International Holocaust Day: #neveragain?

Today we remember the Holocaust, a genocide under the Nazi’s which killed an estimated six million Jewish people, two million Romani people, a quarter of a million mentally and physically disabled people and nine thousand homosexual men. Today we honour the memory of these individuals; their personalities, their stories, their hopes, passions and talents, all of which were robbed from them, and replaced with just a number. These individuals were crushed in the name of an ideology, a vision of a pure race and control of a nation.

When the Nazi’s came to power in Germany in 1933, there were large Jewish populations living in Eastern and Western Europe. In the East, Jewish communities were a minority, and kept to their own language, Yiddish, and culture, although younger Jews were beginning to adopt more modern ways to dress. In the West, Jewish communities made up a much smaller percentage of the population and tended to adopt the culture of their non-Jewish neighbours, in dress, language and culture. Jews were found in all walks of European life; some rich, although many poor. They were farmers, tailors, accountants and doctors. And then they were victims.

The Holocaust has significant contemporary relevance and learning from the mistakes made in history should prevent us from making these same mistakes again.

But we haven’t learnt from our mistakes. History is repeating itself. Before the Holocaust, countries had the chance to welcome Jewish refugees into their countries, instead, many tightened immigration restrictions. Today, we continue to shut our borders on those who are seeking freedom from persecution, war and terror. Millions of refugees are currently stuck in transit in Europe. Refugees suffer at the hands of political inaction and a discourse controlled by policy makers which separates ‘us’ from ‘them’. As President Trump begins his time in power, he intends to build a physical wall to prevent migrants crossing the border from Mexico.

We haven’t learnt from our mistakes. History is repeating itself. The recent closure of the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais left unaccompanied minors with a broken promise. A promise made by the UK to protect them from the cold, the people smugglers, and the many other risks that come with living exposed without the protection of family. The UK took 10,000 Jewish refugees from the Kindertransport before the outbreak of World War Two. That is compared to the 187 Syrian refugees who have been granted asylum in the UK since the outbreak of the war Syria.

We haven’t learnt from our mistakes. History is repeating itself. We said ‘never again’ after the Holocaust. We said ‘never again’ after the Bangladesh Genocide in 1971, the Rwandan Genocide of 1972 and 1994. We said ‘never again’ after the Bosnian Genocide of 1992. And we think we can say ‘never again’ after the loss of so many civilian lives in Aleppo, this year?

We must stop history repeating itself and we must take lessons away from these horrific events. International Holocaust Day give us this opportunity. We must remember the value and the memory of every individual that died in the Holocaust. We must learn to stand up and for what is right, we must defend the rights of minority and persecuted groups. We must have more sympathy towards refugees and not turn away from their cries for help.

Bangladesh: The government’s failed efforts to protect its secular bloggers

In the past year, four secular bloggers have been hacked to death in broad daylight in Bangladesh, while many other writers including poets and journalists have received death threats. These violent killings highlight the serious threat to freedom of expression that persist within Bangladesh and needs to be addressed.

Bangladesh was established as a secular state in 1971, however 89.7% of the population are Muslim. There is ongoing tension between Bangladesh’s secularists who want to maintain the country’s tradition of separating religion and state, and the Islamists who want to establish an Islamic state. While Bangladesh’s authorities have arrested several suspects thought to be responsible for these attacks, none have been punished as of yet. The Bangladesh government doesn’t seem to be doing much to protect secular bloggers. Indeed, the Bangladesh government has even arrested and jailed a number of secular bloggers for “defaming Islam.”

Niloy Neel, formally known as Niloy Chatterjee, is the fourth and most recent blogger murdered. On August 6th, a group of men armed with machetes broke into his flat in the capital, Dhaka and hacked him to death. Neel was a critic of religious fundamentalism and extremism which put him on the target list of Islamist militants. Prior to his death, Neel had received many death threats from Islamist radicals. When he took the case to local authorities however, his complaint was never taken seriously. Ansarullah Bangla Team, an al-Qaeda inspired Islamic extremist group in Bangladesh later claimed responsibility for the killing and warned of more to come.

Two years ago, Islamist hardliners tried to get the government to adopt a blasphemy law that would jail those whom criticized Islam or God. The four men that were killed this year were part of a list of 84 “atheist bloggers,” drawn up by Islamic groups and widely circulated around the country. At first the aim of the list was to get the government to arrest the 84 bloggers and charge them with blasphemy. Ever since, death threats to secular bloggers have been on the rise and protection from government authorities remains non-existent.

Unlike other countries in the region such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, Bangladesh has never been a centre for terrorism. However Islamic militancy is on the rise in Bangladesh with both home-grown militant groups and international ones, including al-Qaeda. In the past Bangladeshi authorities had made it difficult for Islamist groups to establish themselves within the country. The rise in the number of attacks on secular public figures is proving that the government needs to implement more stringent counter terrorism strategies.

Three of four of these four murdered bloggers notified authorities that they were being followed or had been receiving threats and feared for their lives, however no action was ever taken to protect them. Hundreds of secular activists have protested and made calls for justice, and it is clear that the government needs to do more. The authorities have certainly made arrests, but there is a clear danger to secularists in Bangladesh, who are being identified, tracked and targeted. These murders attack free speech and ferment fear, and the Bangladesh government needs to make it clear that attacks on freedom of religion and expression will not be tolerated. The government must  counter violent extremism to ensure that these attacks do not become the norm in the country.