I was deeply moved this week by the images of Muslim and Jewish leaders visiting the former Nazi German death camp, Auschwitz, together to share Jewish and Islamic prayers of commemoration, days before the 75th anniversary of the site’s liberation. To be among the children of Holocaust survivors and members of the Islamic and Jewish communities, they said, was both a ‘sacred duty’ and a ‘profound honour’.
The Holocaust is a horrifyingly dark chapter in our history, an event that jeopardised the very bedrock of our civilisation. At the extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau it is estimated over a million innocent people were killed due to the twisted, hateful ideology of the Nazis. Those that have visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, as I have, are often lost for words. You cannot help but feel numbness and sorrow.
In total over six million Jewish people were senselessly murdered as well as millions of others whose background, abilities, or beliefs did not fit with the Nazi ideology; Poles, Serbs, Romani, LGBT+, and people living with disabilities and health conditions to name a few.
While today marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, we must also face the fact that Britain, like its neighbours, is experiencing an increase in far-right extremism too. Therefore, it is also our ‘sacred duty’ to remember this repugnant massacre and other genocides that have threatened our global society.
Shocking statistics revealed by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust last year show 2.6 million British people think the Holocaust is a myth, and almost two-thirds of the British public either grossly underestimate, or do not know how many died. Because the scale of devastation is so difficult to grasp, we must never forget it.
This year also marks 25 years since the genocide in Bosnia. The brutal and systematic massacre of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica-Potočari in the early 1990s happened in many of our lifetimes. After the Holocaust the world said ‘never again’ but since then we have seen genocides take place in Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, and Darfur among others.
More recently we have been appalled by the attempted destruction of the Rohingya Muslims and the mass persecution of the Uighurs in China. We must use this outrage to strengthen our society and ensure that we do not let division and hatred build to the point of ruin. And there is hope; earlier this week we heard orders from the International Court of Justice for Myanmar to do more to protect the Rohingya, the Independent Commission of Enquiry’s admission of atrocities and its recommendations an important step towards meaningful domestic accountability.
As an Imam, I am passionate about fostering relationships between communities to overcome prejudice. This year’s remembrance theme is #StandTogether and during a sermon on Friday 24th Janaury, I along with other Imams in the country remembered those murdered during the Holocaust, and in more recent genocides. Because genocide does not happen overnight, and we must challenge hatred and prejudice every day to create a safer and more peaceful world.
We must stand together to stamp out the seeds of hatred wherever we find them. People of all faiths are witnessing an increase in hate crimes. An independent Foreign Office review found acts of violence and other intimidation against Christians are becoming more widespread. Anti-Semitism continues to rise in Europe, and statistics from Tell MAMA (an initiative to improve the reporting of anti-Muslim hatred) show an alarming rise in Islamophobia with a 457% rise in Anti-Muslim attacks in the UK. The latest Prevent figures reveal that, for the first time, the largest volume of cases in receipt of specialist support were for concerns about suspected far-right radicalisation. These people, without Prevent’s support, could have become more actively involved in far-right terrorism and go on to commit violent terrorist offences. In addition, the Community Security Trust, a Jewish communal safety charity, found that more than 100 anti-Semitic incidents are recorded in Britain every month. This is depressingly familiar stuff and makes it all the more important that today we acknowledge our past.
Holocaust Memorial Day is a poignant and timely reminder of the extreme consequences that can follow when we allow hatred to fester. This weekend we will see hundreds of acts of commemoration taking place around the world, with people from all faiths and of no faith standing together against those who seek to divide us. I will be participating in the UK Commemorative Ceremony for Holocaust, doing my duty to remember lives that have been lost and the bravery of those who suffered.