As Europe reels from the kind of senseless violence it has so willingly dished out sans flinching and the shrill xenophobic and jingoistic cries louden without a hint of irony, I’m reminded of the movie I am Not Your Negro. Though the film is about America, it’s not hard to see how the same mechanisms it speaks about are prevalent in Europe. How even Europe is filled with hypocrisy, even if it’s a hypocrisy that’s more elegant and tempered by less ability (aka Empire-lite) and more impotence than they would like. And, more viscerally, I think on my time in Berlin, that beautiful city, and how I came upon the memorial to the Roma and the Sinti lost to Nazi-rule, and German complicity or German approval.
I’ve seen many memorials before, and though some have caused a modicum of disquiet, none hit me like this one. Not that it was exceptionally built, not aesthetically at least—although what it evoked in me may suggest some other ingenuity at play. Getting old and soft, I suppose. But the force of me being what I was—a very flawed veteran and human being—combined with simmering memories and where I was swept over me and my eyes teared up, a hard rock forming in my chest.
Only later, as I moved away from the throngs of caring or uncaring tourists and found a cafe at which to rest my bourgeois soul did I mold—however inaccurately—those emotions into thoughts. Mostly, I thought on the souls lost to an evil ideology and how that ideology has lived on. The Sinti are gone, wiped out. So too are the Nazis of old—in the mainstream, that is—though that’s not exactly true. The Roma are around and they have plenty of prejudice and unjust laws thrown at them. Certainly, what they deal with now is of a lighter degree than back then, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t flow from a similar vein. My reaction, I suppose, was a result of seeing the worst done to them and knowing despite that, people in France and elsewhere still want to be rid of the Roma, these people who “serve no social purpose”—as a French citizen told me.
This attitude is prevalent in the West and the evidence is in the treatment of the Roma, the expelling of these “unwanted” people as well as the treatment of Muslims and refugees.
Though none of it has reached the evil-logical end of Nazi Germany, it’s still a very important fact to be aware of because its logical underpinnings hold much sway in peoples’ belief systems.
And as we make sure that millions, if not billions, are subject to the twin horsemen of our bombs and climate change while also fearing their exodus (or rather, escape) as a “horde” (or “rapefugees” as the alt-right and pro-Trump crowd calls them), anyone with a shred of humanity should understand how these fears are akin to “reasonable” fears of the past. Fears that led to the Nazis and their ilk.
Those tears—that subconscious gasp for air—are something whose exact causes or nature I’m not sure I entirely understand. And it speaks to how little we know of ourselves and our baser instincts, let alone those of others. But that doesn’t mean we should allow others’ baser instincts push our world into making worse decisions. Let’s work so that the next surprise we create will be acts of humanity, not acts of evil, whatever excuses in which those latter acts will be cloaked.
Nelson Lowhim is a veteran and writer. He is the author of many novels, short stories and essays to include CityMuse, The Struggle, 1000001 American Nights and the Labyrinth of Souls. You can find more about him and his work at nelsonlowhim.blogspot.com and on Twitter @nlowhim