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Iran’s Political Motivation For Ridiculing the Holocaust Again

No doubt inspired by the perverse Holocaust “conference” sponsored two years ago by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, student members of the Basij militia have just published a book of cartoons mocking and minimizing the Shoah, just in time for a festive distribution at a Tehran rally for Al-Quds Day. The annual hate-fest glorifies the Palestinian cause and is an opportunity for Iranians to wildly denounce Israel and America and bemoan the continuing presence of Jews in Jerusalem.

The 108-page book of 52 crude cartoons and satire, which evolved from a 2006 cartoon exhibition and competition, similarly has as its purpose to question the validity of the Holocaust itself, offering, according to the official Iranian news agency, "historic orientation on the Holocaust fiction and analyses of this historic distortion."

Iranian and Arab Holocaust denial has been growing in incidence, and particularly as part of Ahmadinejad’s own strategy, as it has proven to be an effective tool for satisfying some of the same motives of deniers in America and Europe—namely, further insulting the memory of human tragedy, and torturing both the living and the perished by second-guessing the extent, nature, or even certitude of the Final Solution. But where traditional deniers have stopped there—even as they condemn the Jews in general for perpetrating a great lie for the purpose of evoking the world's continued sympathy and moral and financial support—the Muslim world has taken this revisionist effort to another level: accusing Zionism of creating and perpetuating the Holocaust lie for the express purpose of justifying Israel's creation and the subsequent subjugation, persecution, and "ethnic cleansing" of the Palestinians.

Thus, the Holocaust "myth" for Iranians serves a politically-healing purpose that no Western denier has needed to seek. Muslims, who do not care to mend the reputation of the Third Reich or defend its other nationalistic achievements by denying its role in the extermination of European Jewry, do want the reality, the actual occurrence of the Holocaust, to be proven false, if for no other reason than it at once diminishes most of Israel's moral capital by eliminating once and for all the cataclysmic social and political event that led the world to accept and endorse the creation of the Jewish State.

It is also a politically-expedient accomplishment to position the Palestinians as the ultimate victims among victimized peoples, and this is much easier without the inexpressible evil of the Holocaust as core element of Israel's tragic heritage. “After all,” wrote Jonathan Eric Lewis, “if Zionism manufactured the lie of the Holocaust, then the Arab world, in exposing the lie, can view itself as the double victim of European imperialism and Zionist propaganda about European history.”

If the victim status of Israel—and by extension, all Jews—can be diminished by exposing the lie of the Holocaust, the Palestinian becomes the more aggrieved victim, a people victimized by former victims, the Jews, who spread the lie of their own suffering for material ends. Thus, for Ahmadinejad and other deniers, "denying the atrocity," wrote Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman, "denies any moral authority to victims of the atrocity." It is not without irony, of course, that while Ahmadinejad, not to mention Israel-haters in the West, want to rob Jews of the piece of dismal history that brought about the extermination of six million of their people, they are eager to repeat regularly the vile comparison they draw between the perceived behavior and shared values of the Zionist state and the Nazi regime.

Ahmadinejad, and his like-minded brethren in the Muslim world, has a secondary motive for resenting an event like the Holocaust, which has conferred on Israel victim status and, initially at least, gained the world's sympathy. If he can point to a great lie that led to Israel's creation, if he can ascribe to Israel a conspiratorial and exploitive deception that garnered the world's financial and moral support for the "Zionist regime," as he is fond of calling it, he can also dismiss the successes of the democratic Israeli state and help explain why Iran's own society and culture have languished in comparison—due to Jewish wile and duplicity. According to Mr. Lewis, Ahmadinejad's familiar bluster, his effort in hosting a conference, and his repeated public exhortations welcoming the end of the Jewish state help to create a smokescreen that shields the political and social weaknesses of his own regime from careful evaluation.

Whether the critic believes that the Holocaust actually took place or not, for Ahmadinejad and other Jew-haters, is immaterial; more important for them is slandering and causing hurt to people, in the most cruel and hateful way, by comparing them to, and accusing them of having turned in to, a regime which practices genocide and engages in inhuman barbarism—just like the Nazis did. How better to cause the greatest hurt and to speak the gravest criticism than to deny or minimize on one hand that the Nazi atrocities and slaughter ever took place, and then to suggest, that if they did, the people reborn of that fire have descended morally to the same moral level as their former tormenters?

"Anti-Semitism," wrote Stephen Eric Bronner, author of the engaging book A Rumor About The Jews, "is the stupid answer to a serious question: How does history operate behind our backs?" For some in the Arab world, anti-Semitism—and, by extension, Israel hatred—is still the stupid answer for why what goes wrong with the world does go wrong. It is a world view that creates conspiracies as a way of explaining the unfolding of historical events; it is a pessimistic and frantic outlook, characterized in 1964 by historian Richard Hofstadter as "the paranoid style" of politics, which shifts responsibility from the self to sinister, omnipotent others—typically and historically the Jews.

The overarching objective of Iranian-sponsored Holocaust-themed conferences, cartoon exhibits, and student-produced hate literature, and of deniers in general, is at base to expose this vast conspiracy, that only they see, and once and for all, to show how, in a world-wide fraud perpetrated over the course of some 60 years, the “Zionist regime” has duped the world with a historical hoax of such perfidy that it has helped create an immoral state of Israel at the expense of Arab states and the ever-victimized Palestinians. They yearn to peel away Jewish deceit and rewrite their own history—this time with themselves, not Jews, as the victims, and no longer made to pay the price of Nazism's treachery by having to define themselves in the mirror of another people's own tragic history.