March 16, 2010

Against holocaust denial

I've just been sent this interview with Gilbert Achcar in the International Institute for Research and Education website:
In the introduction to your book, you declare that you wrote it in order to "fight the symmetrical caricatures" often heard about Arab attitudes to the Holocaust? What are these caricatures?

Gilbert Achcar: These caricatures flourish in the ongoing propaganda war between supporters of the Israeli side and supporters of the Palestinian or Arab sides. The caricature spread by Israel's supporters presents a majority of Arabs as having been pro-Nazi, using the all too famous figure of mufti Amin Al-Husseni, referred to as the "mufti of Jerusalem".

Al-Husseini took refuge in 1941 with the Axis powers and spent the rest of the Second World War between Berlin and Rome, taking an active part in Axis propaganda toward the Arab and Muslim worlds, and even playing a part in setting up two Bosnian Muslim units of the German Waffen-SS.
However, the caricature considerably exaggerates the Mufti's real role by ascribing to him a direct responsibility in the Jewish genocide. But what is exaggerated above all is his representativeness or impact in the Arab world, while much tangible evidence proves beyond a doubt that his exhortations had very little impact. This was so much the case that the British army had far more Arabs from Palestine alone in its ranks than the German army was able to recruit from all Arab countries together.

On the opposite side, it is no surprise that we find an apologetic current that seeks excuses for the Mufti's attitude – a posture which I staunchly condemn as there can never be any mitigating circumstances for collaboration with a genocidal endeavour about which one has full knowledge. Indeed, in his memoirs, the Mufti doesn't hide the fact that he was aware of the Nazi genocidal undertaking, as he recounts that Himmler had informed him in Berlin, in the summer of 1943, that 3 million Jews had already been exterminated. This is incidentally why I point out that the Mufti's testimony can be considered a good indirect refutation of Holocaust denial.

You do take up this question of Holocaust denial, as found among Arabs nowadays.

Although it is far from representative of all public opinion in the Arab countries or even majority opinion, there has been in recent years a new outbreak of expressions of Holocaust denial among Arabs. Rather than an outlet for anti-Semitism, as Western denialism is, in most cases the Arab expressions are reactions we could call skin-deep, that is superficial, knee-jerk reactions to the way the State of Israel is "instrumentalizing" the Shoah (to use Pierre Vidal-Naquet's expression) in order to legitimize itself, legitimize its actions and shield itself from any criticism.

A distinction must be drawn between anti-Jewish attitudes that can be found among Europeans, which are purely and simply abject, and anti-Jewish expressions among Palestinians who are subjected to the terrible oppression we know of, from a State claiming to act on behalf of the "Jewish people". To be sure, there can be no excuse for any form of Judeophobia, but the two attitudes can't reasonably be put on the same level, just as we can't put on the same level the anti-Semitism of a Slavic pogromist and the anti-Goyim racism of a persecuted Jew from the Pale of Settlement, or the anti-Black racism of a White lynch-mob and the anti-White racism of oppressed Black persons. All too often, the categories of European history are projected onto utterly different situations, such as the Palestinians' situation in the territories. By rebutting all types of caricatures, I am attempting to contribute to a better mutual understanding, indispensable for a peaceful and fair settlement of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

This interview with IIRE Fellow Gilbert Achcar was conducted by Olivier Doubre and published in the French weekly Politis (18 February 2010). It was translated for the IIRE by Marie Lagatta. Gilbert Achcar's latest book, The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives, came out recently in French and Arabic, and will come out in English in April/May, in New York and London

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