Muslims and Holocaust denial

Jonathan Freedland had a piece in today’s Guardian, The sickness bequeathed by the west to the Muslim world, in reaction to the recent comments of the president of Iran to the effect that “we” (whoever he meant by that besides himself) do not accept the truth of the Holocaust. Freedland claims that, of all the hostility to Jews he knew existed among Muslims, “everyone has their limits and last week I reached mine”, with Ahmadinejad’s decision “to stand with the cranks, neo-fascists and racists who deny the factual truth of the Holocaust”.

To be honest, I’m not sure what “snapped” in Mr Freedland when he read of this, because Iranian propaganda has often contained liberal amounts of anti-Semitism, particularly in the early post-revolutionary years, including a tendency to quote from tracts like the Protocols. As he notes, anti-Semitism which originated in Europe, such as this and the blood libel (for the uninitiated, this was an accusation that the matzos used on Passover contained Christian children’s blood) have turned up more than once in the Arab media recently, so the fact that a man he calls a “hick” and an ignoramus, known by everyone as an extremist, might repeat it shouldn’t really ring many alarm bells.

Holocaust denial is highly offensive to a lot of people (which seems sometimes to be the intention); the fact that a lot of Muslims believe this sort of thing (the blood-matzo story more than Holocaust denial, in my opinion) has bigger implications than that for us Muslims. It’s a huge embarrassment for those of us who seek to challenge negative perceptions of Islam and Muslims. One of the first posts I came across at SAFspace was about this very issue (you can see my comments about it there), and the wider issue of why some Muslims are so willing to believe conspiracy theories. The problem for us with this particular theory is that, quite simply, if people express support for it, their credibility bursts just like that.

Holocaust denial simply has no currency in western society and never has had. The only people who have ever sought to “challenge orthodoxy” have had axes to grind, whether it is racism, excessive pro-German sentiment, fascism or something else. And the “counter-arguments” hardly present a much better scenario: for example, when David Irving was asked of what he thought had happened to his questioner’s aunt who had died at Auschwitz, he replied that she had most likely died of typhus, like Anne Frank. And this leads to the excuse that it was allied bombing which led to the failures of food and other supplies which led to the mass deaths in the camps. But this does not change the fact that they should not have been removed from their homes and sent to the camps in the first place.

It’s very difficult to persuade Muslims that Holocaust “revisionism” is malicious nonsense; it is after all not part of most Muslims’ history. When it took place, the descendents of the vast majority of the Muslims living in Europe lived back in their homelands; in the case of those of the Indian subcontinent, their experience of the war would have been mostly on the Japanese front, but the fact that Nazi Germany was the enemy of their colonial powers endeared them to some North Africans. Its value to supporters of Israel also adds to Muslims’ suspicions about the incident. In my estimation, Muslims who believe this believe it in all honesty and not with the ulterior motives found in its white originators, but Muslim organsations should be aware that if those with such sympathies become their leaders or spokesmen, they are likely to be a liability to their credibility.

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