Sunday, November 09, 2003

It appears that an exhibit of anti-abortion posters that compare abortion to lynchings of black men and to the Holocaust is traveling around U.S. campuses. We had the so-called Genocide Awareness Project come to Ithaca College a couple of weeks ago, courtesy of Students for Life. Protocols noticed this trend also. Randall Terry, the head of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, also came to speak.

This event followed soon after another group's use of the Holocaust to further its own agenda on the Cornell campus -- PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) brought an exhibit called "Holocaust on Your Plate," which compared slaughterhouses and factory farms to Nazi concentration camps.

As a wise student commentary noted in the Ithacan, the Ithaca College student newspaper,

George Bush is not Adolf Hitler, meat eaters are not Nazis and aborted fetuses are not Holocaust victims. Nevertheless, activists across the political spectrum bring Third Reich rhetoric and symbolism into completely unrelated debates to evoke emotion and prove the gravity of their causes. . . .

All these Nazi analogies are undoubtedly problematic. They allow our already weak sense of historical understanding to disintegrate further until the Holocaust is reduced to a simple icon of evil. Furthermore, they muddle our collective ability to grapple with the complexities of current issues. Activists, in shoddy attempts at conveying the gravity of their causes, appropriate and exploit this historical imagery, thereby reducing the horrible and complex atrocities of events like the Holocaust to mere symbolism.

Interestingly, the “Genocide Awareness Project” advocates threw a few additional historical images into their display. Furthering the emotionality of their cause, they compared aborted fetuses to Ku Klux Klan victims and Planned Parenthood to al-Qaida. Like the Holocaust analogies, these comparisons effectively reduced complex historical events to symbols, manipulating them into support for an anti-abortion effort.

While these ridiculous analogies were effective in creating a stir, they weren’t exactly successful in sparking thoughtful discussion about abortion and reproductive rights. In fact, more people seem to be discussing the group’s approach and their free speech rights than their pro-life ideology.

Perhaps, though, thoughtful discussion wasn’t really the objective. Like the other advocates trying to push their opinions, the Students for Life resorted to Nazi imagery for its shock value. They did manage to raise eyebrows, but they failed to raise awareness of the complex issues involved in both abortion and the Holocaust.

The author is absolutely correct that such misuses of the memory of the Holocaust make it into an "icon of evil" and make us lose all sense of the historical specificity of the complex web of events that we place under the title "Holocaust."

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