News

Monday November 16, 2020, The Globe and Mail

When my children were young, derisive “Newfie” jokes were all the rage. I didn’t allow them in my house; I’d lived in France as a student and learned enough about pre-war history to know that plural societies can exist peacefully only within an ethos of mutual respect.

Which is why both France and the United States have evolved into tragic political entities. Both their foundational ideologies are dangerously anachronistic.

Take the recent atrocities in France following the conduct of a teacher who pulled out the same caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed that provoked major violence in the past. There is no possible excuse for his monstrous medieval-style murder, or for the others that occurred after. But to understand circumstance is neither to assign blame nor to condone violence, a fact historians must constantly emphasize. That France houses almost six million Muslims, the largest population in the West, makes it critical to understand the impact of the Prophet Mohammed caricatures in that country. [more]

Friday October 16, 2020, The Globe and Mail

The International Criminal Court is facing a life-threatening crisis. The International Criminal Court has received “gifts” with the potential to enhance its profile and reputation. Surprisingly, both these statements are true. And both have the capacity to affect the future of the tribunal.

The crisis derives from unprecedented sanctions imposed by the Trump administration last month on ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and her associates. The sanctions blocked their personal assets, prevented them from entering the U.S., and indirectly grouped them together with terrorists – a move that outraged much of the world with the exception of Israel, whose military personnel are also being investigated for war crimes. The sanctions also threatened anyone who gives support of any kind to the ICC. [more]

Monday July 27, 2020, The Globe and Mail

Last week, a Hamburg state court found Bruno Dey, 93, a former SS tower guard at the Stutthof concentration camp, guilty of complicity in 5,232 counts of murder: the exact number of human beings destroyed during his tenure there in 1944-45.

Because Mr. Dey was a boy of 17 when he took up his duties, he was tried in a juvenile court (where the sight of an elderly man in a wheelchair must have startled the staff). The prosecution sought a three-year prison sentence; the defence called for an acquittal on grounds that such a young person would have been incapable of standing up to his elders in the name of conscientious refusal. The judge, for her part, decided on a suspended sentence of two years. A symbolic punishment.

In the aftermath, the usual questions were raised. Why bother trying someone for a crime committed so long ago, even if the law allows it? Why prosecute a man of 93 whose life was drawing to a natural close? What choice did he have? He had made a public apology at the close of his trial. Shouldn’t that be enough? Finally, might a merely symbolic verdict actually diminish the appalling nature of his offence? [more]

Saturday January 25, 2020, The Globe and Mail

This month, we mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the largest and most infamous of the Nazi’s death camps. It will no doubt be a time of sombre reflection and analysis – and a pointer to whatever trends may be emerging with regard to Holocaust memory.

Historical traumas seem to have their own timelines – and they are long. Think for a moment about slavery in the United States, an era that formally ended in 1865, but continues to wreak havoc in American civic and political life under many guises. Think about our slowly emerging knowledge of the Armenian genocide. It took place a century ago, yet the scale and the enduring import of the assault remains unacknowledged by the perpetrators, the Turkish state.

Persecution, with its attendant human suffering, is always a messy business: It burrows deep into consciousness and encompasses a range of extreme human emotions: from despair to rage, from guilt to denial. Sometimes, although more rarely, it even includes remorse.

And so it is with the Holocaust – an historically unprecedented assault against an entire ethnic group: the Jews of Europe. The Holocaust, a name that came into popular usage only in the 1970s, was unprecedented precisely because nothing on this scale had happened before. And because of the means employed: the deadly technology exploited by the Nazis to effect their murderous plan. [more]

Friday November 15, 2019, The Globe and Mail

Gambia, mainland Africa’s smallest country, took an unprecedented step this week. To everyone’s surprise, it opened a lawsuit against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague – the tribunal that adjudicates disputes among states – accusing Myanmar of genocide against the Rohingya Muslims. [more]