President Michael D. Higgins

EDITORIAL: Never Again.....But

There's no doubt that what is going on in Gaza is horrific. There's no doubt that what triggered the Israeli invasion - that being the Hamas attack on October 7 - was an act of utterly horrific violence. There are no ways around the fact that what we are witnessing is a colossal failure of humanity. And it is far from being the only failure in an increasingly troubled world.

Ireland has more than a little knowledge, by way of its history, of how inhumanity can become a dominant force in daily life. So no surprise that there is a lot of angst and rancor directed at the events in Gaza, and to such an extend that even the Russian invasion of Ukraine is lately a down the page story.

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At the top of the page in recent days was a speech by President Michael D. Higgins to mark National Holocaust Memorial Day. 

Of course, looking back at that standout horror of the twentieth century invariably draws the mind to the present day. There is nothing on the scale of The Holocaust occurring today, but invariably there are events that are prompting some to compare past and present in principle.

President Higgins alluded to this in his speech stating in part: "Today is a day in which we reflect on that monument to hatred that the Holocaust constitutes, to engage with the moral challenge of asking what it teaches us, as to how hatred of ‘the Other’ is generated, sustained inter-generationally, tolerated, made possible by the apathy of those who should have cared, and we must recognise how such indifference can have the gravest of consequences.

"It is a privileged opportunity then for all of us to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. It is a day for everyone to recall and respond to the reality of a shared but diverse humanity that was rejected and defiled, a day to remember all those millions of people murdered in their name of being ‘different’, because of some characteristic intrinsic to their being, something that was an essential part of their identity – be it their ethnicity, faith or sexual orientation.

"Such a recall as we make has a relevance for our present circumstances. We live in a world that is going through a period of rising political authoritarianism, polarisation, and violence. It is an atmosphere that threatens democracy and promotes racism, division and exclusion.

"While we come together today to remember the victims of the Holocaust, it is important that we recognise the very significant trauma of recent events, following the appalling atrocities which took place on 7th October perpetuated by Hamas. The violence of that action, the killing, abuse and abduction of hostages from their families, of other young people attending a music festival, was a horrific and morally reprehensible act.

"We must work together to ensure that hatred and anti-migrant feeling, for example, are not allowed to deepen their shadow across Europe and the world. In the delivery of a moral context in our lives, we are all migrants in time.

"If we believe that life itself is paramount, that all lives matter, then we must acknowledge too that, since 7th October, far too many lives, and particularly those of women and children, have already been lost. In order for 2024 to see the beginning of the process of recovery for all those who have been so devastated by the events of recent months, including those who have lost their lives in both Israel and Gaza, it is incumbent on all nations to redouble their efforts for an immediate ceasefire, the release of all hostages, and to commence the task of achieving such a lasting and meaningful peace as can provide security for Israel, while at the same time realising the rights of the Palestinian people.

"As anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, racism, homophobia and intolerance are once again on the rise in parts of Europe and many parts of the world, we must as we remember the Holocaust collectively, ensure the lesson it offered to the world with such cruelty and hate, of regarding others as lesser, inferior in rights or participation, are heard and understood. The Holocaust was enabled by a regime of systematic murder that began by the manipulation of language and the spreading of fear. We, in our times, must be alert to the identification and confrontation of hate speech in any of its many guises.

"We must work together to ensure that hatred and anti-migrant feeling, for example, are not allowed to deepen their shadow across Europe and the world. In the delivery of a moral context in our lives, we are all migrants in time.

"I believe that it is vital, as new generations emerge, and their world ostensibly becomes further removed, in measured time, from the horrific event that is the Holocaust, that they are made acutely aware of the consequences of complicit actions of silence, of the averted gaze, of those who, by their culpable indifference, allowed the Holocaust to occur, all of those who participated in it, who facilitated it. We must ensure that every generation understands the horrors of the Holocaust and what it teaches us about the nadir of basic human morality to which humanity can sink.

"Such a move requires us to confront the horror of this period, but we must never forget the deeper challenge of asking how did it come to be? How can a process of dehumanisation be so effective and with such little resistance? What indifference, beyond any manipulation of ignorance and hatred, allowed it to become the terminus of horror that we commemorate today?

"Many around the world remember the Holocaust atrocities in different ways. In recent times, as part of the Crocus Project, Sabina and I planted yellow crocus bulbs in the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin.  We were joined by a group of children to remember the 1.5-million Jewish children who suffered and perished in the Holocaust and the thousands of other children who were victims of Nazi atrocities.

"Let us continue to plant the alternative seeds that may yield a more peaceful co-existence on this shared, vulnerable planet."

And so say all of us.