24.10.06

Chris Hedges on the Holocausts

I took the liberty of reproducing the entire article.

It is liberating to read such an articulate argument against the use of victimisation for political purposes, any victimisation. He also argues that while he is against the use of the recent recognition by the French parliament of the Armenian Genocide and the criminalisation of its denial by the Armenians for political gain, he sees in this move the proof that there are many groups who can claim the same statute of victims as claimed by Jewish and that there is no reason why the Holocaust should be considered as an exclusive act of savagery in the history of mankind.

''When we sanctify ourselves we do so at the expense of others'' Chris Hedges.

Chris Hedges: Coveting the Holocaust

I sent my New York University journalism students out to write stories based on any one of the themes in the Ten Commandments. A woman of Armenian descent came back with an article about how Armenians she had interviewed were covetous of the Jewish Holocaust. The idea that one people who suffered near decimation could be covetous of another that also suffered near decimation was, to say the least, different. And when the French lower house of parliament approved a bill earlier this month making it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide I began to wonder what it was she, and those she had interviewed, actually coveted.

She was not writing about the Holocaust itself—no one covets the suffering of another—but how it has become a potent political and ideological weapon in the hands of the Israeli government and many in the American Jewish community. While Armenians are still fighting to have the genocide of some 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks accepted as historical fact, many Jews have found in the Nazi Holocaust a useful instrument to deflect criticism of Israel and the dubious actions of the pro-Israeli lobby as well as many Jewish groups in the United States.

Norman Finkelstein, who for his writings has been virtually blacklisted, noted in “The Holocaust Industry” that the Jewish Holocaust has allowed Israel to cast itself and “the most successful ethnic group in the United States” as eternal victims. Finkelstein, the son of Jewish survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, goes on to argue that this status has enabled Israel, which has “a horrendous human rights record,” to play the victim as it oppresses Palestinians or destroys Lebanon. This victim status has permitted U.S. Jewish organizations (the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and others) to get their hands on billions of dollars in reparations, much of which never finds its way to the dwindling number of Holocaust survivors. Finkelstein’s mother, who was in the Warsaw ghetto, received $3,500, while the World Jewish Congress walked away with roughly $7 billion in compensation moneys. The organization pays lavish salaries to its employees and uses the funds to fuel its own empire. For many the Nazi Holocaust is not used to understand and deal with the past, and more importantly the universal human capacity for evil, but to manipulate the present. Finkelstein correctly writes that the fictitious notion of unique suffering leads to feelings of unique entitlement.

And so what this student, and those she had interviewed, coveted was not the actual experience of the Holocaust, not the suffering of Jews in the death camps, but the political capital that Israel and many of its supporters have successfully gleaned from the Holocaust. And while I sympathize with the Armenians, while I understand their rage toward Turkey, I do not wish to see them, or anyone else, wield their own genocide as a political weapon.

There is a fine and dangerous line between the need for historical truth and public apology, in this case by the Turks, and the gross misuse of human tragedy. French President Jacques Chirac and his interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, said this month that Turkey will have to recognize the genocide before Turkey is allowed to join the European Union. Most European nations turned their backs on the French, with the EU issuing a statement saying that the French bill will “prohibit dialogue.” But the French move is salutary, not only for the Armenians who have been humiliated and defamed by successive waves of Turkish governments but for the Turks as well. Historical amnesia, as anyone who has lived in the Middle East or the Balkans knows, makes reconciliation and healing impossible. It fosters a dangerous sense of grievance and rage. It makes any real dialogue impossible. Nearly 100 years after the murderous rampage by the Turks it can still be a crime to name the Armenian holocaust under Law 301, which prohibits anyone from defaming Turkey. One of the most courageous violators of that law is the writer Orhan Pamuk, who has criticized his country’s refusal to confront its past, and who just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. But he is a solitary figure in Turkey.

Historical black holes also empower those who insist that the Nazi Holocaust is unique, that it is somehow beyond human comprehension and stands apart from other human activity. These silences make it easier to minimize, misunderstand and ignore the reality of other genocides, how they work and how they are carried out. They make it easier to turn tragedy into myth. They make it easier to misread the real lesson of the Holocaust, which, as Christopher Browning illustrated in his book “Ordinary Men,” is that the line between the victim and the victimizer is razor-thin. Most of us, as Browning correctly argues, can be seduced and manipulated into killing our neighbors. Few are immune.

The communists, not the Jews, were the Nazis’ first victims, and the handicapped were the first to be gassed in the German death factories. This is not to minimize the suffering of the Jews, but these victims too deserve attention. And what about Gypsies, homosexuals, prisoners of war and German political dissidents? What, on a wider scale, about the Cambodians, the Rwandans, and the millions more who have been slaughtered by utopian idealists who believe the eradication of other human beings will cleanse the world?

When I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington I looked in vain for these other victims. I did not see explained in detail the awful reality that Jewish officials in the ghettos—Judenrat—worked closely with the Nazis to herd their own off to the death camps. And was the happy resolution of the Holocaust, as we saw in images at the end of the exhibits, the disembarking of European Jews on the shores of Palestine? What about the Palestinians who lived in Palestine and were soon to be pushed off their land? And, as importantly, what about African-Americans and Native Americans? Why is the Nazi genocide, which we did not perpetrate, displayed on the Mall in Washington and the brutal extermination of Native Americans ignored? Why should billions in reparations be paid to Jewish slave laborers and not a dime to those enslaved by our own country?

These questions circle back to the dangerous sanctification of any genocide, the belief that one ethnic group can represent goodness, solely because its members are the victims, and another evil because from its ranks come the thugs who carry out mass slaughter. Once these demented killing machines begin their work the only thing unique is the method of murder. The lesson of any genocide is not that one group of human beings is better than another, but that in the intoxication of the moment, gripped by the mass hypnosis of state propaganda and the lust for violence, we can all become killers. All the victims must be heard. None are unique. And all of us have to be on guard lest we be seduced. We carry within us—German, Jew, Armenian or Christian—dark and dangerous lusts that must be held in check. I applaud the French. I hope the French action pushes the Turks toward contrition and honesty. But I do not wish for the Armenians to covet the Holocaust, to begin the process of sanctifying their own suffering. When we sanctify ourselves we do so at the expense of others.

Chris Hedge is the former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times and author of the bestseller “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning”.

8 comments:

e said...

The Europeans respond more to the Holocaust because it happened on their shores. The Germans initiated it, the concentration camps were mostly in Poland and in France, Italy, the Netherlands etc. some of the population helped round up and send the Jews to their deaths.

The Jews gained more political capital from their genocide because it was committed by developed countries with political clout. Germany can pay much more retribution than Cambodia or Rwanda and is more influential on the world stage.

Also, right after the Holocaust at the end of WWII the Europeans became much more sensitive to human rights and therefore wanted to correct the wrong done to the Jews. This was not something done hundreds of years ago by their ancestors. It was a crime comitted by those present day Europeans and they wanted to make up for it.

Thus since the Europeans both comitted the Holocaust and had a will and a way to make ammends it was more influential than other genocides on the European and world conscience.

e

Behemoth101 said...

Chris Hedges has clearly emerged as the sober voice of reason for Westerners. Even the comments to his articles are edifying - including the dissent!

Anonymous said...

What E says is interesting, because the European Jews are even more "chosen" than the African Jews.

Bust seriously, how many superior races can exist in the world? The Germans thought they were the superior race, the Jews thought they were the superior race. It's like now: democratic nations think they are the superior humans, fanatics think they are the superior ones. So it's either Democracy or Theocracy that has to survive. And I think since the democracies have the weapons of mass destruction, and the theocracies only have suicide bombers, the democracy will have no choice but to exterminate all the suicide-bomber race; one must not take a risk about its own anihiliation.

But I really think the Jewish genocide deserves more attention than the Armenian or the Rwandan one. First because the Armenian or the Rwandan bible doesn't say they are the Chosen People. Nor are the communists the superior race! Second because the Jews were exterminated scientifically and systematically with a German fuss about efficiency and perfectionism.

The Germans killed Jewes in an organized manner, but I am sure the Turks were a bit sloppy. I doubts if the Rwanda's genocide happened with any help from modern technologies, did it?

Speaking of genocide, can someone tell me what is to celebrate about indiscriminant killing in the Hiroshima? Americans are not particularly ashamed about it are they? Oh perhaps it's because the Japanese thought they were the superior race as well. So maybe they got what they deserved?

Benjamin FX said...

To Anonymous (above)
RE: Jews thought they were superior race.

A common distortion. Jews do not think they are superior. You may point to the term "chosen people", but "chosen" is not superior.

Each religion thinks their is superior. But Jews do not kidnap reporters and force them to convert at gunpoint.

RE: Americans are not particularly ashamed about it are they?

Why stir up nonsense? Of course it is a tragedy, and one reason that USA rebuilt Japan so magnificently.

Are Arabs ashamed of hijackings and cutting head of Daniel Pearl? The world demands that moderate muslims denounce the crimes of "extremists" (who comprise 20%^ of Arab world)

naj said...

benjami fx,

Sorry I am ignorant but can you help me understand:

What does "chosen" mean? (Actually, is it easy to convert to Judaism and become Chosen? ... I know in Islam, you just have to blabber a couple of sentences and voilah, muslim you become!)

And also regarding the magnificent rebuilding of Japan because of American guilt ... I am not very familiar with that concept, but I do know that Americans did help quite a bit in rebuilding West Germany. What were they feeling guilty about in Germany?

By the way I didn't know Arabs were not ashamed of the beheading of D Pearl. As far as I recall, they were making massive calls for his release and also the release of any of the beheaded hostages in the chaos of insecurity brought about by Mr Bush.

The moderate muslims do denounce the crimes of the 20% extremists, but unfortunately the American actions, policies and the double standards for Israel make it really hard for them to get their voice across.

Sophia said...

Naj,
Thanks for this answer. First, Afghans and Pakistanis are not Arabs. Secondly, where did FX got the 20% extremists. I mean if there was a 20% extremists in the Muslim world, Muslim leaders who are the frist target of these Muslim extremists would be thrown by now.

e said...

Naj,
Let's lay the issue of "chosen" to rest once and for all.

According to the Jewish tradition the Jews were chosen by God to follow a strict set of rules. This was not something good because any deviance from these rules would make God angry. The gentiles only have to follow the seven commandments given to Noah's sons (Genesis chapter 9).

It is difficult to become a Jew because as Woody Allen said, "I wouldn't want to join a club that is willing to accept me." Converesly the Jews are reluctant to accept anybody that wants to be Jewish. Being a Jew brings no benefits, only extra responsibilites from a religious point of view, so the rabbi's are suspicious of people that want to become Jewish.
Look how few Jews are left in the world. Historically, being a Jew was not an advantage. Just a few very stubborn people kept the tradition going. In the 19th century when many of those wanted to integrate into European societies, they were rejected and this was why the Zionist movement (which is secular) came into being.
Jews do not think they were chosen for any special priviliges. We were chosen for extra suffering as our history proves.
e

Chris said...

Armenians are the first Christians, Noahs Ark if your of christian faith landed in Armenia therefore modern man started as an Armenian. Armenians while only 8 million (who actually know themselves to be Armenian) occupy a part of Jeuruslam, Are they the choosen people of GOD, are they superior? Armenians are of the Armenoid race, the same race as Jews (big noses, allthough some dont have that). The question is not who is the "chosen people" or even superior, its why more attention was given to each case at the time, the holocaust was paid attention to more because "Jews" lived everywhere, especially in the United States where they were involved in politics, that along with most living in Europe and the Holocaust occuring in Europe- (In a Time when the power was shifting from UK to the US to be the dominant superpower). That is why more attention was paid to the holocaust. Now that Armenians in the diaspora are gaining political clout and wealth, they are able to shift attention to the first genocide of the 20th century, the Armenian Genocide. Also we must not forget that Greeks,Assyrians and other Christians suffered as well. Dont forget that the first fatwa was called in 1913 by the sunni high leader (like priest) in the ottoman empire, A JIHAD of sorts, giving permission to kill any Christians in the ottoman empire.

 
Since March 29th 2006