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OP-ED: A need for reparation and reconciliation

  • Published at 02:41 am January 4th, 2021
blm protest protester
Nisar Ahmed is a freelance contributor.A protester holds a BLM banner outside the home where Andre Maurice Hill, 47, was killed in Columbus, Ohio, US REUTERS

It is high time we truly addressed the institutionalized racism against black and native peoples around the world

After the horrific WWII genocide of Jews by Nazi Germany -- the Holocaust -- the world’s conscience rightfully stood by the Jewish people and took actions to ensure that nothing like that would ever happen again.

The global response was led by the Germans themselves. Very quickly after WWII, the German people and their government realized that the shame and disgust brought on by the Nazis would never go away unless Germany atoned for the Holocaust and the crimes against humanity committed in the name of the German people.

The German example

Germany’s process of atonement started with the Nuremberg Trials that convicted and punished the leaders of The Third Reich and those who aided and abetted Hitler’s atrocities. The Nuremberg Trials were not without controversies due to the unprecedented processes used in those trials. But it helped the international community define crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, and led to the UN definition of “genocide” and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The proceedings also helped to establish the Geneva Convention on laws and customs of war. The Nuremberg Trials provided useful precedent for many other tribunals of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Even though the Germans didn’t have a say in the Nuremberg Trials conducted by the four powers (France, Britain, the Soviet Union, and the US) of the victorious Allies, they accepted the outcome and ensured that the mistakes of the past would never happen again by outlawing -- in the 1949 German constitution and the penal and criminal codes of the country -- the use of symbols that incite hatred against any group of its population.

When the biblical question “Have you murdered and also inherited?” was raised to Germany in 1952 by Israeli leaders, the German chancellor, Conrad Adenauer, knew that the unspeakable crimes committed in the name of the German people must be morally and materially restituted. Germany officially apologized in 1952 for Nazi crimes; paid 3 billion German Marks to Israel between 1953 and 1967, which helped Israel build the new nation; and paid 450 million German Marks to World Jewish Congress.

German restitution didn’t stop there. In 2000, Germany formed the Remembrance, Responsibility, and Future Foundation, funded in parts by the German government (EUR 2.5 billion) and by 6,500 German companies (EUR 2.6 billion), many of which didn’t even exist during Nazi rule. This foundation paid EUR 4.4 billion to more than 1.66 million people worldwide who provided slave labour for the Nazi industries or their descendants.

As late as 2013, the German government agreed to pay another $1 billion for the home nursing care, medication, and social services of 56,000 Holocaust survivors.

On May 26, 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) adopted the non-legally binding working definition of “antisemitism.” On December 11, 2019, the White House issued an executive order on combating antisemitism, acknowledging and adopting the IHRA definition and examples of antisemitism.

Many countries, including Germany and France, have enacted laws against the denial of Nazi atrocities and incitement against any group, including the Jews. Even though global protection from antisemitism is still a far cry from where it needs to be, constant reminders of the Holocaust and the unrelenting efforts against antisemitism are keeping the hate and discrimination against Jewish people in check.

The German example shows how a nation can reconcile with its dark history by acknowledging the wrongdoing and making the best effort for restitution without any reservations.

The post-Apartheid era

Black and other non-white people in South Africa suffered through Apartheid (“apartness”) policies of legalized segregation and inhuman discrimination for more than 50 years under the minority white rule. The Apartheid era formally ended through the adoption of the new democratic constitution and the election of a non-white majority coalition government in 1994.

Without delay, the new government formed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to document and address Apartheid era crimes. The TRC was established with three primary goals, among many others: 

1. Documenting politically motivated human rights violations

2. Dispensing amnesty to perpetrators of politically motivated atrocities who provided full disclosure of their crimes 

3. Developing a policy for long-term reparation and short-term relief for the victims of Apartheid

The TRC was a shining example of “restorative” justice, as opposed to the “retributive” justice imparted by the Nuremberg trials. South Africa’s visionary leaders Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu understood that the wrongdoings of the white rulers can be best reconciled through the country owning the dark history and resolving it in a way so that the racial animosity between white and non-white people did not linger on.

Through the TRC, the nation allowed sufferers to heal by documenting their sufferings, perpetrators to own and repent for their atrocities, and the sufferings to subside through reparation and rehabilitation.

In South Africa, the victims took the high road of forgiveness and reconciliation towards a lasting peace, whereas in Germany the perpetrators’ nation chose the path of acknowledgement and reparation.

Systemic anti-Black racism in the US

In both cases, crimes against humanity emanated from institutionalized racism -- in Germany against people of a specific religion, and in South Africa against people of different skin colour. Institutionalized racism and discrimination in both Germany and South Africa were short-lived compared to the four centuries of sufferings of black people and Native Americans in the US.

Not just in America, black and native people everywhere in the world have been the victims of systemic racism for many centuries. It is time for the world to do something about it. It is time to define “anti-negroism” in the same vein as anti-semitism.

The word “negro” in this context includes black and native peoples around the world. For example, in the Australian context, it would mean the aboriginal people, and in the US, it would include both Black and native Americans, even though the word “negro” is currently used derogatorily towards black Americans.

Historically, both native and black people in the Americas were classified by colonists as “negro.” In anti-negroism, it is used to create a collective persona of people of colour who have been subjugated for centuries. 

Anti-negroism is the hatred toward “negro” people, expressed overtly or covertly but generally collectively by groups of lighter skinned people, which manifests in the institutionalized oppression of these people of colour and the suppression of their equal human rights. Anti-negroism leads to the systematic domination over every aspect of “negro” life, including criminal justice, housing, employment, finance, education, healthcare, political power, and more.

Anti-negroism can be summed up as carefully designed, deliberate acts of denial of all opportunities to “negro” people. Humanity owes these people the same, if not more, acknowledgment of their ongoing sufferings like we owed to the Jewish people after WWII.

We need to do a lot more because, for centuries, they have been enslaved, lynched, economically redlined, segregated, racially profiled, disproportionately incarcerated, politically disenfranchised, deprived of equal opportunities in education and healthcare, and discriminated against in many other ways.

Our collective shame for treating them as less than equal human beings is greater than any other. Hence, our reparation to them must not end until they are truly equal and until anti-negroism is eradicated from the face of the earth like smallpox was. This abolition will require sustained, organized efforts by the world community.

It will need an alliance of willing states similar to the IHRA to work together to take up the task of pushing for reparation and equity for all black and native people around the globe. If states are not willing to participate in such an alliance, a global movement will be necessary to pick up the mantle to confront and heal from anti-negroism.

Nisar Ahmed is a freelance contributor.

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