In the comments that followed my last posting, Why We Shouldn't Call ISIS "Pure Evil", there was one that equated the treatment of Palestinians by Jews in Israel with the treatment of Jews by Nazis during the Holocaust.
To be honest, the comment simply bewildered me. I knew a response was in order but I honestly did not know what to say. The issue was not the critique of Israel. I am well aware of the ongoing debate, even within Israel, in regard to what was termed by this commentator as the treatment of the Palestinians.
See, for example, the Israeli website Breaking the Silence which is highly critical of the Israeli army's actions within the territories (but, in turn, it should be noted, is strongly challenged by another Israeli website, NGO Monitor).
What troubled me about this specific comment, however, and left me effectively speechless, though, was the comparison to Nazi Germany. That is what I simply found perplexing. Could anyone imagine a website such as Breaking the Silence openly existing in Nazi Germany? One may disagree, one may critique -- but does not an argument have to have some criteria?
Comparisons to Nazi Germany seem to actually be quite common on the web, common enough to have their own 'law'. Godwin's Law asserts that "'[a]s an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1' -- that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Nazism."
It would seem that Mike Godwin articulated this 'law' in order to cause people to think harder about the Holocaust before applying it as a contention of comparison. People like to "play the Hitler card" and what I encountered in the comment to my post seems to have been just another indication of this. I share Mr. Godwin's abhorrence at such inappropriate use of the Holocaust to further an argument.
I can understand, though, why invoking a comparison to Nazism is attractive: the black-and-white evil of the Nazis is pretty well a universal given. Compare the viewpoint with which you disagree to Nazism and you basically have a substantial validation of your position. The problem with this, though, is that such a comparison is actually not so simple. There is a reason why Nazism is so universally recognized as a clear evil and it is its unquestioning evil that also clearly makes it an almost impossible object of comparison.
That is what is so offensive about any comparison of this nature. Does the one making the comparison really understand how evil Nazism was? You may disagree with another's viewpoint -- even strongly disagree -- but even the evil you see in this position does not make it Nazism.
The corollary question can thus also be asked: does someone invoking this comparison really recognize how uniquely evil the Holocaust was? This is not to dismiss what very real problems there may be in the present case to which this comparison is being applied. The Holocaust, however, was a rare, singular case of malevolence; its simplistic manifestation of immorality was beyond question. Comparisons ignore this truth. They also, as such, ignore the actual complex nature of the many issues that are the subjects of debate within our world. Such comparisons, as such, only further the problem. They only cloud the issue, hindering the investigation and analysis necessary for true problem solving.
The Israel-Palestine case is but one example of this inappropriate attempt at simplicity. A review of the debates and discussions within Israeli society in the wake of this past fall's murders of four rabbis and one Druze policeman in the Har Nof section of Jerusalem only demonstrates how complex the matter really is.
Any attempts to simplify the issues only further the problems and forestalls any movement toward a solution. This is what a comparison to Nazism on any level actually accomplishes in such matters. It fosters the perspective that the issue is a simple one with an accompanying simple solution. The result is the avoidance of the necessary commitment to understand the actual complexity of the matter and to the intense thought and hard work needed to work out a solution.
It is not just that comparisons to Nazism are simplistic and ludicrous, desecrating the memory of this horrendous event in history. It is also that such comparisons only hinder the real work that is necessary in regard to our problems.
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