At the risk of seeming insensitive, here is an extract from today’s offerings from the satirical Web site The Onion (if you don’t know what The Onion and its Canadian counterpart The Beaverton are you really should fix that). Don’t be put off by the apparent dismissal of the Holocaust: there is a bigger message here I will pick up after the extract.
Remembering the mixture of fear and surprise they felt during the dark time in their past, a group of Holocaust survivors recalled the exact day that the Holocaust started right out of the blue, sources confirmed Tuesday. “You’d think there would’ve been some warning signs, but nope—everything was going along just fine until and the Holocaust just up and started out of nowhere,” said Esther Herzfeld, 94, who added how scared and baffled she was when she and her family had to go abruptly into hiding after hearing that Jewish people were being rounded up by something called the Gestapo. “We were just minding our own business and everything was totally normal, with no curfew or persecutions or any limits on our rights, and all of a sudden, poof—the Holocaust was in full swing. No one could figure out how the Nazis randomly decided to go after Jews and the disabled and Roma and gay people, but by nightfall people were being grabbed off the street and sent to concentration camps, which had all been built over the previous 24 hours. It was crazy—no one had any clue anything bad was going to happen.” The nation’s Holocaust survivors also reportedly recalled that the suddenness of the Holocaust starting was probably why it took so long for anyone to come help them.
OK, here is the point made so poignant by The Onion. Just as there were clear signs – for years! – that the Nazi regime had it in for the Jews, Roma, disabled people and others, and these signs were ignored, dismissed, misanalysed or whatever, the same goes for people within our societies who embrace extremist ideologies, some of whom go on to commit acts of atrocious and heinous violence. The notion that ‘no one saw this coming’ is a grossly unsubstantiated myth. The key is to know what is significant and what it implies and to act earlier rather than later, before it is truly too late.
We are less able to discern the talkers from the walkers, i.e. dividing those who are clearly radicalised but have no intention – or capability – of converting their views into violent action but there is no excuse for not knowing what radicalisation looks like, whether the particular strain is Islamist, far right, Hindu, Buddhist or whatever (I have written several books on all these topics). Some may protest that radicalisation without violence must be protected as free speech, although many would not . Even in the absence of immediate violence, however, these extreme views must be monitored (even if no punitive action is taken): no one wants to hear in the wake of a terrorist attack “but their views must be allowed!” Yes we need to figure out better ways of dividing truly dangerous views from those that are merely disgusting, and maybe we’ll never get there, but we really should try.
More than six million people were massacred in the 1930s and 1940s merely for who they were and not what they had done. The signs that this was being planned were as plain as the noses on our collective faces. Thankfully we have not seen violence on the scale of the Holocaust in recent years but that does not mean that we should ignore what extremists tell us they hope to do. Islamic State’s campaign of hatred and violence was all too predictable after all. Will we sit back and observe the next one, wringing our hands at our lack of foresight?
Let’s hope not.