Wednesday, 28 January 2009


Yesterday was 'Holocaust Day'. When Tony Blair instituted this I protested because the word 'holocaust' is almost exclusively used for Hitler's attempt to destroy European Jews (racially defined). I thought it should be 'Genocide Day' and should be an occasion to remember the many peoples (usually defined by culture, not 'race') who have suffered such attack - in the past hundred years: Armenians, Gypsies, Ibos, West New Guineans, East Timorians, Tibetans, Cambodians, Hindus in West Kashmir, Muslims in East Kashmir, Rwandan Tutsis, Bosnian Muslims, Palestinians... Hitler's genocide of Jews was bigger numerically than any other, but in terms of the percentage of the population killed it was less than the Armenian, Cambodian and Tutsi cases. The only total genocide in modern times was that of the Tasmanians, annihilated by British settlers.

There are many different forms of genocide - so much so that I wonder whether a single word should apply to all. The classic kind involved killing all the men of a tribe and taking the women and girls to be slaves and concubines, usually keeping prepubescent boys as well. The European colonial method, now applied in Palestine, and West New Guinea, is to drive people off their land and hem them in tighter and tighter, leaving a pitiable remnant like the Amerindians and the Australian Aborigines. The attempted total destruction of a people, applied by Hitler and first recorded as the Will of God (Deuteronomy chapter 20 verses 16 to 18), is relatively rare.

Murderous intent is not much different from murder accomplished. There can be no doubt that, if they had the weapons, Hamas would do to Israeli civilians what Israel is doing to Gazans. The human capacity for hatred is terribly great, and the only antidote is to teach people about each other's values, about the humanity of all human beings and about the need for the rule of law. There will never be peace without justice. If Palestinians have suffered more injustice than Israelis, that does not justify the murder of civilians.

Islam comes closer than Christianity to teaching universal humanity and justice. One of the commonest expressions in everyday Arabic is "kull'na bani Adam" - "We are all children of Adam". Christians are weighed down by their inheritance of the more tribalistic passages in the Old Testament, and by the idea that Christianity is the only way to salvation. The medieval notion of Muhammad as messenger of Satan is still alive and has now spread to many Israelis. The great Jewish prophets, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah had a very different message, which needs to be listened to today if we are to put an end to the demonization of Arabs and Muslims, with all its dangers .

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