That the Western world is experiencing a crisis of political imagination is clear from the casual, everyday allusions to the Holocaust. Across the media, talk of Hitler and genocide and the 1930s is widespread. I’ve stopped counting the number of times I’ve heard people use the phrase ‘he’s like Hitler’ to describe someone they disagree with or fear. Today’s world is just like the 1930s, assert commentators and politicians. And of course the go-to metaphor for evil is the Holocaust. Comparing contemporary events with the period of the Holocaust has become the incantation of every third-rate sophist in search of an argument.
More and more public figures are becoming addicted to using the idiom of Nazism to score a political point. Some expect to have a monopoly over this language and will criticise others who adopt the same rhetorical strategy. Consider UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson. Last May, during the Brexit referendum campaign, he condemned the EU for pursuing the same goal as Hitler: establishing a European superstate. Yet last month he rightly criticised Labour MPs for ‘demeaning the Holocaust’ by comparing President Donald Trump to Hitler.
Listening to the recent parliamentary debate over Trump’s state visit to the UK, one could be forgiven for thinking we were back in September 1938, in the aftermath of Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler over the annexation of parts of Czechoslovakia. Veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner, who has forgotten nothing and learned nothing since entering parliament in 1970, mentioned Hitler and Mussolini in the same breath as Trump before accusing the government of collaborating with the ‘fascist’ Führer in the White House.
Another Labour MP, Mike Gapes, demonstrated his formidable grasp of historiography by portraying Theresa May as a latter-day Chamberlain, before confirming his reputation as a witty parliamentarian by branding her ‘Theresa the appeaser’. And just in case you were still clasping to the belief that we are in 2017, not the 1930s, the Labour MP Nic Dakin provided the killer argument. ‘Holocaust survivors have said this reminds them of the 1930s’, he declared. All that was missing was some eager MP claiming that graffiti of a swastika spotted on a wall somewhere in England reminded him of Kristallnacht.
Some Holocaust-mongers lose all sense of moral perspective when they exploit this catastrophic event for their own political ends. I remember being dumbstruck by the title of an article written by an animal-rights activist: ‘Is it offensive to compare the Holocaust with the meat industry?’ The answer to this rhetorical question, predictably enough, was ‘No’. Why? Because ‘if you go to any meat production house and replace the animals with Jews, that’s exactly what you’ll have: a holocaust’. The casual manner in which Jews can be ‘replaced’ in discussions of the Holocaust shows how far this event has been decontextualised from history, and turned into a transcendental morality play. It seems the fact that Jews were the main target of the Holocaust is purely incidental, so replacing Jews with sheep is considered a legitimate exercise in logic. CONTINUE AT SITE