History is political. And in a region fraught with battles over legitimacy, where each group prizes the mantle of righteous victimhood, the political implications of history are deeply felt. Unfortunately, when political ideologies obscure our common humanity, conflicts over history can generate a climate of denial.
Denying the suffering of others can serve multiple political purposes. For example, rejecting the Holocaust or the Nakba can be a vehicle to challenge
Denying the Holocaust
Before heading to the United Nations General Assembly in
Holocaust denial also runs rampant throughout the Arab Middle East, appearing often in newspapers and other media. As the U.N. Relief and Works Agency discussed plans to teach about the Holocaust in its
In an April editorial in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Palestinian writer Aziz Abu Sarah wrote of his decision to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day by watching the film Schindler's List. His reflections reveal much about the impulse to deny the suffering of those on the opposing side of a conflict. "As Palestinians, we simply did not learn about [the Holocaust]," he wrote. "There was a stigma attached to it, an understanding that
Silencing the Nakba
Denial cuts both ways, however. Israeli Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar recently announced his intention to remove mention of the Nakba from textbooks, arguing that the subject would encourage extremism among Arab-Israelis. Notably, Israeli textbooks bore no mention of the Nakba at all until
In an interview with the Institute for Middle East Understanding, Israeli activist Eitan Bronstein, founder of the organization Zochrot ("Remembering"), described the lack of awareness about the Nakba in
The Armenian Genocide
In April 2007,
Official rejection of the genocide has had real consequences for Turkish artists and intellectuals courageous enough to address the issue. Under the controversial Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which took effect in 2005, it is a crime to insult
Recognition and Reconciliation
The act of acknowledging and honoring others' suffering is an essential part of reconciliation. In an interview with JustVision, Aziz Abu Sarah told of his desire for revenge after his brother died from injuries he sustained during beatings in an Israeli prison. However, after a family friend persuaded Abu Sarah and his parents to participate in the dialogue organization the Bereaved Families Forum, his growing awareness of Israeli grief prompted him to become a peace activist.
On a larger scale, such encounters can play a significant role in dismantling the climate of denial and transforming conflicts. Acknowledging past suffering does not mean excusing present-day injustices. Rather, by recognizing others' pain, it is possible to reverse the battle over victimhood and establish meaningful human connections.