The Holocaust in the Arab World

The Politicization of Human Genocide

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's pronouncements against the Holocaust echoed in the Arab World in a mysterious way. Most reputable Arab intellectuals, however, distance themselves from the revisionist statements, writes Fakhri Saleh

Holocaust exhibition at the Yad Vashem memorial museum (photo: AP)
The situation of the Palestinian's today have a strong influence on the perception of the Holocaust in the Arab world, Saleh says

​​After the Iranian President Ahmadinejad considered the Holocaust and the slaughtering of the Jews by the Nazis "a myth", Mahdi Akef, of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers, denied the Holocaust wondering if the Nazis killed six million Jews.

He was followed by Khaled Mashaal, of the Palestinian Hamas who in a recent visit to Tehran reiterated the same words of the Iranian president, so that he declared his solidarity with Ahmadinejad. The two Islamic leaders from the Arab World retreated later from what they professed saying that the "Holocaust is a historical phenomenon and it needs to be researched further and further."

The historic roots

The question of denial of the Holocaust in the Arab World goes back to the 1948 defeat of the Palestinians and the Arabs at the hands of the Israelis and the establishing of the State of Israel. It, of course, is a complicated situation that mingles politics with history, self defeat with refusal to realize injustices done to the enemy.

The denial of the Holocaust, which is well researched by many European and American historians, fires back on Palestinians and Arabs as well. Dr. Ahmad al-Rabaa'y, a Professor of Political Sciences and ex-minister of Education in Kuwait, wrote in the well Known Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that the denial of such a horrible crime in the history of humanity points at the loss of ethical and human standards.

Rabaa'y further says that pronouncements against the suffering of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis aim to arouse the feelings of the Islamic and the Arab public against Israel, and at winning the approval of ignorant people. The denial of the Holocaust, of course, is not justified by any Arab or Muslim historian of stature.

The case of Ibrahim Alloush

The most extremist, even fanatical, voice in the Arab world in denying the Holocaust is Ibrahim Alloush, who is a Palestinian teaching Political Sciences in one of the Jordanian universities. He relies in his denial of the Holocaust on the work of The Revisionist Historians.

Without attempting to research the facts himself he celebrates the work of these "historians" of Europe and America calling the Holocaust an "imaginative slaughtering of 6 million Jews." Alloush in a booklet in Arabic, that can be retrieved from the internet, denied the historical fact of killing such a vast number of Jews at the hands of the Nazis. He is sure that only hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed out of 45 million of the people who died during the second world war.

In his small book, Alloush attacked Arab intellectuals who signed a manifesto in March 2001 against the holding of a conference in Beirut by the Revisionist Historians.

These notable leading Arab intellectuals, among them people like the Palestinian Edward Said and Mahmoud Darwish, the Syrian Adonis, the Lebanese Elias Khoury, the Palestinian Elias Sanbar and the Moroccan Mohammad Baradda, asked the late Rafiq al-Hariri, then the Lebanese Prime Minister, to act at once and stop such a conference which is an anti-Semitic act of celebrating the Nazi's horrible slaughtering of the Jews. Fortunately, the meeting, prepared for by people very close to Hizbullah, did not take place.

Research and prejudice

Although most of the work of Arab historians, commentators, journalists and politicians on the question of the Holocaust is secondary material depending on the work of European and American writers, like Roger Garaudy, David Irving and Robert Forisson, there are Arab historians who attempted to research the material accumulated by Western historians who worked on the documents of the Holocaust for decades.

The most notable of these historians and writers is Dr. Abdel Wahab El-Misseery, who is an English literature professor from Egypt who worked for years in the United Nations, and dedicated his life to the study of the history, literature, politics and achievements of Jews during the millennia and all over the world.

El-Missery wrote more than one book and an Encyclopedia about the Jews, Judaism and Zionism. Most of his books are well researched, documented but with an a priori, or a pre-conceived idea of the conspiratorial Jews who are aiming at ruling the World. In his book (al-Sohyounia, al-Naziyya wa Nihayat al-Tareekh) Zionism, Nazism and the End of History (1997), he accused the Zionists of monopolizing the role of the victim, so that the Holocaust is Jewish.

Resituate the modern history of the Jews

El-Misseery tries to see the Holocaust in a more general trend of homicide that took place during the twentieth century and in the European history during the Enlightenment and the Modern age. Although he did not deny the Holocaust, he sees it as a European phenomenon that has to be interpreted on the European scale and not projected on the history of Zionism and Israel in the Arab world during the second half of the twentieth century.

He reiterated this interpretation, based on studying European modern history politically, economically, philosophically and militarily, in his encyclopaedic work (Mawsoua'at al-Yahoud wa al-yahoudia wa al-Sohyounia) The Encyclopedia of Jews, Judaism and Zionism (1997).

Spenglerian notion of Decadence of the West

In this seven volume mammoth work the Egyptian scholar tries to resituate the modern history of the Jews as part and parcel of Western history. He considers genocide, the extermination and destruction of Man as a potentiality in Western Civilization. This preconceived idea about the Western Civilization, with its Spenglerian notion of Decadence of the West, leads him to prefer the term 'the extermination of European Jews at the hands of Nazis' at the prevailing term 'the Holocaust' or 'Shoah' that he sees that it is loaded by Jewish religious inspirations.

The word 'extermination' in El-Missery's terminology does not mean only killing and destruction but it also includes the meaning 'to get rid of Jews', 'to transfer' them to other parts of the world which was instilled in Hitler's historical realization of the genocidal potential that included, in addition to Jews, Gypsies and other people not considered of the Arian race.

Palestine and the Holocaust

El-Missery, of course, does not enter in a debate concerning the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust; he only repeats the findings of Western historians of the event saying that the number is between 4 and 6 millions. What matters for him most is that this horrible homicide cannot be denied on the backdrop of the struggle against the Israeli aggression in Palestine.

At the same time, he deplores what he calls the instrumentalization of the Holocaust at the hands of the Israeli Zionists who use the fact of the Holocaust to justify Israeli aggression, slaughtering and eviction of the Palestinians out of their homeland.

I can say at last that the Holocaust visceral denial in the Arab world stems from that point of departure: the Palestinian question and the horrors done by the Israelis to the Palestinians at al-Nakba and after the occupation of the rest of Palestine in the 1967 War. The Arabs, among them the Palestinians, cannot deny the horrible extermination of Jews at the hands of the Nazis. I think that a more viable peace, and ending the occupation of the West Bank and the establishing of a viable Palestinian State will reverse the situation concerning the pronouncements of politicians, as well as writers and intellectuals in the Arab world, concerning the question of the Holocaust.

Fakhri Saleh

© Fakhri Saleh 2006

Fakhri Saleh is a literary critic and a regular contributor to the Lebanese daily Al-Hayat and various other Arabic media.

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