Yes, Holocaust Day Should Be Scrapped ... Not for the Risible Reason It's 'Offensive to Muslims' but Because It's a Political Stunt That Cheapens This Appalling Crime

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Byline: MAX HASTINGS

TONY BLAIR'S Muslim advisers have urged him to scrap Holocaust Memorial Day because it is 'offensive to Muslims to suggest that Western lives have more value than non-Western lives'.

My own first reaction, and I suspect that of many other British people, was pretty sharp.

Britain is a Western society. Our anniversaries and memorials, our saints' days and festivals, mark events that have been etched into our history for centuries.

This country today plays host to several million people who have chosen to leave their own lands, break the links with their own cultures, to live among us.

Some, if not most, of the problems that afflict our society might have been avoided if we had made plain years ago that living in Britain commits any migrant to respect our world, our ways, our heritage.

For Muslim leaders to tell us what they find it acceptable for us to commemorate seems an amazing presumption. Think how we would respond if President Chirac suddenly urged us to erase Trafalgar Day from our calendar because it is offensive to the French.

Yet, after my first surge of anger about the Muslim plea to Downing Street, I began to think again. Holocaust Memorial Day has always appeared one of the cheapest and most tasteless gestures imposed on us by New Labour. This is not because the occasion might offend Muslims, but because it seems inappropriate to many British people.

It was typical Blair. He announced the first commemoration for January 27, 2001. In his most sanctimonious mood, he said: 'As the Holocaust survivors age and become fewer in number, it becomes our duty to take up the mantle and tell each generation what happened, and what might happen again.' It is precisely because the Holocaust was a seminal historic event that some of us recoil from its exploitation.

From the outset, many people asked harsh questions about why Blair should impose an enforced commemoration here.

It was not the British who committed the mass murder of the Jewish people.

Britain played a leading role in delivering Europe from Nazi tyranny.

A real danger faces the West today, of vulgarising and cheapening the Jewish tragedy. In the United States especially, there is a 'Holocaust industry', producing ever more literature and generating ever more university courses devoted exclusively to the Jewish catastrophe. Millions of American students, and a disturbing number of British ones, leave school or university knowing no history at all except that of the Nazi era, and especially of the death camps.

I write books about World War II. Perhaps the most important task of any historian is to try to set events in context.

For instance, many people suppose that only Jews died at Auschwitz. They are astonished to learn that as many Russians, Poles, gipsies and other tragic flotsam of Europe, to a total of some three million, died as did Jews in Auschwitz.

To say this is not to seek to diminish the horror of the Jewish experience - though some Jewish militants would brand me a 'Holocaust denier' - but to assist our understanding of the Nazi tyranny.

While the Jewish people were explicitly marked out for extinction by Hitler, his regime was also responsible for the deaths of some 25 million civilians, most of these Russian, who were not Jewish.

Few people to this day know that the Japanese presided over some 15 million Chinese deaths as they sought to carve out an empire in China between 1937 and 1945.

Japanese policy, as their forces swept across that hapless country, was known as 'the three alls': 'Kill all, Burn all, Destroy all. …