”How could they?” I have been wondering while listening to lots of talks on the Holocaust. I have read books. I have seen movies. I have cried. I have wished that what I learned wasn’t true. People cannot be this evil. Had Hitler come on to the stage today, we would not have accepted his horrifying values and actions. We have a common understanding of what is right and what is wrong, don’t we? One doesn’t let innocent people die in the most gruesome ways just because they belong to a certain ethnic group. We just don’t.
I was young when the massacres happened in Rwanda. What happened to innocent and defenseless people was so dreadful that we can’t even imagine evil of this magnitude. Between 500,000 and one million Tutsis were brutally slaughtered. The world knew what was about to happen, but was idly watching from the sidelines. “This kind of evil must never happen again,” promised the world afterwards.
I have been naive. I have thought that the world is so much better today than it was then. We are good people. We understand more about justice now than then. We are living in the most civilized time of history. Little by little, however, I realize that the world is not so much different now than it was then. The Holocaust was a result of a widespread hate towards the Jews. More and more often the Jews were considered a problem in society, a problem that needed to be taken care of should society survive. Hitler succeeded in segregating the Jews from the rest of society in his Germany.
This sounds frightfully familiar. As a simple experiment I exchange the world Jew with Muslim, immigrant or asylum seeker. I exchange Germany with any European nation, or with the USA. I swap Hitler with the words Our government, politicians, or, should I try: Presidential candidates. Suddenly I have sentences taken directly from the debates in society today: Muslims/ immigrants/asylum seekers are more and more often seen as a problem in society, a problem that must be fixed if society is to survive. In Norway/USA (or insert your own country) the aim is to segregate the Muslims/ immigrants/asylum seekers from the rest of society.
The massacres of as many as one million Tutsis in Rwanda was the result of an increased hatred towards the minority group. The biggest ethnic group in the country, the Hutus, blamed the nation’s growing social problems, the financial challenges and the political pressure on the Tutsis. The long-lasting hatred and distrust lead to the biggest genocide of our time. Again I get associations to current situations around the world. I am reminded of leaders, presidential candidates and others who blame the Muslims/ immigrants/asylum seekers for growing social problems as well as the financial challenges we will soon be faced with.
One doesn’t suddenly one day wake up and hate Jews. Nobody was born with an inherent hatred for Tutsis. Racism towards people from different ethnic groups, cultures, religions and nations is a process. The same way we raise our kids by setting an example, by our expressed words and opinions, by our actions and admonitions, our society is raised by our leaders that continuously repeat the same thoughts and sentiments. We are influenced by actions and words that are uttered publicly.
It doesn’t happen overnight that we decide it is OK to blame our problems and challenges on a people group we hardly know. This happens over time. This happens when somebody tells you the reason there is so much crime is because of the damned immigrants. It happens when a journalist writes about the challenges we will face because of the growing number of immigrants in the country. This happens when your friends warn you against talking to people with a foreign background and dark skin. They may rape you. It happens when people of influence day after day are allowed to freely speak of the danger of having these people come into our countries, and are serious when they say that they people should be sent back to where they came from. The reason they crossed mountains and oceans, defied hunger, cold and constant humiliation, they say, was because they wanted our wealth. This is what happened in Nazi Germany, and this is in fact what is happening to the Rohingya in Myanmar today.
I must say I am concerned. In Europe the political parties critical to immigration are growing in leaps and bounds. Statements that before were taboo because they were considered racist, are now OK to say in public. In the US, the presidential candidate who is getting the most votes, and the most attention, is getting away with saying things about immigrants and Muslims that are so outrageous that one can wonder if Hitler perhaps has been reincarnated.
There are times that I feel like the minority. I believe that it isn’t asking too much that we too should share the burden of poverty and oppression. I miss hearing leaders talking about the people coming to our countries for refuge as human beings in desperate need. I miss hearing people saying that all humans are created with the same value, and therefore we need to treat them as our neighbors. It is time we wake up. It is why I just wrote this.
This blog was originally written in Norwegian and read by thousands. Last I checked it had been shared 7,100 times. Since it got so much attention, I decided to translate it and share it here.