Sunday, January 27, 2013

Squandering the Legacy of the Holocaust in Italy and Israel


Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, 68 years from the day Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Judging from some of the headlines today, not everyone is taking history's lessons the same way:

Berlusconi praises Mussolini on Holocaust Memorial Day
"Obviously the government of [Mussolini's] time, out of fear that German power might lead to complete victory, preferred to ally itself with Hitler's Germany rather than opposing it," said Mr Berlusconi, who heads a coalition that includes groups with fascist roots.

"The racial laws were the worst fault of Mussolini as a leader, who in so many other ways did well," he added, referring to the 1938 laws that barred Jews from Italy's universities and many professions.
Nevermind the trailblazing legacy of Italy's anti-Jewish laws:
Of the approximately 40,000 Italian Jews and 10,000 foreign Jewish refugees, before the war, 8,000-9000 had been deported with only a small number returning. Historian Meir Michaelis wrote in “Mussolini and the Jews,” although Mussolini “was too much of an Italian to approve of the ‘final solution,’ . . . he and his henchmen helped to create the conditions in which the Holocaust became possible.” While Mussolini did not put Italian forces to work to implement the “Final Solution,” he had legally isolated Italian Jews to strengthen the Rome-Berlin axis. His record can be contrasted favorably with that of Adolf Hitler or Marshal Petain in Vichy France, though that is indeed a low standard.

When considering the record of the Italian people, it is important to remember that Mussolini was a popular leader and fascism was a popular movement. When the racial laws were passed, the most common reaction among Italians was one of indifference, not outrage. That said, the racial campaign also failed to sway most Italians to anti-Semitism. While the most assimilated Jewish community in Europe was betrayed by its government, it found that many Italians remembered their past service to the nation, viewed them as no different than their Catholic neighbors, and stood by their Jewish countrymen.
On that note, a Holocaust Museum will pop up in the former site of Mussolini's home...eventually?
The new museum will be built on the grounds of Villa Torlonia, an elegant 19th century mansion that Mussolini used as his residence from 1925 to 1943. Jewish catacombs dating back to ancient times were discovered by chance beneath the surface of its extensive gardens in 1919.

“It is surely one of the ironies of history that for nearly two decades Mussolini resided on top of a catacomb complex constructed by those whose descendants -- being the main victims of his racial policies -- were the ones he forcefully tried to eliminate from the very fabric of Italian society,” Leonard Rutgers, a Dutch expert on the catacombs, told JTA.
Meanwhile, Israeli policies are remembering the legacy of the Holocaust in some decidedly mixed ways:

Israel admits Ethiopian women were given birth control shots [paywall link]
A government official has for the first time acknowledged the practice of injecting women of Ethiopian origin with the long-acting contraceptive Depo-Provera.
UK lists Israel as human rights abuser 
The British listing, which puts the regime alongside 27 other countries including Bahrain, follows Tel Aviv's aggressive bombing of Gaza that left over 100 Palestinian civilians killed and another 700 wounded including many who were critically hurt.

The Israeli regime has also announced it would push ahead with the hugely controversial plans to build 3,000 new settler homes on Palestinian lands.
And even Holocaust survivors are getting a bitter commemoration this year:
The Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel will be cutting welfare assistance to Holocaust survivors, Ynet learned Sunday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

According to agreements between the Treasury and the foundation, the foundation has so far been hiring nursing professionals to assist survivors. Over the past year, the foundation transferred NIS 370 million (about $100 million) towards nursing hours for some 23,000 Holocaust survivors, from a budget partly supported by the Finance Ministry.
Unfortunately, an annual remembrance of mass murder isn't enough to heal all historic wounds or ease present-day social tensions.

But it's better than letting the world blindly repeat historical tragedies.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Turkish PM slams France, Kurds, and Iran (while praising Africa)

[via MSN Arabia]

Days after three female Kurdish activists from the terrorist-linked Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) were murdered in France, Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made a couple frank comments.

Some have accused the Turkish government of carrying out the attacks, but Erdogan claimed the murders were a sign of internal discord between Kurdish separatists.
He said earlier that the incident could be a "provocation" from sections of the PKK opposed to talks between the state and the group's imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, aimed at persuading the PKK to disarm.
And he went on to ask why French President Francois Hollande had met with Sakine Canisz, one of the murdered activists and co-founder of the PKK.
"How can he [Hollande] regularly meet with these people who are members of a group listed as a terrorist organisation by the European Union and who are wanted under red bulletin (issued by Interpol)?" Erdogan asked. "What sort of a policy is it?"
The Turkish leader repeatedly accused some European member states, including France and Germany, of obstructing Ankara's fight against the separatist PKK, saying that they were letting PKK members freely circulate on their soil.
As the PKK murder mystery spills into a diplomatic rift, an Iranian-controlled news organization launched a bold accusation against a Turkish-controlled television channel:
Valley of the Wolves, a Turkish television serial aired by a television channel controlled by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been turned from anti-Israeli and anti-American into anti-Iranian, the Iranian website said.

“In one scene in the film, Iran is presented as a country which carries out spying missions in Turkey. Turkish special service officers storm the Iranian consulate building at midnight,” the Iranian website reported.
This may or may not have anything to do with Iranian President Ahmadinejad bailing on a December visit to Turkey.

Critics have noted that in the past two years, Turkey's foreign policy seems to have taken an explicitly pro-Sunni shift, as opposed to the presumably close ties with Tehran from years before. But when it comes to the Syrian conflict, this may not be an entirely accurate explanation:
Ankara saw the conflict as a legitimate uprising for freedom against brutal tyranny, and thus has given its full support to the Syrian opposition — a vision not too different from that of France. (France, however, for some mysterious reason, seems to escape being classified as "Sunni.")

In other words, it would be wrong to believe that bigoted Sunnis in Ankara embarked on an anti-Shiite mission in the Middle East that has left Turkey at odds with central governments in Syria, Iraq, and ultimately in Iran. To the contrary, Ankara has gone to great lengths to avoid the region's sectarianism, but its efforts have not been very fruitful.
Despite critiquing his neighbors amidst overlapping geopolitical tensions, Erdogan has still found time to make new friends abroad. Like Senegal.
Erdogan called for a "new momentum" in the Turkish-Senegalese relations by laying the legal groundwork for investors and encourage businesspeople.

"We consider Dakar as an important gateway to Africa. There is a lot to do in terms of bilateral trade as well as cooperation in third countries," Erdogan said.

Erdogan said Turkey and Senegal could also cooperate in construction and defense sectors, adding that the two countries should establish in the shortest possible time a business council.
Erdogan also made stops last week in Gabon and Niger. But why visit West Africa when the Syrian conflict and Kurdish independence activity are happening in Turkey's backyard?

Because every other would-be world power has a piece of developing African economies, too.
Let me be blunt: Africa is a huge continent, where all major powers are in stiff competition. Three regional powers — Turkey, Israel and Iran — are participting in this competition. While revolutions, changes and clashes are unsettling the Arab world, the rising world powers are enthusiastic about Africa, and China is at the top of this list.
As you can see, seemingly disconnected actions have a unified purpose: supress the legitimacy of the PKK, counterbalance Iran, and maintain regional power, while building an international presence.

Perhaps with the right moves, Erdogan can actually build his neo-Ottoman Empire.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The word "culture" - as defined by the BBC (and other people smarter than me

Last week, BBC Radio 4 debuted a 5-part series called "The Value of Culture" about the origins of a certain, broadly-definable word - from its Latin and French origins to signifying the idea of cultivating of the mind, to anthropology, and all the way to the present-day debates over the semantic boundaries of "culture".

It's not quite as breezy as American talk radio or comedy podcast type-fare, but part one of the BBC show is worth a listen.

Also, courtesy of MetaFilter, is a summary of a 2010 UC Berkeley debate by five professors over how food reflects and defines culture as well as how it contributes to political, ethnic, and religious divisions. The document covers everything from Nazi dietary propaganda to anti-GMO protests and global McDonald's franchises. And as it turns out, the Israelis and Palestinians are even fighting over the right to claim falafel.

In any case, if you have some time to digest a few high-brow discussions this week, you could do a lot worse than these.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Motorhead, Coral Reefs, and Our New Robot Replacements

To get an idea of how far we've come with robotics in 2013, I'd like two share two recent examples of their incredible feats:

First off, they can out-scuba dive us.
Robots have found living coral on the Great Barrier Reef at a depth four times greater than most scuba divers can reach and far beyond the depth at which scientists expected to find them.

A team from the Catlin Seaview Survey discovered the reef corals living at 125 metres, the deepest ever found on the reef. Reef corals are in a perilous state around the world, under threat from climate change through warming oceans and acidification of seawater as well as by coastal pollution and unsustainable fishing practices. The remarkable find was made on the outer edge of the Ribbon Reefs off the north of the Barrier. The extreme depth is more than four times the depth of the shallow reef coral habitat (0-30m) which most scuba divers can reach.
More importantly, robots can now out-rock us.

Granted, we still need to program them before they can do things. For now.

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