The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) held a conference to mark Genocide Memorial Day (GMD) on Sunday, 22 January, 2012 at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS in London. GMD is a specific day to recollect the inhumane perpetration of genocides throughout the modern era across the globe.
Various academics and scholars have argued that several genocides including the genocide of slavery, the near eradication of Native Americans, the extermination of populations in the Congo and India, the Nazi Holocaust, as well as more recent genocides and genocidal acts including that of the Palestinians, Bosnians, Central American peoples and the Chechens has affected the world we live in today immensely.
The event comprised of diverse brief presentations on the victims of genocide across the globe. Prominent guest speakers included world renowned Ilan Pappe of the University of Exeter, Hasan Nuhanovic a survivor from the Bosnian genocide, Bruce Kent the Vice President of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Rabbi Ahron Cohen the spokesperson for Neturei Karta, and Lauren Booth a Human Rights Activist and Journalist.
IHRC have held GMD remembrance services since 2010. These have subsequently attracted a number of zealous speakers, large audiences and activists of a range of religious, political and ethnic backgrounds throwing light on the genocidal acts often ignored or given insufficient coverage by the mainstream media.
The Islamic Human Rights Commission
Established in 1997, IHRC is an independent, not-for-profit campaign, research and advocacy organization based in London, UK. IHRC aims to work with a variety of organizations across the board, from both Muslim and non-Muslim backgrounds to campaign for justice for all people regardless of racial, social, economic or political background.
Volunteers, campaigners and supporters of IHRC come from diverse backgrounds, but share the common passion for supporting those oppressed, tackling discrimination and highlighting prejudice. IHRC actively catalogue and highlight war crimes, hate crimes, discrimination and the violation of human rights. The organization monitors the media closely drawing attention to forms of prejudice and campaigning for equality.
IHRC also have a consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council and carry out extensive research, reporting to governments and international organizations. Through this, IHRC produces alerts on various short and long-term campaigns as well as advocacy through providing assistance on cases of discrimination, intolerance and inequality.
Despite the positive and life changing work the IHRC carries out, a majority of it remains confidential as publicity may prove to be detrimental towards outcomes. Despite this, they continue to join in the ‘struggle of justice’; fighting for those oppressed. As an exception, GMD is a highly publicized and well attended annual event that fits in with the aims and objectives of the organization, providing a voice and platform to the victims of genocides across the globe.
Emerging Discussions – the genocide of Palestine
This year a variety of atrocities were covered, including personal accounts from victims of the Nazi Holocaust, the reprehensible plight of victims from Srebrenica and Palestine, as well as the misery of the transatlantic slave trade.
IHRC believes the event is essential as genocide atrocities are given little exposure by the mainstream media and even less by the politicians who have so often facilitated them.
At the event it was stressed that nationality or religious orientation of those involved do not matter—whether of the oppressed or of the oppressor—IHRC wants to hold those accountable in the framework of GMD to recognize who has perpetrated those crimes.
One of the main topics of GMD was the politically sensitive and relevant issue of Israel and Palestine. The genocide of Jews in Nazi Germany was remembered, but also contextualized and put in the framework of history emphasizing the holocaust was not unique of the actions of colonial Europe. As Rabbi Ahron Cohen remembered the family he had lost in the Holocaust, he also remembered the Palestinians, arguing the Zionist agenda in Palestine is one that devalues human life as nationalism is placed above the value of humanity. He stated whenever human lives are lost to follow an agenda it is a form of homicide and by extension to that, genocide.
Ilan Pappe, Professor of history at the University of Exeter discussed ‘Memorcide: Crime, Closure & Reconciliation in Palestine’. He argued the genocide of culture and memory which he refers to as culturcide and memorcide are important concepts in relation to the discussions of Palestine.
He verified that the greatest success of Israel with support from Western allies was the reduction of Palestine, both geographically and demographically. This was used as a tool to facilitate culturcide and memorcide, and these strategies have resulted in the adoption of a view that Palestine comprises of only the West Bank & the Gaza Strip.
He explained that this belief is so widespread that it’s even accepted by some Palestinian politicians and leaders despite the reality that in 1948 the Jewish state was created over 80% of Palestine. He argued that the most important aspect of de-arabizing Israel was to eradicate the memory of Palestine as an Arab Muslim state.
In closing, the Professor urged humanitarians to succeed in highlighting the fact that Palestinians are not only limited to the West Bank and Gaza strip, and to remember the Arab heritage of Palestine.
What was evident after the discussions at GMD is that genocide is not only in the past; it is currently happening through the eradication of the memory of Palestine and the culture of Palestinians, and we must educate ourselves in order to prevent any future atrocious events.
Educational and Community Outreach
As part of GMD, IHRC requested and invited religious centers, local communities and schools to take part in remembering the victims of genocide and creating a movement to stop genocidal acts in the future. At the event, they also had a family room to ensure GMD was accessible to a large diverse audience.
Through a range of educational resources, IHRC urged schools to participate in GMD and gain further insight and knowledge about genocide in order to recognize it in the future.
IHRC also held a poem competition for schools, where the winner was awarded a paid trip to
Srebrenica in Bosnia, visiting sites where genocides took place.
Through involving the local community and schools, IHRC aimed to highlight the atrocities of genocide to a diverse audience ensuring that the memory of those lost were not forgotten and lessons surely learnt.
GMD was an opportunity to reflect on attitudes towards genocides in a modern global world by emphasizing historic atrocities and highlighting current attitudes. Especially through examining the effects of events in Palestine, participants at GMD were presented with the opportunity to contemplate the future and how we can help to shape it through eradicating obscene acts of genocide.
Overall, what was echoed at GMD is the idea that we must remind ourselves of horrific incidents of the past in order to ensure that history does not repeat itself. This event was a clear reminder that although genocide is part of our recent past, it can also easily become part of our near future.