Tuesday, June 18, 2019

My Not-Statement on Immigration Detention Centers as "Concentration Camps"

Some of you might have seen that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described the immigration detention centers the U.S. is housing migrants in as "concentration camps", invoking the slogan "Never Again".

Here is my not-statement:

I generally dislike Holocaust comparisons in public debates. That's true for a variety of reasons. For one, these comparisons frequently undersell the magnitude of the Holocaust as planned, conscious, industrial-scale mass extermination -- it stretches far beyond even truly horrible acts of authoritarianism. Moreover, I oppose the perceived entitlement claiming my people's genocide as a sort of communal property available to any and all political commentators searching for a particularly evocative exclamation point; an entitlement which frequently expresses itself as a resentment towards Jews seen as hoarding this precious "resource" to ourselves.


I also think that these misgivings of mine -- ultimately, disputes over choices of rhetoric -- are of completely trivial importance compared to the urgent and pressing need to oppose the brutal and inhumane policies the Trump administration is enacting on the American border. They should take up none of our time, they are in the grand scheme of things utterly insignificant compared to the need to focus on opposing these wrongs. This is called keeping a sense of perspective. It's not that the arguments against a "concentration camp" comparison are impossible to make -- though neither is it self-evident that these centers are not "concentration camps" either; the comparison is not absurd-on-face -- it's that they just Don't Matter. There are circumstances when it is important to "police" Holocaust comparisons -- most notably, in cases of Holocaust Inversion where terms associated with our own mass extermination are turned against other Jews. This is not one of those cases.

It is fine to dislike the use of "concentration camp" comparisons in this context. But anyone who thinks that litigating the question "is it proper to refer to these detention centers as 'concentration camps'" is more important, or as important, or maybe not quite as important but still within the same order of magnitude of importance, as full and unqualified opposition to Trump's border practices deserves naught but our contempt and scorn. If you want these comparisons to be made cautiously, great, I agree. If you think that investing energy in policing whether this or that comparison was sufficiently "cautious" is a worthy use of your time that can justify departing even for an instant from unflagging opposition to Trump's border policies, then you need to re-examine your priorities.

That not-statement is the only statement that I'm interested in hearing about "concentration camps".


LWE said...

I guess she'd be better off calling them "internment camps", but the term "concentration camps" is not really Holocaust-specific. It's not like she claimed, e.g. that Trump is "doing a Holocaust on the border".

In fact, using the term "concentration camp" in relation to Auschwitz or Treblinka is a bit of an euphemism - "death camp" would be a more appropriate name.

Basically, another silly outrage.

LWE said...

I have to add, however, that Ocasio-Cortez claiming that the use of the word "extermination" in regards to the Holocaust is somehow "adopting the language of the oppressor" is inane.