The Escape Clause
Iqbal Sacranie in the Guardian yesterday:
Across the globe there is a widespread view that we in the west practise double standards and devalue the lives of non-westerners. The former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohammad, earlier this month, said of our actions in Iraq: “There is no tally of Iraqi deaths, but every single death of a US soldier is reported to the world. These are soldiers who must expect to be killed. But the Iraqis who die … are innocent civilians who under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein would still be alive.”
Hmm. Does Sacranie talk much about the tally of Iranian deaths during the Iran-Iraq war? Or other tallies of Muslims killed by other Muslims? Does he have a thoroughly single standard himself?
There is no shortage of Jews – including Leslie Bunder, editor of SomethingJewish.co.uk and Rabbi Schochet – who recognise that the memorial day in its present format is morally problematic. Still, the MCB recognises that this is enormously sensitive territory and if widening the scope of the day – while ethically right – is not politically feasible currently, then we should consider establishing a separate and truly inclusive genocide memorial day.
Truly inclusive? Truly? How truly? Inclusive of whom?
From the MCB’s news release on its decision not to attend Holocaust Memorial Day in January 2001:
In a letter to the Home Secretary, the Secretary General, Yousuf Bhaliok said that whilst they fully condemn the Nazi Holocaust and sympathise with the families of the Holocaust victims, they have reservations about the actual ceremony…It includes the controversial question of alleged Armenian genocide as well as the so-called gay genocide. In view of the above concerns the MCB believes that it would be inappropriate for them to be present at tomorrow’s ceremony.
So – truly inclusive? Well, no, then, not if the well-attested Armenian genocide is disallowed.
And another thing. The press release concludes with this familiar quotation:
The letter concludes, ” I need hardly say that our reservations concern only the ceremony and not the Nazi holocaust per se. The Qur’an (Al-Maidah 5:32) tells us that the murder of one man is as if one had slain all mankind and he who saves a life shall be as if he had given life to all humanity.”
Not true. That’s a truncated quotation – a vital piece has been left out, as Irshad Manji has been pointing out lately. The real quotation is translated for instance as ‘if anyone killed a person, not in retaliation for murder, or to spread mischief in the land, it would be as if he killed all mankind.’ Irshad Manji usually gives it as something like ‘except as punishment for murder or villainy in the land.’ At any rate, there is a very crucial escape clause – which actually renders the whole thing worthless. Because guess what, anyone who wants to kill someone is perfectly well able to come up with some ‘villainy in the land’ that the prospective murderee has spread, and there you go: carte blanche to commit murder. For instance of rebellious Armenians, who were not murdered in an act of genocide at all, but were killed as enemy combatants or rebels or opponents in a civil war or what have you. Well…that’s what Eichmann said, too. The Jews were enemies of the Reich. That’s what he was told, and that’s what he told the Jerusalem court in 1961. That’s what the Hutus said – repeatedly, insistently, urgently, over the airwaves on Radio Mille Collines – about the Tutsis: they were enemies, rebels, insurgents, and had to be killed before they killed all the Hutus. That’s what happens in genocides. People don’t just say ‘Let’s kill all the Jews now because we don’t like them.’ They use the ‘villainy in the land’ clause.
So the MCB’s fastidiousness about Holocaust Memorial Day is a bit suspect.