Last month, during a weekend stay in Paris, I stumbled upon this particular image in the subway, prominently displayed on an ad promoting the book. The title, of course, immediately drew my attention. „Holocaust in the Congo“ provokes a strong sentiment about the topic, and coupled with a distressful photo, it immediately tells a story of a horrific tragedy. Now, I have no reason to doubt that a holocaust has indeed happened in this place, and it‘s clear why the author chose the word „holocaust“ for the title: to somehow give a name to the immensity of suffering of the people in which France was probably an accomplice (pointed at by the subtitle „La France complice?“). What I do want to point to is linguistic hypocrisy as another example of overall speciesism, which is present in all areas of our everyday life, including language and communication.
The question is: why is it alright to use the word „holocaust“ in this particular example (and others that describe human suffering) but not when we want to describe the unbelievable suffering of literally trillions of non-human animals every year – innocent, sentient beings who are enslaved, experimented on, abused, tortured, raped, mutilated and violently murdered? The immensity of their suffering cannot even be put into words, which is why the most powerful word, a word that has the most intense emotional connotation and a word that encompasses all the different horrifying things that humans do to their victims is precisely a „holocaust“. Many Jewish writers have themselves written about this.
We are all well aware that the Holocaust happened to the Jewish people during World War II at the hands of the Nazis. That doesn‘t mean that another holocaust cannot happen, and indeed, that it is not happening right now (which it is). In short, to attempt to ban the use of the most descriptive word known to mankind for non-human animals under the pretext of sensitivity, but to allow the same word to be used for human animals for the same suffering is a clear example of linguistic speciesism, that is, a discrimination in our language against other sentient beings based on their species.
Until we learn to respect others‘ rights and behave according to the moral baseline, regardless of the species, race, and other differences, we will continue to subject both human and non-human animals – to other holocausts.