Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Ugly Images in Iran

The Boston Globe:
Iranians have not been flocking to the museum in Tehran where 204 winning entries in the ``Holocaust International Cartoon Contest" are on exhibit. The Iranian public's indifference may be due to an understanding that the nasty images on display are not meant to improve life in Iran. Rather they belong to a propaganda campaign by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who seeks to divert Iran's neighbors from worrying about the projection of Iranian power through Iraq and Syria and into Lebanon. He also wants to make them forget that they would be threatened as much as Israel if Iran acquired nuclear weapons.

One of the images in the Tehran exhibition shows a caricature of an orthodox Jew with an egregiously long nose that impales an Arab figure; the nose is labeled ``Holocaust." Another depicts the Statue of Liberty holding a book on the Holocaust in one hand and raising the other hand in a Nazi salute. READ MORE

Ahmadinejad and the exhibit's organizers have said that the contest's purpose is to reveal Western double standards concerning free speech. Since the West justified last year's publication of Danish cartoons mocking the prophet Mohammed as a defense of free speech rights, they say, the cartoons denying the Holocaust will test the depth of Westerners' attachment to freedom of expression.

The tacit premise to this pairing of subjects is that, for Europeans, the existence of the Holocaust has become as sacred as the prophet of Islam is to Muslims. And since Ahmadinejad has made it plain he does not believe the Holocaust happened, calling it a myth, his equating of European sensitivities about the Holocaust to Muslim reverence for Mohammed implies that while Muslims are defending the truth of their religion against blasphemy, the Europeans are acting offended in defense of a political myth.

In a revealing interview last May with the German weekly Der Spiegel, Ahmadinejad seemed to rattle the interviewer by acting as though the reality of the Holocaust is unproven. He cited European laws against Holocaust denial as proof that the West fears a free debate about the historical truth of the Holocaust. He went on to suggest that ``if the Holocaust occurred, then Europe must draw the consequences," implying that Europe should provide a state for the Jews. And then he added: ``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." In other words, Germans would side with Ahmadinejad if only they had not been made to feel guilty by the myth of the Holocaust.

Like the cartoons he invited to Tehran, Ahmadinejad's notions about the Holocaust are no less repulsive for being false.