Now More Than Ever We Need To Stand Together To End Division
Today, January 27, is widely recognised as Holocaust Memorial Day, to remember the millions of people murdered under Nazi persecution.
This year’s theme, ‘Stand Together’, hopes to raise awareness of the fact, now more than ever, we as a society need to do exactly that to stop division and put an end to the spread of hatred.
Because, while 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the ending of the Holocaust, discrimination and oppression still exists – to the point where many have been made to feel unsafe on a daily basis.
75 years after the remaining 7,000 prisoners – most of whom were either ill or dying – were freed from Auschwitz, we can’t even begin to comprehend what happened there.
Even upon visiting the concentration camp and seeing the gas chambers, in which six million Jews were systematically murdered by the Nazis, it’s impossible to imagine the true horrors of the Holocaust.
This becomes even harder as the years progress; many survivors have since passed away and are unable to tell their stories, so it’s essential for us to remember what happened – both in terms of what it meant back then and what it still means today, when political discourse continues to divide society.
With this in mind, it needs to be noted that I am not comparing anything to the Holocaust or implying that what is happening in today’s society comes even remotely close to the genocidal regime which claimed the lives of millions of Jews in Nazi Germany.
Doing so would diminish real people’s experience and undermine real historical events.
What I am doing is drawing parallels between the language and propaganda used in Nazi Germany – which separated people into ‘us’ and ‘them’ – and the divisive language that is being used in politics today.
Ultimately, it’s this kind of discriminatory, elitist and separatist language which – if it repeatedly goes unchecked and people in power aren’t held accountable for it – leads to the exclusion and hatred of particular groups.
As Waitman Wade Beorn, a Holocaust and genocide studies historian, wrote in The Washington Post:
Genocides — and dictatorships, for that matter — do not spring into existence. Rather, they begin incrementally, with authoritarianism, racism, ethnic myths and dehumanising language, among other things.
For example, in the years leading up to Nazi persecution and the Holocaust, the government actively used language and developed policies which separated people, causing certain groups to be treated as ‘the other’.
Nazi policies deliberately encouraged divisions within German society, urging ‘Aryan’ Germans to keep themselves separate from their Jewish neighbours.
As soon as the Nazis came to power they began restricting certain people’s rights, with the introduction of the Nuremberg Laws in September 1935 meaning Jews were banned from marrying non-Jews. Not only that, their citizenship was removed – including their right to vote.
Eventually, Jewish people were banned from all professional occupations and Jewish children weren’t allowed to attend state schools.
This is a far cry from what is happening in today’s society, with the prospect of genocide in the US and the UK extremely low. However, we need to recognise that discrimination and hatred still exists – and is often spurred on by politics – and that there is still so much to do in order to make people feel safe.
In the US for example, the ‘Make America Great Again’ (MAGA) campaign slogan is now recognised as a symbol of division by many, inciting a certain passion among Donald Trump’s many supporters in an unprecedented way.
It has arguably become a symbol of ‘us’ versus ‘them’, becoming synonymous with racism and misguided patriotism at a time when the stance taken by authorities towards immigration is evidently hostile under the Trump administration.
A clear example of this is the travel ban, otherwise known as the Muslim ban, which came about after the president vowed to ban anyone practising Islam from entering the United States.
Although Trump’s first iteration of the travel ban was rejected, a litigated, watered down version was later upheld by the Supreme Court.
The most recent version of the ban includes restrictions on five majority-Muslim nations: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, as well as Venezuela and North Korea.
The president’s stated purpose, as per The Atlantic, was ‘to protect the Nation from terrorist activities’. However, this quickly falls apart when you realise that nationals of the seven countries banned killed exactly zero people in terrorist attacks on US soil between 1975 and 2015.
UNILAD spoke to Dr Joe Mulhall, a trustee of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and senior researcher at Hope Not Hate – an advocacy group that campaigns against racism – who said politicians such as Trump need to ‘understand the responsibility they have in our society’.
Lots of people listen to them, they set the tone of debates in our communities and across society, and when they engage in politics of prejudice and division – sometimes when looking to try and gain power – it normalises it in our society and that’s really, really dangerous.
No amount of power in the short term is worth changing society into one that accepts division, that accepts prejudice and discrimination.
By fuelling perceptions of threat in the US, Trump is actively fuelling the dehumanisation of Muslims. Each day, people are divided into ‘us’ and ‘them’ under the thinly veiled guise that he is ‘keeping America safe’.
Except he isn’t keeping people safe. At all. In reality, the Muslim ban serves to tear apart families, physically keeping parents and children from each other.
A recent report by the Center for Constitutional Rights found many families now face indefinite separation as a result of visa denials under the ban. One three-year-old girl, who is a US citizen born in Michigan, for example, has never met her father. Her mum travelled to the United States from Yemen shortly after she became pregnant with her, expecting her husband to soon join them.
He never did, however, as the travel ban prevented him from joining his family and meeting his daughter.
All of this because of a racist view that Muslims are a national security threat simply because they are Muslims. A view which persists under the Trump administration, especially when he has the Supreme Court’s approval behind him.
Meanwhile, in the UK, antisemitic hate incidents have reached a record high, with 892 recorded across the country in the first six months of 2019 – the highest ever total Community Security Trust (CST) has recorded in the January-June period of any year.
It is a rise of 10% from the 810 incidents recorded in the first six months of 2018, which now constitutes the second highest total CST has ever recorded for that same period, and which formed part of a record annual total of 1,688 antisemitic incidents across the whole calendar year of 2018.
These figures are significant when you take into account how the Labour Party has dealt with allegations of antisemitism in the party. CST – a charity set up to protect British Jews – found antisemitism now forms ‘an unprecedented role’ in British public life largely because of the recent allegations within the Labour Party.
The report stated, as per The Jewish Chronicle:
It became a regular feature in national politics and media to an extent not seen before, largely but not exclusively as a result of the ongoing controversy over alleged antisemitism in the Labour Party.
In the run-up to the election, a Jewish News poll revealed 47% of British Jews would ‘seriously consider’ leaving the country if Corbyn won. To put that into perspective, nearly half (360) of 766 people felt so fearful at the prospect of him becoming prime minister, they were prepared to leave their lives behind and move to another country.
Jez Myers, grandson of the late Rabbi Dr. Maurice Gaguine, was one of those 360 people. He told UNILAD people ‘shouldn’t feel unsafe in this country’, adding: ‘The UK should be a safe and welcoming place for everybody.’
But certainly from an antisemitism point of view, it doesn’t feel that safe. We are seeing an increase, year on year, in antisemitism. We’re seeing antisemitism rising across Europe, we’re seeing antisemitism rising across the world.
And as we approach the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we’re finding that whilst we thought lessons had been learnt and we thought that Britain was better than that, it turns out it probably isn’t.
And that’s disheartening. That’s scary.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is currently investigating allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party to determine whether the party has unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish.
While this is certainly a step in the right direction, Jez said antisemitism will be allowed to continue until ‘there is swift concrete action’ taken against those who have been found to engage in antisemitic behaviour.
He explained that, ‘until such time as it isn’t tolerated, it isn’t allowed to go on, it isn’t allowed to fester, and people find out that if they’re expelled within their thousands, their tens of thousands,’ that’s the way it’s going to go.
He continued: ‘Until that happens both within the Tories and within Labour and within every other party, it will be allowed to continue. And it does, because people think they can get away with it. And that’s where the issue lies.’
Lauren Lethbridge, a Sabbatical Officer with a Focus on Holocaust Education for the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), said the Jewish community has ‘definitely felt increased levels of antisemitism in the past few years’.
She told UNILAD:
People today feel strengthened to use tropes of the past against the Jewish community and holding the Jewish community to account for actions of others.
With the recent election, where politics was at the forefront of everyone’s mind and antisemitism being one of the major issues, as a consequence, this led to a rise in antisemitism as the term became politicised.
The amount of hate that Jewish individuals received when calling out antisemitism in the political parties and by politicians was abhorrent and no leadership was shown in calling out this hate.
Elsewhere, ethnic minorities are facing rising and increasingly overt racism in the UK, with nationwide research showing levels of discrimination and abuse continue to grow in the wake of Brexit.
Before the EU vote in January 2016, 58% of people from ethnic minorities reported facing racial discrimination. Whereas, 71% experienced it just three years later, according to data seen by The Guardian.
The trend is in line with crime figures, which show racially motivated hate crimes have increased in number every year since 2013 – doubling to 71,251 incidents in England and Wales in 2018, according to the Home Office.
These figures suggest certain people are feeling increasingly confident in deploying discriminatory language and racist abuse at a time when politicians – more specifically the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom – are pushing for ‘anti-immigration’ policies.
Just days before the general election, Boris Johnson said he would reduce immigration using a points-based visa system – vowing to ‘bear down on migration, particularly of unskilled workers who have no job to come to’. He also said migrants had been ‘treating Britain as their own’ for too long.
This comes from the man who only two years ago compared Muslim women who wear niqabs and burqas to ‘letterboxes’ and ‘look like bank robber[s]’ – comments which were quickly followed by the biggest spike in anti-Muslim hate incidents in 2018.
Research found, in the week following his article, Islamophobic incidents increased by 375% – from eight incidents the previous week, to 38 in the following.
In their report, monitoring group Tell Mama found Johnson’s words were repeated by racists abusing Muslims on the street and online shortly after his column was published, with 22 of the 38 attacks directed at ‘visibly Muslim’ women who wore the niqab or other veiling practices.
Johnson also described African people as ‘flag-waving piccaninnies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’ in another Telegraph article in 2002. He later claimed his comments had been ‘taken out of context’, as per Business Insider.
His hateful comments don’t stop there though; Johnson has previously said it was only ‘natural’ for the public to be scared of Islam, said ‘Islam is the problem’ while questioning the loyalty of British Muslims in the wake of the London bombings, and described gay people as ‘tank-topped bumboys’.
So while Johnson vowed to unite the UK following his landslide victory in December’s general election, his previous actions and words would suggest otherwise. How can we move forward as a united country when the man in charge seems set on dividing us?
So long as politicians and political parties continue to go unchecked for their actions, we run the risk of a more divided society, and one which fails to protect those most in need.
Lauren Lethbridge explained:
People, including politicians, today feel more inclined to say in public what they may have kept to themselves previously. This divisive rhetoric has the effect of marginalising minority communities and creating a feeling of animosity.
People today feel strengthened to use tropes of the past against the Jewish community and holding the Jewish community to account for actions of others. As a society, we must bridge divides, and stop the ‘them not us’ narrative.
Dr Mulhall agreed, telling UNILAD we have seen through history ‘time and time again what happens when we as a society have had to go unchecked’.
When you look at the evidence put forward in this way, there’s no denying there is increasing division in communities across the UK and the world, which is why it’s so important – now more than ever – that we stand together to stop the spread of hatred.
Dr Mulhall said the theme ‘Stand Together’ for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) was chosen because ‘it’s really important in this current climate’ – particularly at a time when the memory of the people who died in the Holocaust is ‘fading into history’.
We’re currently living through a period which is increasingly divided, it’s increasingly polarised in society, we’ve got often worrying trends in terms of the mainstreaming of prejudice, divisive politics etc…
Currently when we’re looking both around the world – at things like what’s happening to the Rohingya – but also domestically when we look at the post-Brexit world and the more polarised political debates that we’ve seen, it’s important we come together, we stand together and we stand for those principles that are really important.
This is exactly why it’s so important to mark HMD and, as Dr Mulhall notes, why it’s so important to memorialise and remember the Holocaust ‘for the purpose of building a better future’.
And while it is a day of remembrance and memorial, it is so much more. The day also has a ‘contemporary resonance’.
As Dr Mulhall explained:
It’s really essential and really important that as a society we continue to remember the horrors of the Holocaust because of both what it meant then, but also what it continues to mean.
[It’s] about understanding [how] allowing the politics of hatred and division to continue can result in certain cases… in the past, whether or not that was the Holocaust or all sorts of subsequent genocides since.
By standing together, we stand for a better society. We stand for our politicians to be held accountable for their actions, and for a future where people aren’t made to feel unsafe, simply for who they are.
By standing together now, we can change the future.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
CreditsThe Washington Post and 15 others
The Washington Post
Holocaust Memorial Day Trust
Center For Constitutional Rights
Community Security Trust
The Jewish Chronicle
The Equality and Human Rights Commission