Stop denying the Holocaust, says former Islamist

A display at the US Holocaust Museum in Washington (Photo: Reuters)

Ed Husain has come a long way since he rejected the path of jihad. He tells his remarkable story in his book, The Reluctant Fundamentalist. In this article for the Foreign Relations Council, where Husain is a Middle East specialist, he calls for an end to Holocaust denial in Arab countries. A very worthy initiative, but is it enough? See my comment below.

Last week I visited the West Bank and Israel, where I met people from varied walks of life. In conversations with young Arabs, I was saddened to hear that Holocaust denial continues to be part of the normative mindset among so many in such an important part of the world. Their grievances with the modern State of Israel are real, but this does not give them the mandate to rewrite history.

What’s worse is the schizophrenia of denying that the Holocaust occurred, while claiming that “Hitler did not eliminate all of the Jews because he wanted to spare some so the world can see how they behave in Israel with Arabs.” Implicit in this argument, of course, are the ideas that the Holocaust was part of a plot to create Israel, and that Hitler’s actions are justified.

These are not fringe conspiracy theories. I’ve heard similar rejections of the Holocaust from political leaders in the Middle East, academics, youth leaders, and imams. The virus is so widespread that it impacts Muslims living in Europe. For several years, the Muslim Council of Britain refused to attend Holocaust Memorial Day. In response to this widespread problem, the West’s most prominent Muslim scholar, Shaikh Hamza Yusuf, wrote that Holocaust denial was tantamount to denying Muslim scripture. Just as Muslims believe in hadith literature because of the solid reports (mutawatir) confirming events in seventh century Arabia, we are obliged to believe in the Holocaust by virtue of eyewitness accounts, extant documents, and the presence of Auschwitz and other sites.

Such arguments, theological or otherwise, are yet to be made among Muslims in the East.

But there is good news. Not all Arabs followed the disastrous and disgraceful lead of the mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, who traveled to Berlin to support the Nazis. Other Arabs helped Jews escape the Holocaust. My friend Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, documents this history in his book Among the Righteous.

The Holocaust Memorial Museum is needed in the Arab world today. The stories that Rob Satloff tells us need amplifying among young Arabs. They too should be proud of helping a persecuted people avoid the Nazis. The history of the Holocaust is forever instructive in preventing genocides. Where the rhetoric of hatred becomes acceptable, politicians soon emerge to ride that storm.

Which Arab countries will open branches of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in their capitals?

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My comment: I am delighted that Ed Husain wants Arab countries to stop rewriting history by denying the Holocaust. His call for branches of the Holocaust Memorial Museum to be opened in Arab countries is entirely laudable. But Husain must not in turn rewrite history by minimising the very real, and at times overwhelming support that the Nazis found in Arab countries. The Mufti was not just a pro-Nazi individual, he was the leader of the Arab world. Husain takes comfort in those Muslim heroes who rescued Jews. But as his friend Robert Satloff writes in his book Among the Righteous, those who persecuted Jews must not be forgotten either.

This tendency to whitewash Arab and Muslim sympathy for, and participation in, the persecution of the Jews during the Nazi era is why projects such as the Aladdin campaign to fight Holocaust denial in the Arab world have ended in failure: They misrepresent the Holocaust as Europe’s problem, and put the Arabs on the side of the angels. The result has been to confirm the Palestinians as victims of the Jews.

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