Leading Article: A token gesture that highlights our failures

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The Independent Culture
IT ALL sounds very honourable. It all sounds oh-so-thoughtful. In reality, however, the proposal that Britain should introduce a special remembrance day for the Holocaust should be seen for what it is: tokenism.

Tony Blair appears to have given his blessing to the proposal, which Labour MP Andrew Dismore put forward in a 10-minute rule bill in the Commons yesterday. Mr Blair argues that the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in recent weeks is "a stark example of the need for vigilance". True enough. But to commemorate one set of events by remembering a quite different set of events is misguided. Either the Holocaust is unique, in which case there is no point in making the comparison, or a comparison can be made, in which case this should not be a day for the Holocaust alone.

In Israel, remembrance of the Holocaust serves an obvious purpose, as a day of mourning. If Germany were to institute such a day it could be used for national reflection on its own past. But what exactly is Holocaust Day in Britain supposed to represent? Mr Blair says he is determined to ensure that the "horrendous crimes against humanity committed during the Holocaust are never forgotten". So far, so laudable. But just as important is that new mini-Holocausts should become impossible. In that respect, we have failed signally.

The phrase "never again" has become a complacent mantra. And yet, we have seen hideous events unfold. In Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia, Western countries simply stood on the sidelines as atrocities were committed. In Kosovo, thankfully, we finally acted; but it does no favours to anybody to use a set of nightmares unleashed by Adolf Hitler as a way of drawing attention to a quite different nightmare unleashed by Slobodan Milosevic more than half a century later.