Basira Ajmal, Bournemouth
It is of course always with feelings of deep sadness that one writes about the Holocaust— a catastrophe in which millions of people, especially Jews were mass murdered remorselessly by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. A genocide to exterminate Jews, an atrocious horror.
While we honour the victims of the Holocaust each year on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, what is also crucial is the need to ask ourselves, what did we learn from history?
What the Holocaust has revealed is the most averse reality of all times; humans have the capacity to execute such heinous and inconceivable cruelties against each other. It envisages that if it has happened in the past, it can happen again and my heart twinges when I write that unfortunately, this vicious crime is still taking place. Yes, you read that correct; I do think that genocide is continually going on around the world.
According to article II of the UN Genocide Convention, any killing or inflicting destructive circumstances or serious bodily or mental harm to anyone with the intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group is called Genocide.
Have we forgotten what transpired in Cambodia or the mass slaughters of Rwanda? What about the Bosnian genocide? If all of those were too long ago to be remembered, is the Darfur genocide , the atrocities in Syria and the persecutions in Rohingya also a matter of the past? No, I am afraid these are contemporary issue. Most regretfully, the frequent occurrence of this barbarity has made us somehow immune to feel the pain and agony it inflicts. To make it happen ‘Never Again’, it needs to be addressed everyday rather than on only one particular day of remembrance.
Now generally speaking, to shut down anything like a factory, a machine or a car, we cut off the fuel, whether it is manual energy, electrical or chemical fuel. Similarly, to tackle this unending problem of genocide, we need to cut off what propels it. Genocide is often instigated and later fueled by pervasive hate speech. We are living in a time when the phrase ‘Free Speech’ has become a part of our active vocabulary and is always at the tip of our tongues as well as our pens. However, we need to comprehend both constructive and destructive aspects of the power of speech. Eloquent and positively motivational speech promotes peace and productivity. On the other hand, disparaging and disdainful speech spurs violence and agitation, as the author Newton Lee says, “There is a fine line between free speech and hate speech. Free speech encourages debate whereas hate speech incites violence.”
In exercising our freedom of speech, we need to be wary that we do not suppress anyone else’s freedom, as we are all equal human beings brought into existence by One Creator. In order to achieve their egocentric objectives, use of presumptuous and provocative words has always been common among the political and national leaders who hold the responsibility of bridging gaps and bringing peace to the society. This depreciatory rhetoric aggravates hatred and incites violence against specific groups of society putting them at a risk, which can in extreme cases lead to genocide.
It is time we bring about a change and actively discourage the use of hate speech and derogatory terms, as advised by our Creator in the Holy Qur’an, chapter 49, verse 12,
‘O ye who believe! let not one people deride another people, who may be better than they, nor let women deride other women, who may be better than they. And do not slander your own people, nor taunt each other with nicknames…’
This beautiful and universal teaching of the Qur’an is a measure to prevent hatred and disparity among different and diverse communities in a society. Within this context, the worldwide ambassador of peace, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad says in a Friday sermon[i], ‘Freedom of expression certainly does not mean that sentiments are trifled with, or are caused to be hurt. If this is the freedom that the West is proud of, and then this freedom does not lead to advancement, rather it leads to decline.’ At another instance[ii], the Khalifa of Islam says these thought provoking and eye-opening words, “Let it not be that in the name of freedom of speech the peace of the entire world be destroyed.”
Thus, we must inculcate these fruitful and valuable teachings into our lives and be mindful of our words and speech lest they incite any kind of hatred or violence against any individual or group. Only then, we could say that we are making an effort to eradicate violence and the unspeakable horror of genocide from our society and are truly striving for ‘Never Again’.