Sunday, April 15, 2007

Ignoring the Holocaust teaches kids wrong lessons

Apr 15, 2007
The Toronto Star
By Anna Morgan

Society must not be bullied into hiding hard truths, writes Anna Morgan

In one of the most definitive statements on the Holocaust, The Banality of Evil, Hannah Arendt argues that the greatest crimes in history were executed by ordinary people who were convinced their conduct was socially acceptable and even normal.

It's an important lesson to keep in mind on this Holocaust Remembrance Day.

But how do societies become convinced that the acts of fanatics are normal?

It begins when leadership gives in to bullies and their beliefs.

Sometimes, political figures support or turn a blind eye to racist or misogynist causes to win over popular sentiment. Other times authorities remain silent to avoid an unpopular confrontation at the cost of a principled stand.

It can start with the best of intentions.

These days, for example, it's not unusual to see history and current events approached in a way that does not alienate minority cultures.

However, what starts as a form of sensitivity to diversity can sometimes turn into political bullying by a minority, or even a minority within a minority.

A recent London Daily Mirror article reported on a government study that found some British teachers opted out of teaching the Holocaust to avoid provoking a reaction from Muslim students.

It makes one wonder what the feared reaction might be.

To avoid dealing with the potentially anti-Semitic response that such lessons might provoke, at least one British school has reportedly decided to drop the event from its history lessons altogether.

If true, an educational tool will be lost.

While it is important to be sensitive to minorities in the classroom, it is equally crucial to use the education system to promote a principled approach to the world around us.

Teachers need to be prepared to confront their students through discussion and lessons that counter prejudices.

By refusing to inform students about the experience of the Jews in World War II, some British schools have allowed Holocaust deniers to prevent the teaching of empathy and critical analysis of historic events.

Not only will children at those British schools not learn the truth about World War II, but bullies and racists will be allowed to impose their views on teachers. This type of action can paralyze societies and prevent them from doing what is otherwise right.

In a recent conference held in Detroit by Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam movement, the keynote speaker was Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

In his address, beamed in by satellite, he used the forum of a major African American gathering to accuse "the U.S. and the West of exaggerating the level of conflict in the country's troubled Darfur region." BBC News reported that the Sudanese president went on to condemn Israel, Britain and the United States for "unfairly" targeting Sudan for political gain.

Let's hope the international community doesn't stop spreading the word about Darfur – where reports indicate that 200,000 people have died and more than 2 million have fled their homes – for fear of provoking the Sudanese and their supporters.

Otherwise, bullies will once again prevent the world from learning the truth and pursuing a solution to a new Holocaust in the making.

Unfortunately, it's easy to fall into the trap of accepting bullying behaviour.

During the first Gulf War in the early 1990s, the Canadian Armed Forces stationed in Bahrain gave in to this pattern when they refused to place a woman or a Jew as a liaison officer in the host country.

Out of a false sensitivity to the local culture, they were bullied into pandering to inappropriate prejudices.

Canadians have worked hard to create a society envied around the world. Being able to integrate minorities is an important part of who we are.

However, silence in the face of Holocaust denial, which is nothing but ignorance and racism, will not make Canada a better place to live – any more than ignoring the bully in the playground creates safer schools.

Empowering educators and bystanders to deal with classroom bullying in a positive way is a key step in ensuring that children understand the importance of standing up for what's right instead of tolerating and being sensitive to what's wrong.

It's a lesson for schools and society at large.

Ontario marked the importance of Holocaust Remembrance Day in1998 when it was the first jurisdiction to hold Holocaust commemoration ceremonies in the Legislature.

And now, it is especially fitting that Ontario recently hosted the "I Am Safe Conference" on bullying and victimization to coincide with this time of year.

Because when it comes to oppression, Arendt's lesson is that the extraordinary and the ordinary often go hand in hand.

Anna Morgan is a Toronto writer. Her book, My Worst/Best Sleepover Party, co-authored with her sister Dr. Rachael Turkienicz, is a children's book about bullying.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.



Blogger JB said...

You wrote: In a recent conference held in Detroit by Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam movement, the keynote speaker was Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

The keynote speaker was not Bashir but was Farrakhan himself. That webcast is here:

6:32 PM  

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