The Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced in parliament today that a ‘significant’ memorial is to be built in London, in Victoria Tower Gardens, right beside parliament, so that we will continue to remember the victims of this very dark chapter of European history.
Does this do anything to amplify the strength of our humanitarian principles when it comes to our domestic and foreign policy? Or are these fine-sounding words simply designed to build stronger links with a strategic ally in a troubled region? Cameron’s words beg the question ‘are we prepared to ignore humanitarian principles for strategic reasons, or do we, as a nation, stand up for truth and justice’?
David Cameron also spoke briefly in parliament today about the humanitarian crisis facing Europe. In what might have been a momentary slip he referred to individuals fleeing from bombed-out, war-torn areas as a ‘bunch of migrants’. In July 2015 the Prime Minister also, in a moment of frustration, let the truth slip from behind his mask in referring to the refugees as a ‘swarm’. He had to be reminded by Labour’s acting leader, Harriet Harman, that he was referring to people and not to insects. Such language does nothing to humanise the refugee problem or to suggest that the government’s top priority in response to the plight of the refugees is to be humane. Such is Cameron’s response to the call from the United Nations that rich nations join together to rescue children from refugee camps and to calls from the international community to each take our fair share of the burden of the refugee crisis.
In an uncomfortable reminder of Nazi treatment of the Jews during WWII the Danish parliament has backed this week a controversial policy to seize valuables from asylum seekers and to make it harder for them to be reunited with their families. The idea seems to be to treat displaced, disadvantaged people very badly so that they ‘won’t choose to seek asylum here’. The problem is that they have no other choice but to seek asylum. They risk their lives and drown in their thousands in the Mediterranean fleeing from tyranny and seeking a place of refuge. I say that if we do not help these people we have forgotten the holocaust and no number of memorials will exonerate us.
Remembering the holocaust should be about much more than feeling bad about what happened in WWII, it is about making sure that we do not participate in the annihilation of innocent victims of war, that we make sure we recognise grotesque cruelty as it is happening, that we take steps to act with humanity to help our fellow man, that we reach out and lend a hand, that we stand up against injustice. Memorials are political statements, but the statement I wish to hear is one which underlines our support for the displaced victims of war, not just with our military allies in the region, and that we ally ourselves, always, with the moral high ground and not with perpetrators of war, violence and injustice. Anything else is mere posturing and a disgrace.