Details of the event have been amalgamated or changed to protect identities.
The author grew up on a diet of war films of good vs evil. Allies vs Axis in WWII. North vs South in the American Civil War. The Rebel Alliance and the Empire in Star Wars. And, for a time, Israel vs the Arabs. These things were, in the beginning, understood with a passion that a child has when told by their parents and other authority figures what is right and what is wrong.
Later as various nuances were introduced some of this was reinforced but mostly it was weakened. Morality, good and bad were relativised. There was slavery, but also Sherman’s march to the sea. There was the Blitz and the massacres of the allied prisoners by the German armed forces, but also the strategic bombing campaign of Germany. There was the Bataan Death March and there was Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I learned about the Nakbah and ugly attitudes among Israeli Jews towards Muslims and Arabs. I learned about European colonialism and the Belgian Congo. I continued to study and be repulsed by fascism. I played and enjoyed Wolfenstein: The New Order but I had come to far more intellectually feel about how bad Nazism was, rather than believe that sentiment as profoundly as I should have. I had fully subscribed to the West as victimiser paradigm.
Then I met a Nazi.
They were from an Arab country. They were a colleague. They were erudite, well educated, cosmopolitan. They spoke more languages than I knew small phrases in. They gave encouraging words to others and had a warm smile. I looked up to them and thought about how assured, educated, competent and worthy they were.
Then someone mentioned getting along with Israel. Their warm, cosmopolitan mask cracked like an egg being rudely dashed on the rim of a frying pan. They expressed their indifference to the Holocaust. They said they identified with the position many Arabs had that the Holocaust was either fictional or a Good Thing.
First came the confusion, the shock, the denial. Then came feelings of nausea, feelings of flight or fight. It became hard to focus. But above it all, instead of the normal warm smile, there was the sneer of absolute certainty on their face. The focused hatred in their brown eyes. There was the utter lack of empathy and identification in their eyes. There was the clear desire to inflict pain, death and suffering on a grand scale – should circumstances ever allow them to carry out their wishes, and all without hesitation. Anything else was how they acted in polite company and clearly hoped that the parameters of how they needed to behave in polite company would change.
Before I saw this there had been something unreal about the Nazis. Something singular. They were a particular set of people from a particular time. Those that claimed their mantle openly were pathetic losers. Badly educated, with beer bellies, tattoos everywhere, no jobs, no future. No one, or indeed no one of such deep education, such wide traveling and cultural experience, no one of their professional quality would ever even think such things. Such at least, was how I thought. Watching or reading about the Nazis do horrible things was one thing. It was in the past. It was on screen as pixels. It had been real but it had been. And even where there were such prejudices, it would not be extended, surely, to people they knew and had displayed kindness and warmth to and had those same qualities returned.
Then this music began playing in my head and the feelings of nausea, flight or fight, heightened to anger. I heard myself breath and felt it more acutely. ‘Calm down’, said my brain. I did not remain calm but I did remain passive. I am sure though the look on my face was less one of disgust and more one of anguished betrayal.
The disgust and the coldness came later, but with it came reading. Lots and lots of reading. Reading about the complete expulsions of Jewish populations from Arab countries. Reading about Arab imperialism and the destruction of the remnants of the Roman world by the Arabs, and the Arab suppression of if not destruction of cultures. Reading about the not always progressive, often repressive and brutal Cordoba caliphate. Reading about the cruelties of Brahmin caste at the zenith of Hindu led civilisation in India. Reading about German barbarians crossing the Rhine and inflicting such a catastrophe that contemporaries often wrote as though they were in the midst of the apocalypse itself. Reading once again about the Nazis, their origins, their practices, but a lot more importantly their helpmates, their collaborators – particularly in eastern Europe and how many ‘colonised’ peoples cheered silently and sometimes not so silently for the Germans to win. Reading about the indifference to, if not celebration of the Holocaust in the Muslim world, indeed in most of Asia. Reading sneering Nazi dismissals of Roman law, Jewish and Christian morality (mostly one and the same to the Nazis), and hearing some echoes of the same in denunciations of western centric, enlightenment inspired thinking on the right but also on the left. Reading about people remembering every real or imagined injustice inflicted upon them and glorying in the injustices they inflicted upon others.
And with this madness mantra of reading came reconsidering previous actions, previous statements in a whole new light. Not just of this person but of many others. Appreciating just more fully how fully intended expressions of desire to conquer, to hurt, to be cruel to others were. Just how sincerely conservative desires to not care for the weak, the sick, the unfortunate were.
Several months later, I had to leave. They remained and were promoted. In the meantime, I have had difficulty sleeping. I am confident they, and the millions if not billions like them sleep well.