Holocaust Denial in Pakistan: An Appraisal
By Fawad Javaid
Any study mapping the incidence of Holocaust Denial in Pakistan should be cognizant of the sociological and Politico-historical context of its occurrence in the country. It is by identifying the social, political and historical context of Holocaust Denial in the country that we can learn about its causes and point to the quarters that propagate it.
Holocaust denial, although considerable, does not transpire in the mainstream of Pakistan’s academic and intellectual spheres. This is not because people do not take it seriously. It is because the Jewish people and atrocities committed by the Nazis do not figure much in the national historical narrative of the country that is mostly focused on the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. Students are taught a history of the country where the national narrative rotates around a “Two Nations Theory” where the alleged rival is All India National Congress Party (1886-1947) of the colonial times; the cultural and political adversaries here are the Hindus in collusion with the English who were refusing a separate national identity and a state to the Muslims of colonial India.
The Holocaust figures in two types of historical records in the country; first, the accounts of the Muslim soldiers recruited to fight on the Allied side in WW 2, many of whom were imprisoned in Germany, a brother of my own grandfather being one among them. A few of them married German women who came to India with these soldiers. Quite a few of them must have seen the German atrocities at first hand and they mostly seem to corroborate rather than deny the accepted history of the Holocaust. Hardly any of them, however, are alive to take a position on the question of Holocaust today. A fiction writer, Colonel Muhammad Khan, had to offer apologetic explanations in later editions after the first version of his book about WW2 in the Middle East implied that Jewish immigrants in Palestine lived cleaner and better organized lives than their Arab neighbors. On the whole, the WW 2 accounts of these War veterans can be a source of good and effective tool to refute and shame Holocaust deniers in the country.
The Second set of history that touches the subject of Holocaust in Pakistan is more problematic. It studies the Arab-Israeli conflict from the Arab or, more aptly, Iranian standpoint alone. And it is here that the Holocaust denial happens most flagrantly and, let’s acknowledge, virulently. It is interesting to note that this variety of Holocaust Denial mostly carries an Iranian rather than Arab imprint in its narrative, arguments and vociferous tone. One hears more of ludicrous Mahmood AhmediNejad rather than Muslim Brotherhood here.
Drawing on a vast array of fabrications ranging from the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zions,’ hearsay about the mid 20th Century Euro-American revisionism to the fantastic ponderings of the 2006 Iranian ‘Holocaust denial conference,’ this line of attack carries some influence with a considerable number of people. Most of these deniers whom I shall call ‘AhmediNejad partisans’ are about as educated as their readers and listeners, which is very rudimentarily. It is a politically motivated lie that claims that Holocaust is a myth conjured up by the West and the Zionists to legitimize the state of Israel.
At the socio-cultural level this argument is couched in an Anti-Semitic undercurrent of the Muslim World that believes that the Jewish people have been eternally condemned by God to do crime and get punished in a cyclic historical pattern.
The basic argument of this historical narrative is contradictory in that it at one end it denies the occurrence of the Holocaust and at another it attributes the atrocities of the Nazis against the Jewish people to God’s wrath upon them! The dangerous part of this politically motivated anti-Semitic Holocaust denial is the fact that it feeds on the real or imaginary Israeli crimes against the Arab people. In their imaginary universe of religious fervor the Pakistani Holocaust deniers fail to separate Nazi crimes against the Jewish people in Europe from the vagaries of the Arab-Israeli conflict. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempts to connect the two, he naively walks into the trap of this variety of anti-Semitic Holocaust denial in Pakistan and the Muslim World.
Most of these Pakistani Holocaust deniers neither know German or, in many instances, any of the European language where the best scholarship on Holocaust exists. Most of them have not visited any of the concentrations camps or the places where the Holocaust took place. Hardly few among them have met a Jewish person, let alone a Holocaust survivor, in their lives. Few are professional historians who might take the extra labor to consider studying quality archival sources on WW 2, Modern German and European history or any valid sources before denying a tragic calamity that befell the Jewish people in the first half of the 20th century.
Their motives are mixed. They broadly belong to two categories, materialistic opportunists and ideological adherents of the organized Islam. The first group belongs to the intellectually below average social climbers, opportunists tied to scholarships and funds lines in petro-rich Iran and Arab World and their clients in the Pakistani state. They want quick career promotions which can be attained through patronage received from academic bureaucracy. In large areas of Pakistani academic bureaucracy, career enhancements come through such networks of patronage rather than intellectual or academic excellence. They also include people belonging to the country’s shady media that has notoriously fed and thrived on farfetched War on Terrorism related sensational news, conspiracy theories, outlandish Wild West accounts of North Western Pakistan and South Eastern Afghanistan as lawless lands. What could be more thrilling to superficially educated media people and their still lesser literate, readers, listeners and watcher than lies about a humanitarian atrocity related to the Jewish people that incriminates them as devious conspirators out to form a state on fellow Muslims’ lands. In Holocaust denial, these academics and media people have their lead trophy that helps them enhance their otherwise very mediocre careers and provides them with stories that sell like hotcakes on the media pages, airwaves and screens.
The second motive for a substantial propagation of Holocaust denial in Pakistan is connected to religious bigotry that exists in varying degrees among all religions and religious sects in the country and the region at large. It rises from the wellsprings of Islamic theology and feeds on an ideological and political competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the country in which the later have got the better of the former in recent times. Both of them try to outperform and outspend one another in espousing the alleged ‘causes of the Muslim Ummah.’ The Palestinian Cause eminently fits the bill!
In the Muslim World propaganda and psychological operations, the Iranian theocracy has always been savvier than the more obtuse scions of the House of Saud. While the later frivolously cling to a Sunni particularism, their cannier Iranian rivals have been flirting with a larger cross-section of conservative Muslim World opinion. Their clients have ranged from Hamas and Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood to Pakistani Jama’at-i-Islami, Afghan Hizb-i-Islami and even the militant Talibans at certain points over the past decade and half. When they take an anti-Semitic position in the open, the bizarre and motley crowds of their clients are never far behind to endorse them among both the Shia and Sunni Muslims of the region, a remarkable and ridiculous conformity of ideas in an otherwise sectarian tinderbox of the region! Add Iran’s newfound honeymoon with the West adds to the matrix and you get a perfect process that shall go on spewing Anti-Semitism in the times to come. As Mehmood AhmediNejad’s 2006 ‘Holocaust denial conference’ illustrated, Holocaust denial shall be one of the flagship manifestations of this anti-Semitic current.
What we need today is some more educated Muslim World research on the subject of Holocaust that bravely contradicts and refutes the cock and bull stories of the Holocaust deniers. This kind of research shall speak to the Muslims in an idiom and debate which they comprehend and find interesting enough to participate in. The effort is worth taking when we realize the fact that the debate about Holocaust is not just a Jewish subject, it is the collective concern of the whole humanity that shall always want to prevent the perpetration of such atrocities against any human being again. Deborah Lipstadt pertinently sums up the nature of this struggle when she points out,
“Just as the Holocaust was not a tragedy of the Jews but a tragedy of civilization in which the victims were Jews, so too denial of the Holocaust is not a threat just to Jewish history but a threat to all who believe in the ultimate power of reason. It repudiates reasoned discussion the way the Holocaust repudiated civilized values. It is undeniably a form of anti-semitism, and as such it constitutes an attack on the most basic values of a reasoned society.”
Fawad Javaid is a Lecturer at Kohat University of Science and Technology, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Kohat, Pakistan. His academic background is in American Studies, American Labor History and Human Security in South Asia & Middle East. He can be accessed at email@example.com
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