The living must march

We owe it to diaspora communities to protect them against the forces of extremist violence while enabling them to retain their identities.

April 4, 2017 12:48
3 minute read.
March of the Living

Jewish March of the Living participants walks along the tracks away from the entrance to the Birkenau death camp in May 2016. (photo credit: REUTERS)

This year’s March of the Living comes at a critical juncture in the effort to protect the Jewish and other diaspora populations around the world. The terror and other hate attacks in Europe and the United States over the past three years have ushered in a new age of bigotry and intolerance, on a scale and intensity unseen, many believe, since the Holocaust.

For many European Jews, like one survivor of the Paris grocery store siege who survived by hiding in a basement freezer, the time for Europe to demonstrate that it can secure the safety of the Jewish community there has passed. “I’m leaving,” he said. “I’m not going to wait around here to die.”

Similarly, the family of an Indian immigrant to the United States who was shot and killed recently by a white supremacist who told him to “stay out of our country,” announced their intention to repatriate to India. “We should never have come here,” a family member said.

One can hardly blame them. Even prior to the attacks in Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen, acts of violence against Jews were increasing in France and other parts of Europe, and hate crimes against Jews and non-white minorities were escalating in the United States.

As part of a Rutgers University initiative to study the rise of extremist violence directed at vulnerable populations, I was in a Paris meeting with security officials when the Kosher grocery was attacked, and in Copenhagen the day after the synagogue was attacked there, and in Brussels in the aftermath of the subway and airport bombings. Our goal has been to identify, develop, and disseminate the best practices to protect the security of threatened populations around the world. Phase one will culminate this spring with police-community round table discussions in the Sablon and Mollenbeeck sections of Brussels, and with the online publication of a best practices guide.

But our work has convinced me that for the world to listen, it must first remember.

For many centuries, the Jewish communities living in exile have been the singular example of a Diaspora people; indeed, the Jewish community has been established in Europe almost as long as it was established in the Promised Land prior to the Roman conquest. But migration and exile are now the common lot of hundreds of millions of people of varying races, ethnicities, and faiths throughout the world.

There are now African, Persian, Philippine, Cuban, and dozens of other diaspora populations struggling to survive in foreign lands.

The forces of bigotry, racism, and violence to which migrating peoples have always been subjected are once again rising, in a world in which an unprecedented percentage of the world’s population lives in diaspora. Unless a way is found to secure such populations against these deformations of human nature, the entire project of a global civilization is at risk.

We owe it to these new communities to find a way to overcome their “otherness,” to protect them against the forces of extremist violence while enabling them to retain their identities. But in the first instance we owe it to the prototypical diaspora communities, the Jewish communities in Europe and elsewhere, to continue to learn from their example and to make safe -- at long last -- their way in the world.

I can think of no better path to begin to emerge from our forest of unreasoning hate than to follow the disused rail beds back to the rubble where hate once ruled, to Auschwitz and Buchenwald. The world should walk that walk of death as an affirmation of life. The path through our era of hate will become clear when we retrace, with undying love, the lost footsteps of hate’s countless victims.

John Farmer was formerly Chief Council of the US 9/11 Commission and is an international expert on current hate issues throughout Europe.

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