The value of vocabulary / the significance of syntax

My apologies for not putting up any blog posts recently. I suppose it’s because I haven’t felt like anything special has been going on in my life, and especially not in my schooling. Starting my third year simply seemed like a return to the normal, uninteresting life that I lead here in BC. Everything is routine, and maybe because I’m so used to living in Vancouver and going to UBC, it seems like nothing is new anymore. I honestly don’t mind it – I like routines – but nothing has seemed important enough for me to write about.

So here I am, trying to figure out something to write about because I feel a bit guilty for not blogging.

I’ll start by talking about language. I’m enrolled in CENS 303A this term (Representations of the Holocaust) and it is a completely life-changing course. Up until this point, everyone spent at least one unit of social studies in high school learning about World War Two, briefly touching on the topic of the holocaust, and talking about the gassing of the Jews. In this course, I’ve been learning lots of facts that I didn’t know before, but also about how important language is. Words were created in Auschwitz out of the need for a language that everyone could understand. And after the holocaust ended, one of the only things that came out of the camps was language. Language united people inside Auschwitz, helped them to understand their situation. They created words to describe things that were so horrible that previously, there were not words to describe them. As I write my final paper for this course, I am incredibly careful to phrase each and every sentence in the correct way, as not to disrespect the memories of the victims. Every time I use the word Nazi, I have to go back and change it, because saying Nazi does not imply that they are the German Nazi’s that were the perpetrators of the holocaust. Language is so, so important, and words hold much greater power than we think.

Which brings me to my next topic. The recent attacks on Paris.

This is a hard topic to speak about, and because I don’t consider myself particularly knowledgeable about terrorism and political matters, I’ve refrained from going on facebook and posting an angry/hurt/saddened status. Of course, I am all of these things, but as of today, I have not seen a SINGLE status on facebook that has not offended somebody. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that some people are looking for a fight, and are purposefully saying they are offended, but some of it is not. I came across a status from a colleague that said “these terrorists are barely people anymore…they need to be exterminated.” I’ll admit, the status terrified me, but what terrified me even more was the sheer amount of people commenting on it with words of agreement and support.

Do people even realize what they’re saying anymore?

Look at the holocaust. Look at Nazi Germany. Look specifically at the Nuremburg Laws. Look at the “doctors” who practiced their “medicine” inside Auschwitz I and II. All the supporters of the genocide said the same thing. They all believed, with all their heart, that Jews were not people. They enacted these horrible, discriminatory laws to PROTECT the people that they thought deserved their protection: specifically, the Aryans. Jews were seen as nothing more than pests, a plague that the world needed to be rid of. In my opinion, the scariest part about the holocaust was not the genocide – it was the fact that hundreds of thousands of people firmly believed that, by destroying an entire race of people, they were doing something that aided the greater good.

Now look on facebook and tell me that you don’t see the same thing happening again. Uneducated people all over the world are looking to place the blame on anyone, and so they are – Muslims. People all over the world are preaching that Islam teaches hate, that there are more terrorists who are Muslims than any other religion in the world, that Arabs are the enemy. And probably without realizing it, these people are forming the same thoughts and opinions about another race that Nazi’s had in the 1920’s and 1930’s about Jews. And they think they are absolutely right about the fact that Arabs are the enemy.

After the holocaust, people said “never again will we idly sit by while atrocities like this are being carried out in other parts of the world.”

Yesterday, a mosque in Peterborough, Ontario, was burned down. In Canada, one of the more tolerant countries in the world, a place of worship was set on fire purely because of ignorance and as a reaction to a supposed injustice.

People are sending letters to Justin Trudeau, trying to explain that if there’s even the slightest possibility that a fleeing Syrian refugee could be a terrorist, that we, as a country, should not be allowing refugees in.

The people of the world are turning on Syrians and other refugees, afraid that they could be dangerous to their communities.

Now tell me this isn’t anything like what was happening in Germany in the early 20th century.

I, myself, am not a huge fan of religion. Too many religions are intolerant of other religions, and they cause conflicts which seem unnecessary to me. But this does not mean that I don’t respect the rights of people to believe in their own religion, and I firmly believe that actions done in the name of one god does not mean that everyone who believes in that god thinks the actions are correct. I believe that you can’t generalize people based on the colour of their skin, or on the holy book they have on their bedside table. And I wish that it was more commonplace for people to believe this. But the fact of the matter is, people are always looking for a way to place blame, and as per usual, they make a huge generalization and end up placing the blame on those who do not deserve it.

I don’t mean to say that these events can be compared to the holocaust. Nothing can be compared to the holocaust. I simply mean to say that we, as a society, need to look much more closely at our words and actions, and try to learn from our past mistakes. We need to focus on our similarities, not our differences, and we need to stop jumping to such radical conclusions. We need to stand together in times like these, not push people apart.

We need to realize that there is no “we” and “them,” because by excluding people, we dehumanize them, turn them on each other, create situations in which they believe that it’s them or us. We cannot repeat the mistakes of our past. We cannot blame innocent people for this tragedy.

As a great woman once wrote, “we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”

peace sign

(image credit to the artist Jean Jullien)

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