Madhu Pandya is the Chairman (2004-2005) of
the Interfaith Council in Blackburn, Lancashire, UK, an organisation
which fosters good relations and better understanding between the
different religious communities living in Blackburn. 20% of the
population of Blackburn is Muslim and comes from India and Pakistan.
Madhu Pandya belongs to the small Hindu community living in Blackburn
and is a member of its Executive Committee. She teaches at Blackburn
College (Mathematics, English for Adults, English as a Second Language,
English Literacy, Gujarati). The Interfaith Council organised the 2005
National Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony (offically 27 January, but
moved to Sunday, 30 January, for calendar convenience). The text which
follows is Madhu Pandya's planned opening speech on that occasion. She
replaced it in the end by some brief introductory remarks to make space
for other speakers.
Our town remembers the Holocaust
I welcome you all to the Fifth National Holocaust Memorial
Day. Sixty years ago on this day, in 1945, the Auschwitz extermination
camp was liberated, and the horrors of the holocaust became known to
You will hear thoughts and prayers from our Borough's main
faiths and civic leaders.
This day gives us an opportunity to show our respect for the
victims and the survivors of Nazi persecution and mass murder.
Each of us will honour the victims of the holocaust by working
that the seeds of the holocaust cannot take root in our town. We will
remember the divine spark that resides in every human being. We will
remember that every man or woman feels pain as we do and loves his
friends and family as we do. There are no sub-humans! Even animals love
life and feel pain and deserve to be protected.
When meeting a member of a persecuted
group we will hear in our hearts Shylock's plaint:
"I am a Jew.
Hath not a Jew eyes?
Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?
Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same
diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same
winter and summer, as a Christian is?
If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
If you poison us, do we not die?
And if you wrong us, do we not suffer?"
(Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice 3:1)
This could equally well have been said
- by an innocent British Muslim under attack from his white
fellow citizens after the 11th of September,
- by a Hindu or a Muslim in one of the conflicts on the
- by a low-caste Hindu abused by a member of a higher caste
- by an African or a Jamaican when Damilola Taylor was
murdered in November 2000,
- by a Tutsi or a Hutu in Rwanda,
- by a Catholic or Protestant in Northern Ireland,
- by any Palestinian or Israeli,
- by an Iraqi prisoner humiliated or tortured by American
- by any Gipsy, homosexual, mentally retarded person, or
political dissenter about to be murdered in a concentration camp,
- or even by an American when attacked by a terrorist.
Let us remember Shylock's plaint with
compassion whenever we meet a member of another group, especially when
he, or she, is in danger or is suffering abuse from others.
We cannot be complacent, for the womb in which the holocaust
was bred is still fertile, not only in other countries.
Let us treat even animals and the environment with respect:
because they too have the divine spark. If we protect animals, we
cannot possibly ever kill a person even if a perverted government or
propagandist declares this person to be subhuman.
'Thou shalt not kill' is the
greatest commandment. We must instill it into our children from the day
they are born in its most basic form: 'Thou shalt not hurt any sentient
A nation which has that commandment deeply ingrained in its
bones cannot possibly carry out actions which even remotely approach
those of the holocaust. Children brought up in that spirit will not be
given guns, not even as toys.
Some victims of the holocaust met their death because they
were refused asylum in this and other countries. Let us therefore
honour them by treating those who seek asylum now with respect and
compassion and befriend them when we meet them.
The Bible, which rules the lives of Jews
and Christians alike and is profoundly respected by all Muslims, says:
"If a stranger lives with you in your land,
you shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwells with you shall be
unto you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for
once ***you*** were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your
(Leviticus 19:33-34 = 3. Book of Moses
Most of the victims of the holocaust were not even strangers
in the land in which they lived: they were German fellow citizens. Let
nothing remotely like this ever happen in our community.
The lesson we will learn is that we are all citizens of
Blackburn with Darwen. We will set an example to other towns for a
sensible way of living together. We will protect one another. Our
slogan will be: 'Don't touch my mate'.
Instead of making big declarations, which seldom lead to
practical action, each of us can start in his own backyard, with his
immediate neighbours, in his own street, in the supermarket, at work,
or wherever he meets a member of a different community.
It is not enough to be politically
correct, to be tolerant or not to be racist or to swear never to commit
genocide: most of us will mercifully never have to make such grand
decisions. Most of us believe that we are not racists. But that is not
We have to be more positive. We can, and should, invite our
neighbours (from other communities) into our homes, eat with them, talk
to them, discover how they live, discover that they are humans like us,
and we should do what we can to make their lives more pleasant. It
starts with a smile and a greeting in the street.
This will help not only our neighbours. It will also enrich
our own lives, it will make us happier. Acting in that spirit will be
much better for ***us*** than regarding our neighbours with
incomprehension, suspicion, revulsion or contempt.
When we see that any of our fellow citizens is attacked, we
will speak up for him and protect him as if he were our own son or
brother - and all this goes, of course, also for women.
This is how we will make our town a better and a happier
place. This is how we will honour those who died in the holocaust.
Queen Victoria outside Blackburn
|Blackburn: Two mosques
overlooking the Whalley Range
|Mosque and Islamic
College in Clinton Street, Blackburn
Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and Atheists are in this group
visiting a Hindu temple. They will never throw bricks at one another.
This is one of several events organised by the Interfaith Council of
Blackburn with Darwen.
|Members of Blackburn
Hindu Centre on their excursion to a Temple in Wales (Skanda Vale)
|Gospel Hall, Blackburn:
Church at the edge of a Muslim Quarter (Whalley Range)
Rosetta Stone in Multi-lingual Blackburn:
English, Urdu, Gujarati
versions of these images are available on request:
The following notes are NOT intended for
publication but provide some useful background information for editors
- the womb is fertile still: This
image refers to a poem by Bertolt Brecht (Epilogue to the play 'The
Stoppable Rise of Arturo Ui'):
|Ihr aber lernet, wie man
sieht statt stiert
Und handelt, statt zu reden noch und noch.
So was hätt einmal fast die Welt regiert!
Die Völker wurden seiner Herr, jedoch
Daß keiner uns zu früh da triumphiert -
Der Schoß ist fruchtbar noch, aus dem das kroch!
But learn to see and do not stare
transfixed in horror,
Do act and do not to talk incessantly.
That Nazi vermin almost might have ruled the world!
The nations managed to defeat it, but
Let none of us rejoice too soon -
Still fertile is the womb from which that vermin crawled!
The brutalisation of thought and the loss of
"The evil of Nazi ideology did not come from nowhere. There
was definitely a process that led up to the brutalisation of thought
and the loss of moral inhibitions." (German Chancellor Gerhard
Schroeder at the UN General Assembly's session on Monday, 24 Jan 2005,
to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.") Source:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4204465.stm
- 'Don't touch my mate': ‘Ne touche pas a
mon pote’: This was the slogan of the French anti-racism
campaign in the 1980s and 1990s.
- you were strangers in the land of Egypt:
According to the Biblical account, to escape from droughts, crop
failures and starvation, one Israelite family (the family of Joseph)
settled in Egypt, and their descendents over generations became a huge
ethnic minority. They eventually had much to suffer from the resentment
of the native Egyptian population. This ancient story has much in
common with the experiences of black and Asian immigrants and their
descendants into the UK (and other countries) and their unpleasant
experiences there. In ancient Egypt it culminated in brutal oppression.
The Israelites know how hard it is to be a stranger in a foreign
country: then and over the subsequent centuries of persecution. That's
why GOD commands them (and all of us) to be kind to the strangers they
The story of Joseph and his descendents can be found in the
Bible (Genesis, ch. 37 ff; continued throughout the Book of Exodus).
The story of how God liberated the Israelites by forcing the Pharao to
let them leave Egypt has been popularised in the film Exodus.
- Jewish asylum seekers refused admission
to the UK: Similar accusations have arisen concerning
a review by Sean Kelly, University of Sheffield, a book by Louise
London: "Whitehall and the Jews, 1933-1948: British Immigration Policy,
Jewish Refugees and the Holocaust". Cambridge University Press, London,
Quotes from the review: "[Louise] London states that Britain
did not view Jewish refugees in a humanitarian light, but through the
eyes of self-interest. More could have been done in trying to assist
Jews fleeing from Nazi Germany and also to permit the shattered
remnants of European Jewry to enter post-Holocaust Britain."
"... Even with visas, however, the government and, more
specifically, the Home Office, were reluctant to outline immigration
policy. As London effectively shows, the government maintained this
policy of trying to avoid having a policy throughout the period that
she examines. By not having a specific policy, the government could be
as restrictive or as compassionate as it (or rather the Home Secretary)
chose to be...."
"... London's work goes beyond September 1939, when all issued
visas were cancelled on the outbreak of war. She emphasises the
government's reluctance to admit Jewish refugees during the war and the
consistent government line that the rescue of Jews was not a war aim.
In fact, the government maintained that the only way to rescue European
Jewry was for the Allies to win the war in the shortest possible time.
This is the most contentious part of the book ..."
"...The government's largest failure was not its failure to
the rescue European Jews, something that was impossible to do. The
failure was, first, to keep silent on what was happening in Nazi
Europe. More information about the Holocaust should have been made
public, along with more specific mention of the fact that the Jews were
being persecuted and exterminated because of their race. Second, the
government's complete denial that the rescue of Jews was impossible
should not have deflected them from attempting to ascertain if
something could have been done. When opportunities did arise, the
government sought to find a way to avoid doing anything to assist the
Jews, rather than seeing if the opportunity could be exploited. ..."
"... Britain did not do enough to save Jews from the
Holocaust, more refugees could have been admitted, but governments
remained keen to exclude them because of their very Jewishness. London
amasses a substantial body of evidence to back up these arguments...."
© 2005 Madhu Pandya