Hidden History of the Arabs; Even for the Most Empathetic Arabs, the Holocaust Is Still a Faraway Event-Europeans Killing Their Own-For Which They Paid a Price

Newsweek International, November 20, 2006 | Go to article overview

Hidden History of the Arabs; Even for the Most Empathetic Arabs, the Holocaust Is Still a Faraway Event-Europeans Killing Their Own-For Which They Paid a Price


Byline: Robert Satloff (Satloff, director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is the author of 'Among the Righteous: Lost Stories From the Holocaust's Long Reach Into Arab Lands')

A Moroccan cartoonist recently took top honors, worth $12,000, in a contest lampooning the Holocaust, sponsored by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Instead of echoing the crass anti-Semitism that nowadays issues from Tehran, Moroccans and other Arabs might better have cited their rich history with Jews and the Holocaust to put Ahmadinejad in his place.

In North Africa and the Middle East, discussion of the Holocaust has tended to take one of three forms. One is outright denial, favored by demagogues ranging from secular nationalists like Egypt's Gamal Abdul Nasser, who 40 years ago said that "no person takes seriously the lie of the six million Jews that were murdered," to religious radicals like Hizbullah's Hassan Nasrallah, who once proclaimed that "Jews invented the legend of the Holocaust." At the opposite end of the spectrum are what I call Holocaust glorifiers. These Hitler cheerleaders are best exemplified by the editorial writers at Egypt's state-owned al-Akhbar newspaper, who have praised the Final Solution and only lamented the fact that the Nazis didn't finish the job.

Most Arabs settle between these extremes in a sort of "Holocaust relativism." They admit that Jews suffered during World War II but dispute both the numbers and the unique depravity of the Final Solution. "In war, bad things happen," they tend to say, citing mass killings of Armenians, Kurds or Cambodians to suggest that the Jewish experience was nothing special. Thus Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told U.S. TV host Charlie Rose earlier this year that he doesn't have "any clue how [Jews] were killed or how many were killed," while moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas authored a Soviet-era doctoral dissertation that questioned the number of Jews killed. Even for the most empathetic Arabs, the Holocaust is still a faraway event--Europeans killing their own--for which, they say, the Palestinians have paid a price in the creation of Israel.

Five years ago, shortly after September 11, my family and I moved to Rabat to begin a research project that I hoped would change the way Arabs think about the Holocaust. My man-bites-dog idea was simple. Not a single Arab is among the more than 20,000 non-Jews recognized by Yad Vashem, Israel's official memorial to the Holocaust, for rescuing Jews from the threat of death. …

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Hidden History of the Arabs; Even for the Most Empathetic Arabs, the Holocaust Is Still a Faraway Event-Europeans Killing Their Own-For Which They Paid a Price
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