Monday, July 4, 2016

On Elie Wiesel, Continued

I put a lot of faith in fine sentences and stirring language. Here's the fine, stirring quote from Elie Wiesel's Nobel Prize acceptance speech, given 30 years ago, that has made its way into the obituaries, the Facebook and blog posts: 

"I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe."

I believe every word of this paragraph, from when I started reading it to the moment I finished reading it. 

And then, after a couple of minutes, you ask if you really believe that neutrality always helps the oppressor. And you start to ask if the identities of the oppressors and the identities of the victims are clear. In most conflicts, each side has a fair number of Nazis and Jews. 

In 1999, good left-of-center liberals understood that Slobodan Milošević was the new Hitler and that he had to be stopped through violence, even if such violence would end up killing many civilians. The Serbs were the new Germans. And the Kosovars were the new Jews. Fifteen years later, prosecutors in the Hague finally realized that the Kosovo Liberation Army -- the liberators -- were attacking Serb civilians. 

For all the screaming and self-performing on college campuses, the closest tragedy to the Holocaust today is occurring in Syria. And no, even at this late date, I'm not sure if we should intervene. George Packer's summary of the dilemma is as relevant now as it was three years ago. Would intervention make the situation worse? Which side would the United States back? I'm also of the belief the countries of Europe and North America should take in as many refugees as possible, and then at least a million more after that. That position may qualify as some form of "neutrality," but does it qualify as "silence"? 

A phrase with the ring of truth doesn't necessarily sound the whole truth. 

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