Nazi Rhymes: 1 Blindspot
The following is a piece I wrote for Newscentral24x7 as part of a series depicting the parallels between Nazi Germany and present day India. It was published on the 3rd of May 2018.
After the end of World War 2, as the painful process of rebuilding began, people looked for someone to blame. There was a lot of blame to go around. Britain’s policy of “appeasement” accentuated by Chamberlain’s perceived meekness. America’s insistence on staying neutral despite knowing that Europe was in flames. Russia’s support of Germany throughout the first half of the war. The list goes on and on.
But to my mind, the most inexcusable error was to outright ignore Hitler’s (very public) intentions during his meteoric rise. Blaming Hitler is easy of course. The multitude of his sins is burned into Germany’s collective consciousness to this day. But there is one thing for which the world can not blame him: Hitler never really kept his intentions secret.
Whilst he was serving time for his role in the failed “Beer-hall putsch”, he wrote “Mein Kampf” a meandering tome that is part biography and part political theory. In it, Hitler makes clear his hatred for Jews and Bolsheviks, whom he saw as the architects of Germany’s misfortunes. From a purely literary perspective, the book is utterly forgettable. But the one thing that does frequently shine through, is the author’s strength of conviction. He doesn’t just “think” that the Jews are a problem. He “knows” it right to his very bones. The book is a window into his hate-filled mind:
- “All who are not of a good race are chaff,” he writes.
- As for the elimination of Jews, he considered it an international benefit and something that “must necessarily be a bloody process.”
- Also telling is his idea of Germans to seek living space (Lebensraum) in the East at the expense of the Slavs and Marxists (Russia).
Take a moment to reflect on all that. Hitler basically told the whole world that:
- Jews were to be exterminated.
- Germany would be taking land from Russia.
- France, in particular, was to be punished.
And few paid attention. To his followers, such hatred legitimized what came next. But what encouraged the oppressors wasn’t just the open hate of one man. It was also the collective silence of those who silently observed. People take cues from but more importantly, leaders also take cues from people. Even from their silence. Especially from their silence which they see as tacit approval.In my opinion, the fate of the millions who were murdered thereafter were sealed by the following words: “That could never happen here.”
After Poland, every border that the Wehrmacht crossed was preceded by those words. When the Panzers rolled into Russia, the world reacted with surprise. When allied soldiers walked into the living nightmares of Nazi concentration camps, the world asked itself “How could this happen?” A more apt query would be “How could it not?”
“That could never happen here.” Those words create an ideological blindspot, a like a shadow sector on a radar unit, a place where because no one is paying attention, something disastrous could be brewing.As such, it is precisely the inability to imagine the first domino falling that makes the eventual cascade possible. But what ensures it is the silence of the witnesses.That is the danger of willful ignorance.
Let us now turn the lens inward. In 2002 India witnessed communal riots in the state of Gujrat. It was claimed that the serving CM, Narendra Modi, was allegedly complicit in the deaths of women and children during the violence that erupted. Far from tainting his political image, the riots only strengthened it in the minds of the communally inclined.
In 2015 India elected him as Prime Minister.
Cases of religiously inspired crimes saw a dramatic upswing from the day he came into power. The same year, during the lead up to UP’s state election, Yogi Adityanath shared the stage with a particularly rabid supporter who called for among other things the “rape of the corpses of Muslim women”. Whilst this abhorrent man was busy spewing his litany of hate, Adityanath was seated to his side, nodding along in agreement.
He was elected as Chief Minister of UP in 2017.
The spate of “cow vigilantism” (a now accepted term by this point) continued. Reports of mafia style “encounters” (staged executions) by the police surfaced. All this while both the judiciary and press kept expressing concerns about the threat to their respective institutions. The government’s response was (un)surprisingly dismissive.
Fast forward to 2018 and the nation was “shocked” by the details of an alleged rape that occurred in the Kathua district of Jammu and Kashmir. The details are sickening, even for a society that has become numb to the frequency of this heinous crime. What is particularly striking though, is the insistence of many that this was “just another” rape, an idea that is as dangerous as it is absurd.
This was not just “another rape”. The child was raped because of the religion she belonged to. She was raped in a place of worship where her people, because of their religion, would not be allowed to enter. A rally was held in support of the accused by a group which identified itself in religious terms- “Hindu Ekta Manch” (Hindu unity movement). It was attended by BJP members (one of who has since been promoted).
Kathua was a hate crime.
Anyone who finds that hard to believe is either naive or being willfully ignorant. The former is a minor human failing, the latter is inexcusable. And just like Germany in the 1930s, India in 2018 has a gaping Blindspot. “Ethnic cleansing? That is absurd.”, they say, “That could never happen here.”
Hear that? That is the sound of a domino falling.