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What They Are Saying Week of Dec. 22, 2005

December 22, 2005
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Jonathan Freedland
No Way to Explain Away the Crude Muslim Hatred of Jews
Journalist Jonathan Freedland writes in Britain's Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk) on Dec. 14 about the sickness bequeathed by the West to the Muslim world:

"There were few memorable moments in the [British] election campaign of 2005, but there's one I won't forget. It came when I was interviewing a group of Muslim voters in Edinburgh, asking how the Iraq war had unsettled their political allegiances. One older man began telling me that he did not blame Tony Blair or even George Bush for the way things had turned out, because they were mere dupes of a more powerful force. The calamity of 9/11 was not all it seemed: The authors of that event were not the 19 hijackers, but more shadowy players, unknown even to Bush. Later, as he gave me a lift to the station, I asked who these secret powers might be. The answer was 'rich Jewish people.'

"I put the comments to one side, dismissing them as the ramblings of one man.

"Again and again, I've made the same move. I've read the reports of sermons in the Arab world, denouncing Judaism and Jews, and tried to see a wider context.

"Such has been my standard operating procedure, trying to see if there's a way to contextualize these incidents, to see them in proportion. My motivation was not complicated: I prefer my Jewish identity to be positive, rather than defined by a perennial defense against anti-Semitism.

"But everyone has his limits and last week I reached mine. On Thursday the president of Iran chose to stand with the cranks, neo-fascists and racists who deny the factual truth of the Holocaust.

" 'Some European countries insist on saying that Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews in furnaces,' said Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. 'Although we don't accept this claim.'

"Suddenly, the usual apologetics won't work. No one can say Iran's president was really complaining about Israel or Zionism, rather than Jews. No one can say he was talking about the West's colonial crimes. He was peddling, instead, one of the defining tropes of the racist hard-right: Holocaust denial. It is a stance that seeks to deny Jews their history, their suffering, almost their very being … it is a move made by those who wish only harm.

"In this light, Ahmadinejad's previous musings look rather different. When, in October, he stood beneath a banner that promised 'A world without Zionism' and called for Israel to be 'wiped off the map,' many Jews felt a chill at what seemed an annihilationist fantasy. Cooler heads said no, this was merely the hyperbolic style of the region.

"Well, now I'm done with the charitable explanations. A man who refuses to believe the historic truth is capable of anything. This is a head of government, the leader of a nation of 70 million - a country that aspires to lead the Muslim world. And, lest we forget, Iran has nuclear ambitions. So now it's not paranoid to worry about a president with annihilationist dreams - it's smart.

"Unfortunately, it doesn't end with Ahmadinejad. He has given voice to a sentiment that runs deep in Iran and in the wider Muslim world.

"We can deny it no longer: The virus of anti-Semitism has infected the Muslim world. And virus it is, for Jew-hatred on this scale, as Christian Europe can testify, is a kind of sickness. This is one of the grossest legacies bequeathed by the West: that Muslims have taken to heart a form of anti-Semitism alien to their own lands, borrowing a language and iconography that was made in Christendom. Blood libels and the Protocols were dreamed up in Norwich, Mainz or Moscow - yet now they breathe anew in Cairo, Riyadh and Damascus.

"This represents a menace to Jews, of course, but also a tragedy for Muslims. Theirs is a tradition that historically valued learning. Yet now many lap up the myths and lies that were once fed to the peasants of Europe, lies which endured through to the last century - and which led all the way to Treblinka."

A Place Where Holocaust Denial's Just Plain Old Small Talk

Columnist Jay Nordlinger writes in the National Review (www.nationalreview.com) Dec. 15 that knowledge of Mideast hate isn't limited to specialists:

"When I was a serious student of the Middle East some years ago, I would often think, 'You know, the world doesn't know anything about this - the Holocaust denial, the freakish theories, the irreconcilable hatred.' And I wished the world could know more.

"One thing that always amazed me is that many Middle Eastern elites couldn't decide whether to deny the Holocaust, celebrate it or lament that it didn't go far enough.

"If you ever peruse the Web site of the Middle East Research Institute (www. MEMRI.org), you'll know what I'm talking about.

"And you recall this charming fact about 'Abu Mazen,' the head of the Palestinian Authority: He wrote a dissertation that denied the Holocaust. It was later published as The Other Side: The Secret Relations Between Nazism and the Leadership of the Zionist Movement. The Palestinian boss wrote this scholarly opus while in Moscow.

"Anyway, one thing 9/11 and the war on terror did was make people far more aware of the nature of the Middle East. When the Iranian president talks the way he talks - the Holocaust never happened, Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth, blah, blah, blah - the world focuses in. The nature of that region is now out in the open, confronted. If I may speak frankly, a lot of us feel like we no longer possess secret knowledge.

"Which comes as a great relief.

"And, by the way: the line that the Iranian president took the other day? I'll paraphrase: 'The Holocaust didn't occur, but if it did, it was a European crime - and why should the Middle East have to pay, with Jews in our midst, for a crime of Europeans? If Israel has to exist, let it be in Europe.'

"Many people were shocked by this. But such talk is routine in the Middle East (and elsewhere). Absolutely standard. No more remarkable than, 'Are you enjoying the weather?'

"Holocaust denial, and the strict refusal to recognize anything legitimate about Israel, have long been part of the Middle Eastern air. And now the broader world is more cognizant of it. Perhaps this has had the effect of making people more sympathetic to the Israelis, as they cope with their enemies. (I said 'perhaps.')

"Recall what Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, son of the dictator, said at the Davos conference last year. In a session with journalists, he was asked about Holocaust denial in countries like Libya (for example, in their textbooks). Gaddafi began, 'I'm not a historian, I don't know all the facts.'

"Oops. He quickly recognized that this wouldn't fly, in this particular room - so he took a new tack.

" 'It is incorrect to deny the Holocaust.' Why's that? Because it was the Russians who liberated Auschwitz, and the world learned about these horrors from them - 'not from the Zionists, not from The New York Times.' From the Red Army. (In the Muslim world, the Times is seen as an Israeli propaganda sheet. How's that for misunderstanding?)

" 'So,' young Gaddafi concluded, 'if Arabs deny this [the Holocaust], it is incorrect.'

"Whew. Thank heavens for the Red Army."

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