Today among populist Muslim leaders, there is a rallying cry in the making, and this rallying cry is a denial of the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews. First, the President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shocked the world community by flatly denying that the Holocaust ever occurred. Then, only a few weeks later, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition party in Egypt, came out and he too denied the existence of the Holocaust. Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, has recently warned that "There's no question that a very ugly wave of Holocaust denial is sweeping the Arab world."
Denials of the Holocaust are not new. In the West, authors appear from time to time who write whole books on the subject. Of course, one of the problems that these authors always face is the fact that so many people are convinced that there really was a Holocaust, in which case the authors must explain how such a rumor could have ever gotten started. Thus, anyone who wishes to deny the Holocaust must identify the culprit who made up such a whopper in the first place. Myths on such a colossal scale just don't come out of nowhere.
The traditional answer of those have denied the Holocaust is, no surprise, that the Jews made up the story themselves: because they benefited most from the myth of the Holocaust, they obviously must have made been the inventors of the lie. This is pretty much typical anti-Semitic fare that only requires a willingness to believe in vast Jewish conspiracies -- something that has never proven much of a sticking point for veteran anti-Semites.
Today, however, those in the Muslim world who are denying the Holocaust are speaking a different language. For them, the Holocaust is no longer a vast Jewish conspiracy; it has become a vast Western conspiracy. It is the West that came up with the myth of the Holocaust in order to wage war against Islam. The "myth" of the Holocaust has been revealed as nothing more than a tool in the arsenal of Western imperialism. Listen to the word of Mohammed Mahdi Akef, the President of the Muslim Brotherhood, an populist organization outlawed back in 1954, but suddenly liberated in the democratic ferment sweeping the Arab world.
"Western democracies have slammed all those who don't see eye to eye with the Zionists regarding the myth of the Holocaust," Akef wrote in one of his weekly articles, arguing that his words are "meant to expose the false American rule which has become a nightmare of a new world order. I am making these comments to all free people in the world, aiming to wake up the conscience in humanity. The sword of democracy is only unsheathed against those who raise the flag of Islam."
Let us try to grasp the logic here.
Western democracies, according to Akef, attack all those do not subscribe to "the myth of the Holocaust." Good Muslims, like Akef himself, do not believe in this myth, and that is why "sword of democracy is only unsheathed" against them. To accept the myth of the Holocaust therefore makes a person into an enemy of Islam, while those who wish to rally to the flag of Islam will vigorously resist the West's attempt to impose this historical fraud on them. To resist Western imperialism, it is essential to deny the Holocaust. In short, Akef is making denial of the Holocaust into a litmus test of solidarity with the Muslim world. Those who deny the Holocaust are with them, those who affirm it are against them.
Up until now, it was unnecessary in the West, outside of Germany and Austria, to pay serious attention to those who disputed the historicity of the Holocaust: they constituted a tiny fringe group, and dismissing their views had little political risks or consequences. They could simply be shrugged off as quacks, at best, and crypto-Nazis, at worst. But this recent wave of Holocaust denial is not coming from a statistically insignificant potion of the West; it is coming from Muslim leaders with popular followings, and what is even more troublesome, it is not being challenged by others in the Muslim community. As the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said, "The problem is that so far in the Arab world, very few leaders are willing to tell their own people that they have to understand that the Holocaust did take place" -- a statement that is putting it very mildly, indeed.
Are we dealing here with simply two different but equally legitimate points of view of what happened to the Jews under Nazi Germany; or are we dealing with a new ideological virus, and one that is on the verge of spreading like an epidemic?
We in the West have already rewritten a great deal of history in the name of cultural tolerance and diversity. But are we prepared to deny the truth of the Holocaust in the name of the same principles?
Yet, if you think about it, why not? After all, if different cultures can have different values, why not let them write different histories? Who's to say whose history is right anyway? Are not Muslims entitled to their own interpretation of the historical past, like everyone else? What gives the West the right to impose its own ethnocentric interpretation of history on the rest of mankind? If the West insists on forcing Muslim to accept that the Holocaust really occurred, isn't this a form of "historical" imperialism?
You see here the slippery slope upon which the West has so frequently lost its footing of late. Let us hope that, in this one instance at least, it is prepared to dig its heels in and stand firm.