A visitor to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum walks past a mural of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp (Jim Young/Courtesy Reuters).
Today, Secretary Clinton speaks at an event at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, held in collaboration with CFR and CNN, on the subject of genocide prevention. I wish that a major Arab country was the host for this event.
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?