Bankole: Avoid indifference and stand for human rights

Bankole Thompson

Elie Wiesel, the consummate messenger of the Holocaust, would have a lot to say about our current toxic political climate that allows for the complete dehumanization of various ethnic groups who are not of European descent and those living on the margins of society.

Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust after undertaking slave labor at a rubber producing camp in Poland under Nazi rule, would not have stayed neutral in the wake of the grave injustice in El Paso, where a white nationalist recently gunned down 22 innocent lives in a Hispanic community. 

Faithful release balloons during a Mass for peace, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019, marking the one week anniversary of a shooting that killed 22 at a Walmart in El Paso. Authorities say the man accused of carrying out last weekend's deadly mass shooting confessed to officers that he had been targeting Mexicans.

Instead, based on his remarkable body of work, Wiesel would have taken sides by condemning the massacre, and the hate and bigotry that have become prevalent in this dispensation. He would have urged us to not remain silent and not settle for indifference by walking away from actions that are morally and politically abhorrent simply because we are not personally affected.

“Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning. It is an end," Wiesel said in a 1999 speech. He died in 2016. "And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees, not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.”

Wiesel added, “Indifference, then is not only a sin, it is a punishment." 

America seems to be at a breaking point. Our divided partisanship has produced callous indifference. If you are a Democrat, or any conscientious thinking human being, you are faulted and berated in the public domain for expressing empathy about people fleeing persecution and seeking new home in a nation heralded as a paragon of democracy.

If you are a Republican, you are considered “patriotic” and hailed for talking tough or sometimes expressing culturally insensitive and crude remarks about how to address the plight of individuals who are on their knees begging for mercy on our doorsteps. 

It should not matter whether you are a Democrat or Republican to stand up for the human rights of others. 

It is not unpatriotic to take a stand against injustice and express concern for the humanity of migrant children.

Yet vulnerable communities have become the targets of an immoral political project that thrives on the notion that scoring political points is more important than applying the standards and norms of human decency in affirming the human rights of others who are not of the same extraction.

History tells us that there is always a price to pay for indifference. An examination of some of the worst evils of the 20th century — such as apartheid in South Africa, the genocide in Kosovo and the Holocaust in Nazi Germany — shows they were allowed to happen because powerful people and influential institutions including the media chose to be indifferent.

I still have faith that there are people who are willing to put country above political gain. There are those who will not allow the sufferings of others to be weaponized and used as a justification to foment bigotry. 

I have been thinking about what would be said of this era a generation from now. What would others think about our lack of courage to mount a collective action to stem the tide of violent racism and hate that has engulfed our political system?

As Wiesel asked: “Have we really learned from our experiences? Are we less insensitive to the plight of victims of ethnic cleansing and other forms of injustices in places near and far.”