The Uses and Abuses of History

For two days this week, various religious fanatics, racists, and self-deluded scholars gathered in Tehran to discuss the historical “debate” about the existence of the Holocaust.1 Sponsored by noted patron of intellectual inquiry, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 67 individuals from 30 countries discussed their mutual insanities and separations from reality free from the restrictive taboos that allegedly limit Holocaust scholarship in the democratic West. Former Klan leader David Duke participated, presenting a paper, and called Ahmadinejad courageous for “offer[ing] free speech for the world’s most repressed idea: Holocaust revisionism.”2

The conference was joined by some unusual fellow-travelers: anti-Zionist Jews who say the Holocaust happened, but call for the elimination of the state of Israel. Contemporary anti-Israel politics, I think, is the real purpose of Hatefest ’06. By sponsoring the conference, Ahmadinejad gets to polish his anti-Israel brass, and, when these so-called scholars reach their inevitable conclusion about the Holocaust, he and his anti-Israel sympathizers in the Middle East will be able to point to them and say, “see, Israel should be eliminated, because its founding was based on one big lie.”

A little (historical) knowledge is a dangerous thing, but crackpot ignorance might become Iran’s casus belli.

1 “Debate” is in quotes because pretending there actually is a debate about whether or not the Holocaust happened is one of the tactics of this crowd.

2 I despise the abuse of the word “revisionism.” Revising prior conclusions and narratives based on new research and evidence is the very craft of the historian. When conservatives attack “historical revisionists” they’re being foolish because all historians are revisionists — the epithet is too imprecise. When these people call themselves “Holocaust revisionists,” they too are being imprecise and giving themselves too much credit. They are not coming to new insights based on new research. They are coming to foregone conclusions based on selected “evidence” that they think backs up their case. They are not revisionists, they are deniers.

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