By Mumia Abu-Jamal
Mention the word “Holocaust,” and images flood the mind; the shadowed visage of Nazis marching in lockstep, steel swastikas glinting in twilight; dull-eyed, emaciated bodies, their stomachs sunken into their spines, dumped unceremoniously into open pits, discarded like garbage, stacked as if mere cardboard; the frenzied speeches of Germany’s undisputed Leader—der Fuehrer—German Chancellor, or Reichskanzler, Adolph Hitler, urging his minions on to more and greater evils, in the name of an ideal of white supremacy.
For millions of people, the brutalities of World War II marked a turning point. It sparked a human rights movement that has tried to transform the world, so that the vicious brutalities of the early 1940s would never be repeated. For millions of Jewish survivors of the carnage in Europe, the words “Never Again” captured the feeling that never again could the world permit such actions against people. Their experience in the hellholes of Europe, in Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and Treblinka death camps strengthened the global struggle against anti-Semitism and racism.
In international law, the Geneva Conventions, which were originally written in 1864, were amended and expanded in 1949, largely as a direct result of the experiences of the war, to protect civilians from the powers of a State, and to specifically outlaw torture. The 1949 conventions specifically protected civilians, and prisoners, and excluded war as a government pretext to violate such human rights.
And yet, as this is written, a man who described the Geneva Conventions as “quaint,” and who has advised the nation’s executive ways to “get around” the Conventions, is poised to take the highest office in the law—attorney general.
Sixty years ago, Auschwitz and its sisters were shut down, as the then-Soviet Union and the United States were rolling up the Nazis and crushing their formidable war machine. Now, the U.S. runs torture chambers in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba. They ship out those they want to sub-torturers in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, or elsewhere.
Today, concentration camps are filled in Africa’s Sudan, where a rabid nationalist, Islamic government supports the Janjawid, a group of state-supported terrorists, who methodically burn out villages in Darfur, poison the wells, and repeatedly rape the women, all to secure the territory for the central government because of its oil reserves.
“Never Again?” Perhaps. When it comes to Africans, “never” doesn”t quite mean, “never.” Torture is compared to college pranks by right-wing fascists in America, and indeed, so did the former Pennsylvania prison guard, Specialist Chuck Graner, who, while on duty at Abu Ghraib’s torture center, likened stacking naked men in pyramids to college girls doing half-time gymnastics!
When the Nazis were performing their atrocities in the German heartland, citizens easily looked the other way, conditioned as they were by the rants of the radical monk, Luther, and the dark forebodings of the German thinker, Nietzsche, leavened by the mass propaganda of Nazi wordmeister, Goebbels, who saw the Jews as untermenschen, or in the words of a Nazi edict, “life unworthy of life.”
Today, American nationalism, fueled by the fear of 9-11, has allowed torture to be practiced in its name, and has exalted men who see the infliction of physical and psychological pain and torment, as something “quaint.” It has looked at the hells of Sudan, and blinked, turning away, for Black life, in America as in Africa, remains “life unworthy of life.”
“Never Again?” Yes, again—and again—and again—and again.
—Copyright Mumia Abu-Jamal, January 27, 2005