The great Dr Martin Luther King jr had a dream. A glorious, wonderful dream that everyone could share. A world where everybody was equal, where there were no “Jim Crow” laws, where the colour of your skin, the religion you followed, or the standards you believed in didn’t matter. So long as you weren’t doing anyone else down, you were free to live your life the way you wanted to – and to a fair degree, in liberal Central Europe, that dream was fairly well achieved up until the end of the 20th century, and to greater or lesser extents in most areas of the UK and America.
I have a nightmare. That dream is over. We’re heading for a Big Brother the likes of which George Orwell couldn’t even begin to comprehend, and that’s bad enough. But in my nightmare, there’s worse than that coming – so much worse. From hereon in, consider this post not safe for work, or for reading in anything other than the cold light of day.
Some time in the early 1940s, the Nazi party copied an idea first used in scale by the British during the second Boer war of 1899-1902 – that of the concentration camp. Don’t know what that is? The most famous of them all is perhaps Auschwitz-Birkenau; here’s a slideshow set to music on YouTube if you don’t know what I’m talking about. (This one is fairly mild; there are much worse than that.)
What, essentially, is the difference between Guantanamo, Auschwitz and Bloemfontein? (Aside from the fact that Auschwitz was a deliberate death camp). All had “the rule of law” on their side, all were essentially brought about indirectly by attacks of different kinds – 9/11, the burning of the Reichstag, and the Boer sieges against British encampments at Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley, but it could be argued that in the latter two cases these were “tipping points”. (There’s parallels between the Patriot Act and Hitler’s post-Reichstag “Enabling Act”, of course, but that’s for another day).
By now you probably have guessed my nightmare. If you already knew that the term “concentration camps” originated from the “reconcentration camps” in Cuba in 1897, and you already know which country Guantanamo Bay is in, then you’ll have spotted where I’m going with this.
My nightmare is that in forty years time the name of Guantanamo Bay will be just like the name of Majdanek concentration camp, or Grafeneck Castle. Not because of what they were, but because compared to the horrors that came later, they were small fry.
Who’ll run these camps, who’ll be rounded up? It could be any side, or all of them – and if it’s all of them, nobody, anywhere, will be safe.
So what’s my solution? It’s a simple one.
The French said it best: “Tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner.” (to understand everything is to forgive everything). That’s what this world needs most. A good dose of understanding, and a good dose of forgiving.