Small World / Global Affairs
February 25, 1998 / 29 Shevat, 5758

Holocaust-denial fever

By Douglas Davis

FEVERED OPPOSITION to the threatened Anglo-American military strike against Iraq masked another spasm of passion that has gripped the Arab world over the past month.

The focus of that passion was the unlikely figure of an 85-year-old French intellectual, writer and politician, Roger Garaudy.

Based on the conventional script, the former left-wing deputy-speaker of the French National Assembly should now be basking in the adoration of Left Bank literary salons, the lionized hero of Parisian cafe society.

Instead, the Marxist-turned-Muslim is awaiting the verdict of a Paris court this Friday [Feb 27] on charges of denying crimes against humanity -- specifically Holocaust denial.

Garaudy's trial stemmed from his 1996 book, "Les mythes fondateurs de la politique israelienne" -- Founding Myths of Israeli Politics -- in which he denies the existence of Nazi gas chambers and claims that the number of Jews killed by the Nazis had been grossly exaggerated in order to justify and strengthen the Zionist case.

Hitler's killing of Jews, he asserted, were indeed "massacres," but it is an exaggeration to term the Nazi crimes "genocide" or a "Holocaust", and he dismissed claims that six million Jews had perished.

Such sentiments are illegal under France's 1990 Gayssot law, which outlaws expressions of Nazi revisionism, and, if convicted, Garaudy will face a one-year jail term or a fine of 300,000 French francs ($50,000).

Garaudy, whose political path has taken him from Stalinism through Christianity to Islam, might have been dismissed as just another crackpot.

What sets him apart, however, is that his book not only prompted debate in France, but also sparked a powerful wave of support throughout the Arab world, not least among those who are involved in negotiations, have established formal ties, or even signed full-blown peace treaties with Israel.

"Garaudy, all of Palestine is with you," proclaimed banners that were unfurled outside the French Cultural Center in Gaza, where 70 Palestinian professors, religious leaders and journalists rallied in protest against Garaudy's trial.

The head of the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate, Naim Tubasi, railed against French law, which, he said, "criminalizes all those who doubt the Zionist tale of the victims of the Holocaust". At the same time, the Palestinian Writers Association expressed solidarity with Garaudy for "his courageous fight for creative freedom".

In Beirut, a group of seven leading Lebanese lawyers volunteered to defend Garaudy, while Beirut Bar Association president Antoine Klimos declared that "it is unacceptable that freedom of opinion be treated as a crime" and Lebanon's Union of Arab Journalists called on "Arab intellectuals to rally [for Garaudy] who had the courage to divulge Zionist lies."

Not to be outdone, Egypt's Arab Lawyers' Union dispatched a five-man legal delegation to Paris to offer support during the trial.

In the event, Garaudy was defended by Maitre Jacques Verges, whose reputation rests on his defence of Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie and, more recently, the international terrorist Illich Ramirez Sanchez, also known as "Carlos the Jackal".

Meanwhile, Jordan's 12 opposition political parties issued a statement criticising the trial -- "a theatrical farce" -- and claimed that "Zionists have fabricated the falsehoods about the extermination of the Jews in Germany to mislead the world and blackmail Western governments and society into supporting the Zionists' plots against mankind and the Palestinian people."

Also in Jordan, the Arab Organization for Human Rights issued a statement supporting Garaudy's "freedom in everything he has said and written.... His is an opinion and political position adopted by many intellectuals and historians."

In the Gulf, the United Arab Emirates daily al- Khaleej published a front-page appeal to its readers to send donations and messages of support to Garaudy. The paper was inundated with messages, including one from the wife of UAE leader Sheikh Zayed ibn Sultan Al-Nahayan, who stumped up a cash gift of $50,000 to cover the maximum fine Garaudy could face on Friday (the French prosecution has waived demands for a jail term).

In another Gulf Arab state, Qatar, a Garaudy Support Committee has been established to collect donations, while the Qatar Women's Youth Organization has sent messages of solidarity.

And in Syria, where Garaudy was last year treated to an audience with Foreign Minister Farouk ash-Sharaa, Grand Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Kaftaro lobbed in a message of "total support", declaring Garaudy to be "a free thinker who does not compromise his principles".

But nowhere has Garaudy's star shone more brightly than in Egypt, where he visited last week as guest of Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni to lecture and participate in symposiums associated with the annual Cairo Book Fair.

Garaudy was treated to a hero's welcome from religious and intellectual leaders: "Every Moslem should support Garaudy's thought and stand with all cultural, religious and diplomatic efforts," declared Egypt's highest religious authority, Grand Mufti Nasr Farid Wasel. "It is a duty to defend him and stand by his side."

And Garaudy did not disappoint his hosts. "Under France's freedom of speech, you can attack President Jacques Chirac or even the Pope. But when you criticize Israel you are lost," Garaudy told a seminar organised by Egypt's Ministry of Culture. "This is because media in the West is 95 percent controlled by the Zionists."

Explained Amina Rashid, who lectures in French literature at Cairo University: "This warm welcome for Garaudy is a result of his sound and clear position against Israel and America and his support for the Palestinians."

Some Egyptians accused the West of double standards in trying Garaudy, while protecting British author Salman Rushdie, whose novel "The Satanic Verses" angered Moslems and prompted the late Iranian leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to issue a fatwa against him.

Interviewed by an uncharacteristically sycophantic "Al-Ahram last week, Garaudy told the semi-official Cairo daily that he was aware that his book "overstepped many red lines and that its content was a violation of the oppressive law which punishes anyone who criticizes the verdicts of the Nuremberg trials or questions the number of Holocaust victims.

"Consequently," he said, "I was aware that the book would anger French Zionist organisations which control 90 percent of the media."

Added interviewer Fahmi Howeidi: "At his advanced age, one would expect a person to choose a more sedate lifestyle. The last thing one would imagine is that a person of his age would choose to remain a stubborn fighter, and that he would choose to do battle against the all-powerful Zionist organisations in the heart of Europe. But that is exactly what the man did."

Perhaps the phenomenon of anti-Semitism and Holocaust-denial should not, after all, come as a complete surprise in an Arab world, where Hitler's Mein Kampf is still readily available and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious anti-Semitic forgery, remains a best-seller.


01/01/98: Not Quite Conventional

Douglas Davis covers European Jewry for JWR.

©1998, Jewish World Review