In April 1945, the final Nazi concentration camp was liberated by Allied forces. At that moment, the scale of the Nazi mass-murdering machine was only just beginning to come to light. Never again, they said.
In July 1995, Serb forces executed 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica as part of an attempt to ethnically cleanse the town during the Bosnian War. Women and girls, many raped and tortured, were forcibly deported. Never again, they said.
As we commemorate both the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, it is vital that every citizen understands how these tragedies came to be. Indeed, it is not mere impulse that sends six million Jews to their death. Nor is it sheer misfortune that sees a multi-cultural society like Bosnia turn on itself with such venom.
The moment where one group of people are able to kill another based on constructs such as race or religious identity is the result of a long process that can almost always be traced back to that dirty word: nationalism.
Nationalism was not always a home to hate. Indeed in the American and French revolutions, nationalism meant seeking a common future of liberty and equality. But as with most things in life, this notion was soon corrupted by humankind.
Fast forward to the 1930s and a German population fallen on hard times is thrown a lifeline by a new leader promising to put Germany first, punishing those who have held it back for so long. The transformation from hope to hate was complete.
Of course, in the case of antisemitism, there is always more than just nationalist rhetoric that places Jews across the world in danger. The infamous anti-Jew conspiracy theory has continued to regenerate since the days of the Inquisition. It never ceases to amaze me when I am told, often by intelligent individuals, that the Jews were behind 9/11, Jewish billionaires pull the strings to global politics or perhaps most shockingly this Christmas period, that only six thousand Jews were actually killed in the Holocaust.
The relatively modern, hate-filled form of nationalism accommodates such conspiracy theories just as the Nazis did in the 1930s. And so, in turn, we must reject it, along with all its theories.
The case of Bosnia is perhaps the most tragic example of what happens when this rhetoric is kept alive. A society that was so beautifully multicultural, multiethnic and multi-religious somehow ended up hijacked by hate-filled nationalism. Suddenly one was not a fellow citizen but a Serb, a Croat or a Muslim. Humans of equal value had become labels of a senseless hierarchy. And heaven help you if you found yourself outnumbered by those who claimed to be your superiors, as was the case with the Muslims in Srebrenica.
It strikes me incredible that in the age of science we have ever allowed ourselves to buy into absurdities such as racial identity. ‘I am Spanish’, ‘I am English’, ‘I am American’, are sentences that frankly mean absolutely nothing. Unsure what I mean by this? Take a DNA test and you’ll see. We all come from nomads. The human species is simply that. We are not defined by lines in the sand.
And yet here I am today writing this article in commemoration of two examples of genocide, the greatest crime against humanity, based on these very meaningless words: ‘The German master race’, ‘the dirty Jew’, ‘the Serbian motherland’, ‘the dirty Muslim’.
Of course, the Holocaust and Srebrenica are but two examples of endless monstrosities committed by humankind. Each one so avoidable, had citizens rejected hateful discourse. This year, I ask that we pause to consider our language. I ask that we may choose our words with greater care. Let us break down constructs that are meant to divide, or else there is little point in uttering ‘never again’.