Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Holocaust in Foreign Policy

In the course of the Iranian elections, the incumbent, president Ahmadinejad has been sure not to miss the opportunity to belittle the Holocaust. Last week, when responding to critiques of his foreign policy as "adventurism" Ahmadinejad said that Iran was at least as important a player on the world stage as the United States was because he had deftly made use of questioning the Holocaust which he described as the West's "Achilles heel." Ahmadinejad has been critisized by his opponents for harming Iran's image in the world with what seems to be his fixation on the holocaust. Ahmadinejad who also commented on the progress of the Iranian nuclear programme commented that "The West has taken the issue of the Holocaust to expose a hypocritical innocence and oppress other nations, but I have effectively attacked this weak point of the West." This was last week.

This week, in advance of a debate with his opponents, Ahmadinejad told a gathering of international scholars in Iran for the 20th anniversary of the death of the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Khomeini that the Holocaust was a "big deception." He said that Israel uses this "deception" to influence the west.

A few points ought to be made here. In the first place, it's amazing that anyone takes the president of Iran with any seriousness. That in 2009 a head of state can deny the historical fact of what is probably the largest and certainly the most industrialized and institutionalized genocide in the history of the world speaks to the backwardness of the head of state in question (and those who would support his position) and highlights the unwillingness of other heads of state to firmly and unequivocally condemn Ahmadinejad's statements as false and berate the Iranian president for his lies. The Holocaust issue aside, Ahmadinejad's comments on homosexuals in Iran ought to be enough to discredit this individual. If Iran was not a sponsor of international terrorism with direct influence over terrorist groups and was not on the path to being able to build a nuclear weapon Ahmadinejad would probably be dismissed as something of a clown.

A second point to be made--and this is a comment made without in depth knowledge of Iran, its foreign policy or how such policy is created--is that is seems that Holocaust denial is actually a cornerstone of Iranian foreign policy, along with the pursuit of a nuclear weapon, involvement in regional terrorist groups and certainly other interests in its pursuit of expanded regional influence. How abhorrent that a state can make the denial of historical fact one of the pillars of its foreign policy! How shocking that there is not universal condemnation of this position from all quarters, the UN, academia, NGOs and other states. How sad that a people with a history such as the Persians now have leaders that deny history to advance their political aims. Aims which have dubious benefit to the people of Iran.

The final point to be made, is a general one. It is a cliche to say that those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it. What then is to be said of those who deny history? Time and again the cry of "never again" rings hollow in Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur. Revising or erasing the history of the Holocaust does away with never again and creates a situation where there never was. Ahmadinejad would wish to deny the Holocaust so as to deny what he sees as the reason for the creation of Israel. The fact is, Israel was born out of a movement, the Zionist movement, which existed long before the Holocaust. It is a movement that was born out of the Jewish people's desire to return to their ancestral homeland and build a state of their own. To create a situation where they were no longer considered strangers in the lands of others and where they could live free of the antisemetism and according to rules they chose for themselves. The Holocaust is not the reason for Israel's existence, it is instead the worst example of the centuries of persecution suffered by the Jewish people in Europe and in other lands from the time of their expulsion from Israel, millenia ago. Citing the Holocaust as the reason for Israel's existence is a case of the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc--after this therefore because of this. The Holocaust was the last and worst example of persecution of the Jews outside of their ancestral homeland before the establishment of a Jewish state in that land. It is false to assume that the latter lead to the former as it ignores context and historical realities existing long before the world ever heard the name Hitler.

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