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Op Eds

Are You Watching? The World Americans Do Not See.

By Noah D. Dasanaike
Noah D. Dasanaike ’22, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Government concentrator in Adams House.

Much has been said on the international reactions — or lack thereof — to the atrocities of the Holocaust. Though prominent papers such as the New York Times and the Daily Telegraph ran stories detailing the massacre of millions of Jews, the reports were often sidelined, and public outcry remained limited. When London was told by Gerhard Riegner, a representative of the World Jewish Congress in Switzerland, that Hitler had ordered the extermination of European Jewry, the Foreign Office responded that an official British response “might annoy the Germans.” Government officials in Washington, D.C. similarly expressed suspicion with the supposedly “unsubstantiated nature of the information.” Not until reporters in 1945 described the already-liberated death camps did the severity of the Holocaust become apparent to Western audiences. And despite that, despite images and criminal trials and admittances and evidence upon evidence upon evidence, anti-Semitism and suspicions of over-exaggeration still persist today.

History is infamous for its ability to repeat itself. The emergence of large-scale “re-education” internment camps in Xinjiang Province of China, where reports estimate millions of Chinese Muslims have been extrajudicially detained, have similarly received little attention. Former detainees and Xinjiang residents have described beatings, electrocutions, sexual abuse, compulsory sterilization, and countless other violations of the Genocide Convention. Persecution in Xinjiang has not been limited to actual Chinese citizens, either. Mihrigul Tursun, traveling from Egypt, testified that she was detained, separated from her infant children (one of whom later died), and placed in a cell with sixty other women. Their shared toilet was recorded by security cameras. According to former national security adviser John Bolton, President Trump told Chinese President Xi Jinping that “[the camps] are exactly the right thing to do.”

In Belarus, months-long political demonstrations have called for the resignation of Alexander Lukashenko after a supposed land-slide victory of 80.2 percent in the presidential election. According to numerous publications and witnesses, thousands of protesters have faced arbitrary detainment and torture, with many still missing or facing imprisonment. Konstantin Shishmakov, a museum director who had refused to sign a falsified electoral protocol claiming that Lukashenko had won the election, disappeared only days after taking his stand. He was found a few weeks ago, hanged in a nearby forest; investigators claimed there was no evidence of a crime. Video footage published by the Associated Press similarly suggest that Alexander Taraikovsky, a protester whose death had been reported an accidental suicide by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, was actually shot by policemen, empty-handed.

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, described as “the man Vladimir Putin fears most,” has been in a coma after his doctors admitted that he had likely been poisoned through his tea at an airport on August 20. Recently, Navalny had claimed that the revolution occurring in Belarus would soon come to Russia. Meanwhile, conflicts from Libya to Syria to Sudan continue to rage, their stories passed over as old news. In Yemen, the civil war that has caused the deaths of over 80,000 children from starvation alone is only getting worse.

Despite internet communication making us connected with one another like never before, we are somehow less informed, less interested, and less concerned with the global state of foreign affairs than we have ever been. Protesters in Hong Kong, fighting for freedom from their oppressors in a way strikingly similar to that of our American forefathers, faced silence from the country whose empathy should have been strongest.

The lack of any significant involvement with contemporary foreign affairs by the American public is disappointing. For a people who believe themselves morally superior to the rest of the world, our willful ignorance and active disinterest in matters concerning human rights exudes selfishness and lack of basic human compassion. The prior summarization of ongoing events does not even begin to scratch the surface of the atrocities taking place every day across the world. However difficult, we must try to think not just of ourselves, but of the many whose stories are in danger of passing by unnoticed.

Are you watching?

Noah D. Dasanaike ’22, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Government concentrator in Adams House.

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