Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Reviewing the Holocaust

I'm really interested in this conference in Iran questioning whether the Jewish Holocaust really happened.

In theory, when I first heard about it (from some indignant person or other), I actually liked it because (ow, stop throwing stuff at me!), as a liberal, I believe questioning the basis of what I have been taught to believe. Furthermore if they were to find that the Nazis did, in fact, do these horrible things, it would only make our outrage even more firmly grounded, and would silence all of the naysayers.

But perhaps everyone's outrage stems from the fact that they are less idealistic than I, and they realize that it never really works that way.

The problem is that this conference, which is priding itself on being removed from the knee-jerk reactions of the West, is no more removed from bias. The speakers are made up entirely of supremacists and others who deny, a priori, the slaughter of the Jews during the Holocaust, primarily because they see its major outcome as the creation of Israel. It's infinitely unlikely that they'll come up with any kind of unbiased conclusion. Therefore the only outcome of the conference will be the propagation of the theory that the Holocaust did not happen, and the further characterization of Zionist Jews and (despite the conference's very interesting efforts to the contrary) Jews everywhere as militarily aggressive, dangerous lying bastards.

What I'm now interested in is everyone's reactions to the conference, and what that can teach us about how far we've come since 1945. Or 1948.

One of the participants says that they are so glad that this is the first time they have been able to speak their mind freely, having been imprisoned for some years in Germany for expressing the idea that the Holocaust did not happen. Germany has very strict laws, which are, as far as I know, fully supported by the majority, that preclude anything like the Holocaust ever happening again. Many of these laws admittedly deny civil liberties. Is it worth it? It's just interesting to hear a supremacist speaking like a victim. But I guess that's what this is all about: it's a big game of Just Who Is The Victim Here.

One of my friends has pointed out that the intensity of the reaction in the West should be proof enough that the Holocaust did happen. I don't think this makes sense. The West is reacting to our image of the Holocaust. If that image is not well-founded, then that doesn't mean people wouldn't react to it. On the other hand, if she's saying that the intensity of the reaction is based on the stories of individuals who have told them to their families, that's something else--hard to make up that conspiracy.

I also have a Zionist friend who sees this conference as proof that Israel is legitimated in its military aggression. His comments are the most emotional thing I've ever heard him say. And for sure this conference is revealing the deep rift in the ways history is taught in the Islamic world and in the West: I myself had never thought about how political Islam saw the Holocaust. And so it becomes another legitimation for U.S. aggression toward the Islamic world.

Anyway, I guess my point is that there's something scary in the West's reaction to all this. We're so worried about letting it all happen again that we're shutting ourselves off from any, any conversation about it. I'm not, not, not suggesting the Holocaust did not happen. I am one of those people that has individual family stories. Stories that make me angrier than anything else ever has. The conversation I want to have doesn't have to do with whether the Holocaust happened or not, but with our ability to talk of the Germans as victims, with our ability to not be overwhelmed with guilt to the point of putting lines on someone else's map, etc., etc. I'm not defending the conference, which is chock full of biased people and, as I said, isn't going to do anything but perpetuate conservative, racist, religionist, and generally cruel views. I'm also not suggesting that we undertake some campaign to dull our own reaction. I don't think that's right. My comments are more of an observation than a call to arms (which I guess is my style). Rather I'm suggesting that if a similar conference happened in fifty, a hundred years' time, that the reaction would be different, and that wouldn't mean that we were any closer to letting it happen again.

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