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Holocaust Denial, Nuclear Denial

What connects Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Holocaust denial?

With equal fervor, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, defends his country’s right to develop its nuclear capacity (though denying that his country seeks nuclear weapons) and challenges decades of Holocaust research. How should Ahmedinejad’s denial that Iran intends to pursue nuclear arms be judged in light of his Holocaust denial? Journalists ask, but Ahmedinejad won’t answer. His argument is that Iran does not want nuclear weapons, and would not use them to duplicate a crime that did not happen.

Some westerners, while lamenting Ahmedinejad’s insensitivity, have struggled to minimize the significance of his Holocaust denial as the fulminations of a misguided fanatic (as if misguided fanaticism were an incidental quality in a nation’s president). This misses the point. Holocaust denial is not an argument about the past. It is an argument about the future.

The point of Holocaust denial is to remove the taboo now associated with the original crime. For deniers, the problem is not that the Holocaust occurred, but that most people still consider it to be a bad thing. Thus, Auschwitz is dismissed as a “detail of history,” in the telling phrase of the French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen.