Middle East needs to learn lessons from the Holocaust – opinion

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We are undergoing a historic change across the Middle East in the wake of the Abraham Accords, moving into an era of greater empathy and compassion as well as a stronger understanding of the concept of coexistence.

But even in 2021, we still have many lessons to learn and the Holocaust is an essential pillar of that. It has historically either been downplayed or even denied across the Middle East and, with a rise in antisemitism around the world, now is the time to address this bitter truth.

One lesson is for sure: We must never see the unnecessary and brutal, inhumane deaths of millions of innocent human beings again. But we continue to, across the region, from the Kurds to the Yazidis. Political ideologies still remain a barrier to coexistence, and humanity is crying out for change.

The times we are currently living in will become history for our children when they look back from the future. History will become our children’s perceptions of their parents’ and grandparents’ experiences. If we want to understand history, we have to look at our present reality because our current reality will be the history of the future.

It is not only a matter of learning from the tragedy of the Holocaust, but we have to look into history in a way that will take the lessons that add value to us and will create a better future for the new generation, promoting common values that will promote coexistence.

This requires the huge task of putting our political differences aside. Six million innocent people were killed in the Holocaust simply because of their religion and, some, because of their political views. So now we must ask, more than 70 years later, how we can use this history as a base for putting our issues aside, tackling the issues that we are living today, to enable us to work together on our collective future as humanity.

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For too long, these political differences have allowed whole nations to hide or ignore facts. We can no longer tolerate that there are countries in the region where the youth either deny or simply do not even know such a thing as the Holocaust happened. How can we ensure these things are not repeated if these vital stories of our history as humanity are not told? This is beyond race or religion, ethnicity or nationality, but is a matter of humanity.

To hide or manipulate these incidents means you are giving the green light to that story remaining a hidden part of history, one which could reemerge at any time, instead of embracing it as one of the most important lessons of the 20th century. Instead of using history to divide us, we must use it to unite us.

This history of the Holocaust is still alive and, as such, it must take a firm place in our history books in the Arab world, too. For too long, our educational systems have omitted critical parts of history in the West, even denying the existence of whole peoples or states, and this can no longer go on.

Witnesses and survivors of the Holocaust are still in our midst; perpetrators are still being brought to justice decades on. So, let’s use this, bring this into the open and begin to right the wrongs of our history teachers here in the Middle East. Their stories, as with the stories of other persecuted peoples, must be heard, so we never repeat these atrocities again.

Unfortunately, some Muslims have mixed up history and religion, and their history has become part of their religion. What would have happened if the Europeans had thought like some Arab Muslims in dealing with their history? If they had, it would have been impossible for the European Union to be created, because the conflicts and wars that took place throughout European history were measured by decades and centuries, and those conflicts and wars were incredibly violent affairs in which tens of millions lost their lives.

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Despite this, Europeans have moved past their negative history and called up the positive aspects that unite, gather and enable them to achieve their common interests, whereas the Islamic world has devolved into a series of movements, organizations and groups made up of masses of closed-minded, dark-hearted members who have proved themselves to be creative in their efforts to destroy, ruin, terrorize and intimidate people.

A delusional vision has dominated the attitudes and directions of some contemporary thinkers and educators, especially those working with the political parties that use religion to attain political purposes. These parties believe that history and heritage comprise one solid bloc that is perfect, ideal and always successful, a source of pride for all.

These same people believe that if we want to advance, we have to revive history, follow it, apply its models and means, and commit ourselves to the act of repeating it. Therefore, we find that followers of the movements and parties that hijacked Islam, to “defend” it, claiming to speak in Islam’s name, believe in repeating history and reviving historical models of thought in terms of culture, politics, economy and the organization of societies.

Unfortunately, those who dominate the contemporary consciousness of Muslims impose one version of history, transforming history and heritage into a prison; a closed circle from which Muslim communities cannot escape. However, they must liberate themselves from the burdens of history to move ahead toward the future.

European civilization has used history, however harsh, as a starting point from which to transform into a global civilization, and it’s time we, the Arab world, must too. While the Muslim world and European civilizations had shared interests in science, mathematics and philosophy, they took very different paths.

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Curriculums must be reevaluated, teaching methodology updated. We must understand that it is not against Islam to better understand the non-Islamic world, to learn better that we are all one, we are all humanity, whatever our creed or caste.

Educational reform will be key to ensuring the future generation does not grow up blinkered like the generation of today, hidden from or denied the chance to see the world as a whole, instead of a few chapters chosen to be shared.

Whether history is tearing us apart as Muslims, or pitting Muslims against non-Muslims, we need to change this limited narrative and bravely move forward embracing the good and bad of humanity’s past, to move bravely into its future. Our only option is to live together and this is why coexistence is vital to create a better future for everyone in our region.

Dr. Ali Al Nuaimi is chairman of the Defense Affairs, Interior and Foreign Relations Committee of the United Arab Emirates’ Federal National Council.

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