holocaust conference .
(photo credit: AP)
What form will Holocaust remembrance take once there are no more survivors living among us? It's a question often asked in recent years without any conclusive answer.
This week, courtesy of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, we now have a glimpse of what the future holds in store: quasi-academic conferences hosted by leaders with genocidal ambitions where quack scholars debate issues such as "Gas chambers: denial or conformation," "Freedom of speech and the stance of holocaust deniers in the West" and "Holocaust and carnage of Palestinians."
The Institute for Political and International Studies, a department of the Iranian Foreign Ministry organizing the conference, insists that their intention is not anti-Semitic and that the proceedings are being held "paying full respect for the Jewish religion." They claim that the purpose of the gathering is to "provide space for those interested in order to clarify the hidden and open corners of this issue, which is considered as the very important preoccupation of our world today" and to do this "away from any propaganda or political orientation."
One of the sessions deals with "Jews in Iran." Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki claimed in his opening address that anti-Semitism is a unique Western invention, non-existent in Islamic countries where "many Jews reached senior positions." To prove their point, the Iranians placed their regular Neturei Karta stooges in the front row of the conference. These haredi anti-Zionists used to be Yasser Arafat's favorite Jews and are now turning into frequent guests in Teheran.
If this new excuse, that questioning the Holocaust doesn't mean you're an anti-Semite, sounds familiar, that's no coincidence. It's merely a takeoff from another one that's become very fashionable of late - that severely criticizing Israel doesn't mean you're an anti-Semite.
Of course, this statement is often true; one can be a critic of Israeli policy and remain clean of racial hatred, and besides, anti-Semitism is a much too serious accusation to be made lightly. But too often, knee-jerk blaming of Israel, a perpetual double-standard and branding every response to terrorism as "disproportionate," is just that, a thinly veiled new strain of an ancient virus.
The Iranians are simply following this example. Just as too many anti-Semites are allowed today to get away by portraying themselves as anti-Zionists, the Teheran conference underlines the possibility of Holocaust denial becoming an accepted, albeit controversial academic opinion.
This is, of course, not the first time that the Ahmadinejad regime has made use of the Holocaust. The last time was during the uproar following the Mohammed cartoons in a Danish newspaper, when the Iranians organized their own cartoon exhibition. The Iranian exhibition did not present cartoons of Jesus, as might have been expected from such a childish gesture, but cartoons on the Holocaust. Where is the connection? The offending newspaper Jyllands-Posten isn't owned or edited by Jews. The Iranians simply said they were testing the limits of the West's tolerance.
The underlying message here is that the Holocaust, which has always been much more than just the mass-murder of six million Jews, is seen by many in the Islamic and non-democratic world as a major political and propaganda tool in the hands of the imperialistic West, not just the Jews.
Actually, there's nothing new about this. The old Soviet Union and its communist counterparts in eastern Europe, despite being part of the war against the Third Reich, all had trouble coming to terms with the Holocaust. The KGB took care to stamp out any attempt by Jews to separately commemorate their dead and made sure that even on monuments at places where mainly Jews were exterminated, the only identification would be "victims of Fascism."
It used to be said that the most effective barometer of the level of human rights and personal freedom in a country is its attitude towards its Jews. Now that barometer can use the denial of the Holocaust as its system of measurement. The most well known deniers, David Irving and his ilk, might live in the West, but they are a discredited group of outcasts, most of them unable to find work in any respectable university, their books turned down by mainstream publishers and in some countries even outlawed. Meanwhile, Holocaust denial is flourishing worldwide in countries with oppressive regimes and in many Islamic ones such beliefs are even sponsored by the government.
Perhaps that is the future for Holocaust remembrance, forever emphasizing the connection between its lessons and the worldwide struggle for freedom.
On that note, at least, there is also a ray of light. The most important piece of news coming out of Teheran on Monday wasn't the Holocaust conference, it was another event during which Ahmadinejad arrived at Amir Kabir University to give a speech and was heckled by members of a banned student's group chanting "death to the dictator" and burning his picture.
It would be nice to think they were protesting against his Holocaust denial, but they were actually up in arms over the curtailing of political freedom on campus. Still, one thing is certain; when the day comes that Iran is no longer a country given over to Islamic despotism, it won't be funding such conferences anymore.