Letter from Westminster 06.02.09

Invitations to show your support for this cause, that one or the other drop into my mailbag on a fairly regular basis. Most of them are politely declined, while a few are accepted.

One I accepted recently was to sign the Holocaust Educational Trust’s book of remem­brance for Holocaust Memorial Day.

I was glad I did. Having to sit and sign the book forced me to think, for a minute or two, about what holo-caust is and how mankind manages to go through that sort of madness.

It was also sobering to sit in front of a backdrop that said “Europe 1933-1945. Darfur 2003-?”. A pretty eloquent way of making the point that holocaust is not something that ended with the removal of the Nazis after World War Two but which has happened again in very different parts of the world.

The Holocaust Educational Trust is a body that I have worked with on and off over the years that I have been in parliament. It is best known for organising trips for school child­ren in the UK to visit the remains of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

I went on one of these trips two years ago along with some senior pupils from schools in Orkney and Shetland. It was, for us all, a pro­found and moving experience.

I was struck later by how much more distant the events of the Second World War are for children and young people growing up today than they were for me and my con­temporaries. As a child in the 1970s the war still seemed very close. There were many older people who had fought in or otherwise experien­ced it for themselves.

I was raised on comics like the Victor and Warlord which, even though they were comic strip and high­ly distorted, gave us an aware­ness that the war had happened so that when we later came to learn the history it was slightly more real.

Does it matter if we should forget the events of the 1930s and 1940s? I think it does. The old saying is that those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. It is true.

As I saw television pictures last weekend of workers in different parts of the UK striking in protest at foreign workers being given con­tracts in their local area it made me stop and think. We have been through an economic downturn before. It leaves many of us feeling frustrated and powerless and looking for someone to blame.

Focusing on a group of foreign workers in your community and blaming them for your problems is a dangerous thing to do. I do not think that the workers on the picket lines in Lincolnshire or elsewhere are bad or ill-intentioned people. I think they are mostly decent, hard-working people who have been driven to a pretty extreme position by worry about their ability to pro­vide for themselves and their families. They are right to be worried but they are wrong to blame a group of outsiders for their problems. Start that and there is no knowing where it will all finish.

Alistair Carmichael MP


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