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  • Holocaust Memorial Day - the debate 2005 - 2007 (updated February 2008)
  • HMD 2005
  • Community debate on HMD 2007: Salma Yaqoob raises questions
  • Most recent updates - 30th January 2007
  • Most recent updates - 3rd December 2007
  • Most recent updates - 4th February 2008

    HMD 2005

    The fifth Holocaust Memorial Day on 27th January 2005 was a gruelling episode for Muslims in Britain. The community's representative body, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), was apparently subject to intense pressures from Government and the media to change its past position of non-attendance. The MCB's stand was that it unequivocally condemned the Nazis' acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing of Jews and gypsies, but participation required extending remembrance to other continuing genocides. HMD 2005 was a milestone in the history of the community because it marks a transition to a different type of engagement with mainstream society.

    This dossier collates

  • evidence of the pressures brought to bear
  • the national conversation
  • evidence of alliances
  • the matters arising

    Evidence of the pressures

    The Muslim Association of Britain's press release of 27th January 2005 stated that it "welcomes and fully supports the stand taken by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), the main umbrella Muslim organisation in Britain, in boycotting the Holocaust Memorial Day functions". Significantly, the Association's statement continued, "the attack and immense pressure that the MCB has come under as a result wishes to undermine its principled stand that the horrendous crimes committed against the Jews in Europe in the early and mid-20th century, must be condemned and denounced in the same breath as the crimes committed against innocent people throughout the world today".

    The 'immense pressure' to bring Muslims into line is possibly a reference to the displeasure expressed by Government ministers to the MCB if it did not reverse the policy of 'unwillingness to attend'. The pressure was also apparent in the Home Office's choice of a Muslim civil servant, Fahmia Huda, as head of the section for Holocaust Memorial Day (reported in Jewish Chronicle, 24/12/04).

    The MP Khalid Mahmood, declared: "I'm proud to be a Muslim. But if people are boycotting this then I think it's a mistake. People who were exterminated in the Holocaust were not just Jews. There were Romany gypsies as well. Anybody who is interested in human rights should support this remembrance."[1] Afzal Khan, a Labour activist with insights into Party workings observed, "I hope is some discussion between the Home Office and the Muslim Council of Britain. It's in everyone's interests to learn the lessons of the Holocaust and make sure it doesn't happen again" (4th Feb 2005, Jewish Chronicle). Both statements are well-meaning attempts to defuse a stand-off.

    David Leppard, writing in the Sunday Times, suggested that the Home Office was unable to accommodate the request to make HMD more inclusive because this would be taken as a snub to the memories of victims and survivors, causing "anger to the Jewish communities" (23rd January 2005). A spokesperson for the Board of Deputies of British Jews however clarified what must have been a major cause for concern if HMD was made more inclusive, "It is regrettable that they [the MCB] have declined this year especially as we commemorate the liberation of the camps by Allied forces….The Board refute any suggestion that the Israelis are committing genocide."


    The national conversation

    The Muslim community's stand - unfashionable but principled - initiated a discussion within the print and Internet media that would not otherwise have taken place.

    The editorials in the broadsheets were hostile to the MCB, but accommodated the presentation of an alternative point of view in the best traditions of a free press.

    For example, The Guardian's editorial on 26th January 2005 took the MCB to task; however the following day it published a response

    The Guardian - editorial

    "....But there is a universal lesson about turning people of different backgrounds and beliefs (Roma, communists and gays also suffered and died in the camps) into pariahs - the first step, as Primo Levi warned, to physical extermination. So it is unfortunate that the Muslim Council of Britain is not taking part in tomorrow's UK event, eliding ongoing "ethnic cleansing, mass killings and human rights abuses" in Kashmir, Chechnya and Palestine with the Nazi genocide it justly abhors. There is no point pretending that there was no link between the creation of Israel and the crooked path that led to Auschwitz. And no point either in pretending that what happened there has been surpassed in its unremitting horror..."

    The Guardian - Letter to the Editor

    A leading article in yesterday's Guardian chastises the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) for not taking part in Holocaust Memorial Day. The view held by the MCB since the inception of Holocaust Memorial Day in 2001 is that the subtext of the memorial day - "Never Again" - is diluted by the exclusive nature of the event.

    The memorial day would in our opinion be better served by covering the ongoing mass killings and human rights abuses in our world, and thus make the cry "Never Again" real for all people who suffer, even now. We must do more than just reflect on the past. We must be able to recognise when similar abuses occur in our own time.

    Not to acknowledge current and recent genocides would be to undermine the benefits of remembrance, deprecate lessons learnt from the Nazi Holocaust and call into question our commitment to prevent current and future inhumanity. The Nazi Holocaust began with a hatred of an entire people because of their religion and ethnic identity. To reflect a more tolerant and inclusive Britain, we believe that Holocaust Memorial Day ought to be renamed "Genocide Memorial Day" to make no distinction between genocides undertaken against people of other religions and ethnicity.
    Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary General Muslim Council of Britain

    Similarly, The Times's editorial of 28th January 2005 was followed up by a response in the letters' pages:

    The Times - editorial

    "...Auschwitz should never be forgotten. But it must not be invoked too often. To link this mass extermination with other, lesser conflicts and cruelties, or even to raise the spectre of Auschwitz in the cut and thrust of democratic debate - as has happened in Britain - is to demean the victims and negate the unique horror. This does not mean that mankind should not bear in mind the depths that Auschwitz revealed or ignore its lessons. We know now, as we did not in 1939, where political extremism and racial incitement can lead. We know why the world must still react swiftly to fanaticism; when it did not, the results have been shocking. Srebrenica and atrocities in Bosnia, the genocide in Rwanda, Saddam's gassing of the Kurds and the continuing killings in Darfur are reminders that people and nations can still be guided by evil.

    Attempts to relativise Auschwitz - was it worse than Stalin's gulags? - are also misplaced. Even worse is the playing-down of its significance in an attempt to tap indignation for other causes: the Palestinians, Chechnya or Kashmir. The Muslim Council of Britain's decision to boycott commemorations here was reprehensible. Britons, like all Europeans, must share the legacy of such evil".

    The Times - Letter to the editor

    ...The decision by the Muslim Council of Britain to decline the invitation to this year's Holocaust Memorial Day was not intended to belittle the horror of the Nazi Holocaust. The view held by the MCB - ever since the inception of Holocaust Memorial Day in 2001 - is that the subtext of the memorial day -"Never Again" - is greatly diluted by the exclusive nature of the event.

    The memorial day would in our opinion be better served by also covering more recent and ongoing mass killings and human rights abuses in our world, and thus make the cry "Never Again" real for all people who suffer, even now. In the last decade we have seen genocide take place in both Rwanda (1 million killed in the space of a few weeks) and Chechnya (10% of its population has been killed since the Russians launched their first invasion in 1994) and Bosnia. We need to do more than just reflect on the past. We must be able to recognise when similar abuses occur in our own time.

    Not to acknowledge current and recent genocides would be to undermine the benefits of remembrance, deprecate lessons learnt from the Nazi Holocaust and call into question our commitment to prevent current and future inhumanity. The Nazi Holocaust began with a hatred of an entire people because of their religion and ethnic identity. To reflect a more tolerant and inclusive Britain, we believe that Holocaust Memorial Day ought to be renamed "Genocide Memorial Day" to make no distinction between genocides undertaken against people of other religions and ethnicity. Is that really so 'reprehensible'?

    Inayat Bunglawala, Media Committee, MCB

    The MCB's stand was supported by a number of Muslim community bodies:

    - Da'watul Islam in its press release of 31st January 2005 entitled 'What more is there to learn?' noted "…just like the Nazis rounded up and sent Jews to ghettos that were set up and run by the bloodthirsty SS, the Israeli government has doen the same in the Palestinian territories….We as a society must root out religious hatred, racism, and discrimination of all forms to say that we truly remember the victims of the holocaust otherwise its just lip service ".[2]

    - Friends of Al-Aqsa on 27th January 2005, in its press release stated, "Friends of Al-Aqsa support the Muslim Council of Britain's stance in not attending the Holocaust Memorial Ceremony today, despite probably unprecedented media-fuelled pressure. Like all reasonable men and women, the members of Friends of Al-Aqsa abhor the crimes committed by Nazi Germany against the Jewish people in particular, and the world in general. However, it is our belief that unless the memorial day reflects the sufferings of all people irrespective of colour or creed or when and where crimes against humanity have taken place, then we cannot participate in remembrance programmes..."[3]

    By raising their heads above the parapet in this manner the community was able to offer society an alternative perspective not only at the national domestic level but also overseas [4]. The MCB's web site bravely published emails it received that were severely critical of its stand as well as the messages of understanding and support. [5]

    Some examples of e-mails commenting on the stand not to attend HMD

    "The MCBs response to the media's misrepresentation of it stance on Holocaust Memorial Day is an excellent one. I'm not sure that the term 'Islamaphobia' adequately describes the media's attitudes which your organisation traditionally challenges. A 'Phobia' is an irrational fear of something - usually resulting in a response which is out of all proportion to the threat. The media is supposed to be informed and educated - its treatment of Islamic issues should not be coming from the perspective of ignorance. Perhaps we should call it by it's true name: Bigotry."

    "Having read an editorial in today's Guardian, I was wondering why the MCB was not taking part in the nationwide Holocaust memorial events. While your statement on your website clarifies the position somewhat, it seems rather pithy to say that because the memorial is not wide enough in ambit and as these things continue today, somehow that's a 'principled position' from which to stay away. Does this not just prove easy pickings for those who would exploit such events to reinforce their Islamaphobia and spread it to others? Would it have been so difficult to send a representative or two to events around the country to prevent these peoples' stereotypes being utilised? Please do not take these comments and questions as harsh words. While I see and understand your position, they are intended as constructive criticism during this difficult time."


    Evidence of alliances

    An analysis of the HMD 2005 episode indicates that provides evidence of two types of alliances that do not seek to engage in a conversation, but rather perpetuate a monologue:

    - supporters of extremist views on race
    - unquestioning supporters of Israel's policy

    An example of the former is the Sunday Express - the paper that employed the infamous Kilroy-Silk as a weekly columnist and published 'We owe Arabs nothing' (4th January 2004). Almost exactly a year earlier, on 30th January 2005, it offered a new invective:

    Why won't our Muslims remember? Islamic leaders were wrong to shun Holocaust memorial

    YOU'D have thought that everyone could agree that the Holocaust is worth commemorating and that racial, religious and political differences could be put aside to remind us of the slaughter of more than six million people. The Holocaust was not just a crime against Jews, it was the crime that gave name and meaning in international law to the phrase "crime against humanity". It is the despicable emblem of Europe's worst regime. If it is not the largest slaughter in human history it was the most systematic, the most degenerate.

    But that is not enough for the main group that represents Britain's Muslims, who declined to take part in the profoundly moving events of last week. The Muslim Council of Britain styles itself as the moderate bulwark against the jihadi fanatics with whom it competes for media attention - but with its every public utterance I find myself thinking: "With moderates like these, who needs extremists?"

    When it emerged that the MCB did not want to take part because Holocaust Day would not mention violence against Palestinians today, there was outrage. The Council issued a clarification saying they "stand together with our fellow British Jews in their sense of pain and anguish" but insisted that "the memorial day [should] be inclusive of the sufferings of all people".

    But if they really stand with their fellow man, why does MCB leader Iqbal Sacranie not stand with him at a memorial?

    There is clearly a feeling among some Muslims that the Holocaust is used by Jews to justify Israeli violence and that it is evidence of their selfabsorption that they still recall the agony 60 years later. To Jew and non-Jew alike, that is sickening. In fact, it is these so-called moderate Muslim leaders who are consumed with a "me, me, me" attitude that means they cannot see past their own grievances.

    It is doubly perverse because the Muslim Council is passing up a PR opportunity by acknowledging the complicity of some Muslims in the Holocaust.

    The Catholic Church has been condemned for its failure to speak out in the Forties and has apologised but we seldom hear about Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem who spent much of the war in Berlin as a guest of Hitler. He recruited tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims into the SS. His Arab Legions massacred thousands of partisan Serbs, Jews and gypsies and he encouraged Hitler to extend the Final Solution to the Jews of North Africa and Palestine. Yasser Arafat later referred to al-Husseini as "uncle" and "a hero".

    But instead of behaving like a serious national figure, Mr Sacranie would rather act the part of a young child who, for one day, has to put up with the arrival of a new baby that needs more attention than him.

    The Express on Sunday, 30th January 2005

    The reference to Muslim involvement in World War II is a distortion and misinformation of Kilroy-Silkian standards. It overlooks the numbers of Muslim service men who fought - and gave their lives - within units of the British Army in all the main theatres of war.

    There is also evidence of a concerted campaign directed by the BNP based on the same silly argument:

    BNP site

    "The historical price this country has paid for freedom of speech is the body count of two World Wars. We shall never surrender any of our rights without a struggle. Perhaps Mr. Sacranie forgets the role the Muslim SS had in fighting for the Germans in the Second World War."

    Extract from Emails published on the MCB web site

    From Mr E. English [sic] "I believe that this is an ideal opportunity for Moslems to show repentance for their part in the Holocaust. For example the friendship of The Mufti of Jerusalem with Hitler and his part in the development of the final solution expressed during his tour of Auschwitz. Also the atrocities committed by the Hanzar Division at the Jasenovar Camp in the Balkans".

    A number of journalists known as partisans on the issue of Israel were also prominent in the HMD 2005 episode, coming across as Muslim-bashers.

    Melanie Phillips

    "Countries around the world marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz yesterday - but the Muslim Council of Britain did not take part in the commemorations for reasons that belie an underlying anti-Semitism...The MCB's position was of course the most revolting humbug. If Sacranie really thinks that Jewish and Palestinian suffering should always be commemorated together, then why doesn't he mention the victims of the Holocaust every time he protests about the Palestinian conflict?....In addition, Sacranie grossly and grotesquely libelled Israel, the country formed from the ashes of the Holocaust and the persecution of Jews in Arab countries, by accusing it of "genocide" against the Palestinians, equating Israel with the Nazis, the form of Holocaust denial de jour in our morally degraded times and the current stock-in-trade of Jew-haters from all points of the compass....Israel, it should not need saying - but tragically does - is not committing genocide, as is patently obvious to anyone looking at Palestinian society going about its daily business. All Israel is doing is attempt to defend itself from being annihilated and its citizens from being murdered. Incidents of rough treatment or humiliation of Palestinians by Israel occur; they are reprehensible and should be punished. But in the context of a 50-year war waged against its very existence, following half a century of attempted ethnic cleansing of the Jews of Palestine before that, Israel has behaved overall with a restraint that would not be found in any other country in the world".[6]

    Daniel Finkelstein

    ..."The extraordinary decision of the supposedly mainstream Muslim Council of Britain that they are unwilling to attend this week's commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz did not attract as much media attention as I thought it would and feel it should have. The council should be more concerned than I am about this, because it suggests strongly that most of the press have given up expecting any better from them. I retain my capacity for amazement and dismay. It is a disgraceful thing to have decided."[7]


    The matters arising

    HMD 2005 has provided the Muslim community an opportunity to reflect on its internal consultative processes and institutional independence from Government and media pressure. It will review its stand on participation in 2006, but this will be based on debate and discussion, rather than responding to fiat. Some years ago, a respected British political scientist feared the emergence of a national representative body on the grounds that "I don't think that the Muslim community in Britain should centralize itself within one leadership figure, partly because I think that the risks of such a leadership being incorporated into British establishment are very great" [8]. This episode suggests that the risk has now diminished and that Muslims in Britain have a greater self-confidence to seek to reshape entrenched cultural practices and replace 'a monologue that pretends to be a debate' with a genuine dialogue between the political elite of the country and a new but permanent constituency.



    [1] Statement of Khalid Mahmoud, MP

    [2] Da'watul Islam

    [3] Friends of Al-Aqsa

    [4] Examples of international media coverage of the the stand taken by Muslims in Britain
    Boston Globe

    [5] Emails to the MCB
    [6] Melanie Phillips
    [7] Daniel Finkelstein The Times, 26th Jan 2005

    [8] S. Sayyid, contributions in a seminar held on 8th May 2002, organized by the Islamic Foundation, Leicester and the Citizenship Organising Foundation. For details see 'British Muslims - Loyalty and Belonging', Islamic Foundation, 2003

    MCB's statement on the Holocaust Memorial Day 2005

    In response to media queries about this year's Holocaust Memorial Day, the Muslim Council of Britain has made the following statement to correct any false impression that may have been created by a misleading report in the Sunday Times (23rd January 2005) entitled 'Muslims Boycott Holocaust Remembrance':

    1. The Nazi Holocaust was a truly evil and abhorrent crime and we stand together with our fellow British Jews in their sense of pain and anguish. None of us must ever forget how the Holocaust began. We must remember it began with a hatred that dehumanised an entire people, that fostered state brutality, made second class citizens of honest, innocent people because of their religion and ethnic identity. Those who were vilified and seen as a threat could be subjected to group punishment; dispossession and impoverishment while the rest of the world stood idly by, washing its hands off despair and suffering that kept getting worse. The MCB believes, that we have therefore to do more than just remember and reflect on the past - we must be able to see when the same abuses occur in our own time.

    2. The MCB's principled position from the outset since 2001 - when the Holocaust Memorial Day was first commemorated - has been for the memorial day to be inclusive of the sufferings of all people and urged that it be named the 'Genocide Memorial Day'. The best living memorial for the victims of the Nazi Holocaust is trying to ensure that we make the cry 'Never Again' real for all people who suffer, everywhere. We honour the dead most sincerely by working to end suffering and bring peace with justice to those who live without hope today.

    3. Sadly, 'Ethnic cleansing' and mass killings are not a thing of the past; they are a continuing terror. Remembrance must, therefore, refocus our moral vision and rededicate our commitment to prevent current and future inhumanity, state brutality and crimes against humanity. In order to help ensure that such crimes against humanity do not recur and repeat themselves we believe that the Memorial Day can better be observed by making it inclusive to cover the ongoing mass killings and human rights abuses around the world, notably, in the occupied Palestinian Territories, Chechnya and Kashmir and also recent mass killings and genocide on Bosnia, Kosova and Rwanda. Genocide is the most abhorrent and outrageous crime and we are not going to prevent it by selectively remembering only some of its victims. (issued 24th January 2005 -

    Community debate HMD 2007: Salma Yaqoob raises questions (updated 26th Jan 2007)

    In December 2006 a debate remerged within the Muslim community on whether its representative bodies such as the Muslim Council of Britain should participate in Holocaust Memorial Day on 27th January 2007. This time round, the debate had to take into account a recent statement by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Ruth Kelly MP, which appeared to link commitment to community cohesion with this participation:

    "There are also some people who don’t feel it right to join in the commemorations of Holocaust Memorial Day even though it has helped raise awareness not just of the Jewish holocaust, but also more contemporary atrocities like the Rwanda genocide. That’s also their right. But I can’t help wondering why those in leadership positions who say they want to achieve religious tolerance and a cohesive society would choose to boycott an event which marks, above all, our common humanity and respect for each other. When society’s core values are transgressed, it can, as a minimum, lead to resentment. But at worst if we fail to assert and act to implement our shared values this makes us weaker in the fight against extremism and allows it to flourish".[For further details click here].

    This heavy handed approach was to influence the subsequent debate within the community's leadership, meeting at the Islamic Cultural Centre in London in mid-December 2006. A eloquent case for participation was made by Salma Yaqoob though there were equally compelling dissenting voices (see below). The MCB subsequently announced that it was launching a consultation exercise within the community - while presumably not attending HMD 2007. Salaam invites you to consider some of the arguments for and against and email in your views to

    The case for participation

    "The freedom for Muslims to express their identity in Europe is today under attack. Implicit in this attack is the view that Islam is intrinsically repressive, and embodies values alien to western values of liberty, tolerance and democracy. The memory of the Holocaust stands against such a grossly sanitised view of European history. It reminds us that in the heart of modern Europe the demonisation of a religious and cultural minority culminated in genocide - the mass, industrialised slaughter of European Jews. Why then, with European Muslims subject to attacks reminiscent of the gathering storms of anti-semitism in the first decades of the last century, has Holocaust Memorial Day become such a difficult issue for some British Muslims?

    One objection has been outlined by Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain. "There have been many further instances of genocide and mass killings since we vowed 'never again' in response to the Nazi crimes," he has pointed out. "Do the innocent killed in those horrific episodes not equally deserve to be commemorated in a more inclusive and aptly titled Genocide Memorial Day?"

    But it's one thing to argue that Holocaust Memorial Day pays insufficient attention to broader experiences of genocide - quite another to boycott it altogether. Without minimising the impact of other atrocities in recent history, I believe the Holocaust does have a special significance, not only for its brutality, but for the industrial organisation of its genocide. It is significant because it represented the culmination of a political philosophy which labelled Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, Africans and many others as "subhuman". It is significant because of the ambition of its perpetrators to reorganise the globe along lines of racial hierarchy. Fascism is utterly opposed to our most fundamental beliefs about the worth of human beings. And the Holocaust embodies the reality of fascism in power. As fascists once again make political inroads across Europe - increasingly with Muslims as their target - it is all the more necessary that new generations are never allowed to forget that reality". Salma Yaqoob writing in The Guardian, 21st December 2006

    " I am clearly one of those foolish Muslims who have "succumbed to Zionist pressure". I think the salutary lessons of the Holocaust should be remembered. I think that Holocaust Memorial Day, designated by the UK, with the support of the United Nations, as 27 January, is an important commemoration. And I think that Muslims should take an active part in the memorial service and other commemorative events across Britain. But the Muslim Council of Britain, which has been denouncing Holocaust Memorial Day since its inception in 2001, believes that Muslims who think like me have crossed over to the enemy camp and become Zionist sympathisers. "Sir" Iqbal Sacranie, the increasingly nutty secretary general of the council, has refused to attend the memorial service. While the council has repeatedly condemned the Nazi atrocities as "an enormous crime against humanity", it wants the day renamed "Genocide Memorial Day", so that it can be "inclusive of the sufferings of all people" and recognise horrors such as the genocide of Muslims in Chechnya and Bosnia. Until this is done, it says, Muslims should shun the event, and those who continue to support it are traitors to the cause of Islam....

    The Holocaust cannot be generalised. It is unparalleled both in its sheer magnitude and the sophistication with which it was carried out. As Zygmunt Bauman, one of our most profound social thinkers, shows in Modernity and the Holocaust, the systematic genocide of the Jews would not have been possible without modern means of management and execution. The Holocaust is thus a distinct product of modernity and, as such, it is also an event specific to the history of modernity. Moreover, as a turning point in how difference was seen, it is a special moment in European history.

    Jews as Jews naturally have a right to mark this most horrendous moment in their history. And Muslims, as human beings, should not only join them in their sorrow and suffering but should learn its significance for modernity. By refusing to attend Holocaust Memorial Day the Muslim Council of Britain did more than show its ignorance of European history. It unwittingly declared that Jewish suffering was less important than the suffering of others. If Muslims are concerned about Bosnia and Chechnya, let them organise their own memorial days for these genocides - and invite Jews and others to participate in these events. But Muslims have no right to demean the horror experienced by Jews...". Ziauddin Sardar writing in New Statesman, 23rd January 2006

    19th January 2007

    "Holocaust Memorial Day is an important day in our religious calendar... As a Muslim, my religion has some of its origins in Jewish and Christian traditions, this is for sure. But the official voice of Islam refuses to attend this important day.

    I was fortunate enough to be asked to visit Krakow earlier this week, and I took the opportunity to spend a day at the Auswitz death camps and see for myself the inhumanity of our recent existence. The Nazi killing machine, building up to six killing sites in Poland, annihilated up to 6m people. Certainly, in Auswitz alone, up to 1.5m Jews were killed, and some estimates suggested that as many as 4.5m people actually entered the camps between 1942 and 1945, after the Final Solution was put into place by the Third Reich. Ninety per cent of those killed in Auswitz were Jews, with Poles, Russians and Roma making up most of the rest....At end of the Second World War, the USA and Britain finally woke up to the reality of the horror in Poland, and moves led to the established of a nation for the Jews. The words ‘this must never happen again’ in relation to the Holocaust are imprinted in the history of this planet. But aside from the politics of suffering, which is politically instrumentalised by both Muslims and Zionists, there are important distinctions one must keep in perspective. Innocent men, women and children, people of God, died for no apparent reason than their religion and culture. As Muslims, we must recognise that the events of 60 years ago are simply too recent in our living past to dismiss so lightly. There has been much genocide since then, most recently in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, but the experience of the Jews is one that cannot be easily compared with. Jews died for what they believed. They died because a fascistic killing machine deemed it so. And yet, we sit aside and avoid an official recognition. An important spiritual, cultural and politically strategic opportunity is being sadly missed, and it does not bode well for British Muslims if the official voice of British Islam continues to refuse to attend this austere occasion. Dr Tahir Abbas, 19th January 2007

    Dissenting voices

    1. That the event is not inclusive remains true. To quote from Professor David Ceserani, who is now a trustee of the HMD Trust: "the Palestinians experienced a catastrophe in 1948 and still endure the consequences, but to call it "genocidal" and place it on a par with Auschwitz exposes the distorted use of the term" (16th September 2005, The Guardian). So there is no concession on accepting the Palestinian genocide. The Annual Report of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust 2005 - 2006 states, "Holocaust Memorial Day is an incredibly powerful vehicle for commemorating the victims of the Holocaust and genocides like those in Bosnia and Rwanda. It is an opportunity for people to learn about the Holocaust, and its application to addressing major issues in British society today, in particular, racism, xenophobia, discrimination and bigotry". Again, an unwillingness to include the Palestinian tragedy in the list.

    2. Non-participation in HMD in its current dispensation should not be construed as indifference to the Holocaust tragedy. Organisations like the MCB have declared their abhorrence of the horrendous crimes against the Jews conducted by the Nazis. Non-attendance is not to be equated with anti-semitism. History is witness to the solace and protection given to Jewish communities by Muslim individuals and institutions - take the case of Jewish children saved in Paris during the World War 2 or the history of Salonica. It is entirely feasible to accept the Holocaust's magnitude without having to join in an event.

    3. The Government has confused the situation by creating a linkage between HMD participation and the Government's anti-terrorism strategy - see Ruth Kelly's statement of 11th October 2006.The community will not be pushed into HMD participation for fear of appearing weak on extremism. There should be no doubt that it utterly condemns criminal activity, whoever perpetrates it.

    4. HMD has been politicised - even Salma Yaqoob notes, "The way in which Zionists have abused the memory of the Holocaust to bolster support for today's Israeli state and its racist and murderous policies towards the Palestinians repels many Muslims, as well as some anti-Zionist Jews, from participating."

    For example in 2006, at the UN's Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Israel Ambassador Dan Gillerman used the occasion to rally support for Israel, by stating "We sound an alarm, a call to arms, and a wake-up call to the world. A world in which a member state of this organisation calls for wiping Israel off the face of the earth…" (JC, 3rd Feb 2006).

    The Holocaust is readily invoked to silence criticism of Israel. For example the Chief Rabi expressed his anger with the General Synod's debate on disinvestment in companies providing equipment for the construction of illegal settlements in Israel using the following language that included reference to the Holocaust: "Church has chosen to take a stand on the politics of the Middle East over which it has no influence, knowing that it will have the most adverse repercussions on a situation over which it has enormous influence, namely Jewish-Christian relations in Britain. That is why we cannot let the matter rest. If there was one candle of hope above all others after the Holocaust it was that Jews and Christians at last learned to speak to one another after some 17 centuries of hostility that led to exiles, expulsions, ghettoes, forced conversions, staged disputations, libels, inquisitions, burnings at the stake, massacres and pogroms" (from an article by Ruth Gledhill, The Times).

    In Britain, the Board of Deputies too has been quick to give a political colouring to incidents. For example in 2002, Home Secretary David Blunkett could not attend the Holocaust Memorial Day in Manchester. This was then criticized by Board of Deputies, whose President Jo Wagerman had written him an 'angry letter'. The Jewish Chronicle of 15th March 2002 quoted Jo Wagerman's explanation of why she did this: "it was written…at a time when there was major concern in all sections of the community that the Government was showing no interest in retaining its Jewish support, concerned instead to win Muslim backing for the US-led anti-terrorism legislation".

    5. The question also needs to be asked as to why the HMD was first commemorated in the year 2000, almost five decades since the atrocities were known? Where was the nation's conscience for 50 years? For example Tom Lawson, in 'The Church of England and the Holocaust: Christianity, Memory and Nazism' (Boydell & Brewer, 2006) notes that reports of the holocaust began to appear in the UK press by 1942 and when Archbishop Temple pressed the government to act, it "would not budge". And if it took Britain that much time to weigh up the need for an HMD, why this pressure on the MCB to make a decision? Further reading: Norman Finkelstein's 'The Holocaust Industry - reflections on the exploitation of Jewish suffering'

    6. It is the MP for Hendon, Andrew Dismore who has made a determined effort for the establishment of HMD, first raisng the matter in Parliament in 1999. The MP may well be motivated by the purest of humanitarian considerations, but this does not sit will with his reluctance to condemn Israel for its conduct. For example in April this year a coroner's jury ruled that peace activist Tom Hurndall and filmmaker James Miller had been murdered or intentionally killed by the IDF.When Gerald Kaufman MP called for the soldiers responsible to be tried in Britain, Dismore's response was that this would achieve little and that "obviously we too have great sympathy for the families of the two British citizens who have been killed, but the fact remains that Israel is a democracy. It operates under the rule of law".Further reading: 'The silencing of a fearless man'

    Recent Updates

  • Bolton Council decision to cancel HMD -25th Jan
  • The MCB Secretary General's letter to the Acting CEO of HMD - 26th Jan
  • The Guardian's report on MCB - 27th Jan
  • MCB's letter to the editor, The Guardian - 30th Jan

    The Bolton News reports "Bolton Council has sparked outrage by cancelling its annual Holocaust Memorial Day. Town Hall bosses have instead decided to hold a national genocide day later this year. Religious leaders and Bolton councillors have condemned the decision. Rabbi Joseph Lever, of the United Synagogue in Prestwich, has overseen the Bolton memorial service for seven years. He said, 'I mourn the fact that it will not be going ahead in Bolton. School children have been involved and it was always a moving ceremony which would be attended by a sizable crowd'. But a spokesman for Bolton Council said, 'The service is a bit artificial because we have never had a Jewish community to support it. By changing the day it makes the point that it is not about one genocide, but it is about many." Holocaust memorial service fury By Amanda Smith, Bolton News, 25th January 2007

    Responding to an invitation from Mr Nick Joseph, Acting CEO of the Holocaust Memorial Day, Dr Bari, Secretary General of the MCB responded on 26th January 2007, with the following clarification of the organisation's position:

    "There is little doubt that the Nazi holocaust was one of the most horrendous episodes of the last century and indeed a blot on the face of our common humanity. There can be no two views about our total abhorrence and rejection of this gross atrocity, man's inhumanity to man. We at the MCB and for that matter the entire British Muslim community are at one in expressing our total repugnance and detestation of this colossal tragedy. and detestation of this colossal tragedy.

    Our hearts go out to the families of the victims who were fortunate to survive but who have to carry a long-lasting pain. That is why, we all said ‘Never Again’. Sadly, however, that wish remains a forlorn wish, even more than half a century after the Nazi holocaust.

    We, therefore, strongly believe that we require a holistic and comprehensive approach if we want really to exorcise the ‘genocide genie’ from our international body politic. I am sure you are aware that we have, accordingly, always made known our reservations about the exclusivity of HMD and have instead proposed the commemoration of an inclusive Genocide Day. Let me state the obvious, lest it be misunderstood, that these reservations are not about the Nazi holocaust; they are about the HMD and its political connotations.

    Moreover, we do not regard HMD as a theological issue. Being a democratic body, the MCB has to take into account the concerns and sensitivities of the British Muslim community given the unceasing regime of pain and death braced by the occupied and dispossessed people in the Holy Land. Nevertheless, as I said this is not a dogmatic question and the MCB Central Working Committee has been continuously reviewing the subject and searching for common ground.

    Last week's YouGov poll conducted exclusively for the Jewish Chronicle (reported in the JC, 19 January 2007) found that '31% of Britons want the Holocaust Memorial Day to be renamed Genocide Day.' Furthermore: 'Among the over-50s, there was a 38% majority for Genocide Day. In the over all response, 14% felt "the whole idea of any such day is wrong".' British Muslims account for around 2.8 % of the UK population, so those who felt "the whole idea of any such day is wrong" were five-fold greater in number than the entire Muslim population.

    Most recently, the MCB Central Working Committee decided to hold a wider consultation with its 400 plus affiliate bodies but it will be some time before we can accurately gauge the results of this consultation. However, we all seem to be moving towards some common ground, where everyone will be able to join hands and say 'Never Again'.

    The MCB's position on HMD has been totally misconstrued by the Islamophobic parts of our media, hence the reason for providing a slightly more detailed explanation of our inclusivist stance on genocide: all genocides. One last point: this is not a boycott; we are simply staying away, hopefully, temporarily". MCB letter, 26th January 2007

    Vikram Dodd and Hugh Muir report "The MCB will be absent as dignitaries including the chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, and the communities secretary, Ruth Kelly, attend the main Holocaust day commemoration in Newcastle tomorrow. The event has been delayed by 24 hours because the memorial day falls on the sabbath. Organisations such as the Islamic Foundation and the British Muslim Forum will be represented.

    Sources, however, say the current momentum could see the MCB's position reversed by next year. In a letter to the organisers, the secretary general, Muhammad Abdul Bari, says: "This is not a boycott; we are simply staying away, hopefully, temporarily."

    The MCB has stood back because it says the event should focus on all acts of "genocide". It wants a generic approach which would also highlight other issues, such as the treatment of the Palestinians by Israel. Organisers insist the focus is broad - tomorrow's event will also remember the victims of Darfur - but large elements within the MCB and some Muslim communities remain wary.

    It is understood that Daud Abdullah, the deputy secretary general, and affiliate members from the Muslim Association of Britain joined forces to oppose the lifting of the ban at the meeting last November. They were aided by irritation at the way the government has sought to bring the MCB into line. Last October, Ms Kelly appeared to criticise the MCB and suggested that organisations that snubbed the holocaust event might be starved of funds. The source said several people who might have voted to lift the boycott changed their minds because they feared a backlash in the British Muslim communities if they were perceived to be caving in to government pressure.

    He said everyone recognised the horror of the Holocaust. But some also feel the memorial day helps apologists for the government of Israel. "It's as if the Holocaust explains why Israel does what it does in oppressing Palestinians and wreaking havoc in the Middle East on a daily basis," he said.

    Another key figure said all agreed on the need for a "more inclusive" genocide event but disagreed on how that was to be achieved. He said of the boycott: "It hurts us more than we gain from it, and it gives critics a stick with which to beat us, every year. It is a self-inflicted wound. We have no allies on this one."

    Shahid Malik, Labour MP for Dewsbury, said the boycott must be lifted. "Whether they like it or not their current position looks like anti-semitism. I know there was a debate within the MCB. It is unfortunate that the old guard are stuck in a timewarp."

    However, Massoud Shadjareh, chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said the boycott had grassroots support, adding: "If they had made any other decision they would have been wrong-footed. A poll in the Jewish Chronicle showed that 31% of people think there should be a genocide day. This is not an extremist view." He said that without political interference the issue might have been solved: "We didn't have to be in this mess."

    Stephen Smith, chairman of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said the event has grown over seven years. Last year there were 3,200 requests for local activity packs. This year it was 5,300. He said Muslim groups and individuals participated but the absence of the MCB mattered: "This is a national event. We want the nation to participate."

    Fiyaz Mughal, of Muslims Against Anti Semitism and director of Faith Matters, will be part of tomorrow's service. "On a day like this we must come together," he said. "If the MCB is in some way reflecting the grassroots then the grassroots need to be educated. What we need is real leadership." The Guardian report, 27th January 2007

    MCB's letter to the editor, The Guardian

    The meeting referred to in your story (Senior Muslims used secret meeting to urge rethink over Holocaust day snub, January 27) was in fact a scheduled meeting of our central working committee; it was open to elected members only, but we had allowed in a few non-members as well. We do not hold "secret" meetings. Like all review meetings, its outcome could not be pre-determined. There was no question of rethinking a "snub" that never was. That was far from our principled position that we took from day one.

    Like all elected and democratic bodies we have a normal range of views and opinions, so it is really hurtful to see a dividing line painted between so-called "seniors" and others or picking on one of our national affiliates, the Muslim Association of Britain. You correctly state that "the [present] policy was upheld by 23 votes to 14"; however, these "ayes" and "noes" had come from across the entire spectrum, neither mainly "senior", nor mainly MAB.

    The MCB has never regarded HMD as a dogmatic issue. These reservations are not about the Nazi holocaust; they are about the HMD and its political connotation. We continue to review our position and search for common ground. We also see a lessening of dogmatism in the way the general British public opinion is looking at the question. The latest YouGov poll for the Jewish Chronicle found that 31% of Britons want Holocaust memorial day to be renamed as genocide memorial day.

    Incidentally, the Islamic Foundation was not among the organisations that were going to be represented at the January 28 event.

    Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari
    Muslim Council of Britain

    HMD - December 2007

    The MCB's Central Working Committee, meeting at the Islamic Cultural Centre in London on 1st December, reopened its discussions on attendance at the annual commemoration. After review of the findings of a consultation survey, a majority vote led to a reversal of the policy that had linked previous non-attendance to the need to make the event more inclusive. An MCB press release noted, "Whilst noting with satisfaction the results of a national survey that gave full support to MCB's non-participation in the Holocaust Memorial Day in the past, a significant number of respondents have indicated that the MCB should participate in the future for the sake of the common good. It is therefore resolved that the MCB will participate in the Holocaust Memorial Day. The MCB will, in partnership with others, continue to work towards a Genocide Memorial Event in respectful memory of the victims of all genocides."

    Assistant General Secretary Inayat Bunglawala stated, "We have always sought a more inclusive title such as Genocide Memorial Day so that it would also give recognition to more recent massacres such as in Rwanda and that of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica. We wanted to uphold the principle of the equality of all human beings. However, there was a growing recognition among our affiliates that non-attendance of HMD was inadvertently causing hurt to some in the Jewish community. The MCB has always placed a lot of emphasis on inter-faith work and building ties ... so this was becoming a problem."

    The Guardian, 3rd December 2007

    MCB Press release, 3rd December 2007

    HMD - February 2008

    The MCB was represented by its Assistant Secretary General Tahir Alam at the Liverpool rememberance on Sunday 27th January. Speakers were Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Archbishop Rowan Williams. Various public statements have welcomed MCB's presence:

  • Trevor Phillips - "It should also clear the way for genuine consideration of the proposal made by the MCB and other organisations for a commemoration of the victims of other genocides and assaults by State on defenceless people. Would this mean a 3rd set of events alongside HMD and Remembrance Sunday? Yes, maybe. But the French mark war victims on 8th May; and to be honest, 3 days in a year when we remember the fate of 10s of millions does not seem like overkill from the perspective of those who face violence and repression 24/7, 365 days a year, who genuinely understand the meaning of the word overkill".

  • Ken Livingstone "...Every community has an interest in marking Holocaust Memorial Day, both in memory of those millions who were murdered, and in ensuring that no such racist crime is ever allowed to happen again. Londoners from all faiths and backgrounds have to unite to condemn the evils of prejudice and racism in all forms and the Muslim Council of Britain have shown their commitment to inter-faith work and building ties by supporting Holocaust Memorial Day."

    There have also been letters in the press supporting a broader-based event: "It is a fact the MCB is the only body which effectively represents most of the Muslims while negotiating the issues for the welfare concerning its community with the government. If the leaders of the MCB still wish to pursue the issue of genocide memorial then earnestly they should stop pursueing their unfair demands [for a separate day]. Instead they should negotiate with the government if possible to hold genocide memorial on the same day along with the Holocaust Memorial day, bearing in mind launching of the Holocaust Day is costing the government over £500,000 a year".(Mr M A Pira, writing in Asian Voice).

    Funding of Holocaust Memorial

    Two sixth-formers from every school in England are to visit Auschwitz to learn about the Holocaust, under a government-funded initiative to help to ensure that the lessons of the Nazi genocide live on with a new generation. Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, wants the teenagers who take part to educate their classmates and communities in turn by giving them their own accounts of the death camp in Poland where more than one million Jews, Roma, Sinti, gay, disabled and black people were put to death. The Government will fund the greater majority of the cost of each student’s trip. While their school must find £100, the Education Department will find the remaining £200 per trip over the next three years.

    The Times 4th February 2008

    Criticisms continue to be raised from within the Jewish community on the merits of such commemoration:

    The 'Problem of Evil' in Postwar Europe, Tony Judt

    "...Today, the Shoah is a universal reference. The history of the Final Solution, or Nazism, or World War II is a required course in high school curriculums everywhere. Indeed, there are schools in the US and even Britain where such a course may be the only topic in modern European history that a child ever studies. There are now countless records and retellings and studies of the wartime extermination of the Jews of Europe: local monographs, philosophical essays, sociological and psychological investigations, memoirs, fictions, feature films, archives of interviews, and much else. Hannah Arendt's prophecy would seem to have come true: the history of the problem of evil has become a fundamental theme of European intellectual life....

    So now everything is all right? Now that we have looked into the dark past, called it by its name, and sworn that it must never again be repeated? I am not so sure. Let me suggest five difficulties that arise from our contemporary preoccupation with the Shoah, with what every schoolchild now calls "the Holocaust." The first difficulty concerns the dilemma of incompatible memories. Western European attention to the memory of the Final Solution is now universal (though for understandable reasons less developed in Spain and Portugal). But the "eastern" nations that have joined "Europe" since 1989 retain a very different memory of World War II and its lessons, for the reasons I have suggested.

    Indeed, with the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the resulting freedom to study and discuss the crimes and failures of communism, greater attention has been paid to the ordeal of Europe's eastern half, at the hands of Germans and Soviets alike. In this context, the Western European and American emphasis upon Auschwitz and Jewish victims sometimes provokes an irritated reaction. In Poland and Romania, for example, I have been asked by educated and cosmopolitan listeners why Western intellectuals are so particularly sensitive to the mass murder of Jews. What of the millions of non-Jewish victims of Nazism and Stalinism? Why is the Shoah so very distinctive? There is an answer to that question; but it is not self-evident to everyone east of the Oder-Neisse line. We in the US or Western Europe may not like that but we should remember it. On such matters Europe is very far from united.

    A second difficulty concerns historical accuracy and the risks of overcompensation. For many years, Western Europeans preferred not to think about the wartime sufferings of the Jews. Now we are encouraged to think about those sufferings all the time. For the first decades after 1945 the gas chambers were confined to the margin of our understanding of Hitler's war. Today they sit at the very center: for today's students, World War II is about the Holocaust. In moral terms that is as it should be: the central ethical issue of World War II is "Auschwitz." But for historians this is misleading. For the sad truth is that during World War II itself, many people did not know about the fate of the Jews and if they did know they did not much care. There were only two groups for whom World War II was above all a project to destroy the Jews: the Nazis and the Jews themselves. For practically everyone else the war had quite different meanings: they had troubles of their own.

    ...My third problem concerns the concept of "evil" itself. Modern secular society has long been uncomfortable with the idea of "evil." We prefer more rationalistic and legal definitions of good and bad, right and wrong, crime and punishment. But in recent years the word has crept slowly back into moral and even political discourse. However, now that the concept of "evil" has reentered our public language we don't know what to do with it. We have become confused.

    On the one hand the Nazi extermination of the Jews is presented as a singular crime, an evil never matched before or since, an example and a warning: "Nie Wieder! Never again!" But on the other hand we invoke that same ("unique") evil today for many different and far from unique purposes. In recent years politicians, historians, and journalists have used the term "evil" to describe mass murder and genocidal outcomes everywhere: from Cambodia to Rwanda, from Turkey to Serbia, from Bosnia to Chechnya, from the Congo to Sudan. Hitler himself is frequently conjured up to denote the "evil" nature and intentions of modern dictators: we are told there are "Hitlers" everywhere, from North Korea to Iraq, from Syria to Iran. And we are all familiar with President George W. Bush's "axis of evil," a self-serving abuse of the term which has contributed greatly to the cynicism it now elicits.

    ....My final worry concerns the relationship between the memory of the European Holocaust and the state of Israel. Ever since its birth in 1948, the state of Israel has negotiated a complex relationship to the Shoah. On the one hand the near extermination of Europe's Jews summarized the case for Zionism. Jews could not survive and flourish in non-Jewish lands, their integration and assimilation into European nations and cultures was a tragic delusion, and they must have a state of their own. On the other hand, the widespread Israeli view that the Jews of Europe conspired in their own downfall, that they went, as it was said, "like lambs to the slaughter," meant that Israel's initial identity was built upon rejecting the Jewish past and treating the Jewish catastrophe as evidence of weakness: a weakness that it was Israel's destiny to overcome by breeding a new sort of Jew.

    But in recent years the relationship between Israel and the Holocaust has changed. Today, when Israel is exposed to international criticism for its mistreatment of Palestinians and its occupation of territory conquered in 1967, its defenders prefer to emphasize the memory of the Holocaust..."

    New York Review of Books, 14th February 2008

    Against Mourning, Anne Goldman

    But narratives about the suffering of concentration camp victims continue to proliferate, as if fighting for dominance with accounts of more recent genocides. There is something pathological in this unceasing abundance of representations, an obsessive-compulsive rehearsal of torture and degradation whose efforts to understand systemic violence diminish in effect as they increase in frequency. Our American eye has become macabre, indiscriminate in its demands to look upon the wreckage. Reanimations of the Holocaust play out on television alongside fictional dramas that reject crime in favor of the post-mortem and detectives, murderers, and victims cede the foreground to the dead weight of the corpse. We seem to have given up on feeling: treated to an incessant parade of commodities, we become enamored of the still thing. The camera lingers lovingly over the body that demands nothing from us save its own unresponsiveness.

    With the exception of a handful of critics—Bernard Susser, Tim Cole, and the much-maligned Norman G. Finkelstein (whose 2000 The Holocaust Industry courageously if crudely addresses the politics of Holocaust compensation) among them—new scholarship does little to counter the indiscriminate repetition of this ruined vision. Invoking the problem of evil as truism and reducing the problem of history to the phrase “never forget,” critical studies fail as do popular efforts to recognize what drives them: not so much the desire to understand intensely painful feelings as the need to simulate such emotional states to remedy our collective numbness. Deprived of the quiet necessary for concentration by the distractions of modern life, anaesthetized by a surfeit of material comforts, we look to heightened states of feeling to produce awareness. Horror offers an emotional purity normal life refuses us. Because it is so clearly absent of reason, we assume that the world of the death camps must be correspondingly fuller in feeling, if only that of dread and despair., December 2007


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