Who Owns the ‘N’ Word?

obama_hitlerI was on Capitol Hill last month to go to a poetry reading at the Library of Congress. As I entered those auspicious halls I passed a group of women gathered on the public sidewalk holding signs. One read: Obama = Hitler. It showed Barack Obama with a Hitler-like mustache. The spectacle made me so sick to my stomach. I couldn’t even speak.

With the Nazi accusations painfully present in the public discourse, I found this commentary by Michael Berenbaum, director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at American Jewish University, very insightful. Here’s an excerpt:

Over the past decades the Holocaust has taken its place as the “negative absolute” of the Western world.

In a world of relativism, when we do not know what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong, we have near universal agreement — except for the lunatic fringe — that Nazism was the embodiment of evil. It was bad — absolutely and indisputably bad.

As criticism of President Obama mounted, his enemies — not his opponents — went on the attack: They called the president a socialist and a Marxist. But in the post-Cold War world, such terms no longer sting the way they once did. Out of frustration, out of sheer pique, Obama’s critics resorted to the nuclear bombs of moral epithets: Nazis, Hitler, the Holocaust. Those terms seem to be understood. “Nazi” still carries moral weight in contemporary culture, and is reinforced by the many films that have brought the story of the Holocaust to the foreground or used it as a back story that seem to dominate cinema and television. The Holocaust occupies center stage in museums and memorials, in conferences and in scholarship, but also in the public sphere.

Beyond our success at spreading awareness of the Holocaust, I have a deeply uncomfortable feeling that Jews, committed and serious Jews concerned with the survival of the Jewish people, are often themselves increasingly responsible for trivializing the Holocaust by using it as a rhetorical political tool with little regard to its appropriateness or the consequences of its misuse.

Read the whole article here.

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