Gariwo: the gardens of the Righteous

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The law about the Righteous as a matter of free choice

​ by Gabriele Nissim

"A Righteous is somebody who has run risks to go to the rescue of somebody else"

"A Righteous is somebody who has run risks to go to the rescue of somebody else"

What is the meaning of the law in honour of the Righteous of the humanity scheduled to discussion in the Parliament, which - as hon. Emanuele Fiano told us - we hope can be approved within the month of October?

Let us immediately avoid a possible misunderstanding. This is not a law that aims at imposing a univocal and definitive moral message, nor at replacing other Days of Remembrance. The Day of the Righteous (6 March), established by the European Parliament, which now a wide front of Italian deputies wishes to bring about also in Italy. represents no obligation, but rather a free choice, which depends only on the good will of the local administrations, educators and teachers.
It would be nonsense if this recurrence, which is meant to promote the memory of the tales of those who have made good moral choices, were seen as an imposition and not as an act of responsibility. First of all, because unless there is a profound persuasion, if there is only a bureaucratic decision, the result can be counterproductive, as it happens in some recurrences of International Day of Remembrance, where ritualism has become more important than the message. If we fall short of authenticity, we come to trivialize the meaning of remembering the Righteous.
Another reason is that, as seen with the approval of the law about Holocaust denial in Italy and other countries (only recently there has been the ambiguous case of Poland, which deems it a criminal offense to use the expression "Polish death camps), imposition has become a short cut that replaces education and cultural battle.
Thus, if we had to find a slogan to define the spirit of this Day, we could talk about this recurrence as a matter of free choice

The Day of the Righteous is set to tackle some of the cultural and political key questions of our times. It is not by chance that this topic was discussed only in the recent years, forcefully imposing itself to the wider audience's attention. For some extents, it is a discussion that stems from a necessity, i.e. the need to answer some questions. 

First of all the crisis of our times. Today we feel a major void in the face of the issues of immigration, fundamentalist terror, the resurfacing of nationalism in Europe, the passivity of the international community in the face of new mass atrocities (see the case of Syria, which seems to remind of the failure of the United Nations in the face of the Rwanda genocide).
In such a context people are more and more scared, because they feel the absence of the institutions. Thus selfishness, indifference and closure come to prevail, and the populist movements stressing separation and walls against all kind of sharing of a common life prevail. To this trend, that risks having serious repercussions in the next elections in Europe and the US, we can find a stem in the moral behaviour of the individuals who defend human plurality, rescuing migrants in the sea, personally opposing the terrorists, reporting genocide, rebuilding the bonds between the nations of Europe.
These kinds of behaviour can give rise to a process of emulation, representing the seed of good that can enable many confused people to see reality from a different point of view.
As happened in the past, the Righteous of our times have no magic wand to change the world, either, but if we popularize their tales, we can relaunch hope in the future of the humanity and resume dialogue even in a time of crisis of the institutions. The Day of the Righteous should hence become an extraordinary magnifying lens for many deserving deeds of people, performed in the void left by politics, which therefore often remain concealed. Putting names to those deeds is a task that goes beyond the past and becomes urgent for our future. 

The law about the Righteous also challenges the limits of all Days of remembrance. The lessons about the past become sterile unless we educate young people to take up responsibility in the times we live in. It is easy to be good afterwards, to condemn the Nazis, the fascists, the villains of the death camps and declare one's own sympathy towards their victims. It is far more difficult to investigate history to understand the present world. This is why widening one's horizon from the analysis of evil and suffering to the tales of those who instead assumed responsibility toward the persecuted represents a quantum leap. Young people therefore are not asked to judge and condemn the past, but are rather invited to ask themselves: "What could you have done to oppose evil and go to the rescue of victims?". A young person who identifies with those who have helped the Jews can better understand how to act about migrants.

Many people in our country feel at unease because of the proliferation of the Days of Remembrance. On different days we are called to remember the victims of the Holocaust, of the foibe killings, of the mafia, of terrorism. We sort of witness a competition of memories, in which those who have suffered - or those who speak out about their suffering - rightfully wish to remember a specific feature of one given kind of persecution. The plurality of memories is not a limit, but a richness, because it transmits the sense of complexity of human history. And yet it becomes counterproductive when a rush to establish a hierarchy of suffering is put in place, as if one suffering were more important than another. This way we fall short of the opportunity to make comparisons, because some people think we would otherwise run the risk of putting the Holocaust on a par with other crimes against the humanity. This is a wrong way to read things, because the memory of the major crime should be a magnifying lens to investigate all the crimes that hit the humanity. An inclusive memory able to perceive all sufferings, rather than a memory closing in itself and creating fences. On the long run, in facts, a self ghettoizing memory that refuses comparisons falls into metaphysics, because it represents evil as a unique exception in the history of humanity. The past should then not repeat itself in new ways. This is the risk that is run by those who sanctify the uniqueness of Shoah. This is why the Day of the Righteous can provide an antidote to separation among the different memories, and a unifying moment between the various days. What can unite and create a taste for comparison, to retrace the common values of good and responsibility. The tales of people who, under different circumstances, have gone to the rescue of other people, can help recompose the horizon of memories. The example set by the Righteous makes it possible, more than anything else, to retrace the common condition of human beings and weave it together again as their natural fabric. The message is in facts very strong: under any circumstances it is always possible to take on responsibility. This is what can unite Jews, Armenians, Rwandans, the mafia and the terror victims. The circumstances were different, but human beings always have a hidden capability to stem evil inside them.

This message of responsibility is very useful in the political and cultural situation that we live today in our country. The idea that still prevails is that, if something does not work, we cannot do anything about it, except for showing our indignation and blaming others. The Righteous, instead, teach us that everybody in his or her own small area of sovereignty can always do something to defend his or her own moral integrity. Those who care about their own garden will not change the world but, as Marc Aurel wrote, leaves a little trace that can become a path for other men and women to follow.

Analysis by Gabriele Nissim, Gariwo chairman

21 September 2016

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