Andy McKay reviews From Empathy to Denial: Arab Responses to the Holocaust by Meir Litvak and Esther Webman.
This is good reading for anyone wishing to understand the current situation in the Middle East. It explains the centrality of “Holocaust denial” to Islamist and much other Arab political discourse, putting it into both its correct historical context and the wider context of the often incomprehensible politics of the most volatile region in the world.
Throughout the rest of the world “historians” like David Irving, Robert Faurisson and Fred Leuchter are discredited and viewed as little more than apologists for Nazism. In the Arab world and Iran they are heroes whose views are regularly and sympathetically reported in leading newspapers and periodicals, supported in intellectual and religious circles. They are invited to address conferences and conventions sponsored by Arab ruling elites and in Iran by Ahmadinejad himself.
One of the many substantial strengths of this book is its very clear explanation of the crucial difference between “Holocaust denial” inside and outside the Arab world. In the rest of the world Holocaust deniers are neo-Nazi sympathisers who seek to exonerate Hitler’s regime and deny the crimes of Nazism. In contrast, in the Arab world, as the Holocaust shows Jews as victims it is seem to give legitimacy and justification of Zionism and the creation of the state of Israel. It also, so the script goes, detracts from the victimhood of the Palestinians. The political purpose in denying the Holocaust is not to support Nazism, which many Arabs detest, but to destroy the legitimacy of Israel.
The book also explain the absurdity and often contradictory myths at the heart of much Arab political thinking — there was a Holocaust but it was minimal, nothing compared to the suffering of the Palestinians; the Jews brought it on themselves; the Nazis had to do it in legitimate self-defence; it was only carried out with Zionist collaboration and to serve Zionist interests. All these myths are based on a distortion of history and a falsification of the facts, but they serve a key purpose in enabling the Arab ruling elite to mislead the Arab masses. This is an excellent and timely book.