Roger Garaudy
Myths and Confusion

Roger Garaudy, the French philosopher, Holocaust denier, and convert to Islam, still enjoys great popularity in the Arab world. A new book now traces his ideological and religious transformations. Bernhard Schmid reports

Roger Garaudy (photo: AP)
Metamorphosis from Protestant, to Catholic, to communist party ideologist to - finally - Muslim convert holocaust denier: Roger Garaudy

​​The now 94-year-old Roger Garaudy seems to have been just about everything in his life. He was a Protestant, then a Catholic, and finally a Muslim. He also served as the "in-house philosopher" of the French Communist Party until his expulsion in 1970, later he was a proponent of Liberation Theology in Latin America, and even ran as a presidential candidate under his own platform. And then he became a Holocaust denier. The man is an ideological wrong-way driver, so to speak.

His court case, now approaching its tenth anniversary and which ended with Garaudy's conviction on written and spoken Holocaust denial, attracted Neo-Nazis, conspiracy theorists, and prominent historical revisionists alike. They remain Garaudy's final allies and came en masse to support him in front of the Paris courthouse.

Myth-making and specters

In their newly published book "Itinéraire d'une négation," Michaël Prazan and Adrien Minard illuminate the background and downfall of the controversial philosopher. Both authors had followed Garaudy's trial, critically reviewed his numerous books, and spoke with various witnesses of events.

Today, Roger Garaudy is too old to still be active. His final appearance in public was the presentation of his historical revisionist theses.

This last phase of his alternating commitments began in the winter of 1995-96. At the time, Garaudy published a work with the title "The Foundation Myths of Israeli Politics" (Les mythes fondateurs de la politique israélienne).

At first, the document was only available to a select few exclusively by mail, yet just a few months later, it was published as a book. In it, Garaudy questions the reality of the genocide of European Jews, presenting it merely as an excuse for the aggressive policies of the State of Israel.

In January 1998, Garaudy was convicted of Holocaust denial by the Paris Court of First Instance on the basis of various text passages and was sentenced to nine months parole and a fine of 160,000 French francs.

A superstar in the Islamic world

At the same time, Garaudy was celebrated in parts of the Arab world as something of a superstar. In Egypt and Jordan, in particular, he was welcomed in 1998 with open arms as a hero and martyr, who was persecuted in the West and by "the Zionists" for his irritating opinions, and given a triumphal reception at universities and gala events.

​​The final stop of his tour through the Middle East at the time brought Garaudy to Iran. In Tehran, he was met in April 1998 by the highest authorities of the Islamic Republic, including President Mohammed Khatami, generally regarded as a moderate, and the revolutionary leader Ali Khamenei.

Even today, Garaudy remains popular there. Garaudy, also referred to as "Raja," is often quoted by a section of the media. One motive for this is quite clear. Through his argumentation on the "foundation myths of Israeli politics," Garaudy denies Israel one of the historical reasons for its existence – the murderous consequences of anti-Semitism in Europe in the 20th century. He thereby provides apparent ammunition in the political conflict with Israel.

Groundless criticism only hurts the Arabs

Although Prazan and Minard are rather pro-Israeli themselves and also support the policies of Western states, they have clearly established that Garaudy has truly not done the Arabs any favors. This is because his criticism of Israel rests on a politically as well as morally questionable and even groundless foundation.

Roger Garaudy, though, does not by any means enjoy universal support in the Arab world and in Iran. In this context, Prazan and Minard mention the invitation made to Garaudy and other prominent Holocaust deniers to a large conference devoted to the topic of "revisionism and Zionism." The event was scheduled to take place in Beirut in late March to early April of 2001, yet was cancelled at the last minute due to domestic political and international protest.

A number of prominent Arab intellectuals had signed a petition against the event and Garaudy. The list included the Lebanese poet Adonis and the writer Elias Khoury, the Palestinian intellectuals Edward Said and Elias Sanbar, as well as the poet Mahmud Darwish and the Algerian-French historian Mohammed Harbi.

Bernhard Schmid

© 2008

Translated from the German by John Bergeron

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