Western Holocaust deniers have been aggressively targeting Middle Eastern audiences, while across the Muslim world, many governments do not condemn, and some even sponsor, such propaganda.
Holocaust denial has its roots in Europe and the United States, and it stretches back to the years immediately following World War II. The Arab and Muslim perception of the Holocaust has never been monolithic, and has often been influenced by the vicissitudes of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In some cases, Holocaust denial is actively sponsored by national governments, such as Iran and Syria. In other Middle Eastern countries, however, denying or minimizing the extent of the killing of Jews during World War II has been adopted by opposition parties and dissident factions that oppose attempts at normalizing relations with Israel or the United States.
Although Holocaust denial first surfaced in the Arab world in the 1970s, it was not until the 1990s that Holocaust denial became prevalent in popular media throughout the Middle East. This is true even in Egypt and Jordan, which have signed peace agreements with Israel.
Western Holocaust deniers have turned to Muslim countries for help when facing prosecution in various countries for illegal activities. Wolfgang Fröhlich and Jürgen Graf have sought refuge in Iran, and Roger Garaudy was hailed as a hero throughout the Middle East when he faced persecution by the French government for inciting racial hatred.
One of the most important signs of the growing ties between Western Holocaust deniers and the Arab world came to light in December 2000, when the Institute for Historical Review announced that its fourteenth revisionist conference would take place in Beirut, Lebanon, in early April 2001. Many Arab intellectuals were outraged and openly protested. The conference was eventually banned by the Lebanese government.
Holocaust denial in the Muslim world assumed new dimensions in 2005 after Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made it a staple part of his public speeches. In December 2006, the Iranian Foreign Ministry held an international Holocaust-denial conference, whose guests included some well-known racists such as former Ku Klux Klan head David Duke and French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson.
The recent rise of Holocaust-denial in the Muslim world could be attributed to increasing state sponsorship, the spread of radical Islam, and the aggravation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The assumptions that Holocaust denial is founded upon (notably the myth of a world Jewish conspiracy) make it a political weapon of choice for those who wish to increase their own influence at the expense of regional stability and peace prospects.
While Holocaust denial has become the most prevalent form of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world, it is not the sole manifestation of anti-Semitic sentiments. In the past few decades, ferocious anti-Semitic myths and legends are being widely propagated in the Muslim world, especially in Arab countries and Iran. For years, the newspapers in Arab countries have been filled with cartoons of bloodthirsty Jews – intent on conquering the world – who manipulate the Americans and are out for Palestinian blood. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Muslim chat rooms on the Internet were abuzz with rumors that all the Jews working in the World Trade Center in New York knew of the attacks in advance and stayed home on that fateful day.
Anti-Semitism in the Muslim world was once imported from the West. While one cannot underestimate the severity and maliciousness of the anti-Semitic ideas now rampant in many Muslim countries, most of these stereotypes are easily traded back to anti-Semitic images that began ages ago in Christian Europe.
The contemporary anti-Semitic myths and legends coming from the Muslim world do not represent the views of all Muslims. Indeed, many Muslims find them objectionable and unworthy of their religion. But Muslims must not remain silent in the face of such bigotry. Muslim and Arab opinion makers and leaders have a moral responsibility to denounce anti-Semitism in the name of Islam, just as prominent Jewish thinkers and intellectuals in the West have been, and should always be, among the first to condemn bigotry and discrimination against Muslims. Anti-Semitism, just as anti-Muslim bigotry, shames and demeans the perpetrator rather than the victim.