At City Journal, a normally very reliable source for clear thinking articles and commentary, Guy Sorman presents a shocking article: The Unspeakable Comparison. In this article the author sets out a simple formulation; that the tide of refugees entering Europe at the moment is nothing less then the modern incarnation of the Jews fleeing from the Nazis in the 1939s. This is no idle speculation or sly innuendo but explicit in the article, which enters into the comparison within two sentences;
Several million refugees escaped from Germany, Poland, and the Baltic countries between 1933 and 1940, fleeing Nazism and throwing themselves against closed borders.
What makes the article so shocking is not so much its subject matter, but its quality, or rather the lack thereof. This article dramatically fails to live up to the (admittedly high) bar set for City Journal articles.
First, the article is filled with a number of dubiously truthful and bizarre non-sequiturs. Consider the author’s claim that “Outside the Jewish community, Nathan’s relatives and the 6 million other victims of the events that would later be named the Holocaust failed to inspire any kind of emotion, until Adolf Eichmann was tried in Jerusalem in 1961. The extermination of the Jews had previously been swallowed up by the collective unconsciousness, filed away as a collateral accident of the Second World War.”
This idea, that the Holocaust was unknown outside of the Jewish community until 1961 is simply untenable. As a simple point, the documentary film ‘Death Mills‘ (directed by Billy Wilder) was released in 1945. ‘The Stranger‘, directed by and starring Orson Wells (with Edward G. Robinson) and incorporating documentary footage of the camps, in a story about hunting a Nazi war criminal was released in 1946, becoming “the only film made by Welles to have been a bona fide box office success upon its release.” The film was nominated for an Oscar and made back triple the production costs.
In 1959 the film version of “The Diary of Anne Frank” would win 3 Oscars, and be nominated for a further 5. This is an adaptation of the Broadway play, which in turn was an adaptation of the book of the same name.
Simply put, to say that (at least in the United States), “the Holocaust failed to inspire any kind of emotion” seems irreconcilable with these (and many other) facts. This is but one of the offhand remarks the author makes that inspire puzzlement, rather then confidence.
Second, the author has a habit of simply asserting things, including the point that underlies the moral of his entire article: “This is not the Holocaust—not yet.” “YET”, the author says, with not a shred of justification. But lets go back, for the author seems to understand the weakness of his own argument, and the shameful inadequacy therein.
“Is this situation incomparable because Latifa, Ali, and Ahmed have not been exterminated with the same industrial efficiency as Samuel, Nathan, and Rachel? Why are they incomparable?”
The obvious answer, so obvious it’s painful, to “Why are they incomparable?” is because the author has not mustered a shred of evidence that these refugees are similar to Jews fleeing the Holocaust in the two ways that actually matter: Genocide, and the industrialized killing used to enact that genocidal intent.
The horror of the Holocaust doe not lie simply in the scale of the bloodshed, many more people in total numbers would die in defense of Soviet Russia, but in the deliberate and determined efforts of a nation to eradicate an ethnic group. This defining element of evil is simply not to be found in this conflict, or better put, not a defining characteristic of these refugees. More on this in a moment.
It is true that the conflict in Syria and Iraq is sectarian and barbaric, but it is sectarian and barbaric (for the most part) in a manner that is entirely consistent with the ancient religious wars of the area. “Convert or Die” is the bloody credo of ISIS, it is the way they seek to recapture the 7th century origins of their faith. What they are not is motivated by the pseudo-scientific race hygiene of the Nazis.
As an aside, it’s rather telling that the author pays no special attention to the clearly genocidal elements of the conflict that everyone has seen: the attempted eradication of the Yazidis and the indigenous Christian population. There is very little evidence presented that the refugee masses entering Europe are these critically endangered groups, and certainly none is mustered by Mr. Sorman. In a piece entirely directed to making the moral analogy with the Holocaust, it’s a curious omission.
Above and beyond anything else, while the author’s argument is ripe for being picked apart (so many other tendentious elements remain), it fails for not even mentioning the simplest and first point: that the very first quality of a nation is the ability of that nation, and that nation’s people, to decide who they wish to admit as citizens and residents. Without that, a nation is simply an area on a map.
What the author doesn’t say is again telling: he mentions 3 Muslim nations that “have somehow managed to welcome 3 million” refugees (Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, who may be themselves surprised to see the word ‘welcome’ used there…). Conspicuously absent from the list of “welcome” countries? Any of the sparsely populated, and very wealthy, nations of the Arabian peninsula.
Why exactly is it incumbent on the nations of Christian (or rather, post-Christian) Europe to put up this army of refugees, when their fellow Arab coreligionists close their own borders? Perhaps the author avoids this because he knows that the answer invalidates so much of his own assertion. He (amazingly naively) states “Do we really think Latifa, Ali, and Ahmed are risking drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, suffocating to death in a truck in Austria, or dying of thirst on some Greek road because they love to travel? Because they are looking for a part-time job in England? Of course not.”
Really? Putting aside that the USA regularly has seen economic migrants suffocating in container trucks, dying in the southern deserts and drowning on their way to the USA, if simple shelter from the conflict drives these refugees, why are they undertaking this arduous trip across a hostile Europe, instead of the much, much shorter trip to the Arabian peninsula?
Because these people are not fleeing a modern holocaust and have no interest in sitting in refugee camps in the Arabian desert. Sitting in the cafes of Europe? That, it would appear, is worth a bit of travel.
By the by, there is some debate about where this footage is from: the Youtube page claims German refugee busses. Other claim a bus in France in 2012. Such wonderful options…
Finally, the slipshod nature of the author’s argument spills into the comments section: a commentator identified as the author writes “Regarding the so called flight of French Jews to Israel , the numbers are stable”.
Which is directly contradicted by numbers supplied to the Washington Post by the Jewish Agency, which “says the number of French Jews leaving for Israel each year had been steady at about 2,000 until 2013, when it hit 3,400. Last year, it jumped to more than 7,000 — making France the leading contributor of immigrants to Israel and marking the first time that more than 1 percent of a Western nation’s Jewish population has left for Israel in a single year, according to Avi Mayer, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency.”
Overall, the greatest flaw in The Unspeakable Comparison is the near total lack of grounding in dispassionate principles. Rather, the entire article is framed as if accepting immigrants from this conflict is the penance that the West must pay for refusing shelter to Jewish immigrants generations ago. Mr. Sorman (in the comments) makes this moral framework explicit: “Angela Merkel is saving the honor of the western civilization” he declares. Quite the endorsement!
Reading The Unspeakable Comparison I could not help but think of an adage for Jewish thought, which I am told is one favored by the Lubavitcher Rebbe: The Head must be master of the Heart. Without calm and reasoned thinking, solutions become impossible, reason breaks down and morality gives way to the flush of excitement, that visceral reaction to doing something that ‘feels right’. Ironically, what the Jewish Mr. Sorman’s article lacks in dispassion, Thomas Sowell admirably supplies in his far superior The Past and Future of the Refugee Crisis. Without going into Dr. Sowell’s recommendations, he points out something that that entirely escapes Mr. Sorman’s jeremiad: that the best solution is not the importation of an indefinite stream of refugees, but acting to ameliorate conditions on the ground in the Middle East. Failing that, Dr. Sowell points out that far closer nations, such as Jordan and Egypt, could be offered compensation to alleviate their share of the refugee crisis and (potentially) provide a more attractive (and certainly closer) point of refuge.
In the end, the most curious part of The Unspeakable Comparison is the author’s… well, his failure to actually pursue the comparison. If, one accepts his argument, that the current refugees are the moral equivalent of the Jews fleeing the Nazis, then is not Assad’s regime and ISIS the moral equivalent of Nazis themselves? If this is to be the case, is not the clearest moral case not that Europe should suffer the tide of refugees, but rather take arms, that by opposition they may end the source of this conflict?
The admonition “Never Again” is, after all, not an admonition for the nations of the world to sit idly by, swelling their intake centers with those poor wretches lucky enough to flee their persecutors. No, it is an argument against allowing evils like the Nazis to hold sway. It is an argument against the indifference shown by the administration to ISIS, to Syria, to Iran, it is, in short, an argument for armed conflict as a method of destroying the greatest of evils.
But I suppose I have answered by own question: Mr. Sorman does not, and perhaps cannot connect that final dot and declare ISIS the moral equivalent of the Nazis, because that would cast his argument down. He desires exculpation from sin through ‘progressive’, ‘peaceful’ means. That these means ultimately do nothing to shorten the crisis… well, what’s a man seeking absolution to do?