Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Surprisingly Good Idea

You have to hand it to Iran’s President Amadinajad and his talent for self-publicity. From his alleged declaration that Israel will be “Wiped off the map,” to his nuclear ambitions, Iran’s President has had a way of making editors scramble to write dramatic headlines.

The Iranian President’s latest publicity event – The Conference on the Holocaust, has been no exception. World leaders have condemned his actions for denying the Holocaust and writers around the world have been busy writing articles linking ‘Holocaust Denial’ with the dangers of allowing Iran to have a Nuclear Bomb. 

The Conference that was organised in Tehran did have a feel of ‘bad taste’ to it. The Holocaust of the 1940s was by most accounts - gruesome. A group of people were systematically targeted for extermination based purely on their ethnicity and whether one accepts the figure of six-million dead or not, the point remains that human lives were deliberately terminated in a cold-hearted manner. The various accounts of survivors of the concentration camps are a harrowing and any suggestion that their suffering was somehow exaggerated feels wrong.

However, does that make the idea of having a global conference on the subject wrong? Although the gathering of revisionist historians seemed to many people to be like a gathering of an intellectual version of the ‘Perverse,’ holding a global conference on the subject of the Holocaust is not in itself a bad thing. In fact, it may be an idea that the International Community should adopt.

Holocaust Denial, a term used to describe the denial that the systematic slaughter of the Jewish people by Germany’s Nazi regime is jail able offence in many European countries. The proponents of such laws have argued that any disagreement with the historical facts can lead to ‘Anti-Semitic’ crimes. However, as demonstrated by Israel’s actions in the Gaza strip and Southern Lebanon, questioning the Holocaust and Anti-Semitic actions are not linked.

So, if there is no link to Holocaust Denial and a rise of Anti-Semitic crimes, there is no reason why the international community should not welcome the idea of a global conference on the Holocaust. After all, it’s also been argued that the best way to win an argument is to present a case with evidence or as The Economist believes, those who believe the Holocaust never took place should be given a public forum where they will be ridiculed in the face of the evidence in favour of the Holocaust.

A Conference about the Holocaust would force ‘Revisionist Historians’ who deny the Holocaust to present their evidence to the global public. It would also force them to prove their case in front of evidence that states that the Holocaust did take place. Some people will no doubt continue to support the ‘Revisionist’ version of history but most rational people will ridicule ‘Revisionist’ history and help destroy its credibility.

The second but no less important purpose of holding a Conference on the Holocaust is the fact that it will create a system whereby societies are forced to examine the darker side of human nature. What makes people hate others? Why do people engage in senseless slaughter, and such similar questions will be raised on a regular basis. This will hopefully lead to greater efforts by people to achieve a ‘Dialogue of Civilisations’ rather than a clash.

The Holocaust against the Jews in the 1940s is not the last instance of genocide or Holocaust. Look at Bosnia’s ethnic cleansing or Rwanda’s slaughter of its Tutsi population in the 1990s. These instances will need debate and nations will need to do ‘soul-searching’ as they reconcile from such instances. The International Community needs reminding that genocide does take place. Clearly, conferences that are aimed at discussing these instances can be valuable to humankind.

President Amadinajad’s conference may have been provocative but instead of seizing the opportunity to force the Iranian President to use the conference to create a dialogue between civilisations, the howls of outrage that came from the International Community only served to write more headlines and that is the real tragedy of last weeks conference.

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