Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Perils of Indifference

Elie Wiesel

First off, the Perils of Indifference is a speech Elie Wiesel gave on 12 April 1999, in Washington, D.C.

Elie Wiesel survived the Holocaust at Auschwitz. For this very reason, he is an undisputed authority on what humanity, or better still - the lack of it, really is. He experienced untold crimes against humanity first-hand at the hands of the Nazis. His account is every bit as moving as the writings of Viktor Frankl, Anne Frank and other Holocaust victims.

That said, his speech excerpts are in no way new to the well read. They however, are invariably relevant.

Intolerance and Flawed Reasoning

The reason I write this post is the riots that occurred in downtown Nairobi on Friday, January 15 2010, protests that have been extensively reported in the media.

The main reason for the protests was to demand the unconditional release of Jamaican Muslim cleric Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal. Some radical Muslims organized the "peaceful protests".

The protests however turned ugly and brought business to a standstill in the Nairobi Business District. Five people lost their lives, many were injured and one policeman was shot by a protester.

The Perils of Indifference

Following are excerpts are Elie Wiesel's The Perils of Indifference speech.
We are on the threshold of a new century, a new millennium. What will the legacy of this vanishing century be? How will it be remembered in the new millennium? Surely it will be judged, and judged severely, in both moral and metaphysical terms... So much violence; so much indifference.

Of course, indifference can be tempting -- more than that, seductive... for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the Other to an abstraction.

Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Indifference, then, is not only a sin, it is a punishment.

In the place that I come from, society was composed of three simple categories: the killers, the victims, and the bystanders.

Read the entire speech, download PDF or Flash copies, or listen to an audio recording at the American Rhetoric web site.

Do we Ever Learn?

When I wrote Beyond Politics in January 2007, I quoted the following words by Thomas Blatt, another Holocaust survivor:
Ignorance leads to hate.
There is a need to tell the truth and document the sad facts for posterity.
Revenge or executing the murderers is not the most important thing.
All this won't bring back the victims.
What matters is to get the testimony, for the testimony is for the generations.

The Way Ahead
It was indeed very sad to see biased and irrational exchanges online regarding these riots. The KTN and NTV facebook pages were riddled with such unfortunate commentary that eventually necessitated the deletion of several posts. Online forums such as Wazua also had several posts moderated or otherwise deleted when topical discussions degenerated into personal attacks and anti-religious sentiments.

God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny. We need each other to survive.

I end this post with questions Elie Wiesel asked in his speech. Think about the following:
Does it mean that we have learned from the past? Does it mean that society has changed? Has the human being become less indifferent and more human? Have we really learned from our experiences? Are we less insensitive to the plight of victims of ethnic cleansing and other forms of injustices in places near and far?


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