This past Monday was the United Nations’ International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It was also precisely seventy-five years since the liberation of Auschwitz. The UN, at whose entrance are carved the words of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah that, “Swords shall be beaten into plowshares and nation shall not make war against nation anymore,” officially commemorated the Holocaust only a dozen years ago. Over the past ten days world leaders from American Vice-President Mike Pence to Britain’s Prince Charles to France’s President Emmanuel Macron among others have made their way to Israel for various ceremonies of commemoration. But as we watch these events unfold, we must look back at the past seventy-five years — and look around us today — and ask if the world has really learned anything even as world leaders espouse words of concern and compassion.
The contrasts are telling, and their lessons are our last best hope for our own humanity. As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. often said, we must strive to fulfill the prophecy that the day will come when “Justice shall roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.” Without fidelity to that goal, we will be left with little more than a future of Ezekiel’s vision of a valley of dry bones, forever parched by the horrors of Auschwitz, making this world brittle and arid and stench-filled. The world is constantly falling short of that goal.
For the litmus test of mankind’s civility is not how we treat those who are many, or agreeable, or privileged, or quiescent, but rather how we treat those who are few, and different, and alienated, and stubborn. The world is still failing this test. Amidst our ungracious consumerism and suffocating self-absorption, little resolve abounds to remedy the malignancies of hate, jealousy and greed. Courage is replaced by the din of false pieties as excuses for inaction.
Frivolous squabblings abound, yet they are nothing more than promotions of petty self-interests that overwhelm the fierce urgency to bring to an end the spectacular and frequent failures of man. For in the dead of night we will forever be haunted by those failures.
Haunted by the mounds of ashes that once were six million European Jews. Haunted by the bloated bodies floating in the Yangtze River of Mao’s China. Haunted by the corpses frozen in the wastes of Stalin’s Gulag. Haunted by the betrayals of the free peoples of Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Haunted by the deaths of Freedom Riders in the American South. Haunted by the killing fields of Vietnam and Cambodia. Haunted by the bodies rotting in the jungles of Rwanda and in the fetid marshes of the Balkans. Haunted by the two million black Darfuri Musims killed by Sudanese Muslims simply because of the colour of their skin.And today, in this week that is also Muslim Awareness Week, we are faced with yet another tragedy.
The government of Buddhist-majority Myanmar has been perpetuating a genocide against the Rohingya Muslims since October 2016. The crisis has forced over a million Rohingyas to flee to neighboring countries, including Bangladesh, India, Malaysia and other parts of South and Southeast Asia. It is the largest human exodus in Asia since the Vietnam War. International agencies have estimated that the Myanmar military and the local Rakhine Buddhists have killed at least 24,000 Rohingya people, committed gang rapes and other forms of sexual violence against 18,000 Rohingya Muslim women and girls, beaten 116,000 Rohingya , and thrown 36,000 Rohingya into fires.
Will the world rise to the challenge? The prognosis is bleak. For Holocaust remembrance to have any real meaning, we all have a duty to try and create a world that sees wrongs and tries to right them; sees suffering and tries to heal it, sees injustice and tries to stop it. As we remember the Jewish martyrs of the Holocaust, helping save the Rohingya Muslims seems the right effort to meet that duty. We implore the Trudeau Government to act.