Monday, 27 January 2014

The choir sang...


It was a choir of primary school children and was like so many of these choirs - nearly all girls, in this case with one slightly sheepish bespectacled boy, and singing those primary school songs that are both banal and also uplifting. On this occasion there was a supplement of older people sharing the singing, giving it a little gravitas (and a little more bass).

Through my mind went a simple thought - "how do you explain to an eight year old child, regardless of background or origin, about the event they were singing for?"

The event was Bradford Council's Holocaust Memorial Day. We were recalling, in the comfortable surroundings of City Hall's banqueting chamber, how six million Jews and thousands of others deemed "sub-human" were first herded into ghettos, then into camps and lastly into ovens. It started with just the numbers - numbing numbers - before you get to appreciate that these were real people. Living, breathing, walking the streets, doing business, laughing, playing and working. Some of those people's families were in the room with us.

Some of those people, dragged from their homes, crammed onto trains and sent on a hideous journey...some of them were children, eight year old children like the boys and girls singing for us. We had no images to grasp the enormity of that fact, to appreciate the truth of a deliberate attempt to exterminate the Jewish people. A slaughter of such proportion that we can barely grasp its scale - how many people work where you work? Fifty? A hundred? Have you been to a premier league football game with thirty, forty, perhaps fifty thousand others? I was at Knebworth in an audience of 200,000 plus in 1979.

Imagine all those people dead and the same number again starved and emaciated almost to the point of death. Close your eyes and picture it, picture the horror. And then multiply it by ten times. Men, women and children dead, strewn across the land before your eyes. As far as you can see. Not because they were bad or wrong, violent or criminal. Dead because of what they are - Jewish.

We'd like for the world to remember. At this event we bore witness to that memory. We lit candles.

But it seems to me that the world has forgotten. We read almost daily of atrocities. Of Christians - men, women, children - killed because they are Christians. Of people blown to shreds because they chose the nightclub instead of church, temple or mosque. Of women cut down for wearing the wrong clothes. Of girls shot for going to school.

And the words of hate are still spread. The lies that led to the murder of the Jews, those Russian forgeries that led to pogrom, are still placed before the credulous public as if they are fact. The blood libel is still repeated and the allegation of christian cannibalism still used to frighten the ignorant. Great art, wisdom and science is pushed aside, declared as apostasy. And the works of faith - Bible, Koran, Torah - are sneered at, their adherents dismissed as the ignorant.

We spend our time categorising and recategorising humans. Placing us all in little boxes labelled "sexual preference", "race", "religion", "social class", "physical ability", "education", "gender"...and so on forever. In doing this we do just what those who hate want us to do - place metaphorical stars and triangles on each of us. And where does it get us? It gets us to a world where a veritable dictionary of the taboo exists - page after page of things we cannot say, words we cannot use. And it gets us to the point where these "protected characteristics" are seen by government as defining who you are - "Jewish, female, heterosexual, older, middle-class, employed" or "White British, male, gay, disabled, unemployed, working class".

These are not descriptions of people but labels on boxes, it tells me nothing about that woman, about what makes her laugh or cry, how she dresses, does she drink white wine or like a gin and tonic? A thousand and more little things that make her different all trapped inside a box with a label. A box with a label about which we can use only the approved descriptions, the ones that aren't in that dictionary of the taboo.

Holocaust Memorial Day recalls a time when the label on one of those boxes became a death sentence. Surely our aim should be to start treating people as simply people, to stop putting each one into a convenient box? A box that those who hate can point at and condemn.

The choir sang hopeful, uplifting songs. Songs about journeys, arrival and where we're going. Let's hope those children arrive in a place where what you are doesn't matter but who you are does,


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Free speech: the first victim in the subjugation of the masses. Yet we are happy to let it go, one bit at a time: you cannot call the black person “black”, use “coloured” (then reverse that idea, and manipulate as desired); a joke where another nationality is the butt – “racist!”; identify a person by their apparent origins in a perceived derogatory way – “racist!” (except if they are white, then “Brit”, “Yank”, “Kiwi”, “Oz” or “Whinging Pom” are acceptable). Being English (by acceptance), I am immune to offence or insult, so believe that all others should be; that they appear not to be is NOT MY fault, it is THEIR problem. To use the saying long accredited to Voltaire: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.”

That there is a blatant assault on free speech has to be obvious: “You do not say what we want you to say, so we will take away your chance to say it,” seems to be the thinking behind a lot of th”professionally offended”, and those who claim to speak up for them. If we do not protect any of our freedoms – even if it upsets us how others use it – then we are destined to lose it. Many, many of our forefathers were prepared to give up their lives to defend that principle, yet we are prepared to let them go for a bit more “Strictly Get Stars in Brother on Ice.” If we are not prepared to give up a little time in its defence then its loss is our fault, and it is our children and grandchildren who will suffer.

Mr Cooke, you do give the impression that you are an “old school” Conservative; do you have any influence on those in the higher echelons of your organisation, many of whom – including your…erm… leader – seem to be as desperate to control the population into utter subjugation as the “opposition”? If so, please use it!

Radical Rodent