As of Friday, February 2, 2018
In a recent National Geographic article about good and evil (January 2018), the steps leading up to genocide are discussed. How do these horrors happen? The Armenians in Turkey, Jews in Nazi Germany, Cambodians slaughtering Cambodians in the killing fields, Rwanda tribal massacres, and ISIS atrocities world-wide, to name a few, in which hundreds of thousands or millions of people have been systematically exterminated.
The first step, according to this intelligent and thorough article, begins when demagogic leaders define a target group as “the other” and claim it is a threat to loyal supporters. Discrimination follows. Leaders then characterize their targets as subhuman, eroding the in-group’s empathy for “the other.”
Society becomes polarized. Those planning the genocide state, “You are either for us or against us.” Next, death lists are drawn up, weapons are accumulated, and planning carried out as to how to get the rank and file to participate in the lethal process. Members of the targeted group are sometimes forced to move into concentration camps or ghettos. Then the massacres begin.
Workers who actually perform many of the killings do it because they have been told that “the other” poses a threat of more or less severity to their personal welfare and families.
Let’s look at the current situation in the United States. “The other” has already been identified by our present government as immigrants (except the ones from Norway). Slurs have been showered on these “inferior” (could it soon become sub-human?) people and their lands of origin. American citizens are being told that their jobs and prosperity are threatened by immigrants. Some immigrants are being deported, many of them long-term residents, while millions are fearful. Families are being split up. The DACA children live in limbo. Sheriffs here and there racially profile and arrest suspected “others.” Not mentioning any names.
Now, we don’t seriously believe that we could perpetrate a mass murder of immigrants, even though deporting them back to places like El Salvador can mean a virtual death sentence. It can’t happen here. Can it? These days, we are not so sure. In the past, our government interned Japanese citizens, after all. Native Americans have been systematically slaughtered and denigrated over the years.
The Statue of Liberty stands majestically in New York harbor. The plaque she holds reads in part:
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shores…”
It seems that this sentiment may no longer be true in a land which had formerly meant freedom to wave after wave of immigrants. In fact, everyone here except Native Americans is descended from immigrants.
On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day (Jan. 27), let’s put an end to this progression of pitiless unkindness and discrimination before it gets out of hand.
Wendy and Richard Best live in Parkdale.