few years back Mike Davis
      had written about 12 million to 29 million man-made mass deaths in
      India in his Late Victorian Holocausts. While Indians starved, the
      Viceroy Lord Lytton insisted on grain being exported to England and
      officials were ordered to "discourage relief works in every possible
      way." There are some in India today who, moved by nostalgia, wish to
      re-enact the Delhi Darbar of 1911. Would a description of this aspect
      of the Raj be included? Perhaps a translation of Akbar Allahabadi's
      satirical poem on the Darbar would be more appropriate.

      Lest it be misconstrued, the debate is about the present and its
      perceptions. The Jerusalem Post, known for its strident advocacy of
      causes dear to it, carried a long article this week on the emerging
      nuclear threat from Iran. "Israel," it quotes Foreign Minister Sivan
      Shalom as saying, "cannot live with the idea that they [Iran] will hold
      a nuclear bomb." The article considers five possible options open to
      Israel, dismisses four of them as ineffective, and concentrates on the
      most radical — "nuclear coercion" through a pre-emptive strike using "a
      nuclear device small enough blurs the line between non-conventional and
      super-powerful conventional bombs, like the 21,000-lbs GBU-43-B."

      The hint is amplified. New classes of nuclear weapons are mentioned —
      "micronukes," with an explosive yield of 10 tonnes, "mininukes" with a
      yield of 100 tonnes and "tinynukes" with a yield of 1,000 tonnes: "It
      would be shocking if Israel did not already have such weapons."

      So is another holocaust — micro, mini, tiny — in the offing?

      (The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research
      Foundation, New Delhi.)

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