Friday, May 14, 2004

Will we stand idly by while yet another genocide occurs in Africa -- Idle on Darfur -- this time in the Sudan?

When I teach my introduction to Judaism class in the Spring, in addition to covering basic Jewish beliefs and practices, I often include other important issues. Last year and the year before we discussed the Holocaust, in particular Jewish religious responses to it. A year ago we read Elie Wiesel's Night, which I read when I was 13 or 14 and still find devastating. In this segment of the course we also discuss issues of memory and memorialization, and I ask the students -- why is necessary to remember the Holocaust? A few people will mention grandparents who are survivors of the Shoah, and the need to remember accurately what happened, especially to fight against those who deny that the Holocaust occurred.

Most people will say it's necessary to remember "so that it won't happen again." I ask them what that means -- that it shouldn't happen again to Jews? Or to anyone? At that point they start to mumble, since when they learned about the necessity to remember in Hebrew School (most of the students are Jewish), they were never really taught why, or what it means to remember something. At that point I ask them if there have been genocides committed since the end of World War II. A few might mention Cambodia, and maybe one person will mention Bosnia or Rwanda. I then point out to them that the genocide in Rwanda occurred after they were born (at this point, when they were from 8 to 10 years old), and that then also the world -- including the U.S. and the U.N. -- stood idly by and watched as 800,000 people were massacred in 100 days. Then I try to ask them again what the purpose of saying "never again" is, if, in fact, there have been several genocides since the Holocaust. They don't say much in return.

So why is it that we say "never again," and what is it that we mean when we say it? Personally, I think this phrase should be retired until we (i.e., the U.S. and the U.N.) actually start to act consistently to prevent and halt genocide. Until then, saying "never again" is just an exercise in hypocrisy.

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