OpinionIran in the World PressUndeniably offensive

Undeniably offensive

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The Guardian – Leader: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself was the power behind the Tehran conference on the Holocaust that has rightly been giving the Islamic Republic such negative media exposure in the west. The Guardian

Leader

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself was the power behind the Tehran conference on the Holocaust that has rightly been giving the Islamic Republic such negative media exposure in the west. Iran’s hardline president billed this odious event as intended to allow scholars to “debate” the extermination of Europe’s Jews free from the taboos and intimidation they allegedly suffer in their own societies. No surprise then that luminaries such as David Duke, formerly of the Ku Klux Klan, a racist associate of the jailed David Irving and a brace of other seedy anti-semites with dubious or non-existent academic credentials flocked to the Iranian capital to take part. German neo-Nazis were banned from attending by their government. The president was being heckled by students protesting his other madcap views when it began on Monday, but he welcomed the guests yesterday.

This official stamp matters because Mr Ahmadinejad claims to have arranged the conference to retaliate for the notorious Danish cartoons poking fun at the Prophet Muhammad. These were seen as offensive by many Muslims but they were not the work of any government. The president’s misunderstanding of how western democracies function may be matched by western misunderstanding of Iran or Islam. But it is hard to imagine anything remotely analogous to his questioning – in the face of overwhelming historical evidence – of the industrial-scale murder of 6 million Jews during the second world war. The word “myth” was much in evidence in Tehran. It is unclear whether he believes that gays, Gypsies and other victims of Nazi persecution also shamelessly lied about their suffering.

This unpleasant episode is more about the present than the past. Iran is deeply hostile to Israel. Mr Ahmadinejad has spoken of it “vanishing from the page of time” – prompting heated debate, more political than philological (and often absurdly indulgent of this bitter foe of the US), as to precisely what he meant. Iran’s determined quest for nuclear power is widely seen as a cover for the acquisition of nuclear weapons to challenge Israel’s nuclear supremacy. There are some very grave dangers here.

It is legitimate to question the tenets of Zionism and fair to see Palestinians as its victims. Suggesting that Auschwitz was a “big lie” concocted to serve Jewish interests is not. It is fair too to criticise Israel’s policies. Plenty of Jews do, and want it to do more to make peace with the Arabs, though Iran’s support for Hamas in Palestine and Hizbullah in Lebanon makes that even harder to do. Mr Ahmedinejad’s repulsive promotion of Holocaust denial is unworthy of his own country, insulting to Jews and damaging to the Palestinians he claims to care about.

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