We must honour all victims of genocide equally, says Iqbal Sacranie
The Muslim Council of Britain, along with other faith-based organisations, received a consultation paper from the Home Office in 1999, proposing the establishment of a National Holocaust Memorial Day.
The MCB has always denounced the monstrous cruelty and inhumanity that underpinned the Nazi Holocaust, as we clearly stated in our response: "The MCB unhesitatingly and wholeheartedly supports the prime minister's determination that the horrendous crimes against humanity committed during the Holocaust are never forgotten." After the world vowed "never again" at the end of the second world war, though, we have seen the same barbarism again, against peoples in Vietnam, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Chechnya and recently in Darfur. So we said that our common humanity called upon us to also recognise the crimes perpetrated against other people, and we called for the establishment of an EU genocide memorial day. Such a day would help dispel the - frankly racist - notion that some people are to be regarded as being more equal than others.
By being racially selective we could end up in the peculiar situation of the US, which has a federally mandated and funded Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. This would not be so incongruous if other crimes - ones in which the US was involved - were also to be recognised. As Norman Finkelstein states in The Holocaust Industry: "Imagine the wailing accusations of hypocrisy in the US were Germany to build a national museum in Berlin to commemorate not Nazi genocide but US slavery or the extermination of the Native Indians."
Writing in the Guardian last week, the Jewish historian David Cesarani argued that "the Holocaust Memorial Day does embrace non-Jewish victims" (A way out of this dead end, September 16). In that case, what is the objection to reflecting that all-embracing nature in the actual title of the day?
Across the globe there is a widespread view that we in the west practise double standards and devalue the lives of non-westerners. The former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohammad, earlier this month, said of our actions in Iraq: "There is no tally of Iraqi deaths, but every single death of a US soldier is reported to the world. These are soldiers who must expect to be killed. But the Iraqis who die ... are innocent civilians who under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein would still be alive."
Every year since the HMD was inaugurated in 2001, the MCB has been subjected to intimidating smears of anti-semitism in the press. We have been accused of wanting to "scrap" the HMD out of "hatred" of the Jewish people. This is hysterical nonsense. We abhor all forms of racial or religious discrimination.
There is no shortage of Jews - including Leslie Bunder, editor of SomethingJewish.co.uk and Rabbi Schochet - who recognise that the memorial day in its present format is morally problematic. Still, the MCB recognises that this is enormously sensitive territory and if widening the scope of the day - while ethically right - is not politically feasible currently, then we should consider establishing a separate and truly inclusive genocide memorial day.
Iqbal Sacranie is secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain