Journalist Hafsa Kara-Mustapha says that Middle Eastern leaders who condemn and apologise for the Holocaust are falling into a trap laid by the region’s oppressors.
When freshly elected Iranian president Hassan Rouhani gave his first interview to a Western media outlet the question that attracted the most headlines was not about stability in the Middle East, tensions with neighbouring Saudi Arabia or the ongoing civil war in Syria, what gained international coverage was his position on crimes committed over 60 years ago and in which his country played no role in.
Over the years Middle Eastern leaders or intellectuals have been pressed on the issue of the Holocaust as a litmus test of whether or not to be welcomed into the western “civilised” fold… the same Western fold responsible for the mass slaughter of its own indigenous population in the first place.
Time and time again Arabs and Persians have been pressed to condemn with added vigour Nazi atrocities as if somehow they had contributed to them.
This bizzare expectation from which sadly too many from the region feel obliged to sign up to has lead to the underlying belief that Arabs or Persians are deeply anti-Semitic and of course Holocaust deniers – a crime that almost trumps the original one in today’s bien pensant circles.
In the Middle East where an individual nation’s painful history is given precedence over inter-European warmongering, very little is known about the events of the Second World War.
This lack of knowledge and indeed interest somehow triggers a violent response from Europeans keen to see their history surpass in importance all others. So much so that in today’s world focus has been removed from the perpetrators of Nazi crimes to those who played no role in them but have become their greatest and longest running victims: the Palestinians.
Whereas Germans are no longer expected to “mention the war,” Palestinians are pressured into condemning it.
Palestinians: The Nazis’ collateral victims
In his latest attempt to appease a hostile and vehemently anti-Palestinian American media Abass has announced that the Holocaust was a “heinous crime.”
No doubt expecting that these words would render him more appealing to a media oblivious to the current suffering of his people, the Fatah leader gained little coverage and the customary humiliating rebuff from Israeli premier Benyamin Netanyahu.
Sadly this umpteenth rebuff was hardly unexpected. In 1998 when visiting the US, Yasser Arafat expressed his wish to visit the Holocaust museum in Washington- presumably the one next to the Slavery museum. But the director of the institution refused, claiming Arafat was worse than Hitler!
History might one day reveal how the Palestinian leader rounded up hundreds of thousands of Jews, Roma, disabled and gay Germans to have them exterminated, though common knowledge has it that Arafat was a Palestinian expelled from his ancestral home when European Jews flocked in to steal Palestine and replace it with the “Jewish state” gradually deleting all traces of Palestinian life in the process.
The question however remains, why would an Arab leader feel obliged to condemn European atrocities committed in Europe against fellow Europeans?
Japan’s invasion of China is believed to have caused the death of over 8 million men women and children. Mirroring the German belief that non-Japanese were sub human, the invasion of Manchuria was one of the bloodiest of the 20th century. Is David Cameron expected to condemn this atrocity unequivocally when next interviewed by Al Jazeera?
Closer to the Palestinian home, Morocco’s Rif population was punished for an uprising against Spanish rule that lead the French to support their Spanish co-colonisers and mustard gas 100,000 people from the Rif region in one day. Why didn’t the Palestinian leader feel compelled to denounce that crime as heinous?
Or perhaps the Setif massacre on the 8th May 1945 in neighbouring Algeria when 20,000 protesters were slaughtered by French troops who’d been fighting the Nazis. Those same Nazis accused of unspeakable crimes.
And maybe Obama speaking at the next UN summit will feel the urge to speak of the heinous massacre of 10 million Congolese civilians at the hands of Belgian sovereign King Leopold.
European crime, Arab guilt
The problem with this forced contrition for a crime in which Arabs played no part in is twofold: on the one hand it feeds into the narrative that Jews suffered incomparable crimes and that Palestine should be their compensation. This not only places the onus on Palestinians to sacrifice themselves for crimes committed by others but also leads to a downplay of their suffering that has been ongoing for 60 years.
The second aspect of this clumsy posturing is that it fuels the idea of Arab or Muslim anti-Semitism when in fact throughout history the wider Muslim world consistently offered a safe haven for Jews suffering from European and Christian persecution.
When Jews were expelled from fundamentalist Catholic Spain, they found refuge in the kingdoms of North Africa or the nascent Ottoman empire. Time and again when Jews were expelled from Europe and their wealth confiscated their refuge of choice was the Arab world or Persia where both their physical well being and property were protected.
Many will argue that there were tensions between the communities, but anyone familiar with current affairs will note that within the Muslim family itself clashes have often happened, similarly to the European continent where two world wars lead to 100 million dead.
What this does is not only fuel added misconceptions about the region but also leads Jewish communities across the world to forget their history of peaceful co-existence with their Muslim or Arab counterparts for a false and distorted belief that in fact the worst anti-Semites have been Arabs and not Europeans.
But a quick re-cap of history easily destroys this myth: was Dreyfus living in an Arab country? Are the words “kike” or “Yid” Arab or Persian words? And were the gas chambers the brain-child of a Muslim leadership?
Rather then consistently expect Arabs to condemn the Holocaust, Jewish leaders and intellectuals should strive to teach their co-religionists who their genuine persecutors were.
In the mean time, and in a bid to even things out, German chancellor Angela Merkel’s next major speech should include a virulent condemnation of the mass ethnic cleansing of America’s native population. After all it is imperative to never forget the mass slaughter of 100 million innocent men women and children, even if those victims were a brown skinned people.