June 24, 2019


A Camp By Any Other Name Would Smell as Foul (MICHAEL SIEGEL, JUNE 24, 2019, Ordinary Times)

Last week, a mini-controversy erupted when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez referred to the federal immigrant detention facilities as "concentration camps". The sky turned Twitter-blue with tweets either justifying the comparison or disputing it. Proponents pointed out that the term "concentration camp" is not a term specific to the Holocaust and refers to any concentration of individuals to isolate them from society. Of course, they also compared the current situation to Nazi Germany and said things like "never again" so they were kind of all over the map on that one. Opponents of the term got into very high dudgeon over the pro-immigration side using such a loaded term and pointed out, rather pedantically, that we aren't actually executing people. Of course, they often paired this with commentary saying that detention conditions should be harsh in order to discourage people from...uh...fleeing to this country to avoid being tortured and murdered by drug gangs. So I'm not sure they were entirely in Earth orbit either.

For a while, I was on Team Not-A-Concentration-Camp. Not because these aren't concentration camps -- they do meet the technical definition. But because I sympathized with the argument that the phrase "concentration camp" is extremely loaded. When people hear that phrase, they think of the labor and extermination camps of the Nazis, which these are not. At best, they think of the Japanese Internment camps, which is closer to the mark, although those involved US citizens. Of course, those associations are precisely why many people want to use the term "concentration camp". But I think using that term is less likely to make people reconsider their position than to hunker down and refuse to listen. Pejoratives have a tendency to do that.

It's at this point in the post where I'm supposed to say, "As a Jew..." to justify my point. Well, as a Jew, I refuse to invoke my religion as some kind of rhetorical shield. You don't have be Jewish to have an opinion on this subject; nor are you required to have a strong opinion on this subject if you're Jewish. While the phrase "concentration camp" has a special and tragic resonance for Jews (as well as Eastern Europeans, Roma, gays and disabled who were also murdered by millions), our historical tragedy is not your rhetorical barb. Regardless of my religion and heritage, I avoid using the phrase "concentration camp". I avoid it because I don't want the extremely esoteric and ultimately useless battle over what we call our immigration detention facilities to distract from what they are. Because what they are is a catastrophe.

Posted by at June 24, 2019 8:21 PM