Holocaust Memorial Day and Muslims boycotting hostile events

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, and according a poll published today which was commissioned by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, 8% of people surveyed (roughly 1 in 20) believe that the Holocaust was exaggerated. In addition almost half did not know how many Jews were murdered and a fifth believed that the numbers were killed were vastly fewer than actually were (e.g. less than two million, rather than around six million). The results echo those of a poll conducted across Europe last year which found that ignorance of the Holocaust was widespread; one in five young people in France and 12% in Austria, for example, had never heard of it. Many people seemed disturbed by this news and asked how on earth people could be so ignorant, but the answer is really quite simple: nobody learns about this in school.

It’s true that kids learn a lot about Hitler in history classes; the two major periods people learn about are the Tudors and Stuarts and then Nazi Germany, but not World War II or the Holocaust. I did a Jewish history cause while at university but of course not everybody does a history degree or indeed any. I do not remember being taught about the Holocaust in detail although I do remember learning bits here and there about fascism and Hitler (our school did not offer history GCSE as the teacher left and could not be replaced). There have been films and documentaries about it but nobody is obliged to watch any of these and a lot of people simply will not watch a documentary; they find them boring. As Dr Frances Ryan said on Twitter this morning, “a pro-ignorance anti-facts climate is only going to enable this to grow” which is why it is important that it be taught in schools and before teenagers take their options at 14. However, I would add that other genocides be included (Rwanda and Bosnia, for example) so that young people are aware of how these things build up; they are not always carried out by sophisticated state entities such as the SS, but sometimes by militias and mobs drawn readily from the population.

(Someone else told me that I should know about the Holocaust from “word of mouth, first hand accounts, missing gaps in photo albums, grandparents and great grandparents, those (increasingly fewer now) people in our community with tattooed numbers on their arms, lists and lists of missing names…” but these are things you would be aware of if you are Jewish, which most people in the UK are not.)

The corner of a beige 1930s building with "The Hippodrome" in gold capital letters over the doors. A sign for the new mosque is hanging to the right of the door; the fittings for old lettering from the El-Shaddai Christian Centre can be seen on the side of the building.
Golders Green Hippodrome, now home to the Hussainiyat al-Rasool al-Adham centre. Photo: Harry Taylor

Last week there was an HMD event at a mosque in east London which celebrated the efforts of Albanian Muslims to save Jews during the Holocaust. This was put on partly by the Israeli Holocaust memorial organisation, Yad Vashem. Originally it was meant to have been hosted by a mosque in Golders Green which serves the Iraqi Shi’a community, but this was moved as a result of a protest by Muslims after the matter was raised on Twitter by Roshan Salih, a journalist for the Iranian-backed Press TV who also runs the website 5Pillars. This led to outrage in pro-Israel circles with people calling those who protested ‘extremists’ and accusing them of intimidation and claiming that death threats were sent. When the event finally did happen (at what appears to be a Barelvi mosque in Ilford), the attendees were a who’s who of the “Prevent” and “reform” communities: Sara Khan of Inspire, Elizabeth Arif-Fear of Nisa/Nashim, someone from Faith Matters which is behind “Tell MAMA”, the hate-crime monitor which has a habit of blaming Muslims for Islamophobia in the media.

Quite apart from the fact that the “intimidation” consisted simply of a protest and that accusations of “death threats” are made whenever there is any kind of protest and there is never any investigation into their veracity, whoever they are supposedly being sent to — it is easy for the recipients or their friends to fabricate them — and the fact that the mosque leadership cancelled when they found out about the Israeli connection, not because of ‘intimidation’, Muslims have a right to expect that community leaders have some respect for what the community feels and this includes not using the house of Allah for an exhibition linked to a state which harasses and abuses Muslims on a daily basis and many of whose allies in the West encourage harassment and suspicion of Muslims here. They are, after all, paid by the community and the buildings they run were often bought or built with money raised by the community. No organisation associated with any other religion would be expected to host such events.

This is not to say Muslims should never be involved with HMD. But anyone organising such an event has to remember that the Holocaust is not an important part of the history of the Muslim community; it happened in Europe at a time when most British Muslims’ ancestors lived in Asia or Africa. Muslims have nothing to answer for with regard to it and have every right to object if it is used to justify oppression of Muslims (or others) in Palestine, and not to work with those who justify that oppression. We do not object to this simply because we hate Jews and certainly not because we are paid by or are devoted to the Iranian regime’s leadership.

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