Holocaust Think tanks: Berlin vs. Tehran

Are questions about the holocaust immune from free speech?

Amin George Forji

Tehran on Monday Dec. 12th began hosting what may turn out to be the most controversial conference of the year-the so-called Holocaust conference, under the theme: “Holocaust, World Prospect.”
A counter-conference also opened in Germany on Monday with the aim of preventing the holocaust from becoming an issue of political discussion.
Before the current Iranian hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to office, it had almost become an almost established custom in the West that no one must be allowed to raise any questions about the holocaust. Ahmadinejad after initially tearing the world apart barely two months in office in October 2005 by referring to the state of Israel as a “disgraceful stain,” predicting that it would eventually be wiped off the map later went on to dismiss as conspiracy theories western claims that there was ever any such thing as the Holocaust, qualifying it as a myth. To buttress his assertions, Ahmadinejad announced in January that Iran plans to host a conference by the end of the year on the debate surrounding the holocaust, and that was going to provide a unique platform for scholars said to be undergoing persecution in western countries because of their beliefs.
In fact, it is a criminal offence to denial the holocaust in Germany and Austria. Although not yet codified into law, many other western countries have impliedly forbade any discussions questioning the holocaust. More often than not, the strong stance by these countries have resulted to conflicts with their skeptical nationals, who not only deny the holocaust, but feel that they by nature endowed with the right to freely say what they think. Pointless to reiterate that freedom of speech is one of the main foundations of western societies.
Ever since Ahmadinejad made the controversial denial of the holocaust, although he became the more unpopular before Western diplomats, he nevertheless won new friends and admirers with the Neo-Nazis. As a sign of solidarity, the supported the Iranian soccer team throughout the last world cup in Germany last summer. Many western medias at the time spoke of the relationship that neo-Nazism and Islamism are by their nature simply two sides of the same coin.
In a show of defiance, his government reacted to the controversial Danish cartoons that projected Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist, raising global Muslim anger, and which were qualified in the west to be an expression of free speech; by approving a competition for the best carricature about the holocaust. In the wake of criticisms, Tehran argued at the time that she was also promoting free speech.
Ahmadinejad while attending the last African Union summit in Banjul, Gambia in July, blasted Western hypocrisy and outright global discrimination.

He said he was shocked to see that Western countries were giving more importance to the so-called death chambers of the Jews than the rooms where millions of African slaves died before being shipped to the Americas. He qualified all Western countries as “bullying powers.”

“I know how the oppressed people of Africa and Latin America have suffered,” he added.
The Conferences
The major difference between the participants attending the Berlin and the Tehran conferences on holocaust is that the organizers of the former continue to insist that it will be out of question to bring the issue of holocaust to discussion, while the protagonists of the latter are of the opinion that freedom of speech must not be limited only to those things that a country will like to hear said, but as well to things that people don’t agree on. Manouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian foreign minister on Monday while opening the conference justified it’s basis as creating “an opportunity for thinkers who cannot express their views freely in Europe about the Holocaust”. He cautioned people to be conscious of double standards by the west.
“Today people who claim to be against Nazism have a record of colonialism and racism,”
Rasoul Mousavi, head of the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s Institute for Political and International Studies who spoke after Mottaki corroborated his remarks adding that the Tehran conference is nothing else but a think tank for scholars.
“It seeks neither to deny nor to prove the Holocaust. It is just to provide an appropriate scientific atmosphere for scholars to offer their opinions in freedom about an historical issue.” Mousavi remarked.

With more media attention directed on the Tehran conference because of it’s controversy, the chief organizer of the Berlin counter, -conference, Thomas Krüger, raised the fears that it could intoxicate moderate minds into being misled.

“The denial or questioning of the Holocaust cannot remain uncommented. We have to do what we can to counter this current before it begins to make inroads into our society.” Said Krüger.
Wolfgang Benz, Director of the German Center for Anti-Semitism Research was less compromising. He said there need not be any beating about the bush to admit that there was indeed the holocaust.
“We have to say very clearly: This is what happened. Reality cannot be a matter for debate and does not belong in the political realm to be viewed according to one’s political ideology.”
As controversial as the Tehran conference is, it is being attended by controversial persons such as David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, refereed to as “racist” in America, Michele Renouf, a London-based associate of the renounced British author David Irving , Robert Faurisson, a French lecturer who was stripped of his academic tenure by the French authorities, because of his opinions about the holocaust and Rabbi Ahron Cohen, an emeritus lecturer of the Jewish religious college in Hitchin, Hertfordshire.

David Duke praised Iran for promoting free speech.

“It’s a shame that Iran, a country we often call oppressive, has to give this opportunity for free speech…I think Israel is a terrorist state. It is the number one terrorist state in the world.” Said Duke

The Israeli PM, Ehud Olmert, commenting about the Tehran conference in Jerusalem denounced it as a “sick phenomenon”.

Germany banned it’s nationals from attending the Tehran meeting.
The Holocaust

The term Holocaust itself is commonly used to denote the barbaric massacre of Jews before and during the second world war by Nazi Germany and her collaborators, under the pretext that they were an “inferior” race, just like the gypsies, and so could therefore be punished as the master race-Aryan or German race deemed fit. One Nazi doctrine held that Jews were impure; hence mingling with them will result to impurity.

They were imprisoned even without crime in gas chambers throughout Germany, Austria, Poland and other German controlled islands. It is estimated that over six million Jews were massacred in the cleansing process of making Germany a pure land.

Whose Free speech?

Should we digest information about the holocaust just the way the west and the media have told us, or should we be free to rethink what may have or may not have happened a little bit further? Are we immune from that right? Can any of the holocaust conferences-Berlin or Tehran be any think tank? Or are they just political forums? I think the answer to these questions lies in the eyes of the beholder.

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