Ancient hatreds, same excuses

A. M. Rosenthal

September 08, 1992|By A. M. Rosenthal

THE question about Europe now is what is more dangerous -- the eruptions of the same old murderous hatreds or the eruptions of the same old attempts to explain, rationalize or excuse them.

Sooner or later, Americans will have to pay attention. European nastinesses have a way of involving the United States and so do European evasions of the truth. Sooner would be better -- say before Election Day.

Take Germany, please. In a half-dozen cities, Nazis -- plain Nazis, there is no such thing as a neo-Nazi -- smash and burn in riot against foreign refugees and job-seekers.

Now, no decent European, German or otherwise, actually justifies the Nazi violence. How could you think such a thing? But a lot of them, German and otherwise, thoughtfully explain that Germany has taken in more than 250,000 refugees, and that even in their powerful economy Germans resent foreign competition for jobs and welfare, naturally.

Naturally. This is said as if refugees had not existed before -- nor history. It was not long ago that on any productive month the German army created more refugees than Germany has taken in all together -- to say nothing about corpses.

Other countries handled refugees without rioting and hate. Poverty-ridden Pakistan accepted millions of Afghans. Israel is happy to gather in as many refugees from Arab or former Communist countries as can get there. And the United States has not done too badly either.

Of course, we all know, don't we, that Nazis no longer represent the German nation. Still, I was a bit surprised to discover in comments by the European representative of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, no less, that Germans who "wavered in their commitment to democracy" and voted for the right wing were not Nazis but just trying to say how angry and frightened they were, and that what Jews should do was converse more with Germans about fighting discrimination.

Myself, I had thought that message must have gotten across to Germans by now, some time since the end of World War II.

No -- what is happening in those German towns is not for lack of Jews "reaching out" to comfort and educate "mainstream" Germans, but because of Nazi race-mongering used as a political weapon, as usual. Now it is used against Muslims and other foreigners. German Jews are in low supply, thus available neither for purposes of conversation nor slaughter.

In the Balkans, Europe could not bring itself to take meaningful action until thousands of Europeans had been murdered, dozens of towns blown apart. Then, despite its armies and alliances it did not really bestir itself until the United States was set to get in.

Czechoslovakia. It was the one former Soviet colony that had the best chance of success. Now it prepares for its own burial. Europe calmly takes it for granted that since Czechs and Slovaks had differences, they had to divorce. Why? Why was it so inevitable that Czech and Slovak could not live together in the unified freedom they had before Western European appeasement of Hitler, the German army and the Soviet Union incarcerated them?

Has Europe noticed that countries like India, Indonesia, Brazil and, yes, the United States stay in one piece despite mixtures of religions and races and histories of racial and cultural tensions?

I live under and rejoice in the philosophies of political and intellectual freedom that came from Europe. But it is sinful delusion to forget the truth that for centuries religious and national hatreds were encouraged to fester in Europe -- and still are used by some Europeans to dominate, conquer or kill other Europeans.

Until that is recognized and fought intellectually and politically by today's Europe, the Continent cannot become a union no matter how many treaties are signed. A trading and travel bloc, maybe -- a union of nations and peoples, no.

The United States cannot bring that about. The best it can and should do is to help those who suffer from racism and despotism, whether European, Asian or African. And on the European Continent, as everywhere including their own country and hemisphere, Americans can refuse to wear the dangerous blindfold of rationalization or excuse. It hides from them the difference between perpetrator and victim, thus preventing the defeat of one and the succor of the other.

A.M. Rosenthal is a columnist for the New York Times.

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