Don’t play around with the Holocaust for your own political needs

On January 22, Dutch opinion columnist Ebru Umar wrote that asylum seekers should undergo forced sterilization when they apply for asylum in the Netherlands. When they do get pregnant, they should be immediately deported. This disturbing column was published in Metro, one of the highest circulation (free) newspapers in the Netherlands. Ebru Umar also writes a weekly column in Libelle, a women’s magazine founded in 1934 with a reach of 1.8 million according to the site of Sanoma Publishing.

Not only is forced sterilization a misuse of medical expertise against marginalized groups, a breach of medical ethics and a clear violation of human rights, but it also reminds us of a horrendous and deeply problematic past. There has been a long history of subjecting women to forced and pressured sterilization that has targeted women who are ethnic and racial minorities, women with disabilities, women living with HIV, and poor women. This awful practice has been documented in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

Umar accuses the political parties VVD and CDA of unjust immigration policies, but the very core of her own vision violates the prohibition of discrimination, and states that asylum-seeking women are deemed “unworthy” to bear children. Dutch Jews are painfully aware of the consequences of forced sterilization policies, and what Umar states is politically problematic, because the feed right into the rhetoric of the far right.

Her column starts with a morally problematic statement where she compares present-day immigration lawyers to members of the Dutch Nazi movement NSB. In the cacophony of opinions, we should be bothered by a deliberate strategy of  improperly using Second World War history.

In this case, Ebru Umar compares lawyers with a Dutch fascist and later nationalist socialist political party, who not only sympathized with the Germans, but also arrested Jews in their homes, joined in implementing the deportations, vandalized synagogues and collaborated in many more crimes against humanity.

By this outburst of hate towards asylum professionals, explicitly linked to the Nazi past, we are painfully shown how difficult it is to maintain a liberal democratic culture in the Netherlands. The power of misusing the past should not be underestimated. We live in a world where riots have erupted, far-right parties have grown, and immigrants have been chased down the streets in Greece and Germany.

There is a trend among political parties and opinion columnists of using the Holocaust to advance their own positions or goals. At the same time, they are inspired by anti-Semitic rhetoric of the 1930s, when they address current immigration problematics. Anti-Semitic sentiment increased as the Jewish population was blamed for many of Germany’s recent and historical problems. Today, immigration and asylum are becoming increasingly controversial issues and are called the “mother of all problems.” Hype and fear are used, promoting differences and intolerance.

Immigration can have positive and negative impact and we also need to face the problems. The biggest challenge is distinguishing illusory problems from real problems and treating people like actual human beings. Therefore, I have a problem with the statements of Ebru Umar. By writing that you want forced sterilization implemented, you lose your humanity.

We have the responsibility to do no harm and stand up against injustice. An essential part of democracy is debate and discussion for solving problems. Disagreement, differing values and competing interests are the rule, not the exception.

But freedom of speech has been cruelly misused and abused by using it as an excuse to be discriminatory and unpleasant. Using the Holocaust with disregard of the consequences abuses the freedom of speech. Deliberately shaming people by comparing them with the NSB and at the same time wanting to implement Nazi policy of forced sterilization is plain out dumb.

About the Author
As an archaeologist, Ticia Verveer has over 19 years of excavation experience in the Middle East, the Sahel, and North Africa. She specializes in religiously framed (armed) conflict in wider social, economic and political contexts, with a particular focus on the formation of religious, cultural and ethnic identities. Her research is at the interface where archaeology, religious studies, history, cultural heritage, and living culture meet. Ticia is Maternal Health Ambassador for Global Fund for Women, one of the world's leading foundations for gender equality. On a more personal level, being a Jewish woman, she is devoted to preserving the memory of the Shoah. She is an investigator of Nazi looted art, the restitution of national treasures, the global illegal antiquities trade, looting, cultural heritage management, heritage education and cultural property protection. Ticia is a descendant of Abraham Salomon Cohen Verveer, the grandfather of Holland's most important Jewish Romantic painter, Salomon Leonardus Verveer (1813-1876).
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