Wiesel on Memory, Silence, and Night

Felix Nussbaum. Prisoner. 1940, oil on canvas.

A survivor of Auschwitz, Elie Wiesel, while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986:

On Night—

I remember: it happened yesterday, or eternities ago. A young Jewish boy discovered the Kingdom of Night. I remember his bewilderment, I remember his anguish. It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed.

I remember he asked his father, ‘Can this be true? This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?’

On Memory—

And now the boy is turning to me.

‘Tell me,’ he asks, ‘what have you done with my future, what have you done with your life?’

And I tell him that I have tried.

That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.

On Silence—

And then I explain to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.

On the same note, Desmond Tutu writes:

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.

Wiesel, again. On Suffering—

Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must at that moment become the center of the universe. …

Human rights are being violated on every continent. More people are oppressed than free. How can one not be sensitive to their plight? Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women anywhere. …

Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately.

Attributions

Brown, Robert McAfee. Unexpected New: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes. Westminster John Knox Press, 1984.

Wiesel, Elie. Night. 1958. Translated by Marion Wiesel, Hill and Wang, 2006.

Van Norden on the Right to an Audience

Ilya Repin. Portrait of Professor Ivanov. 1882, oil on canvas, Ateneum Art Museum.

Bryan W. Van Norden, professor of philosophy at Vassar College, writes that:

We are seeing the worsening of a trend that the 20th century German-American philosopher Herbert Marcuse warned of back in 1965: “In endlessly dragging debates over the media, the stupid opinion is treated with the same respect as the intelligent one, the misinformed may talk as long as the informed, and propaganda rides along with education, truth with falsehood.”

His solution? Not denying freedom of speech, but limiting access.

There is a clear line between censoring someone and refusing to provide them with institutional resources for disseminating their ideas.

Van Norden goes on:

What just access means in terms of positive policy is that institutions that are the gatekeepers to the public have a fiduciary responsibility to award access based on the merit of ideas and thinkers. To award space in a campus lecture hall to someone like [Jordan] Peterson who says that feminists “have an unconscious wish for brutal male domination,” or to give time on a television news show to someone like [Ann] Coulter who asserts that in an ideal world all Americans would convert to Christianity, or to interview a D-list actor like Jenny McCarthy about her view that actual scientists are wrong about the public health benefits of vaccines is not to display admirable intellectual open-mindedness. It is to take a positive stand that these views are within the realm of defensible rational discourse, and that these people are worth taking seriously as thinkers.”

In conclusion:

The invincibly ignorant and the intellectual huckster have every right to express their opinions, but their right to free speech is not the right to an audience.”

Attributions

Van Norden, Bryan W. “The Ignorant Do Not Have a Right to an Audience.” The New York Times, 25 June 2018. Accessed 25 June 2018.