The first flickerings of Holocaust denial in the Middle East began in the 1970s, when the German born Holocaust Denier, Ernst Zundel, published a four-page pamphlet entitled, "The West, War, and Islam," and sent it to the heads of state of several Middle Eastern countries.
In the 1980's, indigenous Middle Eastern sources began to develop, but it was not until the 1990s that Holocaust denial became prevalent in the Arab press. By that time, many Islamic social and political movements in the Arab world joined the resurgent trend of Holocaust denial among European anti-Semites. This was mainly the result and influence of the persistent activity in this field by Roger Garaudy, a French scholar and leading European anti-Semite.
Garaudy, a former Christian Marxist and French Communist Party member of the French parliament, converted to Islam following the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. He soon became a prominent figure in promoting anti-Semitism among Islamic movements. But since he was known for his anti-Jewish writings as a Marxist too, he gained the support of many Arab circles beyond the Islamic movements.
With Holocaust denial gaining popularity in the Arab press, individuals from the Syrian and Iranian government, as well as Palestinian political groups (including Hamas) began to publish and promote Holocaust denial statements.
A press release by Hamas in April 2000 decried "the so-called Holocaust, which is an alleged and invented story with no basis".
In a December 2005 speech, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that the Holocaust was "a myth" that had been promoted to defend Israel, ramping up his rhetoric and triggering a fresh wave of international condemnation. "They have fabricated a legend under the name 'Massacre of the Jews', and they hold it higher than God himself, religion itself and the prophets themselves," he said. He also called for Israel to be relocated to Germany, or Austria, arguing it was these nations that persecuted the Jews, so they should carry the responsibility, not Palestinians forsaking their land to form a state of Israel. He also suggested the USA.
Ahmadinejad's speeches were followed by an unprecedented wave of Holocaust denials coming out of Iran, including those in the form of government-sponsored symposia and cartoon contests.
Some Muslims condemned Ahmadinejad's statement. A spokesman for Germany's oldest Muslim organization, the Islamic Archiv-Deutschland Central Institute, called Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial a "disgrace to all Muslims." In the United States, the Muslim Public Affairs Council condemned the Iranian leader's remarks.
It is sad to note that while in the West, Holocaust denial has traditionally been limited to the fringe movements of neo-Nazis and white supremacists, it has gained broad acceptance in the Muslim world, particularly in the Middle East. Whether wielded by governments, opposition parties, professional organizations or journalists, Holocaust denial in our midst is a scourge that must be rejected.
In 2006, then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said: "Remembering is a necessary rebuke to those who say the Holocaust never happened or has been exaggerated. Holocaust denial is the work of bigots. We must reject their false claims whenever, wherever and by whomever they are made."