It is right to remember. To remember events that too many witnessed. To remember lives that never told their stories. While history was dark, so is the present. If we never look back, we will never see what is before us.
Instead of the enrichment of diversity, identity ripped apart communities. Your lineage marked out your path; the god you worshiped, your destiny; the associations you formed, your end. The labels of ‘Jew’, ‘Disabled’, ‘Trade Unionist’, of ‘other’, burnt through nations and determined a new hierarchy where to be on the wrong side meant treachery.
Your unique name, your character, your role, your job, your contribution did not take away the badge pinned to you. The dehumanisation of each person was taken literally, as all that makes us human was stripped away. Men separated from women. Women trying to protect their children with nothing to shield them from the reality of their destiny.
Beaten by strangers, forced into slavery, tortured, gassed, and added to the human pyre. It is so horrific, it doesn’t seem possible. But these are the scars of history and ones that we must all carry. It starts by with the denial that we are all equal and must share rights and freedoms equally.
In living memory of some, in a Western democracy, evil breach its constraints and ripped apart a society. Bystanders too scared. Others complicit. Many more drawn into spaces they would not otherwise occupy.
In my living memory, Srebrenica, Iraq, Rwanda, three more continents unearthed the mass graves of genocide. Today I look to the Xingjian Province in China. The re-education camps, the slave labour and who knows the conclusion of this ‘experiment’, but history is repeating itself with the Uyghur Muslims, on our watch, as they are denied their identity and faith. People rounded up, families not informed of where they are taken to, now believed to be as high as 3m people who have been detained, told to denounce their faith and are subject to harsh long sentences and harsh labour.
This week I spoke to the daughter of a medic arrested and charged with 20 years for terrorist offenses. Last week I tried to amend the Trade Bill with the ‘genocide amendment’ to stop free trade with countries who freely persecute their people. The Government blocked it.
The former US Government built walls; separating people, saying that they are other. Across Northern Ireland we witness gates and walls, marking faith and tribe. In Calais we see fences, barring people from completing their journey. All signs that there is an inequality that is being marked by the judgement of others.
I believe the role of politicians is to tear down walls and to remove labels. To build bridges and to build hope. But we also have to speak out and take action.
As I light my candle this January 27th, I will remember. I will also light a new flame to fight for the rights of those whose names I do not know, whose paths I’ll never cross but whose justice is what I am elected to defend. This year we are called to be the light in the darkness. May our call be ever brighter as we fight for the rights of others.