Pick A Side, Just Not Indifference
July 23, 2020
A comet hurtling through space usually has a trajectory, unless a collision ensues. But on earth, everything is unpredictable these days. Even when a path seems worn down by regularity, collisions ensue daily. Every week, with growing regularity, we witness the changing path of the Coronavirus – and with it, growing friction between nation states, particularly between superpowers – America, China and Russia. And within this spectrum, continued tension between the US and Iran – as evidenced by news of US fighter planes buzzing an Iranian airliner over Syria.
In all of this flux, it seems, you cannot separate past from present. The past haunts us and informs our daily lives. Even while everything seems to be changing, we cling onto our moral individual experience. This week, what is once again coined to be the last Nazi war crimes conviction, a former Stutthof guard was somewhat convicted for being an accessory to murder of some 5,232 people. I say “somewhat” because he received a two-year suspended sentence for this dreadful crime – a shameful mark on the German justice system.
Children and families of survivors have been posting their disappointment if not disillusionment at the guard’s meek attempt at an apology early this week and before his conviction. We have yet to hear of one account where in the last 75 years a former Nazi admitted guilt before being caught and sought either justice or some form of truth and reconciliation.
But for Germany, karma has a strange way about it. It appears that with the influx of Syrian refugees into Germany came some war criminals. They may have participated in heinous crimes during the war in Syria in which an estimated 500,000 civilians were killed. As a result, Syrian war criminals are now being “hunted” in Germany itself. How ironic that a nation that exported thousands of Nazi war criminals (including to Canada and America), have possibly imported thousands of Syrian war criminals. Legal precedents in Germany for war criminals might inevitably be applied.
Echoes of the Holocaust abound all around us. There is no escape. This week, the British Board of Deputies issued a terse letter to the Chinese Ambassador in London effectively equating Chinese behaviour toward the Uyghurs with what Nazi Germany did to the Jews: its president said nobody could “fail to notice the similarities to what is alleged to be happening (in China) today and what has happened in Nazi Germany 75 years ago. People being forcibly loaded onto trains; beards of religious men being trimmed; women being sterilised; and the grim spectre of concentration camps”.
These are serious concerns. Having experienced hell on earth – we cannot sit by silently while the dignity of another minority is violated. Its not just an affront to the fundamental values of the universal declaration of human rights. Human rights abuse goes against our moral conscience and our drive to make the world a better place. It’s for the same reason, the Israelis set up a field hospital and a civilian rescue operation on the border with Syria when that war was raging (which I saw with my own eyes).
I have interviewed survivors from Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur and Somalia, in addition to Holocaust survivors. If there are lessons from recent and past genocides, they are that action must be taken by individuals and by nation states: Diplomats can follow Raoul Wallenberg’s example and help spirt away refugees; nations can quietly enter diplomatic channels to try and resolve the matter or choose to act economically while international bodies, to an extent, can act equivocally.
Elie Wiesel counseled us to always take sides: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented”. Its hard to pick sides sometimes. But indifference means you have also picked a side.