Earlier today, President Barack Obama delivered a Holocaust remembrance speech at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. In remarks marked largely by the standard politically correct rhetoric, Obama spoke of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The president announced a host of new sanctions on particular technologies directed at nefarious regimes that use them for human-rights violations — namely, Iran and Bashar Assad’s government in Syria, which employ sophisticated electronic surveillance equipment to police and oppress their populations.
“‘Never again’ is a challenge to nations,” Obama said. “It’s a bitter truth: Too often the world has failed to halt the killing of innocents on a massive scale and we are haunted by the atrocities that we did not stop and the lives we did not save.”
The Germans frequently invoke the phrase “nip it in the bud” at Holocaust remembrance events in the Federal Republic. But to Germans and other Europeans, “it” refers to the rise of neo-Nazi fascism in the modern, industrial nations of Europe, rather than the repressive Islamist governments of Iran, or its proxies Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
For the Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who also spoke at the Washington event, the meaning of remembrance is not to remain stuck in the past. He said, “So in this place we may ask: Have we learned anything from it? If so, how is it that Assad is still in power? How is it that the number one Holocaust denier [Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is still a president? He who threatens to use nuclear weapons to destroy the Jewish state.”
To date, the U.S. and its allies have taken no meaningful action against the Syrian regime for killing as many as 11,000 of its people. A handwritten sign plastered on a U.N. car in the city of Arbeen captured the painful frustration of international inaction: “The butcher keeps killing, the observers keep observing and the people keep up the revolution.”
“Remembrance without resolve is a hollow gesture,” Obama noted. “Awareness without action changes nothing.” Yet it took military power to stop Slobodan Milošević in Serbia, and it could take the same to stop Assad in Syria.
The British historian Sir Ian Kershaw famously said that “the road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference.”
How right he is.
— Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.