"How much longer do you think the German people have to accept being taken hostage by the Zionists?"
No, this is not a paraphrase of a 1938 speech by Adolph Hitler about the "international finance Jewry." It is a question asked by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, right now, in the spring of 2006. Someone is trying to kindle the glowing embers of the old fire that once consumed Europe. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was interviewed recently by Der Spiegel.
The interview is entertaining, fascinating and important for several reasons. It is entertaining, ironic and heartening to see a German defending the Jews against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. It is fascinating and important because Ahmajdinejad clearly exposes the major thesis behind his Holocaust denial campaign. His idea, popular among anti-Zionists and in the Arab world, is that the state of Israel was created because of the Holocaust. Presumably, the British mandate that promised a national home for the Jews doesn't have any legitimacy or importance, nor does the fact that most of the Jews living in under the Mandate in 1948 were not Holocaust survivors. It is an ignorant and simplistic view of Zionism and Israel that rests on shakey historical assumptions (see Was Israel created because of the Holocaust?
) . Unfortunately, it is tacitly accepted by the German interviewer:
SPIEGEL: There was great indignation in Germany when it became known that you might be coming to the soccer world championship. Did that surprise you?
Ahmadinejad: No, that's not important. I didn't even understand how that came about. It also had no meaning for me. I don't know what all the excitement is about.
SPIEGEL: It concerned your remarks about the Holocaust. It was inevitable that the Iranian president's denial of the systematic murder of the Jews by the Germans would trigger outrage.
Ahmadinejad: I don't exactly understand the connection.
SPIEGEL: First you make your remarks about the Holocaust. Then comes the news that you may travel to Germany -- this causes an uproar. So you were surprised after all?
Ahmadinejad: No, not at all, because the network of Zionism is very active around the world, in Europe too. So I wasn't surprised. We were addressing the German people. We have nothing to do with Zionists.
SPIEGEL: Denying the Holocaust is punishable in Germany. Are you indifferent when confronted with so much outrage?
Ahmadinejad: I know that DER SPIEGEL is a respected magazine. But I don't know whether it is possible for you to publish the truth about the Holocaust. Are you permitted to write everything about it?
SPIEGEL: Of course we are entitled to write about the findings of the past 60 years' historical research. In our view there is no doubt that the Germans -- unfortunately -- bear the guilt for the murder of 6 million Jews.
Ahmadinejad: Well, then we have stirred up a very concrete discussion. We are posing two
very clear questions. The first is: Did the Holocaust actually take place? You answer this question in the affirmative. So, the second question is: Whose fault was it? The answer to that has to be found in Europe and not in Palestine. It is perfectly clear: If the Holocaust took place in Europe, one also has to find the answer to it in Europe.
On the other hand, if the Holocaust didn't take place, why then did this regime of occupation ...
SPIEGEL: ... You mean the state of Israel...
Ahmadinejad: ... come about? Why do the European countries commit themselves to defending this regime? Permit me to make one more point. We are of the opinion that, if an historical occurrence conforms to the truth, this truth will be revealed all the more clearly if there is more research into it and more discussion about it.
SPIEGEL: That has long since happened in Germany.
Ahmadinejad: We don't want to confirm or deny the Holocaust. We oppose every type of crime against any people. But we want to know whether this crime actually took place or not. If it did, then those who bear the responsibility for it have to be punished, and not the Palestinians. Why isn't research into a deed that occurred 60 years ago permitted? After all, other historical occurrences, some of which lie several thousand years in the past, are open to research, and even the governments support this.
SPIEGEL: Mr. President, with all due respect, the Holocaust occurred, there were concentration camps, there are dossiers on the extermination of the Jews, there has been a great deal of research, and there is neither the slightest doubt about the Holocaust nor about the fact - we greatly regret this - that the Germans are responsible for it. If we may now add one remark: the fate of the Palestinians is an entirely different issue, and this brings us into the present.
Ahmadinejad: No, no, the roots of the Palestinian conflict must be sought in history. The Holocaust and Palestine are directly connected with one another. And if the Holocaust actually occurred, then you should permit impartial groups from the whole world to research this. Why do you restrict the research to a certain group? Of course, I don't mean you, but rather the European governments.
SPIEGEL: Are you still saying that the Holocaust is just "a myth?"
Ahmadinejad: I will only accept something as truth if I am actually convinced of it.
SPIEGEL: Even though no Western scholars harbor any doubt about the Holocaust?
Ahmadinejad: But there are two opinions on this in Europe. One group of scholars or persons, most of them politically motivated, say the Holocaust occurred. Then there is the group of scholars who represent the opposite position and have therefore been imprisoned for the most part. Hence, an impartial group has to come together to investigate and to render an opinion on this very important subject, because the clarification of this issue will contribute to the solution of global problems. Under the pretext of the Holocaust, a very strong polarization has taken place in the world and fronts have been formed. It would therefore be very good if an international and impartial group looked into the matter in order to clarify it once and for all. Normally, governments promote and support the work of researchers on historical events and do not put them in prison.
SPIEGEL: Who is that supposed to be? Which researchers do you mean?
Ahmadinejad: You would know this better than I; you have the list. There are people from England, from Germany, France and from Australia.
SPIEGEL: You presumably mean, for example, the Englishman David Irving, the German-Canadian Ernst ZŁndel, who is on trial in Mannheim, and the Frenchman Georges Theil, all of whom deny the Holocaust.
Ahmadinejad: The mere fact that my comments have caused such strong protests, although I'm not a European, and also the fact that I have been compared with certain persons in German history indicates how charged with conflict the atmosphere for research is in your country. Here in Iran you needn't worry.
SPIEGEL: Well, we are conducting this historical debate with you for a very timely purpose. Are you questioning Israel's right to exist?
Ahmadinejad: Look here, my views are quite clear. We are saying that if the Holocaust occurred, then Europe must draw the consequences and that it is not Palestine that should pay the price for it. If it did not occur, then the Jews have to go back to where they came from. I believe that the German people today are also prisoners of the Holocaust. Sixty million people died in the Second World War. World War II was a gigantic crime. We condemn it all. We are against bloodshed, regardless of whether a crime was committed against a Muslim or against a Christian or a Jew. But the question is: Why among these 60 million victims are only the Jews the center of attention?
SPIEGEL: That's just not the case. All peoples mourn the victims claimed by the Second World War, Germans and Russians and Poles and others as well. Yet, we as Germans cannot absolve ourselves of a special guilt, namely for the systematic murder of the Jews. But perhaps we should now move on to the next subject.
Ahmadinejad: No, I have a question for you. What kind of a role did today's youth play in World War II?
Ahmadinejad: Why should they have feelings of guilt toward Zionists? Why should the costs of the Zionists be paid out of their pockets? If people committed crimes in the past, then they would have to have been tried 60 years ago. End of story! Why must the German people be humiliated today because a group of people committed crimes in the name of the Germans during the course of history?
SPIEGEL: The German people today can't do anything about it. But there is a sort of collective shame for those deeds done in the German name by our fathers or grandfathers.
Ahmadinejad: How can a person who wasn't even alive at the time be held legally responsible?
SPIEGEL: Not legally but morally.
SPIEGEL: Do you want to resettle a whole people 60 years after the end of the war?
Ahmadinejad: Five million Palestinians have not had a home for 60 years. It is amazing really: You have been paying reparations for the Holocaust for 60 years and will have to keep paying up for another 100 years. Why then is the fate of the Palestinians no issue here?
SPIEGEL: The Europeans support the Palestinians in many ways. After all, we also have an historic responsibility to help bring peace to this region finally. But don't you share that responsibility?
Ahmadinejad: Yes, but aggression, occupation and a repetition of the Holocaust won't bring peace. What we want is a sustainable peace. This means that we have to tackle the root of the problem. I am pleased to note that you are honest people and admit that you are obliged to support the Zionists.
SPIEGEL: That's not what we said, Mr. President.
Ahmadinejad: You said Israelis.
The interviewer of Der Spiegel makes no attempt whatever to counter Ahmadinejad's thesis that Israel is the result of the Holocaust. Apparently, the idea that the Jews would have no right to self-determination were it not for the Holocaust, has become accepted even by the most well-meaning Europeans.
You are probably all curious about the part of the interview I left out, above. I saved the best for last. Ahmadinejad is not content with Holocaust denial. In order to complete his alliance with Nazism, literally, he has taken up the ominous theme that was the basis of Hitler's rise to power: "Germany has been humiliated by the Jews." "Germany should not be made to suffer war guilt." Der Spiegel interviewers made quite civilized replies, which is difficult when you are interviewing a barbarian. It is fashionable to call just about everyone "Nazi." This word has been devalued and debased. But when Ahmadinejad takes up a theme that precisely echos the propaganda of the Nazi party and the Neo-Nazis of today, it suggests a very ominous trend in his ideology.
From the interview (my emphasis added):
Ahmadinejad: Why is such a burden heaped on the German people? The German people of today bear no guilt. Why are the German people not permitted the right to defend themselves? Why are the crimes of one group emphasized so greatly, instead of highlighting the great German cultural heritage? Why should the Germans not have the right to express their opinion freely?
SPIEGEL: Mr. President, we are well aware that German history is not made up of only the 12 years of the Third Reich. Nevertheless, we have to accept that horrible crimes have been committed in the German name. We also own up to this, and it is a great achievement of the Germans in post-war history that they have grappled critically with their past.
Ahmadinejad: Are you also prepared to tell that to the German people?
SPIEGEL: Oh yes, we do that.
Ahmadinejad: Then would you also permit an impartial group to ask the German people whether it shares your opinion? No people accepts its own humiliation.
SPIEGEL: All questions are allowed in our country. But of course there are right-wing radicals in Germany who are not only anti-Semitic, but xenophobic as well, and we do indeed consider them a threat.
Ahmadinejad: Let me ask you one thing: How much longer can this go on? How much longer do you think the German people have to accept being taken hostage by the Zionists? When will that end - in 20, 50, 1,000 years?
SPIEGEL: We can only speak for ourselves. DER SPIEGEL is nobody's hostage; SPIEGEL does not deal only with Germany's past and the Germans' crimes. We're not Israel's uncritical ally in the Palestinian conflict. But we want to make one thing very clear: We are critical, we are independent, but we won't simply stand by without protest when the existential right of the state of Israel, where many Holocaust survivors live, is being questioned.
Ahmadinejad: Precisely that is our point. Why should you feel obliged to the Zionists? If there really had been a Holocaust, Israel ought to be located in Europe, not in Palestine.
It is obvious that Ahmadinejad is trying to recruit sympathy and support for Iran among the worst and most dangerous elements in Germany and in Europe. It is ominous that the first part of his narrative, that Israel was created because of the Holocaust, is already gaining acceptance and is taken for granted. How long will it be before Germans and Europeans accept the second part of the narrative as well, and begin to believe that they should not be "obliged to the Zionists?"
Commentary is copyright 2006 by the author. Interview is copyright by Der Spiegel.
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