Thursday, December 18, 2014

Memory, Historiography, and Negationism of the Shoah/Nakba

The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room, where they were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. He said that he would get sick if he did so. I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to "propaganda".  -Cable from Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to Gen. George Marshall following Eisenhower’s tour of a death camp near Gotha, Germany, April 12, 1945
As much as it is being advanced in the Palestinian and Arab world, the nakba view should never be given legitimacy. Not only is it the source of the ongoing war against Israel, but it undermines the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people.  -Abe Foxman, May 30, 2008
The discussion of memory in the anthropological sense is a long-standing sub-topic, referring to the notion of how cultures and social groupings create and develop a variety of signs, symbols, and forms of memorial in regards to a past event.
Memory as a topic in regards to the Nazi holocaust and the 1948 Palestinian dispossession is a growing academic genre, but it has included problematic side-effects that could not have been properly anticipated.  Since being disseminated into the general public sphere of ideas, white supremacists like David Duke have attempted to re-create their political ideology as a set of legitimate narrative points that can be appraised in a post-structural sense of being equally valid as the cultural and political trends which would make wider political and social gains impossible.  Figures like Duke adopt the cause of the Palestinian nakba not out of genuine concern over human rights (in actuality, Duke is equally racist in regards to Arabic people) but because it serves their wider anti-Semitic agenda.
Furthermore, those who deny the existence or legitimacy of the nakba and therefore the greater Palestinian cause usually work to adapt the vocabulary of the discourse on memory.  The article written by Abe Foxman is saturated with the amateur-level language of overwrought post-structuralism combined with historical and ideological tics that define the general shape and tone Foxman will debate with.
The reason that these problematic issues arise from a discourse on memory is due to several reasons.  First, the artifacts that make up the greater memorial are not absolutely accurate by default.  For example, the Soviet Union maintained throughout its existence that it upheld principles such as democracy, declaring such ideas on propaganda posters.  However, it was quite the opposite in reality.
Second, the memorial itself oftentimes includes political connotations that fundamentally underwrite the orientation of the narrative.  Armenian-American memorials of their genocide at the hands of the newly-formed Young Turk government not only account for the total people killed, it also is underscored by a long-standing effort to get the American government to recognize the events as a crime against humanity, a move which would strain American military relations with Turkey.
Finally, in instances of a violent mass movement, the intentional and coordinated obfuscation of facts is a legitimate way to undermine any attempts at exposing the truth and shakes this notion of memory to the core.  A coordinated obfuscation, such as the romanticization or minimization of colonialism's violence, is the work of national myth making.  The White American description of colonial inter-relations between Anglo and Native Americans is fundamentally the opposite of a Native American account.  It was Althusser who best described this type of state-sponsored creation as an Ideological State Apparatus and John Ford who said "Print the Legend".
Cultural relativism as an orientation in professional anthropology has existed since the shift in the field away from the expeditionary efforts of colonial masters and towards viewing all cultures and social groupings as inherently equal and un-asailable in comparison with Western culture.  This trend was an important step for the field and benefitted it greatly.  However, what began as an act of respect has sometimes become borderline criminal negligence.  Dr. Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban's 1995 article from THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION lays out this issue succinctly, ending with the final prescription:
I believe that we should not let the concept of relativism stop us from using national and international forums to examine ways to protect the lives and dignity of people in every culture. Because of our involvement in local societies, anthropologists could provide early warnings of abuses -- for example, by reporting data to international human-rights organizations, and by joining the dialogue at international conferences. When there is a choice between defending human rights and defending cultural relativism, anthropologists should choose to protect and promote human rights. We cannot just be bystanders.
In this sense, a pro-active anthropological method would, and certainly should, account for issues surrounding human rights and reporting abuses to them.
What seems apparent is therefore the lack of acknowledgement within the public sphere of the true degree of Palestinian persecution.  Concurrently, the saturation of the film, television, and publishing markets with Holocaust-related material is oftentimes absolutely blatant and disrespectful.  Consider perhaps the first and then the fifth X-MEN films, which both open with the teenaged villain Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto watching his parents being sent to their deaths at an unnamed Polish concentration camp.  This sort of invocation of the Nazi holocaust is, in its own way, Holocaust denial, a crass sort of profiteering that inserts paranormal tom-foolery.  As for 'serious' mainstream portrayals of the events, the genre itself is essentially divided into romantic Hollywood-style narrative films and documentaries that are all essentially borrowing the motifs and style of Alain Renais's NIGHT AND FOG or Claude Lanzmann's SHOAH.

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