Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"The Whole Thing Is Simply Beyond Comprehension": Post-Paris Discussions and Lessons from History Not Learned and Unlearned

I woke yesterday with Etty Hillesum in my mind. When I googled to refresh my memory about the details of her all-too-brief life, I discovered that she died this month in 1943. Etty Hillesum was murdered at Auschwitz in an overwhelmingly Catholic-Christian country in a holocaust planned and carried out by a nation whose citizens were almost all Christian, an act of mass murder in which millions of Jews (and Gypsies, Slavs, gay people, and people with mental and physical disabilities) were murdered along with her. 

In June 1943, a few months before her murder, as she watched a train transport 3,000 Jews east to Auschwitz, many of them infants with tuberculosis, Hillesum wrote, 

The sky is full of birds, the purple lupins stand up so regally and peacefully, two little old women have sat down on the box for a chat, the sun is shining on my face – and right before our eyes, mass murder. The whole thing is simply beyond comprehension (Letters from Westerbork, trans. Arnold J. Pomerans [NY: Pantheon, 1986], p. 56).

In the year in which she was murdered along with millions of other Jews in a holocaust planned and carried out by Christian people, Etty Hillesum also wrote, 

The whole of Europe is gradually being turned into one great prison camp. The whole of Europe will undergo this same bitter experience. To simply record the bare facts of families torn apart, of possessions plundered and liberties forfeited, would soon become monotonous. Nor is it possible to pen picturesque accounts of barbed wire and vegetable swill to show outsiders what it’s like. Besides, I wonder how many outsiders will be left if history continues along the paths it has taken (ibid., p. 23).

1943 is not so very long ago. I was born only 7 years after that, so 1943 is almost my own lifetime. How quickly we forget the lessons of history. How quickly we choose to forget. How easily we choose to pretend — that we are good, holy, and innocent, and someone else is evil, unholy, and guilty.


"One of the things the survey is showing is an increased xenophobic streak in the American public," Robert Jones, PRRI’s CEO, told me in an interview. In addition to the increased hostility to Islam, Jones said, the survey found increased negativity toward the contributions of immigrants to society, and increased intolerance for encountering immigrants who do not speak English. "The attitudes are moving in the same direction," Jones said. 
Jones emphasized that the survey was conducted before the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday, but suggested the uptick in anti-Muslim sentiment was probably attributable to January’s terrorist attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices and a kosher supermarket in Paris, as well as to the increased visibility of ISIS atrocities.  . . .  
White evangelicals and white mainline Protestants are the most likely religious groups to agree with the statement that Islam is "at odds with American values and way of life" (73 percent and 63 percent, respectively). But the uptick in the percentage of people agreeing with the statement took place across demographic categories, Jones said, as the overall percentage of people agreeing rose nine percentage points in two years, from 47 to 56 percent.


Ishaan Tharoor in Washington Post yesterday, commenting on the tweet by Historical Opinion at the head of this posting:

The results of the poll illustrated above by the useful Twitter account @HistOpinion were published in the ages of Fortune magazine in July 1938. Fewer than 5 percent of Americans surveyed at the time believed that the United States should raise its immigration quotas or encourage political refugees fleeing fascist states in Europe — the vast majority of whom were Jewish — to voyage across the Atlantic. Two-thirds of the respondents agreed with the proposition that "we should try to keep them out."


Elias Isquith at Salon in a chilling but absolutely correct forecast:

If the response to the Paris atrocity is a guide, then a return to the post-9/11 Bush years is closer than we think.

Max Blumenthal at Alternet on how the hysterical fear-mongering (and, let's be honest, cynical political opportunism) driving the response to the Paris events plays right into the hands of ISIS:

Billions of dollars have been spent and hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the global war on terror. At every step of the way, Western governments played directly into the hands of Islamic extremists, falling for their ploys and fueling their ambitions.

Colin Taylor  at Occupy Democrats commenting on the recent testimony of Nicholas Hénin, who spent ten months in ISIS captivity, in The Guardian:

Like the American far-right ultrareligious conservatives who believe a conflict between Iran and Israel that will bring about the End Of Days written in the Book of Revelations, ISIS is doing everything they can to goad the West into invading Iraq and Syria, to overextend and get bogged down in a series of quagmires like the United States did following the 9/11 attacks, to finish out the great struggle between Christian and Muslim that began even before the Crusades. 
George W. Bush's response to the 9/11 terror attacks gave Osama bin Laden everything that he wanted. We overextended and wasted trillions of dollars on useless foreign wars, destabilized entire regions, killed hundreds of thousands, and turned the world against us in a drunken rampage across the Middle East and Central Asia. We abandoned our own values and turned to torture and murder to get what we want. We must not fall into that same trap and make those same mistakes again, especially not to a group of "street kids drunk on ideology and power." We cannot give in to fear and terror; peace and unity are our strongest weapons in the face of unspeakable hatred.  

All of the attackers from Friday's massacre in Paris so far have been identified as European Union nationals, according to a top EU official. The announcement further casts doubt on the validity of a Syrian passport found near the bodies of a slain attacker.The majority of attackers were identified as French or Belgian nationals. An Egyptian passport was also found, but the Egyptian Ambassador to France said it belonged to a critically wounded victim and not a perpetrator.  

No comments: