Monday, August 25, 2008

The Holocaust and its impersonators

I've just finished proof-reading my forthcoming academic book, The Messiah of Shiraz. Weighing in at just under 800 pages (with the index to come) it's going to be sold in hardware shops as a doorstop. Deathless prose it may be, but it's filled with transliterations from Arabic and Persian (dashes over 'a's, 'i's and 'u's, dots under a whole range of consonants), so going through it checking for errors has left me squinting and drawing sharp breaths.

But out of all that verbiage, one thing and one thing only has stuck in my mind. This is a short passage that includes two quotations relating to events that took place after the 1852 assassination attempt on the life of Nasir al-Din Shah, the Iranian monarch who reigned till 1896. George Curzon called him philo-uxorious, meaning that he had a lot of wives. After a trip to Paris, he made his harem dress in tutus and, given that most of these ladies were, shall we say, large of stature, the results were, let's just say, spectacular. But that's not why someone tried to kill him. First suspicions fell on a militant sect, the Babis, who form the main topic of my book. Some Babis were killed, others imprisoned, but a combination of reports by European travellers and diplomats gave rise to the myth that there had been a serious massacre. Later histories by members of the Baha'i religion (who have their roots in Babism) perpetuate this myth. Here's the passage that stood out for me:

According to a later writer, the 1851 killings were ‘a blood-bath of unprecedented severity,’ ‘a holocaust reminiscent of the direst tribulations undergone by the persecuted followers of any previous religion,’and ‘the darkest, bloodiest and most tragic episode of the Heroic Age of the Bahāʾī Dispensation.

This is strong stuff. One wonders why, if it was the equal of the worst things suffered by the followers of any religion, a holocaust no less, an unprecedented severity, we didn't all read about it in our school history books. Actually, the tally of Babi dead was 37. Believe me, I have conducted extensive researches on all cases of Babis killed between 1844 and 1852, and 37 is correct.

Well, this is just exaggeration by a writer who was no stranger to the genre, but in recent years he has found himself in good (or not so good) company. Since the 1980s, the 'Palestinian Holocaust' has become a badge for left-liberals everywhere, a rallying cry for the Islamic world, an internet 'reality' that could have stepped out of Second Life, a cause for much wringing of hands, a matter for public lamentation, a summons for vindication, a justification for 'retaliatory' violence, an explanation for Palestinian intransigence and failure, a texture woven through the cloth of Arab policies, an incantation ringing out in Islamic sermons, on the voices of little children, in the streets and suqs, a banner waving beside the Palestinian flag.

Enough with the purple prose. The Palestinian Holocaust never happened. We are living in the real world. We are, if you like, living in history, and history has no record of a Palestinian Holocaust.

But let me take this beyond mere assertion. The term 'Holocaust' as applied to the Palestinians is derived directly from the same word in English, corresponding to the Hebrew Shoah. Writing in Arabic or Farsi, the word is hulukast (with three of those long-vowel dashes on the vowels, neatly avoiding any Arabic, Persian, or other term that might have been more appropriate.

So, the Palestinian 'Holocaust' is modelled on something that happened in Europe, the slaughter of some 6 million Jews by the Nazis before and during the Second World War. Of the reality of the Jewish Holocaust, there can be no doubt. It is recorded lavishly in the memories of survivors, on film, in photographs, and, above all, in mile after mile of German, Russian, Hungarian, Polish, and other archives, archives whose multitudinous files contain vastly more evidence of murder and bestiality than the police records of any country on earth. No other crime or set of crimes have been so meticulously recorded.

In face of this overwhelming evidence, many Muslims -- notably the Iranians -- have joined forces with a much smaller number of right-wing extremists (and not a few on the far left) who flatly deny that the Holocaust ever took place, who insist there were no gas chambers and who would have it that not a single Jew died as a result of Nazi brutality. Or who argue that the Nazis looked after the Jews well, and that it was disease, not lethal gases, that killed them. Better still, never content with one explanation when three or four will do, they argue that the Holocaust was a dastardly Zionist plot, a conspiracy between Nazis and Zionists to imprint the deaths of Jews on the world's conscience in order to guarantee the creation of Israel once the war was over.

This denial -- egregious, sickening and degenerate as it is -- matches claims that there was, that there is, a Palestinian Holocaust. No Jews died, but, hey, look at the slaughter of the Palestinians by the Jews. It also matches the transparent nonsense that Israel is a Nazi state and, what's more, a Nazi state built on that non-existent Holocaust.

It does not need saying that no serious person would fall for any of this, except that so many have. The Palestinian Holocaust, a vast massacre for which not a shred of evidence exists, is passing fare at polite middle-class dinner tables, it is fodder for intellectuals of a certain ilk, it passes for historical fact among well-educated people who find it easier to sneer than read a book of properly-researched history.

Why has this happened? Why has history been stood on its head, and, with it, terminology? If I call Israel a Nazi state, am I not obliged to demonstrate this by reference to Israeli doctrines, policies, and actions that parallel those of the German National Socialist Party? If I pontificate about a Palestinian Holocaust, am I not bound to cite places, dates, and numbers? And since there are no such facts to bandy about, just as there are no Israeli apartheid laws, what do I have to do? All it seems to take is repetition. Say it often enough and people take it in and give it shelter, a lie big enough to choke them.

Some of these moral degenerates, like Ilan Pappé, say they aren't interested in facts, that it's the progressive argument or something, whatever it's called, that counts. But as every criminal knows when he's dragged to court, the facts will grind you down. However much you fudge and cover, slip and slide, a good barrister will wear you out, because there will be demonstrable facts to expose your lies.

Beneath the surface (though not far beneath) is an abiding anti-Semitism, a moral failing that drives its exponents to lies. Far-right groups like Stormfront have no compunctions about being anti-Semitic. They aren't ashamed of it, in fact they're proud to be Hitler's successors. But what about the European and American left? Not all the left, not all the liberals, but a large body who are not really liberal at all. After the Holocaust, it became a shameful thing to speak ill of Jews and, for some time, to condemn Israel. But there gradually came into existence a new kind of left-winger, someone for whom everything Western was anathema. So, America is the devil, the UK is the devil, Israel is the devil, imperialism, colonialism, and all the rest are part of Satan's attack on the poor and wretched of the earth. One problem, of course, for this approach is that you have to turn a blind eye to Islamic imperialism (especially the late, great Ottoman empire), or Arab and Turkish slavery, and all those other things the non-Western world has been responsible for. That means re-writing history, and that's the direction chosen by leftist intellectuals. Israel has been of particularly value for this, allowing liberals to cry 'I'm not anti-Semitic, I'm anti-Israel'.

The antidote to these arguments may be found in a remarkable book by Bernard Harrison, The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism. Harrison's an academic philosopher, and his analysis of this problem about anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism is outstanding. Slowly, painstakingly, he subjects articles, individuals, and arguments to a critique to which they have never been subjected before. His discussion of Tom Paulin alone makes the book worth buying.

Rather than digressing into his complex arguments, I'll leave this post here and possibly return to it another day.

1 comment:

Steve Cooney said...

Congratulations on finally getting this book into print. Is it really 800 pages? The Brill marketing says 'only' 582 pages. This release adds to a bevy of publications in progress or recently released for Babi studies: Nader Saiedi's Gate of the Heart (Wilfred Laurier, 2008), Geoffrey Nash/Daniel o'Donoghue trans Comte de Gobineau and Orientalism: Selected Eastern Writings(Routledge 2008), Peter Terry (English translation of Nicolas's Seyyid Ali Mohammed dit le Bab, self published, 2008), Soraya Adambakan, Qurrat al-’Ayn. Eine Studie der religiösen und gesellschaftlichen Folgen ihres Wirkens (Klaus Schwarz, 2008) Ahang Rabbani The Genesis of the Babi-Bahá'í Faiths in Shiraz and Fars (Habibullah Afnan trans, Brill, 2008) and Todd Lawson recently announced Gnostic Apocalypse in Islam: The Qur'an and the Babi Movement (Routledge Dec 2009). Also we understand that Abbas Amanat is working on a biography of Qurratu'l-Ayn for the Makers of the Muslim Word series (ed Patricia Crone, OneWorld)