Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ahmadinejad at Columbia

I'm sure it's no surprise to our readers at this point that Iranian President and Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke yesterday at Columbia University, one of the U.S.'s finest universities (they turned me down, so they must be good), and fielded questions regarding his remarks concerning the Final Solution. A purportedly full transcript of his remarks can be found here.

Read more!

So what did the smiling guy sans necktie have to say?

M.A. addressed the issue first (not prompted by a question) by saying this: "My first question was if -- given that the Holocaust is a present reality of our time, a history that occurred, why is there not sufficient research that can approach the topic from different perspectives?"

I'm sorry, Mr. Ahmadinejad, but for someone who purportedly holds a Ph.D., you know absolutely nothing about Holocaust studies. There are hundreds of perspectives on the Holocaust, including minimalist interpretations, functionalist interpretations, intententionalist interpretations, anti-Zionist interpretations, and a host of other approaches.

M.A.: "Our friend referred to 1930 as the point of departure for this development. However, I believe the Holocaust from what we've read happened during World War II, after 1930, in the 1940s. So, you know, we have to really be able to trace the event."

Not sure who "our friend" is, or in what context the date 1930 was mentioned, so I'm going to have to take a pass on this one.

M.A.: "My question was simple: There are researchers who want to approach the topic from a different perspective. Why are they put into prison? Right now, there are a number of European academics who have been sent to prison because they attempted to write about the Holocaust or research it from a different perspective, questioning certain aspects of it."

OK, first of all, none of the people in jail for Holocaust denial are so-called academics. Not a one.

That being said, I have to wonder exactly where a man who runs a police state gets off asking a question like this. The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran does not allow religious freedoms outside those recognized by the Qur'an. People are thrown in jail -- routinely -- for opposing the government. When government opponents visit the country, they are jailed. I say this without qualification: Every single country that has a law against Holocaust denial is a more free country that Iran. EVERY LAST ONE.

Now, none of us here at HC Blog believe in having laws against Holocaust denial, but one must wonder why Ahmadinejad has taken this issue up as his cause célèbre.

M.A.: "My question is: Why isn't it open to all forms of research?"

It is. What some countries (I think twelve in total, and the only one in his part of the world is Israel) have done is made it a crime to "research" the Holocaust with the implanted conclusion that it never happened and then work from that assumption.

Actually, scratch that: These idiots can "research" whatever they want. It's when they publish or speak that they get into trouble. So now we're back to the pot-kettle-black scenario.

M.A.:"I have been told that there's been enough research on the topic. And I ask, well, when it comes to topics such as freedom, topics such as democracy, concepts and norms such as God, religion, physics even, or chemistry, there's been a lot of research, but we still continue more research on those topics. We encourage it."

"Enough research on the topic"? Really? Then what am I doing here, or Jon, Nick, Roberto, and Sergey?

I seriously doubt this guy was every told this by anyone. If anyone ever actually said this, they're as big an idiot as Ahmadinejad.

As for research on democracy and freedom, what would Ahmadinejad know about either?

M.A.: "But, then, why don't we encourage more research on a historical event that has become the root, the cause of many heavy catastrophes in the region in this time and age?"

Ah, an old denier favorite. The Holocaust caused the Nakba.

No, it didn't. Zionism was a movement for fifty years before World War II and two partition plans were floated before the Holocaust even happened.

The Holocaust may have sped up the Nakba, but it wasn't the root cause.

M.A.: "Why shouldn't there be more research about the root causes? That was my first question."

There's been exhaustive research on root causes. One of the most recent overviews, Holocaust: A History by Robert Jan van Pelt and Debórah Dwork, questions the traditional root causes fairly extensively.

M.A.: "And my second question, well, given this historical event, if it is a reality, we need to still question whether the Palestinian people should be paying for it or not. After all, it happened in Europe. The Palestinian people had no role to play in it. So why is it that the Palestinian people are paying the price of an event they had nothing to do with?"

Well, again, the Holocaust didn't cause the Nakba, but this is a fair point. I'll grant Ahmadinejad this one. As I once heard Rashid Khalidi say, the Jews of Europe jumped out of a burning building, and nobody can blame them for jumping, but they landed on people, and they bear a responsibility for that."

M.A.: "The Palestinian people didn't commit any crime. They had no role to play in World War II. They were living with the Jewish communities and the Christian communities in peace at the time. They didn't have any problems."

Patently false. As much sympathy as I have for the Palestinian national cause, there were anti-Jewish pogroms in Palestine in 1920 in Jerusalem and 1929 in Hebron -- the second one famously carried out against a non-Zionist Jewish population that had been living there for a thousand years.

M.A.: "And today, too, Jews, Christians and Muslims live in brotherhood all over the world in many parts of the world. They don't have any serious problems."


M.A.: "But why is it that the Palestinians should pay a price, innocent Palestinians, for 5 million people to remain displaced or refugees abroad for 60 years. Is this not a crime? Is asking about these crimes a crime by itself?"

OK, we get it. But who said it's a crime to ask about the Nakba?

M.A.: "Why should an academic myself face insults when asking questions like this? Is this what you call freedom and upholding the freedom of thought?"

Sorry, I started laughing at "an academic myself" and lost attention for a moment. I'm back.

At this point, M.A. went on to the nuclear issue.

A few minutes later, a question came, presumably from a student (or from Colubmia's President Bollinger, who frankly acted like an asshole -- not that Ahmadinejad isn't an asshole, too, but Bollinger just lowered himself to M.A.'s level): "Mr. President, a further set of questions challenged your view of the Holocaust. Since the evidence that this occurred in Europe in the 1940s, as a result of the actions of the German Nazi government, since that -- those facts -- are well documented, why are you calling for additional research? There seems to be no purpose in doing so, other than to question whether the Holocaust actually occurred as a historical fact. Can you explain why you believe more research is needed into the facts of what are -- what is -- what are incontrovertible?"

This is a lousy question. I would have asked him, rather, why he doubted the evidence and not why he thought more research is needed, because more research is needed.

That being said, I think the supposition of the question is correct. M.A. responded: "Thank you very much for your question. I am an academic, and you are as well."

Sorry, but that doesn't get any less funny as I read it.

M.A.: "Can you argue that researching a phenomenon is finished, forever done? Can we close the books for good on a historical event? There are different perspectives that come to light after every research is done. Why should we stop research at all? Why should we stop the progress of science and knowledge?"

I concede him this point, which is why my question would have been better. Damn Columbia for rejecting my application some fifteen years ago!

M.A.: "You shouldn't ask me why I'm asking questions. You should ask yourselves why you think that that's questionable? Why do you want to stop the progress of science and research? Do you ever take what's known as absolute in physics? We had principles in mathematics that were granted to be absolute in mathematics for over 800 years. But new science has gotten rid of those absolutisms, come forward other different logics of looking at mathematics and sort of turned the way we look at it as a science altogether after 800 years. So, we must allow researchers, scholars, they investigate into everything, every phenomenon -- God, universe, human beings, history and civilization. Why should we stop that?"

As correct as the questioner's supposition is, M.A. really has him by the balls at this point.

M.A.: "I am not saying that it didn't happen at all. This is not that judgment that I am passing here."

Well, with all due respect (i.e., none) you've denied it outright in the past.

M.A.: "I said, in my second question, granted this happened, what does it have to do with the Palestinian people? This is a serious question. There are two dimensions. In the first question..."

And again with the linkage to Zionism. He is a one-trick pony -- two tricks at best.

Here the student continued his/her question: "Let me just -- let me pursue this a bit further. It is difficult to have a scientific discussion if there isn't at least some basis, some empirical basis, some agreement about what the facts are. So calling for research into the facts when the facts are so well established represents for many a challenging of the facts themselves and a denial that something terrible occurred in Europe in those years."

Here the audience gave the questioner applause. Again, his supposition is correct and I think he enunciated his point better here.

The student continued, "Let me move on to..." but was interrupted by M.A.: "Allow me. After all, you are free to interpret what you want from what I say. But what I am saying I'm saying with full clarity."

I think the man has a congenital inability to answer a direct question. Maybe that's just me.

M.A.: "In the first question I'm trying to actually uphold the rights of European scholars. In the field of science and research I'm asking, there is nothing known as absolute. There is nothing sufficiently done. Not in physics for certain. There has been more research on physics than it has on the Holocaust, but we still continue to do research on physics. There is nothing wrong with doing it."

Gee, "Mr. President," maybe the reason there's more research on physics is because physics is as old as the universe, and the Holocaust is only sixty years old?

But tell us all: In your country, could a scholar publish a physics paper proving God did not create the universe? The answer, I will provide for you, is this: No, s/he could not.

M.A.: "This is what man wants. They want to approach a topic from different points of view. Scientists want to do that. Especially an issue that has become the foundation of so many other political developments that have unfolded in the Middle East in the past 60 years."

Ugh. Not only does he dodge questions, but he endlessly repeats himself.

M.A.'s final remark on the topic: "Why do we stop it altogether? You have to have a justified reason for it. The fact that it was researched sufficiently in the past is not a sufficient justification in my mind."

We don't stop it altogether, you fucking idiot.

Incidentally, the next question was on capital punishment in Iran, including for homosexuals. Again: Not one of the twelve countries with laws against Holocaust denial will execute a person for a homosexual act. In many of these countries, in fact, homosexuals are a protected minority group.

His repsonse? "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals, like in your country."

Oh, OK...

And I'm the queen of Romania.


  1. Brilliant, Sarcastic, and true. Love your breakdown of the Fools at Columbia. I was just wondering who the fools who clapped for the little man were in the audience. Khalidi's ilk? Code Pink? Soros's thugs? Great work, keep it up.

  2. "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals, like in your country."

    I suspect there may be radically different cultural concepts and translation problems going on when trying to talk about homosexuality. Ahmadinejad speaks Farsi, not English, and has to be translated. It sounds like "gay" got translated into something that means merely "sexual criminal" with the emphasis on the "criminal."

    When pressed he got a different word and he still couldn't understand the question. It sounds like Farsi is undergoing some serious Orwellian distortion on these topics.

    Remember, it's not just Ahmadinejad, it's the whole culture and religion that has gone loony tunes and cannot understand the question any more.

    I noted that on my blog:

  3. There are more than 12 states that make Holocaust denial a crime. At the time being, 20 states have passed respective laws: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, and Switzerland. On April 19, 2007, the Council of the European Union adopted a "Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia" that obliges member states to punish under domestic law "publicly condoning, denying, or grossly trivializing .... crimes defined by the Tribunal of Nuremberg (Article 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, London Agreement of 1945) directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by the reference to race, color, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin," in clear: the Holocaust. Source:
    It can be expected, therefore, that - with the possible exception of the UK and the Scandinavian states with their tradition of free speech - the other EU members that, at the time, do not have anti-HD laws, will pass them.

  4. Mr. Neander,

    The following countries do not have laws against denial: Australia, Canada, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Slovakia (which revoked its law). In Poland, it's also illegal to deny communist atrocities.

    Speech is freer in EVERY ONE OF THOSE COUNTRIES than in Iran.

    Try to be correct when you disagree with me.


  5. Andrew: "Not one of the twelve countries with laws against Holocaust denial will execute a person for a homosexual act." Right, most of them will not execute anybody. For example, "No death penalty" is a binding principle for all member states of the European Union.
    But what does "a homosexual act" have in common with Holocaust denial? Isn't it a little bit far-fetched to link them in one statement?

  6. Mr. Mathis, to prosecute HD you need not have a law that explicitly says, "HD is a crime." It is sufficient that a HDer can be tried or has been tried under some law article.

    E.g., until 1992 Austria had no special HD article, but tried HD under "Wiederbetaetigung" (Nazism revival); until 1960, the FRG tried it under "Disparaging the dead," and the GDR until 1989 under Article 6 "Boykotthetze" (Incitement to boycott) of her constitution. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have prosecuted HD cases as "hate speech" under the respective laws. AFAIK, the intensity of prosecution, however, is not very high in these countries.

    The Netherlands prosecute HD under articles 137c and 137e of the penal code, the "anti-Racism" articles. Monaco has no special anti-HD law, but prosecutes HD under Articles 16 and 24 of Law no. 1229 of July 15, 2005, "sur la liberté d'expression publique" (information provided to me by the Center of Information of the Government on March 17, 2006).

    With regard to Slovakia, I would be glad if you could give me a source for confirmation. If they revoked article 422(2) of the penal code, which explicitly mentions/mentioned HD, it must have been done recently. Until this article was added to the penal code on January 1, 2006, Slovakia has prosecuted HD cases under article 261, which penalizes "showing sympathy for fascism" etc. AFAIK, this article has not been revoked.

    You rightfully mention that Poland also penalizes communist-crimes-against-humanity-denial, but let me add: only those crimes that were perpetrated against ethnic Poles or Polish citizens between Sep 1, 1939, and Dec 31, 1989. Czech HD law, BTW, also penalizes commie-crime-denial. Want more? France passed a law that penalizes Armenian-genocide-denial. I hope I didn't bother you with too much details, but I've studied this matter quite in detail for a couple of years.

  7. Joachim, I am not sure if I agree with you that prosecuting HD's under hate crime laws is the same as having a specific HD law. I think there is likely to be a difference between the degree of denial, or burden of proof, that results in a conviction and prison sentence under the different laws. When there is only a Hate Crime law, the prosecution must surely carry a much higher burden of proof to show that HD is a hate crime. Is that not so?

  8. Jonathan, you are right, there are differences in the intensity of prosecuting HD and in the burden of proof for the courts. Not all countries where HD is punished have set the threshold for punishable behavior as low as did France and Germany. Jean-Marie le Pen's famous statement "The Holocaust is only a detail in world history" brought him a heavy fine in France for trivializing the Holocaust, but in Canada he probably would have been left unpunished.

    But the fact remains that more and more countries have adopted laws that make HD - admittedly defined differently and not always explicitly - an offense punishable by domestic law. Not without reason "Reporters sans frontières" see "disturbing developments" not only in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, but also in the EU.

    What is more, there is a tendency in countries that passed HD laws
    a) to pass in their wake other laws defining history (see France or Poland),
    b) to go further and further in prosecuting marginal cases of HD,
    c) to censor the Web (as is already done in France and Germany), and
    d) to create a climate of "political correctness" that allows to speak publicly about the Holocaust only in standardized clichés (as in Germany).

    The fact that matters concerning freedom of speech and unhindered access to information are worse in countries such as Iran, as Andrew Mathis reminds us, doesn't make things better in our countries.

  9. No, Herr Neander, it doesn't make things better for us, but it does make Ahmadinejad a bit of a hypocrite, no?

  10. Joachim,

    even within the EU, less than 50% of the total EU population lives in states with anti-HD laws. Widen this to include Russia, non-EU countries within Europe, the US and the Anglosphere, and the figure falls to less than 20% of the 'Western' population.

    I am not saying this makes the policies of Germany, France, Poland etc any better, just asking for some global perspective.

  11. Henry: "... it does make Ahmadinejad a bit of a hypocrite, no?"
    Not only a bit. The whole Ahmadinejad speech is a lesson in hypocrisy. Good that Columbia gave him the chance to expose himself as so stupid and hypocritical.

    To Nick: Your figures most probably are correct and show the actual state of matters. But I would like to direct attention to a trend that can be observed since at least 25 years. In the 1980s, it were only the 3rd Reich's successor states, FRG, GDR, and Austria (and Israel) that punished HD. In the beginning of the 1990s, France, Belgium, the Netherlands followed, later Switzerland, Spain and Portugal. At the turn of 2000, states aspiring access to the EU, such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia made HD punishable. In 2002, Germany started blocking Web sites with HD content. France soon followed. In 2003, the Council of Europe passed Treaty 189 that urges member states to punish by domestic law the spreading of HD containing material, especially on the Web. In January 2007, the UN passed a resolution that condemns HD in every form and urges member states to take measures to "reject" HD. (It does not explicitly call for punishment or Web censorship.) In April 2007, the Council of Europe passed the Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia, which obliges member states explicitly to punish HD. (It leaves, however open, "to punish only conduct which is either carried out in a manner likely to disturb public order or which is threatening, abusive or insulting" - terms that, however, allow a wide range of interpretation.)

    So one can see a continuous proliferation of anti-HD laws and measures in the last 25 years, at least in Europe. There is still a significant pressure by Human Rights and anti-Fascist groups on all lawmakers in the world to pass anti-HD laws and/or to make existing laws tougher. Don't let us forget that the UK was at the brink of getting her anti-HD law under Tony Blair, and that in Italy an anti-HD law that was already unanimously accepted by the coalition government was repealed at the very last moment in Parliament.

    Taking these facts into account, and the framework decisions of the UN and the Council of Europe, I dare the prognosis that anti-HD laws and supporting measures will continue to spread worldwide.

    Not only I have doubts that this trend will help to diminish antisemitism, racism, and xenophobia in our societies. On the contrary, I'm afraid it might even fuel them.

  12. Joachim,

    the fact that Italy and the UK turned back on the idea of anti-HD laws shows that there are limits to the concept. The EU-wide proposal was defeated/neutralised by a combination of the UK and Scandinavian countries with different traditions to the rest of the continent and its shall we say less liberal heritage.

    I would wager that the loi Gayssot will be repealed some time after Faurisson's death.

  13. Nick,

    it would at least take some wind out of the far-rights' sails and cut the ground from under this kind of right-wing propaganda, which uses calculated violations of the Gayssot law to get publicity. Le Pen has played this tune perfectly..

    But may I propose you an agreement? Let us take up the issue in exactly 3 years - end of September 2010 - and look, if your prognosis (more or less the same as today, no significant proliferation of anti-HD legislation) or mine (further proliferation of anti-HD legislation and tightening of supporting measures) has proved correct? At the time being, we can only speculate.

  14. Joachim,

    "it would at least take some wind out of the far-rights' sails and cut the ground from under this kind of right-wing propaganda, which uses calculated violations of the Gayssot law to get publicity. Le Pen has played this tune perfectly.."

    Not to the point of electoral breakthrough, nor to the point of really gaining a platform for revisionist propaganda. Even Faurisson admits that revisionism in France has dwindled almost to insignificance.

    "But may I propose you an agreement? Let us take up the issue in exactly 3 years - end of September 2010 - and look, if your prognosis (more or less the same as today, no significant proliferation of anti-HD legislation) or mine (further proliferation of anti-HD legislation and tightening of supporting measures) has proved correct? At the time being, we can only speculate."

    Agreed, we should wait and see. However this is not a situation where we, members of the erstwhile intelligentsia, are powerless. It is to the good that the likes of Timothy Garton Ash, or Deborah Lipstadt, or Alan Dershowitz, oppose anti-HD laws. The same within the academy, there is not much enthusiasm among German historians for their laws (Goetz Aly said as much when interviewed apropos Ahmadinejad's remarks). Both the Italian and German Jewish communities are opposed to such laws on pragmatic grounds, for the reasons you hold - they cause a backlash.

    It is ensuring that the likes of David Cesarani, a longtime advocate of criminalising HD in the UK, are not the only voices on this matter where we can do some good.
    That is why this blog takes the stance it does over matters of legal affairs.

  15. Just for the record: I checked the official Web sites of the Slovak Ministry of Justice and of the Slovak Parliament. Article 422(2) of the penal code, which provides for up to three years in prison for Holocaust denial, is still in force since January 1, 2006. No changes have been made until today.
    When the draft of the new penal law was discussed in 2005 in Parliament, however, there were voices that wanted HD not to be punished (because of Free Speech), but they did not succeed. So we, indeed, have 20 countries where HD is punished or at least punishable.

    The information that, in May 2005, the HD article of the Slovak penal code was repealed, is a canard. I found it first at the Zundelsite, then also in Wikipedia. Well, both sources should be read (and quoted) with a pinch of salt.


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