Thursday, December 1, 2011

Post #96 - Holocaust Denial, continued

On this subject, as with the abortion question, the middle-ground becomes “no-man's -land.” The two extremes dominate the conversation so completely that those who are moderate, open-minded or inclined to reserve judgment can only despair. Topics as difficult as this deserve our very best minds and our very best efforts.

What we get, instead, are public relations campaigns designed to smear and to damn the “other side.” The clearest case-in-point is that of the frequently-repeated "reporting" of President Ahmadinezhad saying that "Israel must be wiped off the map” or “off the face of the earth.” This stemmed, as we discussed earlier, from a badly-translated press report; the original Persian being quite different from the phrasing so widely reported.

The hostility Ahmadinezhad feels toward Israel is real and undeniable. As many in the West feel that the Islamic Republic is an abomination, so too do many in Iran (and in much of the Muslim world) feel that Israel, as presently constituted, is an abomination. At the end of the day, butting heads together in this way is clearly not leading the world toward a sustainable peace.

There have many indications that there is movement within the Iranian power structure to restrain and delimit the president's freedom of movement. Abbas Milani, chairman of Iranian Studies at Stanford University was quoted as saying, in December 2006, “The significance of [the December nationwide elections] is that now we have a complete new alignment – the reformists, the Rafsanjani camp and the conservative bazaar elements...That is a de facto coalition whose purpose is to stop Ahmadinezhad from doing further damage, both domestically and internationally.” (We saw how well those efforts turned out in the hotly-contested elections of 2009, which left Ahmadinezhad in place and dozens killed.)

Were we not guilty of employing a double standard on this issue, we would be in a better position to hold Tehran accountable. Our regional ally Turkey consistently denies that genocidal attacks were ever carried out on upwards of 1.5 million Armenians in the early 20th century. Yet, we do not take Turkish officials to task for this attitude, or for the continuing persecution of those in Turkey who would affirm the sordid history of that period (by contrast, Armenians in Iran are able to operate a museum dedicated to the victims of those abuses on the grounds of their Isfahan cathedral, even though it describes a Muslim-Christian conflict).

I attended a church service at St. Stephen's Armenian Church, a few blocks from the cathedral, when I visited in 2006. I looked around at paintings of the same biblical scenes so familiar to me. I heard the same prayers that I pray in my home church, albeit in the Armenian language. As I stood there, I felt blessed to be a Christian because being Christian means being a peacemaker; it means being committed to compassion as a way of life; and it means that all men are my brothers and all women my sisters.

Yad Vashem museum in Israel
I consider it a positive development that Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance museum in Jerusalem is now translating most of its website into Arabic and Persian and producing audio guides in Arabic for the museum itself. One would have thought that these things would have been done long ago, but the actions apparently came in response to the remarks by Muslim leaders seeking to diminish the significance of the Holocaust.

Is there not some truth to Ahmadinezhad's complaint that Europeans or Americans, not Middle Easterners, committed the worst offenses (of either commission and omission) against the Jewish people, and bear the greatest responsibility for redressing them? What happened in the marshes of Babi Yar, when German soldiers and Ukrainian sympathizers massacred 100,000 Jews, or in the Warsaw ghetto, or in Auschwitz or Belsen, were not done by the Palestinian farmers or tradesman displaced when modern Israel was born, but those Palestinians seem to have borne the brunt of this swing of history's heavy pendulum.

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