Ahmadinejad/Holocaust Conference 12/13/06

I had mentioned not too long ago in private conversation with a friend how Ahmadinejad is using the Holocaust as a rhetorical balance against the Cartoons and Van Gogh. The Holocaust conference sponsored by Tehran–an inarguably atrocious move by the Ahmadinejad regime–unfortunately, served to prove me right. Here’s Ahmadinejad saying, “if you throw a stone at our sanctum, we will do the same.” The conference clothed under the guise of a challenge to the Western values of free speech, is arguably intended to underscore the West’s many hypocritical actions; for instance, the guarantee of free speech which allows expression of sentiments that are
a) one of the seven crimes punishable by death under the hudd-al-riddah (blasphemy and apostasy laws) in the Islamic legal system, and
b) offensive, constituting slander against Muslim figures.
…but then if free speech is such a valued tenet of Western society that prides itself in its moral superiority then how come there are limits on expressing criticism of the Holocaust? Mr. Ahmadinejad has correctly estimated the value of the Holocaust memory in Western moral consciousness. The Holocaust, as much as a tragedy of the Jews is a tragedy of the West: it reminds the world what is most reprehensible in humans and an attack on its memory is an attack on the West’s salvation, its atonement from that crime.
Those who have dismissed Ahmadinejad’s little show as simply an instance of political anti-Semitism and power politics do so prematurely. Indeed that is probably the case but Tehran’s conference raises some questions that are relevant to answer in light of the burgeoning tensions between “West” and “Islam” over the question of free speech. Relativism seems pertinenent. If that is sacred to you, so is this to us. The question raised is how exactly does one go about appraising the moral value of two very distinct tropes? The archetype of the revered leader and the sanctity of his character versus the archetype of immense human suffering and the sanctity of that memory are placed in a rhetorical balance. Arguably, both are grounded in historical facts; the value of the latter being more readily ascertainable than the former.

It remains to be true that the majority of those living the in the greater Middle East have no conception of the Holocaust and they have become so entrenched in the bilious rhetoric of their leaders who have made a scapegoat out of the Jews, that even the most sensible are unable to lend any favor to the plight of the Jews. Likewise, the sanctity of the Prophet, for many Muslims, is an immensely sensitive matter which is something almost incomprehensible to the Western mind: it is more sacred than human life itself. Calling upon the Muslim world to simply learn to accomodate free speech, at least, immediately, is not an option.


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