Monday, April 28, 2014

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is commemorated mostly in Israel, where many of the few survivors of Europe's Jewish slaughter settled after the end of World War II.

After that, the world vowed never to let such a thing happen again.  But of course it did happen again.

In the spring of 1994, there was another genocide.  The Hutus, the dominant and ruling tribe in Rwanda, butchered more than 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates in a period of just 100 days. The stories of rape and mutilation are horrifying.  Some Tutsis were offered the opportunity to pay to be killed by a bullet instead of being tortured and then hacked to death.

The Rwandan genocide was just 20 years ago.  Are we better people now?  Would we step in if it happened today?

The essence of genocide is the same as racism or tribalism:  Identifying a target as the "other," not one of us, and using that otherness as an excuse to persecute or kill.

It happens in small situations as well.

Four years ago, a Salvadoran immigrant who lived in the town next to mine was sitting on a park bench after the end of his restaurant shift when three African American teenagers approached and beat him so savagely that he died three days later.  The attackers took videos and shouted encouragement to each other as they pummeled him.

About the same time, also in New Jersey, an Indian-born computer scientist was taking a summer evening walk with his wife and children when five young men, white and black and full of malt liquor, stopped their car, got out and beat him.  He was rushed to a hospital and, after a few days, he too died.

The attackers in these cases did not know the men they beat, and they had no reason to do what they did.  In each situation, they found a convenient "other" and set upon him with violence.

On a day like today, it is useful to reflect on these things.

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