A conference opens today in Iran to question whether the Holocaust really happened. Entitled ‘Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision’, the aim of this conference is to ‘create an opportunity for thinkers who cannot express their views freely in Europe about the Holocaust’, according to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. The conference comes hot on the heels of Iran’s competition for cartoons about the Holocaust back in October – so there! This is all getting incredibly childish and tiresome.
I am very much reminded of the post-apocalyptic world presented by George Miller in the Mad Max films starring ‘Pel’ Mel Gibson, (who declined his invitation to the conference as it is his week to clean the sofa. Er… sorry … that should read to be clean and sober). He doesn’t do anti-Semitism in public any more as it’s proven to be career threatening). In Mad Max III a community of children try to keep their memories of civilization alive through oral repetition of what little they can recall of ‘the learning’ while gladiatorial contests ensure survival of the fittest in the dystopia beyond their desert enclave.
I know it’s only a movie. Happily I have retained the ability to distinguish myth from reality. But we should remember that it is possible for entire cultures to be destroyed, along with everything they have been able to learn and achieve through submission to brute force. Hopefully, we have learned something from the Middle Ages – that it is much easier for those coming after us to understand what has happened and perhaps even steer a course away from repeating the mistakes we have made by writing everything down. Every single, separate civilization on earth has developed a method for passing its accumulated knowledge on to future generations. Whether it is written, spoken, sung, painted or danced, we all seem to think it’s that important.
It’s one thing to speculate on what happened in the Middle Ages, where nothing was written down and historians have to pick through bits of broken pottery to try and work out how the Iceni or Celts lived, but quite another to question an event whose existence can still be verified by millions of living eye-witnesses. The Holocaust is the most documented event in history and hopefully will remain so for the foreseeable future. The Nazis were meticulous record keepers. They wrote down the names of every single person they gassed. Hundreds of hours of film footage and millions of still photographs were made of every aspect of the Third Reich. The Nazis were proud to advertise their ambition to exterminate the Jews.
So why this silly conference? I could hold a conference to posit that Pitcairn Island or Nicole Kidman don’t exist. I have never been to Pitcairn Island and I don’t know anyone who has. There are photos and maps but these could be of any Pacific island. They all look pretty much the same, surely. You’ve seen one grass hut, you’ve seen them all. In fact, I put it to you that the entire mutiny on The Bounty episode was a complete fabrication designed to salvage the reputation of Captain Bligh who accidentally lost the ship and its entire crew in a card game with Blackbeard the Pirate. I’ve just remembered I know someone who taught Nicole Kidman at school and he’s fairly trustworthy. Nicole is quite dim but definitely does exist so scratch her from the argument.
There is a big difference between what people choose to believe and events that are verifiable several million times over. I am perfectly happy for people to believe that their deity of choice handed down a set of rules and regulations governing how we should live to a random mortal and said, ‘pass it around please’. In fact, I am under a legal obligation to do so. That’s fine by me. Whatever floats their ark. The good thing about religions is that they impose on believers an obligation to do the right thing. I don’t personally need directions on how not to behave like an arsehole but some people like to have a template. Fine.
To believe in a religion, you need to suspend logic. The more we know about the world, the harder it is to see the Sistine Chapel ceiling as a documentary. I have no argument with people who want to live that way but they must understand that there are people who believe different, even conflicting things and there will never, ever be an agreement on a ‘right’ belief because such a thing does not exist.
Once you make the decision to give verifiable and unverifiable information the same value, any connection is possible - hence this conference. The Holocaust deniers believe that Jews fabricated the whole genocide in order to justify creating the State of Israel. They further believe that by sanctioning ‘discussion’ of the Holocaust, the west is practising hypocrisy by censoring the ‘free speech’ it claims to cherish.
Iranian President Ahmadinejad announced on the weekend,‘For 60 years talking about the Holocaust was a crime in the West, but now there is a serious debate about the Holocaust in the media and also in political and popular meetings.’ For sure it’s a crime to deny the Holocaust because it came very close to plunging us all into slavery. We should never be allowed to forget how easy it is for unopposed racism to turn humans into animals that tear each other to pieces for pleasure.
Like many people, I think that the creation of the State of Israel was a mistake but I didn’t need to disbelieve known facts to arrive there. If these ‘scholars’ and ‘researchers’ really want to make a meaningful contribution to peace in the Middle East, they could think about starting from a position of truth. The Nazis killed six million Jews. Also, the State of Israel does exist – I have actually been there so I’m happy to verify that one.