Emphasis on Differences

I watched Schindler’s List the other day. I had never seen it. It’s one of those films you know you should watch, but put off until the right time. Granted, it wasn’t the masterpiece I was expecting but still, it left a strong image. We’ve all seen those Second World War films. The good ones and bad ones. They all have the same message, some wonderfully portrayed and some just to attract viewers. The message is about that human face that comes boiling up from time to time throughout history. The face of human kind that shows an unparalleled evil. An unforgiving hatred towards a random scapegoat. A message of fear and the deepest desperation that comes from the denying of one’s freedom. It seems like such a cliché, doesn’t it? We know the story of that human side. We learned it a hundred times. Of all the history we are taught, the Second World War is the most prominent. Countless shows on Discovery Channel show us this story of how bad the world once was, every day. We know this story.

Yet, here we are. I said it before, words like ‘scapegoat’ or ‘denying freedom’ seem like clichés. Still, we hear those words in the news quite regularly. Imagine this. Just try it. Picture yourself in the shoes of a Jewish person in Germany or Poland, in 1940. Think about how it would feel to experience constant fear. These are not the fears we generally have in the west nowadays. What do we really have to fear nowadays? No, I am talking about the constant concern that you might get shot, beaten or thrown in a camp, just because in the eyes of the authorities you are not a human but an animal. The fear that you can’t feed your children or that your husband or wife might randomly not return that day, without you ever knowing what happened. Unable to even visit a grave. Some of you might think that it was so long ago and ask yourself why would I bring it up? Imagine now what life must be for Syrian’s who haven’t fled yet and also the ones that did flee. The people of Lebanon in the midst of daily violence, the starving Somalis but also innocent Muslims being harassed in the United States.

Un jove de Kobane (Síria) refugiat a la frontera turca. YANNIS BEHRAKIS/ REUTERS
A Refugee Syrian Refugees’ Camp (2017). Credits: Jodi Bernabeau Farrus

Auschwitz concentration camp in poland
Auschwitz concentration camp (1944). Credits: Wikimedia Commons

I don’t necessarily need to tell you this because we agree on it. It’s an indescribable evil. The holocaust is also not the first of its kind. When we look at the world’s history, it happens time and time again. Mass murder by the Japanese on the Chinese in the same time period and the entire slave trade that lasted for centuries are clear examples. It doesn’t stop there: the Spanish Inquisition, the witch hunting, the murderous mutual destruction between the Protestants and Catholics, the Crusades, the Roman expansion, the reign of Alexander the Great and so on. However these are complex situations that differ greatly, they all have the same thing in common: an emphasis on differences. A self-given entitlement of one group of people, over the broken backs of the other. It depicts a grim image. It shows that history repeats itself. It all starts the same. The unfounded hatred of another ‘kind’, defining them as lesser. In 1933 the Germans started to believe Hitler’s propaganda en masse. It made sense. The country was desperate for change. In the course of a few years, what started in a backroom complaining about a group of people, evolved into the active defilement of the freedom of these people. As we all know it ended with not just into the murdering of 6 million people, but also the degrading of their very essence to an unparalleled extent.

I am not saying it’s as bad now, I really am not. What I am saying is that we are in a situation of how a similar black page in history could be written. Across the US and Europe, a wave of emphasising on differences is happening. Hatred towards Muslims as a group, not just terrorists. Hatred towards Mexicans. And even still, a hatred towards black people. You might think it’s justified for what they have done. You might think it’s fair because of 9/11 because they are stealing your jobs, because your neighbour’s uncle saw something bad about a certain group on TV or whatever. It’s not important. It’s a fact that Muslims, Mexicans, Black people and many others are harassed in a certain way every day. At school, at work or somewhere else. It’s a fact that the Alt-Right has been thriving in this environment. Nazism is growing again. Think of the concentration camps. Think about those images you probably saw on Discovery. Those piles of starved corpses. Those concepts are a direct consequence of scapegoating: ‘You are bad because you are different. Our society isn’t functioning right, because of you.’

A little while ago I read an article about a leftist woman who went and lived in one of the poorest parts of Louisiana to try to understand the Trump-voting populous. The outcome makes for an interesting and true point: many Trump voters felt so overseen and not backed up by the government that they desperately wanted a change. Trump would bring that change. We cannot, neither the left nor the right, take on a specific political view and not understand the opposing sides. Nobody should feel overseen and forgotten about, by their government. I truly understand them being frustrated and voting for a guy like Trump as an act of desperation. The article missed one very important point though, one that we can’t forget. No matter how frustrated you are, how unjust your government treated you, no matter how right you think you are: it’s NEVER ok to be part of a movement that thrives on hatred and scapegoating. You can never descend to a point where you forget who’s responsible for the situation you are in, and just blindly blame entire groups of people. It leads, in the worst case, to holocaust and mass murder. History speaks for itself.

Again, we are not in the same situation as the interbellum Germany, or the medieval Religious Wars, or the genocide ridden times of Ghengis Khan. The fact that we are potentially moving towards a situation where that could happen, is horrendous and ridiculous enough. Now, the Dutch voters luckily didn’t fall for these views in the last elections. It’s not over yet though because this year the French, Germans, Czechs, Bulgarians and Albanians are heading into the voting booths too. The American elections have tragically ended, but even there the story isn’t over: an unparalleled resistance is growing its roots deep in American society. Millions are already saying no to the inhumane policies coming from the White House. The emphasis on differences is still very much alive, but so is the fight against it. It’s never too late to resist.

-R.R.

Featured image: Wikipedia

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