A motion was proposed at the Goldsmiths Students’ Assembly yesterday to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day and victims of genocide.
Education officer Sarah El-alfy urged students to vote against the proposal, rejecting it as “eurocentric”.
This comes a day after it emerged the NUS voted against a motion to condemn ISIS and support the Kurdish resistance on the grounds of “Islamophobia”.
One student added: “The motion would force people to remember things they may not want to remember.”
Another suggested she couldn’t commemorate the Holocaust because she thought the Union was explicitly “anti-Zionist”.
One of the students present said the proposal should be voted against as it would affect the Union’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The unfortunately-named President Howard Littler said after: “Someone brought up Israel-Palestine out of the blue but I made a point of information and said I didn’t want to conflate the two.”
He later audaciously added that the whole thing is just “a storm in a teacup”.
This is all rather strange. Justifying the charge of Eurocentrism, El-alfy argued that “remembrance days should not be reduced to a list of European historical dates only…I offered to sit down with the Proposer and rewrite it in time for next Student Assembly.” This suggests that she does not realise:
- that the Armenian Genocide – which the motion specifically called for commemoration of – did not take place in Europe;
- that Holocaust memorial day not only commemorates the Nazi genocide but “subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur“; and
- that the Holocaust had non-European victims.
Even were that not true, the Holocaust would still be a fitting paradigm for genocide as whole. It stands out both quantitively for its death toll and the qualitatively because of horribly methodical way it was carried out.
As for the concerns that it’s ‘colonialist’, try as I might I’ve been unable to decipher precisely what that’s all about. Both twitter and the articles reporting on the matter have been unhelpful. There’s one student who tweeted that “white people should not be proposing motions condemning genocide without a lot of thought” and (predictably and irrelevantly) Israel-Palestine seems to have been brought into it. In response to this I would hope that it suffices to say that condemning genocide should have no racial boundaries and that the necessity of not holding Jews as a whole responsible for what Israel does applies even more strongly to Jews who were murdered before Israel even existed.
Now some people will sniff anti-Semitism in all this. I’m inclined to be more charitable. It appears from the reporting that the SU has in the past commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day and was prepared to do this again if the motion was rewritten. However, this is not to excuse them altogether. There is something rather insensitive about what was demanded of the proposer of this notion.
I would hypothesise that what happened at Goldsmiths was essentially that groupthink congealed into form of political narcissism. The Goldsmith Student’s hectoring use of unwieldy jargon like “Eurocentric” ought to alert us to the fact that they are people who hold their beliefs passionately but have picked them up ready made from a certain kind of left-wing politics infused with ideas taken from critical theory. This is all too common in student politics and it is sadly an environment in which people who think this way can cloister themselves amongst those with similar views. Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law professor, explains how this kind of insularity and narrow-mindedness develops among closed group:
The first answer involves information. Suppose that most group members begin by thinking that some religious group, leader or nation is evil. If so, they will hear a lot of arguments to that effect. As they absorb them, they will be inclined to move toward a more extreme version of their initial judgment.
People also care about their reputations, so some group members will adjust their positions in the direction of the dominant view. A disturbing implication is that if group members listen only to one another, and if most of them have extremist tendencies, the whole group might well march toward greater radicalism and even brutality.
Thus student politics is an environment where hobbyhorses become their obsessions and they lose proportion. They reach a position where they actually think a call to commemorate the Holocaust and other genocides is something which needs to be vetted for heresies. And won’t agree to pass a motion supporting it unless it is rewritten to scratch their ideological itches like Israel-Palestine and “Eurocentrism.” That’s a sorry piece of dogmatism and it’s hard to see how engaging in it promotes the SU’s core purpose in any way.