Predictable foolishness over the Holocaust…by Daniel Peters

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The typical responses to the Holocaust conference in Iran, while predictable, are inappropriate and counterproductive.

Absurdity is not a moral category. It is natural, and inevitable, that people will believe crazy things. Live with it. If I believe something that is wrong – even something that is obviously wrong (according to you) – that does not make me a bad person. And if my crazy belief happens to focus on a topic of great importance to a particular group of people, it does not follow that I have any special hatred toward that group.

Let me point out something so obvious, so self-evident, that it should not have to be said at all: Denial of the Holocaust, in itself, is not an expression of hatred against Jews. It is not an expression of intolerance, or of racism. It is merely (at worst) a stupid, and incorrect, assertion about history.

You may want to retort that the Holocaust deniers can be shown, on other grounds, to be haters of Jews. That is true of some of them, no doubt. But that observation is irrelevant to the question of whether Holocaust denial itself should be treated as intolerable. The rules of logic reject arguments of the form “so-and-so is a bad person, hence what he says is false”, and it is equally illogical to argue “so-and-so is a bad person, hence what he says is evil”. We can legitimately be outraged at hatred, but we ought to save such outrage for the times when that hatred is actually expressed.

Moreover – to repeat what I said in a previous article here – political opposition to an opinion about history conveys a dangerous message: If the opinion must be suppressed politically, then perhaps it cannot be refuted rationally. This is surely not the message we should be sending to any tender minds that may be in danger of being swayed by the Holocaust deniers! Holocaust denial feeds on such political opposition.

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There’s a wrinkle here, of course: The conference in Iran is not merely about history. It includes an anti-Israeli political agenda, clearly by design. But “anti-Israeli” does not equal “anti-Jewish” (let alone “anti-Semitic”). Moreover, there is nothing particularly sacred about the state of Israel. No modern nation-state is above criticism, and none should be immune to having the legitimacy of its existence questioned. (As a side comment, for what it’s worth: I consider Israel to have exactly the same right to exist that any other nation-state has.)

I am not, in any sense, a supporter of Mahmud Ahmadinejad. But I cannot help noticing that his opinions seem to be twisted relentlessly by his opponents. For example, people often say that he has “vowed” to destroy Israel, yet I’ve never seen such a vow in any direct quotation. (Can someone point me to one? I’d be interested in seeing it.) Ahmadinejad has, I think, stated that Israel “ought” to be destroyed; but there is a world of difference between saying that something ought to happen and a vow to take violent action to make it happen. Even George W. Bush understands that difference!

What exactly does Ahmadinejad mean when he speaks of the destruction of Israel? His comments at the Holocaust conference are illuminating. He has described the destruction of Israel as “inevitable”. Notice, first, that this is not the language of a call to arms. (When a politician is trying to motivate people to take action toward a given goal, it is more typical to stress the possibility that the goal will not be reached if his audience fails to take action.) Moreover, he has said that Israel will be destroyed in the same way that the Soviet Union was. Now the way I recall it, the USSR did not fall to foreign invasion, nor to terrorism. Rather, there was a change of heart, a practical and sensible submission to the inevitable. That (very nearly) bloodless change of regime (along with its accompanying cartographic change) is the explicit model for the vision that Ahmadinejad offers.

It may be that Ahmadinejad’s real beliefs and real intentions are far more sinister. I do not know. But that is a different topic. I argue here only that his explicit statements – at least, the ones I know of – are far less offensive than is indicated by the responses of most Western politicians and editorialists, in their eagerness to display political piety.

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Stephen Elliott-Buckley

Post-partisan eco-socialist. at Politics, Re-Spun
Stephen Elliott-Buckley is a husband, father, professor, speaker, consultant, former suburban Vancouver high school English and Social Studies teacher who changed careers because the BC Liberal Party has been working hard to ruin public education. He has various English and Political Science degrees and has been writing political, social and economic editorials since November 2002. Stephen is in Twitter, Miro and iTunes, and the email thing, and at his website,

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3 thoughts on “Predictable foolishness over the Holocaust…by Daniel Peters”

  1. Of course, many of Ahmadinejad’s public comments leave little doubt he is also as hateful of Judaism as he is of Israel, though I concur, condemnation or criticism of Israel the state is, of itself, unrelated to feelings about Judaism.

    Denial of the Holocaust is at its core, simply an ignorance of history, regardless of the reasons for expressing that denial. The preponderance of evidence of the Holocaust is so vast that denying it is akin to denying the existence of, say, the automobile. You just can’t convince a reasonable person there is (or was) no such thing.

  2. Brian and David, thank you for your feedback.

    David, you say, “Many of Ahmadinejad’s public comments leave little doubt he is also as hateful of Judaism as he is of Israel.” I would be interested in seeing some examples. You may be right, of course, but I’m not convinced. As a (small) nudge to the contrary, don’t forget that there were Jews in attendance at the Holocaust conference. (Yes, I know that the Neturei Karta sect is a very small group within Judaism, but that’s irrelevant to the present point.) Israel Hirsch, one of these attendees, had met Ahmadinejad previously, and reported that the meeting was “very warm”. Hirsch does not appear to believe that Ahmadinejad has any special hatred of Jews.

    Back to the other topic. You also say, “Denial of the Holocaust is, at its core, simply an ignorance of history…. The preponderance of evidence of the Holocaust is so vast that denying it is akin to denying the existence of, say, the automobile. You just can’t convince a reasonable person there is (or was) no such thing.” I agree with the first sentence (with some caveats), and I’m tempted to agree with the third (though I feel that I have no such right), but surely the second is overstated. After all, I see automobiles every day. I even own one. The evidence for the Holocaust, however vast it may be, is surely not up to that level.

    Aside from that bit of hyperbole, you may be entirely right. That is, it may very well be that “the preponderance of evidence” is so overwhelming that there is no room for reasonable doubt. But I cannot express any meaningful agreement with such a suggestion, for the very simple reason that I have not given the matter sufficient study. The evidence I have seen is enough to convince me (of the standard story of the Holocaust) but not enough to allow me to dismiss all naysayers as unreasonable. (It is tempting, though. I have difficulty conceiving of a scenario that is anything but preposterous, that includes such a vast, widespread, successful hoax occurring in the modern era.)

    Like most people, I am no historian. It would be nice if I could claim that my belief in the standard story of the Holocaust is a matter of following the evidence, plain and simple. But I can’t. As much as I hate to admit it, trust in the scholarly consensus plays an important role here.

    And scholarly consensus is a funny thing. There is another case – on a topic unrelated to the Holocaust, as it happens, and it’s best that I not distract you by identifying it – where I have the temerity to disagree with the consensus of historians, in spite of my lack of credentials in the study of history. And this is also a case where many people would undoubtedly say something similar to what you have said: “The preponderance of evidence” (against my opinion) “is so vast” that “you just can’t convince a reasonable person” (of my position).

    So I’ll close with a small reminder that disagreement with a scholarly consensus is not, in itself, a bad thing – even when it is defended with words such as yours, dismissing all dissent as necessarily unreasonable. This is not to say that you’re wrong, but only that for most people (myself included), our agreement with you is not a sign of virtue.

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