The Jewish Chronicle reported today that David Cameron has marked holocaust
Memorial Day by announcing that a new national shoah memorial will be built
next to the Parliament.
For a second, I was delighted. I thought that at last our PM had decided to
commemorate some of the holocausts the Empire inflicted on millions of
innocent people around the globe. The Brits, I thought, should remember the
Balfour Declaration and the disaster it forced on the Palestinian people. The
holocaust memorial could allocate some space to commemorate the suffering of
Indians whose country was divided by the late Empire with tragic consequences.
Such a memorial could also serve as a sincere apology for the criminal war we
launched against Iraq: this war with no end in sight that has cost the lives
of many millions of innocent civilians. And what about the indiscriminate
murder of hundreds of thousands of German civilians in an orchestrated air
raid campaign to wipe out German cities? Shouldn't Britain commemorate this
holocaust once and for all?
Of course, I was totally wrong. Cameron had no intention of commemorating
British wrongdoing. Instead, once again, it was the primacy of Jewish
suffering to which our PM subscribed. The PM told the Commons during Prime
Minister's Questions: "I know the whole House will want to join me in marking
holocaust Memorial Day… It is right our whole country should stand together to
remember the darkest hour of humanity.''
But what is it about the Jewish holocaust that excites our PM's soul?
Forgetfulness. The more we feel for the Jews and their suffering, the less we
look in the mirror.
History is thought of as the attempt to narrate the past, but often it is used
as an institutional means to conceal our collective shame. The holocaust is
the perfect candidate for such a task. The more shameful our past is, the more
we cling to Jewish suffering so we can convey a fake image of empathy. The
Americans pepper their metropolises with holocaust memorials to conceal their
own problematic past; the slaughter of Native Americans, slavery, nuking two
cities and wiping out many others with fire bombs. The holocaust memorials
help the Americans to forgive themselves. For America, the holocaust is an
institutional amnesia apparatus.
Britain is no different. In the last decade the Brits saw the Imperial War
Museum reduced into a Holocaust memorial site in spite of the fact that the
shoah per-se has little to do with Britain or the empire. Amusingly, the only
relevant historical facts that make Britain partially responsible for the
destruction of European Jewry are completely omitted from the permanent
exhibit. Visitors to the Imperial War/ Jewish Holocaust Museum won't find any
evidence that on the eve of World War II, Britain closed its gates to European
Jewish refugees and also blocked Jewish attempts to seek refuge in Palestine.
Interestingly enough, Cameron, who vowed to erect a holocaust memorial today
is the same British PM who closed Britain's gates to refuges from a criminal
immoral interventionist war that was launched by one of his predecessors.
Rather than true empathy and genuine ethical thinking, the holocaust memorials
are there to promote forgetfulness - a duplicitous image of conscience. PM
Cameron, is unfortunately, an exemplary case of the above cynical mode of