It is high time that we stepped down some of the drama and the hyperbole and left name calling to playground bullies. The year has been stressful enough without us calling everyone that we don’t like, Nazis.
This week marked the 82nd anniversary of “Kristallnacht” or Chrystal night, so named because of the destruction to property and the amount of broken glass that came symbolize the event.
From November 9 through to the 10th, 1938, a government sanctioned pogrom was unleashed against the Jewish citizens of Germany and Austria. By the time it was over, more than 267 synagogues had been destroyed, over 7000 Jewish businesses had been ransacked, hundreds of Jews were killed, 30,000 Jewish men had been arrested and had been sent to concentration camps, and an estimated 638 Jews had committed suicide because of the horror and the hopelessness of it all.
The magnitude of the event is almost impossible to comprehend. The Times of London, on November the 11th 1938 reported
“No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenceless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday.”
Whereas it was not the start of the carnage, it was also by no means the end. By the end of the second world war, 6 million Jews would have been murdered because of their religion. And an additional 50 million would have lost their lives.
All as a result of the actions of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party.
This week, the anniversary of Kristallnacht seems to be the perfect time to remind ourselves what it means when we call someone a Nazi.
Not Everyone is a Nazi
It is worth noting that not everyone to the right and to the left of our political standpoint is necessarily a Nazi. And so, where we might not like the EFF, or Donald Trump or our aunt Beatrice (secretly called Beatrice the Bigot), it still does not mean that they are Nazis. It might be that they are racist, antisemitic, Islamophobic, and rude and have no sense of style (in the case of Beatrice), but that doesn’t make them a Nazi. It might even be that that they are bullies of the worst kind and that they still owe you a wedding present, but unless their aspirations include incarcerating and murdering people on the basis of race, we need to go a little light on our name calling.
This is what happened; Following an altercation at Brackenfell High School in Cape Town between parents and the EFF, the DA tweeted that
“the Nazi’s had the brown shirts that went around terrorising minorities, South Africa has the red shirts”.
This sentence was also contained in its official statement on the matter, issued by DA Western Cape leader Bonginkosi Madikizela.
The EFF members had arrived at the school to protest after a private whites only matric ball took place.
The DA has come out in strong defence of the parents of the school, criticising the police for failing to disperse the EFF protesters before tensions flared.
It’s one of those events where fingers can be pointed in pretty much every direction. The behaviour of the parents and the school itself, the threat of the violence and intimidation by the EFF, the lacklustre police response and the DA’s tweet hardly showcase anyone in the best of light.
There is a profound problem with the DA’s logic. They might well have identified similar behaviour between the EFF and the Nazi party but that doesn’t make them Nazis per say. Taken to a ridiculous degree, if Nazis wore brown, is anyone who does the same also so a Nazi? Clearly not. Worse than that, the tweet shifts the conversation away from the critical one which is what actually happened at the school and if the EFF’s behaviour was threatening and appropriate?
The use of hyperbolic language is common to current discourse. Hen Mazzig, political commentator wrote the following of discourse around the elections in the USA, “ Don’t compare the Republicans to Nazis. Don’t compare Democrats to Nazis. Someone disagreeing with you does not make them comparable to a regime that tortured, experimented on and mass murdered 11 million human beings..”
It is not only the DA that needs to tone down their language. The EFF with their repeated Twitter call to violence, the ANC with their comfort around the demonization of segments of the population, and now the DA with their Nazi tweet, all need to understand that words matter. They need to appreciate that they hold a power and that the use of that power comes with immense responsibility. It was after all, mere words and the use of the media that worked a nation into a frenzy that ended Kristallnacht and began the systematic murder of 6 million Jews.