Tuesday 27 January 2015

The time will never come

Is the time coming to lay the Holocaust to rest? asks the BBC. 
I can think of many other “Is the time coming?” subjects worth questioning, and many other institutions of whom ‘laid to rest’ would be a good basis for a TV debate.

This very question seems outrageous and insulting. Laying the Holocaust to rest means what, exactly? Putting it behind you? Shrugging it off?

On the audio version (BBC World service) of ‘BBC Trending’,  the presenters playfully explored the best pitch to voice “Shake it off”.  The higher the better, they decided, falsetto, with the shaking-hand gesture. ‘I just shake it off. You insulted me, but I Couldn’t Care Less”. Water off a duck’s back. Ha ha. 

Is that what the BBC is suggesting? The world has had enough, and it’s time to shrug off the Holocaust and ‘move on’?

It seems to me that with regard to the Holocaust, the BBC is out of its depth, and its attempt to tackle this subject exposes the BBC’s superficiality like no other.  But they plunged in, with a nice provocative Big Question. It was par for the course. A dumbed down approach aimed at a dumb audience. 

I know people who are well-informed, liberal and intelligent, but they sincerely believe, through too much Guardian, that Zionists and Jews invoke the Holocaust to shut down debate; they feel sorry for themselves because they’re ‘not allowed’ to criticise Israel without being thought antisemitic, which they insist  they’re not. They say Zionists and Jews exploit the Holocaust to defend the brutality of Israel, and to that end Zionists and Jews have created something called ‘the Holocaust Industry.’ 
It’s double ironic, in that the actual Holocaust was an industry. The extermination of Jews on an industrial scale using industrial methods. The Holocaust was unique for this, if nothing else. For certain people, whom I know, it is time to lay the Holocaust to rest. Then they can get on with vilifying Israel and muttering that the Jews, of all people, haven’t learned their lesson.

Of course The actual Big Question didn’t tackle the question that was posed in their sensationalist header. Instead they spent some time on a ‘suffering’ contest while saying that they didn’t want such a contest, but ‘other’ Holocausts mustn’t be forgotten, as though that negated the need for commemorating the ‘Jewish’ Holocaust.

The Big Question wasn’t, for once, stuffed with men with beards and women in headscarves. Several familiar figures were on the front row. TBQ staIwarts, Angela Epstein Laura Janner Klausner and  Peter Tatchell, all present and correct and raring to go.
Angela Epstein is a confident speaker, and she opened the discussion fluently but she didn’t get to the heart of the matter.

I don’t think the format of TBQ was conducive to getting to the heart of the matter in the first place. Too many people with conflicting agendas, and as Hadar Sela asked in her article, why did they need to bring in an anti-Zionist, BDS-supporting proponent of the notion of the establishment of Israel as a project of “settler-colonialism” to appear on the panel of the edition of their programme advertised as part of the BBC’s Holocaust Memorial Season.

It’s not a subject that can be hatched and dispatched in an hour, by so many people with so many conflicting agendas. Since the ‘laid to rest’ part of the question turned out to be mere ‘click bait‘ the discussion concentrated solely on the uniqueness or otherwise of the (Jewish) Holocaust.   What was not addressed in the programme was the uniqueness of antisemitism. The reason for antisemitism has stumped almost everyone who has seriously attempted to define it, so a superficial argument between a squabbling panel of pundits isn’t likely to fare much better.
 The Holocaust survivor, Iby Knill, spoke movingly. There were two highlights. The Muslim woman who spoke honestly about the antisemitism she was surrounded with as she grew up, and the child of Holocaust survivors who spoke eloquently and movingly of her father’s magnanimous attitude after his liberation. Both were given a well deserved round of applause.  

One  could all too easily dismiss Tom Lawson as a simpleton for arguing that the Holocaust should be put into context and redefined as a common or garden genocide on the  grounds that he looked, sounded and quacked like your typical university lecturer; an ill-informed lefty with underlying antisemitic and overtly pro Palestinian tendencies. 
But he is not an ignoramus. He might well be an admirable historian and lecturer. He teaches students! He has written a book, which got good reviews, and was described as 'scholarly'.  He must have watched the films we’ve watched over the last few days - the war-time recollections of Freddy Knoller, the horrific and unspeakable brutality in Night will Fall and Claude Lanzmann’s marathon-length film Shoah. Could he really have seen those films, studied the literature and examined Germany’s political and religious history? The rise of Hitler? Could he have read, for example Clive James’s powerful, highly critical review of the book “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen? Clive James describes  the way Goldhagen obscures meaning by mangling language.
 “A ‘cognitive model of ontology’ is probably your view of the world, or what you believe to be true; and ‘ideational formation’ is almost certainly an idea; when people ‘conceptualize’ we can guess he means that  they think; when they ‘enunciate’ we can guess he means that they say; and if something ‘was immanent in the structure of cognition’ we can guess it was something that everybody thought.” 
I imagine Tom Lawson inhabits Goldhagen’s world.

A couple of vivid excerpts from Clive James’s essay:
“The Nazis didn’t just allow a lethal expression of vengeful fantasy; they rewarded it. They deprived a readily identifiable minority of German citizens of their citizenship, declared open season on them, honoured anyone who attacked them, punished anyone who helped them, and educated a generation to believe that its long-harboured family prejudices had the status of a sacred mission. To puzzle over the extent of the cruelty that was thus unleashed is essentially naïve. To marvel at it, however, is inevitable, and pity help us if we ever become blasé about the diabolical landscape whose contours not even Goldhagen’s prose can obscure, for all his unintentional mastery of verbal camouflage. [...]
“Very few among the innocent people they shot into mass graves were spared the most vile imaginable preliminary tortures. The standard scenario in a mass shooting was to assemble the victims first in the town centre, keep them there for a long time, terrorize them with beatings and arbitrarily selective individual deaths, and thus make sure the survivors were already half dead with thirst and fear before flogging them all the way to the disposal site, where they often had to dig their own pit before being shot into it. It was thought normal to kill children in front of their desperate mothers before granting the mothers the release of a bullet. The cruelty knew no limits but it didn’t put new recruits off. If anything, it turned them on: granted, which the author does not grant, they needed any turning on in the first place.”

How could Tom Lawson know all that, yet maintain that the Holocaust was ‘not unique.’ 
Does academia addle the brain with too much conceptualizing and putting things into context?
Does academic über-analysis play havoc with one’s sense of proportion?
Or is it plain old antisemitism? 

 A while ago there was a letter in a newspaper from the head of a local Mosque entitled ‘We must never forget the Holocaust’. It was published to coincide with that year’s Holocaust memorial day. This Imam wished to be thought righteous for speaking out against the boycott previously imposed, but subsequently lifted by Muslim leaders, and he wished it to be known that this year he would be commemorating.  One word was absent from his sermon.  Of course it was ‘Jew’ (and derivatives thereof) 
He couldn’t bring himself to utter it. His commemoration was dedicated to ‘all Holocausts”.

I have to say that the BBC’s coverage of Holocaust memorial day has been exemplary. The BBC never was prejudiced against the persecuted emaciated, pyjama clad Jew, It’s the healthy wealthy and wise ones they don’t warm to. 
I have noticed that some of the speakers at today’s commemoration touched on the rising antisemitism that is happening currently, and one man even spoke of the vilification of Israel. 

I’m not optimistic that anything will change at the BBC. Sad to say, they’re too much in the thrall of Islam.


  1. First of all, you're spot on about being in thrall to Islam.

    Typical is this programme on R4 Extra, next Monday (2.2.2015):
    "The Funny Thing About Muslims".
    Sarfraz Manzoor explores where and when Muslims can laugh at themselves and their faith. From January 2008.

    Why are we constantly having to be reassured with this sort of feature? We never have similar progs about Sikhs or Hindus or Buddhists or Baha'is - maybe it's because none of THEIR religious leaders ever declared that there was no humour in their religion (cf the Ayayatollah Khomeinei, "An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam.")

    And maybe it's because whatever humour or mockery those groups indulge in, they just get on with it without fuss or bother, and without making a song and dance about it, and without making R4 documentaries, either.

    But the main thing is, who fucking CARES when and where Muslims "can laugh at themselves and their faith"? Not me, that's for sure. But it's that "can" that really gives the game away. Manzoor isn't merely investigating "where and when" they laugh, but "where and when" they CAN laugh - always, always, there's the dead, stultifying hand of the ignorant, 7th-century-dwelling religious leader ensuring a monolithic, unquestioning, undeviating adherence to the party line.

    And as for the Jews, their very stock-in-trade IS self-mockery and constant arguing with God - and it goes back at least as far as Cain sardonically demanding of God, "Am I my brother's keeper?" (And remember how God despairingly called them a "stiff-necked people"? It seems to have been worn as a badge of honour ever since.) It would be very hard to conceive of modern humour WITHOUT their contribution, and it'll be interesting to see if Manzoor even acknowledges that.

    The Jews are just completely at ease with themselves and their place in the modern world (which, less face it, they largely helped create) - certain ultra-orthodox groups excepted - in a way that Muslims will apparently never be, which is why we never get BBC features about "when and where" the Jews "can laugh at themselves and their faith".

    I wish the Muslims could just accept the fact, or try to adjust, somehow, instead of constantly trying to convince us that they're the very acme of sophistication and urbanity - if they REALLY were, it'd be self-evident, and we wouldn't need constant reminding.

    And I wanted to thank you for the link to Clive James's superb essay: I read Goldhagen's book all those years ago, and I found it very persuasive - but then, I'm no historian. James's paper was both a model of clarity, and a very useful corrective.

    PS: Please, please don't go back to the Disqus system. I like the freedom of being able to leave comments on a whim instead of having to sign up to yet one more spontaneity-sapping system. Thanks.

  2. Just when you think that the BBC can't sink any lower they come up with this. I suppose the plan is to equate the Holocaust with Gaza. The BBC really are the pits.
    I read Goldhagan many years ago too and seem to remember that his book was persuasive but he possibly exagerrated a little.
    For my sins, I deal with academics a lot. Efforts to persuade them to use plain english fail as their jobs and promotion depend on convoluted prose which is often meaningless even to themselves !

  3. PS Many academics can't even spell "exaggerated" !

  4. Anonymous,
    Thank you for your comment.

    We both admire Clive James, and that critique gives complete satisfaction. All that pomposity and obscure language sliced and diced, plus Clive’s razor sharp correction in vivid prose.
    However I must give the credit to a commenter on Harry’s Place for the link. So, thanks to that commenter on our behalf.

    I still prefer Disqus because of its clean appearance and the ease with which commenters can include hyperlinks, images and videos.
    Unfortunately, the Blogger comments failed to import to Disqus when we tried to adopt it, and Craig couldn’t spend any more time figuring out what went wrong.

    I can’t see why you feel less free with Disqus though. You only need to register once, and you’re free to post at a whim thereafter.
    If one doesn’t want to create a moniker or an online ID, it would be nice if anons would sign off with something to differentiate their comments from all the other anons.

  5. Dear Sue,

    Many thanks - henceforward I will sign off with an appropriate label (as soon as I can think of one).

    The Blogger Formerly Known As Anonymous


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