DECIPHERING AHMADINEJAD'S HOLOCAUST REVISIONISM
By Dr. George Michael
The legacy of the Holocaust stigmatized both anti-Semitism and far Right political figures and parties. However, in the 1960s, an intellectual atmosphere emerged in which nearly every truth could be challenged. Holocaust revisionism became the extreme Right's answer to deconstructionism.  For this fringe, Holocaust denial is a necessary step to bring about the revival of the ideologies that led to the extreme nationalism and xenophobia that enabled the Nazi Party to set the Holocaust in motion. These early revisionists sought to exculpate the Germans for World War II. They argued that "World Jewry" had declared war on Germany and that Western powers, fearful of Germany's growing military and industrial power, conspired to support Poland, triggering the war.  Subsequent Holocaust revisionists suggested the number of Holocaust victims was exaggerated; several argued many Jews had survived and were living either in Europe, Israel, or the United States.  Eventually, three themes developed among many revisionists: First, they argued there were no gas chambers. Second, they denied six million deaths, and third, they said no Nazi master plan existed.  Despite their best efforts, neo-Nazis and revisionists hit a brick wall in the West. Few people outside their own circles were willing to discount history, fact, evidence, and logic. While the impact of Holocaust revisionism in the West has been limited, in recent years, it has found fertile ground in the Middle East.
Historically, anti-Semitism was not as intense in the Middle East as it was in the West. As historian Bernard Lewis observed, Jews under Islam were never free from discrimination but rarely subject to persecution. Their situation was never as bad as in Christendom at its worst and never as good as in Christendom at its best.  However, Israel's establishment augmented the vehemence of contemporary Islamic anti-Semitism.
Holocaust denial in the Middle East emerged soon after World War II. In 1955, Lebanese Foreign Minister Charles Malik dismissed the Jewish Holocaust as Zionist propaganda. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser once said, "[N]o person, not even the most simple one, takes seriously the lie of the six million Jews who were killed."  In 1983, Mahmoud Abbas, who would later lead the Palestinian Authority, published a book titled The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and the Zionist Movement, which claimed that far fewer than six million Jews had died in the Holocaust.  More recently, Hamas has dabbled in Holocaust denial.  In Saudi Arabia, anti-Semitic themes — including the blood libel accusation, the putative Jewish control of the U.S. media and government, and Holocaust denial — are popular staples in the media and educational system. 
However, the Middle East produced no real scholarly exegeses. Revisionist historians associated with extreme Rightwing groups in the West developed a far larger corpus of literature. More often than not, Arabic presses simply translated Western works. Of the various Rightwing groups that have reached out to the Arabs, Turks and Iranians, revisionist historians have been best received. One of the first efforts was in 1980, when Ernst Zündel, a German expatriate in Canada, wrote a pamphlet titled, The West, War, and Islam, in which he suggested the existence of a conspiracy between Zionists and international bankers to rule the world. He suggested that Muslims could better undercut the Jewish state by funding Holocaust revisionism, rather than purchasing weapons.  Zündel sent the pamphlet to the heads of state of several Middle Eastern states. 
Holocaust revisionism has also become increasingly popular in Arab print media. Writing in the Jordanian newspaper, Al-Arab al-Yawm, Mahmoud al-Khatib averred that the "entire Jewish state [was] built on the great Holocaust lie" and that Hitler had killed not six million but only 300,000 Jews because "they betrayed Germany."  An editorial in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Akhbar said that Jews fabricated the Holocaust in order to "blackmail the Germans for money, as well as to achieve world support."  More recently, a narrator on Lebanon's popular New TV announced that "never has there been an issue subject to as many contradictions, lies, and exaggerations regarding the number of victims as the issue of the Jewish Holocaust." 
As European countries enacted hate laws limiting Holocaust denial, many Holocaust deniers sought safe haven in the Middle East. Few Arab states have hate speech or liable laws, except where they bear on interpretations of the Qur'an. In November, 2000, Jürgen Graf, Director of the Swiss revisionist organization Verité et Justice (Truth and Justice), fled to Iran to escape a Swiss hate speech conviction.
The Middle East has become a venue of choice to present revisionist theories. In March 2001, the Newport Beach, California-based Institute for Historical Review and Verité et Justice planned a conference in Beirut featuring long-time revisionists Roger Garaudy and Robert Faurisson. Only intense pressure from the U.S. State Department caused the Lebanese government to reconsider its role as host. The organizers simply moved the conference to Amman, Jordan. The Jordanian Writers' Association was happy to sponsor it.  While Graf's motives may have been purely anti-Semitic, his Jordanian hosts may have appreciated the geopolitical implications. As Graf explained,
David Duke, the white supremacist from Louisiana, has been at the forefront of Rightwing extremist outreach to the Islamic world. In the Fall of 2002, he presented two lectures in Bahrain on "The Global Struggle against Zionism" and the "Israeli Involvement in September 11." That same year, he appeared on an Al-Jazeera satellite network talk show and, in November, 2005, he held a news conference in Damascus, Syria, pledging to do his best to convey to the world the "real peace-loving Syrian" positions.  According to Duke, during his visit to Syria, he met with a high-profile Syrian journalist, Nidal Kabalan, who gave a copy of Duke's book, Jewish Supremacism: My Awakening to the Jewish Question, to Ahmadinejad, suggesting this may have been the genesis for Ahmadinejad's subsequent Holocaust denial. 
Holocaust denial was an outgrowth of Iranian anti-Semitism, propelled by the Islamic Republic's antipathy toward Israel. Long before Ahmadinejad shocked the West with his blunt rhetoric, Supreme Leader ‘Ali Khamenei suggested the Holocaust to be an exaggeration.  ‘Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an Iranian figure often labeled a pragmatist by Western journalists, voiced morale support for Holocaust revisionists in the West, suggesting the West persecuted one prominent denier for "the doubt he cast on Zionist propaganda."  However, it was during the Presidency of Mohammad Khatami, whose rhetorical calls for a dialogue of civilizations won European and U.N. plaudits, that the Islamic Republic became a sanctuary for revisionists. Tehran granted asylum not only to Graf, but also to Wolfgang Fröhlick, an Austrian engineer who argued in court under oath that Zyklon-B could not be used to kill humans.  Indeed, it was under Khatami that Iranian policy shifted from anti-Zionism to unabashed anti-Semitism. 
In August, 2003, the Iranian government invited Frederick Töben, a retired German school teacher living in Australia, to speak before the International Conference on the Palestinian Intifada held in Tehran, the conference at which Toben impugned the Holocaust by contending that Auschwitz concentration camp was physically too small for the mass killing of Jews.  Ahmadinejad called the Holocaust a myth in December, 2005,  a move applauded by Hamas and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. 
In March, 2006, Töben returned to Iran to participate in the "Holocaust: Myth and Reality" conference at Isfahan University where he again argued that Auschwitz was too small to enable mass killings of Jews.  According to the official Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting radio, the Supreme Leader's representatives in Isfahan organized the conference. Alireza Soltanshahi, representing Ahmadinejad, addressed the assembled students and faculty.  Ahmadinejad, himself, sponsored and opened an August, 2006, exhibition of cartoons denigrating the Holocaust. 
Ahmadinejad has become a hero to the extreme Right. Kevin Alfred Strom, Founder of the white supremacist National Vanguard, expressed solidarity with the Iranian President, especially in his fight against common Jewish and Zionist enemies. He urged Ahmadinejad to use alternative media and advocated for cooperation between the Iranian government and neo-Nazis to reach out to antiwar Americans and break the grip of the "mainstream media monopoly."  Rightwing extremists often cast themselves as "alternative media voices." When addressing audiences in Muslim countries, they downplay racist themes and emphasize anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism.  This was apparent in interviews the official Mehr News Agency conducted with visiting Holocaust revisionists. 
Ahmadinejad appears to have listened. He has made Holocaust denial a central tenet of his administration. Following his September 19, 2006, U.N. General Assembly speech, he granted press availability to representatives of the alternative media, including Michael Collins Piper, a journalist for the extreme Right newspaper American Free Press and author of Final Judgment, a book postulating that the Mossad killed President John F. Kennedy.  After the conference, a personal friend of Piper, Iranian filmmaker Nader Talebzadeh, introduced him to Ahmadinejad, who actually invited Piper to be his personal guest in Iran.  Following his press conference, Ahmadinejad spent half of a 90-minute meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations trying to debunk the Holocaust. 
As with the Jordanian conference before, anti-Zionism combined with Holocaust revisionism. Former Iranian Interior Minister ‘Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour conceded that the Nazis "committed horrendous crimes during World War II," but added that "the Zionists' narration of the massacre of the six million Jews at Nazi death camps is far from reality." 
Rightwing extremists who participated in the conference expressed satisfaction.  By working with Muslims, they hope to dilute the stigma of racism. Rather than characterize themselves as "white supremacist," they now speak of "white separatism," placing themselves within the third-world vocabulary of self-determination and liberation. While associating with a Middle Eastern despot, especially in the aftermath of 9-11, might not seem expedient, neo-Nazi groups may consider that they have little to lose, since they are already marginal. That any head of state would embrace them enhances their stature. So, too, did media attention. CNN's Wolf Blitzer granted Duke a platform to discuss his participation in the conference.
The Tehran conference may have provided a boost of adrenalin to neo-Nazis. Erich Gliebe, Chairman of the National Alliance, the most prominent U.S. neo-Nazi organization, lauded Ahmadinejad and lamented that Western leaders did not have his "guts." Days after the Tehran conference concluded, he announced that his organization would hold a similar conference at its Hillsboro, West Virginia, headquarters.  Several revisionists who attended the Tehran conference participated. 
In an effort to further isolate Iran, nearly forty European and North American research institutes announced that they had suspended contacts with the Iranian Institute for Political and International Studies — a leading Iranian think-tank that helped organize the conference. Francois Heisbourg, head of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, organized the boycott. 
Domestically, some Iranians fear that Ahmadinejad's provocative rhetoric is isolating their country. However, Khamenei stands by the Iranian President. On March 22, 2007, for example, the Supreme Leader railed against the "global Zionist conspiracy," rhetoric borrowed directly from The National Vanguard.  Some moderates and reformers have urged the Islamic cleric-led regime to rein in the President for fear that his controversial comments may lead to a propaganda campaign against Iran.  However, whether for ideological or practical reasons, the Iranian leadership has decided that its natural allies are not Western constitutional democracies, but, rather, the Rightwing fringe of Western extremism.
 Islamic Republic News Agency (Tehran, IRNA), Dec. 5, 2006.
 See, for example, Bernard Wasserstein, "Anti-Semitism and Anti-Americanism," Chronicle of Higher Education, Sept. 28, 2001; Juan Cole, "Pentagon/Israel Spying Case Expands: Fomenting a War on Iran," Informed Comment, Aug. 29, 2004; David Duke, Jewish Supremacism: My Awakening to the Jewish Question (Mandeville, La.: Free Speech Press, 2003).
 Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: The Viking Press, 1963), p. 231.
 Leonard Weinberg, "The American Radical Right in Comparative Perspective," in Peter H. Merkl and Leonard Weinberg, eds., The Revival of Right-Wing Extremism in the Nineties (London: Frank Cass, 1997), p. 237.
 Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman, Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), p. 40.
 Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (New York: The Free Press, 1993), pp. 51-2; Jerry Bornstein, The Neo-Nazis: The Threat of the Hitler Cult (New York: Julian Messner, 1986), p. 45.
 Shermer and Grobman, Denying History, p. 40.
 Bernard Lewis, Semites and Anti-Semites: An Inquiry into Conflict and Prejudice (New York: WW. Norton, 1986), p. 121.
 Quoted in Walter Laqueur, The Changing Face of Antisemitism: From Ancient Times to the Present Day (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 140-1.
 Michelle L. Picheny, "A Fertile Ground: The Expansion of Holocaust Denial into the Arab World," Boston College Third World Law Journal, 1 (2003): 331-58.
 Reuven Paz, "Palestinian Holocaust Denial," Peace Watch, no. 255, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Washington, D.C., Apr. 21, 2000.
 "Demonizing Jews: Anti-Semitism in the Saudi Media," Anti-Defamation League (ADL), New York, accessed Mar. 12, 2007.
 Ernst Zündel, "The West, War, and Islam," Radio Islam, accessed Mar. 23, 2007.
 Holocaust Denial in the Middle East: The Latest Anti-Israel, Anti-Semitic Propaganda Theme (New York: Anti-Defamation League, 2001), p. 5.
 Ibid., p. 13.
 Ibid., p. 15.
 "Lebanon's New TV: ‘Contradictions, Lies, and Exaggerations in Number Killed in ‘Jewish Holocaust,'" Special Dispatch Series, no. 1194, Middle East Research Institute, June 29, 2006.
 "ADL Comments on Holocaust Denial Conference Held in Jordan," ADL news release, May 15, 2001.
 Jürgen Graf, "Holocaust Revisionism and Its Political Consequences," Jan. 2001, accessed Mar. 23, 2007.
 "David Duke in Damascus to Express Solidarity with Syria," ArabicNews.com, Nov. 22, 2005.
 "Duke on Irving and Holocaust Conference," audio link on David Duke's website, Dec. 20, 2006, accessed Mar. 23, 2007; David Duke, "Iranian Leader Breaks New Ground in Spiegel Interview," David Duke's website, June 1, 2006, accessed Mar. 23, 2007.
 Ali Ansari, Modern Iran since 1921 (London: Longman, 2003), p. 72.
 Patrick Clawson and Michael Rubin, Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos (New York: Palgrave, 2005), pp. 26, 63, 72, 130.
 The Jerusalem Post, Apr. 25, 2001.
 Holocaust Denial in the Middle East, p. 8; Abraham Foxman, Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism (New York: Harper Collins, 2003), pp. 223-4.
 Foxman, Never Again?, pp. 222-3.
 Babak Ganji, Iran and Israel: Asymmetric Warfare and Regional Strategy (London: Defence Academy of the United Kingdom, 2006), p. 3.
 "Revisionist Fredrick Töben Speaks at Iran's Intifada Conference," National Vanguard (Sacramento), Sept. 9, 2003.
 The New York Times, Dec. 15, 2005.
 Al-Jazeera television (Doha), Dec. 15, 2005; Agence France-Presse, Dec. 22, 2005.
 See "The Iranian Holocaust Conference: Toben Explains the Fairy Tale of Auschwitz," accessed Mar. 30, 2007.
 Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting News (IRIB), Mar. 7, 2006.
 Al-Jazeera, Sept. 3, 2006.
 "American Dissident Voices: Kevin Alfred Strom, ‘In the Cause of Peace and Freedom,'" National Vanguard, June 25, 2006.
 The Asia Times, Nov. 30, 2004.
 "Iran Promotes Holocaust Denial," ADL news release, Feb. 14, 2006.
 Michael Collins Piper, Final Judgment: The Missing Link in the JFK Assassination Conspiracy (Washington: Center for Historical Review, 2000).
 American Free Press (Washington, D.C.), Oct. 2, 9, 2006.
 "How Jew-Friendly Persia Became Anti-Semitic Iran," Moment Magazine, Dec. 14, 2006.
 CBS News, Jan. 15, 2006.
 "Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision 10-12 December 2006" program, Adelaide Institute website, accessed Mar. 23, 2007; Fars News Agency (Tehran), Dec. 11, 2006.
 IRIB News, Dec. 15, 2006.
 IRNA, Dec. 12, 2006. Mohtashamipour now serves as the secretary-general of the International Congress to Support the Palestinian Intifada.
 See for example, Michael Collins Piper, "What Really Happened in Iran," American Free Press, Jan. 1, 8, 2007.
 David Duke interview with Wolf Blitzer, The Situation Room, CNN, Dec. 13, 2006.
 "American Dissident Voices: Erich Gliebe, "Leadership of Tomorrow," The National Alliance, July 1, 2006.
 Willis Carto, "Holocaust Hoopla," American Free Press, Dec. 25, 2006.
 Times Colonist (Victoria, B.C.), Dec. 16, 2006; The New York Times, Dec. 15, 2006.
 Ganji, Iran and Israel, pp. 23-5.
 Fars News Agency, Mar. 22, 2007.
 Associated Press, Dec. 14, 2005; Ganji, Iran and Israel, p. 8.
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Dr. George Michael is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Administration of Justice at the University of Virginia's College at Wise. He is the author of The Enemy of My Enemy: The Alarming Convergence of Militant Islam and the Extreme Right (University Press of Kansas, 2006) and Willis Carto and the American Far Right (University Press of Florida, forthcoming, 2008).
The foregoing article by Dr. Michael was originally published in the Middle East Quarterly, Summer, 2007, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat.
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