Speaker promotes human rights

Jessica Hampton

Religious intolerance is the major factor oppressing people around the world, said Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel in a speech Tuesday.
Wiesel spoke to a sold-out crowd at Northrop Auditorium on Tuesday afternoon about the role of human rights in the 21st century. Wiesel’s appearance was part of the Distinguished Carlson Lecture Series.
Wiesel and his family were deported to the German concentration camp Auschwitz when he was 15 years old. After World War II, Wiesel worked as a journalist in Paris. He went on to publish more than 35 books and win numerous international awards for human rights and literary achievements, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.
Wiesel kept constant eye contact with his audience as he listed what he feels are some of the primary lessons people should draw from the catastrophes and hardships of the past 100 years.
Wiesel said the democratic system is at fault for many of the Holocaust’s travesties, as countless lives could have been spared with an earlier invasion of Germany during World War II.
“When evil shows its ugly or seductive face, we must fight it immediately,” Wiesel said.
Wiesel encouraged the audience not to feel apathetic toward human rights issues in foreign countries, citing, “thou shall not stand idly by,” as the most valuable commandment from the Bible.
He said earlier intervention in both the Rwanda and Bosnia situations would have been more humane than waiting for conditions to work themselves out.
Wiesel shared his hope that in the 21st century the United States would use its power as one of the strongest world powers to eliminate the “preventable catastrophe” of world hunger.
He also said the death of children globally due to national disputes was inhumane.
“Whatever is important in life is not the conquest of space,” he said.
Wiesel said fanaticism is one of the greatest problems to overcome. He defined a fanatic as, “someone who believes all of us are not worthy, only he is worthy.”
He said a fanatic “never has questions,” and between religious denominations, answers divide and questions unite.
But regardless of religious beliefs, Wiesel said increased faith in humankind overall is what will unite the nations of the world in the 21st century.
“I am free because other people are free,” he said.
Wiesel received a standing ovation from the Northrop audience for the speech, as he urged people to empathize with struggling regions and nations in order for “positive reasons for fighting for human rights” to surface.