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What Is Truth?

The following conversation with my friend Doga began with my insistence that Nichane has the right to publish popular jokes even if they are offensive to the sensibilities of some people. Doga was equally insistent that there are limits to what it is acceptable for public discussion, even in the West. In this, he shares the reasoning of blogger Mohamed El Kortbi and others.

Doga used the Holocaust as an example. Aren’t there nations like Austria where a person can go to prison for denying the Holocaust? I responded that I’m not among those who believe that denying the Holocaust should be a crime. As proof of my committment to free expression, he challenged me to “review the Holocaust” on this blog, like President Ahmadinejad of Iran did at a recent conference. I replied that I didn’t see much point, as the facts have been established for a long time. He insisted this isn’t so, and gave me the names of people who say the Holocaust is exaggerated. I replied that one musn’t listen only to those who say what one wants to hear.

We went back and forth on the evidence for a long time, trying to reach a common version of reality. In the end, we both felt we had achieved something. I’m including the last two thirds of our conversation here, picking up after an overnight break. To me, our discussion was less about facts than about the process of reaching them, less about specific truths than about Pontius Pilate’s famous question, “What is truth?

— • —

doga: Let’s talk about the Holocaust, if you don’t mind.

eatbees: Okay. I read up on that guy Friedman you told me about, and he’s way outside the mainstream. He has ties to the extreme right in Austria, to people who are essentially racists. He’s a Jew who defends the persecution of his own people. Obviously, he doesn’t have many friends. You know, you can’t just “cherry pick” whatever fits your argument, the way Cheney did to attack Saddam. You need to look at the overall picture. Just about everyone agrees the Holocaust actually happened. There have been plenty of investigations to prove it. You have the right to say what you want, of course, but it’s better not to show people your ignorance, your prejudice, or your racism if you want to be listened to.

doga: The revisionists aren’t allowed to challenge the mainstream. It’s forbidden. And they insist there are holes that need to be filled in.

eatbees: It’s true there is a lot of propaganda against the revisionists. But I think we need to question their motives. Who are they linked to? What are they after? I’m convinced that an objective study of the facts would be supported by the Jewish community. At the same time, it has to be said that there are plenty of genocides in the world, and perhaps we talk too much about the Holocaust.

doga: You said there’s no point in discussing it. You said the truth is already known. But the revisionists don’t agree.

eatbees: We can always discuss it objectively, to better understand the evidence. But to say the Holocaust wasn’t a massacre is bizarre.

doga: Who said the Holocaust wasn’t a massacre?

eatbees: I think some of those people claim there were never gas chambers and ovens….

doga: I know that. But they claim that the Jews exaggerate history in order to profit from it.

eatbees: That’s nothing but racist language!

doga: Why do you say racist?

eatbees: If you want to talk about profit, don’t you realize that the Nazis stole the Jews’ wealth and property, even the gold from their teeth once they were dead? The Swiss authorities finally determined that survivors must be repaid, but that’s simply justice. I say racist because it’s a racist caricature of Jews to say they are materialistic profiteers who exaggerate their own suffering. But I want to be clear that for me, the Holocaust can’t be used to justify the actions of Israel. To insist that we have to support Israel because of the Holocaust is simply wrong.

[In fairness to Doga, Norman Finkelstein, himself the son of Holocaust survivors, wrote a book that supports Doga’s claim. The Holocaust Industry accuses certain Jewish organizations of “exploiting the Holocaust for political and financial ends” as this review puts it. According to Finkelstein, the $1.25 billion Swiss settlement I mention was little more than a scam to enrich these organizations.]

doga: Between the two World Wars, Germany had an economic crisis, and Hitler understood that Jews were the cause, so he defended his country. The Americans did the same against the Japanese [I think he means the wartime internment camps].

eatbees: That is racist propaganda, my friend. The real profiteers were capitalists and imperialists, whether it was the English and French who won the First World War, or the German capitalists who supported Hitler because he rebuilt the arms industry. If Jews were mixed up in that, it was through their profession as financiers, not because they were Jews. Capitalism has committed crimes against humanity, but Judaism no.

doga: All the same, I invite you to read the specialists. You’ll need to look for them in English. I have a text in front of me in Arabic by an English reserarcher named Michelle Renouf, who says some interesting things.

eatbees: [I look up Michelle Renouf as we are talking.] Doga, you seem to keep stumbling into people who are bizarre and almost Nazi. [“Last year, she attended a New Orleans conference where she shared the rostrum with former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke…Germany’s neo-Nazi NDP and France’s National Front.”] I’ll say it again, you mustn’t rely only on people who are telling you what you want to hear.

doga: I want to hear more than “There’s no point discussing it”!

eatbees: We can always discuss. But I think the evidence is overwhelming. Analyze your own motivations, please. What’s pushing you to make these arguments?

doga: These people are talking about more than the Holocaust. I want you to understand that it’s important to criticize arguments built on falsehood and lies.

eatbees: Do you think I don’t understand that? I agree with you completely, but I assure you, those people are seen as extremists. Certain ones are confirmed racists. So be careful whom you choose as a friend. The enemy of your enemy isn’t always your friend. Sometimes they’re the enemy of everyone.

doga: Of course you would say that, since criticism of Israel is considered a crime or even treason in the United States. Look at what’s happening to Jimmy Carter. Do you agree that someone who criticizes Israel should be accused of treason?

eatbees: Like Jimmy Carter?

doga: Or Michelle Renouf, or….

eatbees: You mustn’t put those two in the same basket! Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize. Michelle Renouf hangs out with neo-Nazis. Comparing them is bizarre. I defend Jimmy Carter. I’ve done it here on my blog. He’s a hero for me because of his latest book, and for other reasons. Both my parents feel the same way. He’d be welcome in our home. We see him as a distinguished man we need to defend, because his thinking is balanced, and he’s courageous. A man named Dershowitz wanted to debate Carter, and Carter refused, not because Dershowitz is a Jew or even a Zionist, but because he’s disgusting. During the war in Lebanon, he wrote an article in the Los Angeles Times arguing that civilian supporters of Hezbollah deserve to die. He said the lives of some civilians are worth more than others. He meant that Israeli lives are worth more than Lebanese ones. Carter refused to debate him “even indirectly” and I applaud that.

doga: Almost all the Jews are like that….

eatbees: Don’t you hear your own prejudice? In my experience, that’s just not true. You musn’t put yourself in the company of people who use racist, self-promoting propaganda, because you open the door for people like Dershowitz to score points against you.

doga: If I can’t criticize a Jew in the U.S., what does that say!?

eatbees: Even in Israel, in the left-of-center newspaper Haaretz, you can find commentaries that criticize Israel or defend the Palestinians. And one of the best American journalists writing about Iraq, Nir Rosen, grew up in Israel but turned against Zionism.

doga: I want you to read this. [He sends me a link to the Mearsheimer and Walt article The Israel Lobby translated into French. He also sends a summary in La Vie Éco, a Moroccan economic magazine.]

eatbees: I read that a few months ago. I agree with its ideas. I tried to discuss it with you when I was still in Morocco. At the time, you didn’t want to get into it.

doga: I haven’t finished it yet.

eatbees: You need to distinguish the arguments and the motivations of each person. Hardcore Zionists love to put Carter, Mearsheimer and Walt in the same basket as David Irving, the Holocaust denier. You mustn’t do the same thing.

doga: I read without considering a person’s motivations. But I have a brain that can make distinctions, and I have confidence in my reason.

eatbees: I’ve noticed the Arabs sometimes take whatever ideas suit the argument, without worrying too much about where they came from, or even if they’re true. I think that’s a weakness.

doga: A law that forbids research into a subject will only heighten my curiosity about that subject. Since you’re talking about motivations, tell me the motivation for such a law.

eatbees: I told you, I’m against those laws, so how can I defend them? You’d be better off asking me about the motiviations of revisionists who want to take another look at a story that is, for me, established fact. Isn’t it better to move on? Can’t we look to the future for solutions, instead of always revisiting the injustices of the past?

doga: Those laws say that the people who break them are racists and extremists!

eatbees: Britain has very strong laws against libel. Because of its special history, Austria has laws against being a Nazi apologist. Those laws don’t exist in Canada or the U.S. I don’t think we need them. We can expose racists without preventing them from speaking. But I can understand how in Europe, which got into World War Two because of that sort of extreme racism, they’re more senstive on the subject.

doga: You accuse those people of being Nazis, but they refuse to be called that! If you’re against these laws, you should support Michelle Renouf, because one of her priorities is to eliminate those laws.

eatbees: I said certain ones are like Nazis, or associate with Nazis. When a person’s ideas resemble Nazi ideas, it’s obvious. But do you think they’re going to admit it? Maybe they don’t even see their own racism. It’s possible, human psychology is like that. Do you think Le Pen sees himself as a racist, an extremist? It’s Le Pen’s politics that make him racist, not what he calls himself. He wants to expel all non-citizens from France, and eliminate citizenship rights for their children born in France.

doga: America has red lines too. Look at the Palestinian resistance, or Hezbollah for that matter. They’re seen as terrorists!

eatbees: We don’t have laws limiting freedom of speech. Even racists like the KKK have the right to speak.

doga: You’re living in an illusion!

eatbees: I have the right to defend Hamas or Hezbollah. I’ve read bloggers and journalists who do it. What’s the illusion?

doga: Don’t you agree that the pressure placed on people who speak out against Israel is enough to be a limit on freedom of expression?

eatbees: Everyone knows that in American politics, Israel’s defenders are in a position of strength. And it’s true that Walt and Mearsheimer risked their reputations to write their article. But they can’t be fired from the universities where they teach because of their ideas. And they certainly aren’t going to jail. Nor is Nir Rosen going to jail for writing an article sympathetic to Hezbollah’s position. But in Morocco, a writer can be jailed for “harming” religion or the king, which is a subjective judgment. Here in the U.S., the only people in danger of going to jail are those who offer direct support to violent groups.

doga: Did you know that in the early 20th century, the Jews had the same ideas as the Nazis?

eatbees: What are you talking about? They wanted to exterminate themselves? Commit mass suicide?

doga: In 1806, a founder of the Zionist movement said that the blood of Jews is different from that of Germans. And Abraham Franksman [??] said that Jews are on the same level as God, so killing them means killing God. People say Hitler was crazy for having ideas like that!

eatbees: Carter accuses Israel of practicing apartheid in his latest book, and I agree with him. Zionism has elements of racism. But claiming one’s “race” is worth more than others isn’t the same as massacring the other “races” like Hitler did!

doga: Theodor Herzl said he wanted to massacre the Palestinians. You don’t think they’re doing that now?

eatbees: Herzl said that? Show me a quote.

doga: It was in 1897. Michelle Renouf cites it.

eatbees: I thought you were talking about Avigdor Lieberman for a minute. He’s a racist minister in Israel who wants to push all the Arabs out of the country. Give me the Herzl quote in context and I might believe it.

doga: You can look for it if you want. I read it in an Arab newspaper. I don’t think they publish lies.

eatbees: It’s true that the early leaders of the Zionist movement thought of Palestine as empty land. They didn’t think it was necessary to negotiate with the Arabs, because they imagined the land was uninhabited.

doga: That’s bizarre.

eatbees: When they saw people living there, they thought they were just nomads. All the Bedouins are nomads, right? Sure it’s bizarre, and it’s the original tragedy of the State of Israel, but that’s the way it is.

doga: You’re making me laugh. Don’t you think that slavishly supporting Israel, and considering Hamas as terrorists, and making war in Iraq, and accusing Iran of wanting nuclear weapons without any proof, and not asking the same question of Israel, and so on and so on, turns American democracy into a caricature, or a song that repeats endlessly?

eatbees: I couldn’t have said it better. But if our opponents repeat the same song endlessly, then we’re obliged to come up with arguments in response. Those arguments are beginning to be heard in the American political establishment, as you can see with Carter, Walt and Mearsheimer. Adding racist arguments to the mix won’t win you any friends. You’re better off choosing the strongest and fairest arguments. In my case, I’ve always said that the current policies of the U.S. go against our own principles of justice and human equality. To me, a man like Dershowitz who says that the life of an enemy is worth less than his own has crossed a red line and become immoral.

doga: So we need to defend democracy instead of blindly following Israeli policies?

eatbees: Absolutely, and I assure you that more and more Americans are saying that.

doga: You’ll agree that sincere individuals need to put calculations aside when they examine a problem?

eatbees: As long as we don’t check our intelligence at the door.

doga: I’m talking about calculations based on race, or strategic interest for that matter.

eatbees: I understand. But we need to realize that “others” like Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, China, India, Russia and France all have their own calculations. It’s clear that Iran is benefiting from its calculations right now. And Saudi Arabia is making calculations by cozying up to Israel in secret.

doga: Of course when I talk to you, I do it as a human being, not as a Moroccan or Muslim. What do you think of Tariq Ramadan?

eatbees: I like his intellectual project a lot. It’s exactly what needs to happen. I was even wondering how I could study with him. He’s at Oxford, you know. The idea was for him to come to the U.S. as a professor, but Bush refused his visa, so he went to England instead.

doga: What do you like about him, exactly?

eatbees: His ideas on updating Islamic thought to show how Muslims can live comfortably in a modern and pluralistic society. Maybe it’s time now for us to turn our conversation to the idea of a progressive, pluralistic Islam. Most Westerners know nothing about Islam except what they see on television. They hear that Islamists have banned a magazine, or are demonstrating against caricatures, or have issued a fatwa calling for the death of a certain writer, and it gives ammunition to those who want to stir up hatred against Islam. I hope that Islamic leaders will see the advantage of defending the principle of freedom even when they don’t like how it expresses itself. Larbi criticized the PJD for its attacks on gays and for demanding that the film Marock be banned. But why are Islamists so reactionary? If one’s faith is strong, there’s no risk of losing it just by being exposed to other ways of life.

doga: Tariq Ramadan says nearly the same thing. He says the problem between secularism and Islam is that Islam is excluded. He invites others to join with Islam to help guide it on the road to modernity.

eatbees: That’s a good argument. I’ll add that Westerners need to work at least as hard as Muslims, because the West knows absolutely nothing about Islam. But I want to say that “Don’t touch my Qur’an—you don’t have the right to read it unless you convert to Islam” isn’t very appealing. On Nadia Lamlili’s blog, you can see that even an educated Muslim is surprised to hear that Christians and Jews can go to Paradise! And it’s clear that the PJD didn’t play the Nichane affair right, running for protection to a State they criticize for being corrupt.

doga: On the other hand, Ramadan accuses the Jews of being closed in on themselves, of being occupied with their own interests, and of imposing their thoughts on others rather than interesting themselves in justice, international equality and humanistic values.

eatbees: I can accept that as a critical, non-extremist view. I know of a progressive rabbi who says pretty much the same thing.

doga: The PJD published Nichane’s apology in its newspaper. The gesture means they believe in justice, and that Nichane must be given an opportunity.

eatbees: That’s good. Has Al Adl Wal Ihsane said anything?

doga: I don’t know.

eatbees: For me, the positive side of the Nichane case is that it’s opened up debate on the limits of free speech. I hope more Islamist politicians will step forward to defend freedom as an Islamic value. I hope they’ll see it as being in the interests of Muslims, a way of protecting their own rights even when they happen to be in the minority.

doga: I was hoping you would publish this conversation on your blog.

eatbees: I was thinking the same thing!

Comments

Comment from Jill
Time: January 20, 2007, 08:14

I couldn’t manage to read the whole thing (work calls), but that’s really interesting – I’ve been having the big free speech debate with, well, everyone lately, and am surprised at how few people feel the way I do (and the way you do, as far as I can see).

Particularly re: the Nichane case, the reason I’m so against the verdict is the fact that all of the evidence is subjective. And, the Ksikes and El-Aji are being held for punitive damages, rather than actual damages, which is entirely just…insane.

Comment from Ibn Kafka
Time: January 20, 2007, 13:48

The Nichane affair is of course disturbing, but politically the resignation and exile of Le Journal hebdomadaire’s Boubker Jamaï is of much more import in political terms, as Jamaï had a much more coherent and critical political line from a makhzen perspective. Btw, Tel Quel’s Ahmed Benchemsi, the owner of Nichane, tells us in today’s Tel Quel that Nichane will not appeal the judgment – they’re not sure of getting a better deal before the Court of appeal, and don’t want to continue igniting the criticism from islamists. As I am not indicted and consequently do not risk any prison term, I am the last to critcise them, but Benchemsi’s editorial is a bit disturbing, as it seems to criticise solely islamists, and not the government for its swift and harsh action against Nichane. He seems to have made up his mind about not crossing governement too much – again, who can blame him? – which makes the comparison with Jamaï all the more flattering for the latter…

Comment from eatbees
Time: January 20, 2007, 20:08

@Ibn Kafka—To be honest, my attention was elsewhere for a few days, so your comment was the first I heard of this tragedy. I went back and read your post on the subject, and chatted with a friend in Morocco. I have to say, Jamaï is a real hero and a credit to Morocco. I understand he was offered help with the fine but refused on principle? It’s true what you say about the editorial line, when I was in Morocco I would always read Le Journal rather than Tel Quel. What can I say? The pessimists are turning out to be more and more right.

Comment from ayoub
Time: January 21, 2007, 07:51

I lost my comment :'(

Comment from Yahia
Time: January 21, 2007, 09:34

What a great read.

Comment from eatbees
Time: January 21, 2007, 14:11

@ayoub — I looked for it in the spam trap—not there—can you try again, or is the trauma of losing it too great?

@Yahia — :)

Comment from ayoub
Time: January 21, 2007, 16:04

eatbees,

Je me permets d’écrire un nouveau commentaire, mais cette fois ci en français, car je dois faire un peu d’efforts pour écrire en anglais :)

****

Je pense tout d’abord qu’il est du rôle des journalistes, des intellectuels et même des bloggueurs de montrer que tout n’est pas pareil, qu’il n’y a pas des blocs monolithiques de part et d’autres.

Concernant par exemple le conflit Israelo Palestinien, il me semble qu’il faut montrer qu’au sein de la société israelienne il y a tout un mouvement progressiste qui essaie de faire entendre sa voix pour faire respecter les droits des palestiniens.

Que ce soit des intellectuels, comme Uri Avnery ou Michel Warchawsky, des journalistes comme Amira Haas ou Gideon Levy ou enfin des citoyens ordinaires comme feue Arna, Tali Fahima ou les nombreux refuseniks qui refusent de s’engager dans le combat au risque de détruire leurs vies.

Il est important également que ces personnes entrent en contact avec les musulmans et les arabes pour détruire toute dérive essentialiste.

Et cela est valable également dans l’autre sens, à savoir faire connaîtres les voix arabes au sein d’Israël… pour que la société civile israëlienne ne soit pas soumise à la peur véhiculée par le gouvernement et les médias, une peur basée sur une soi disant haine viscérale des arabes, une volonté de destruction d’un état “illegitime”. (il est illigetime quant à son établissement, mais il est légitime de FAIT).

Et c’est cela, et je te félicite, que tu as essayé de faire lors de ta discussion avec ton ami marocain (ou amie). Que l’on sache qu’il y a même des juifs comme Norman Finkelstein ou Noam Chomsky qui ne soutienne pas les dérives israëliennes, qui regrettent cette utilisation de l’argument de la Shoah (comme crime ultime au dessus des autres génocides.. ) de manière qui risque d’être contre productive.. à savoir donner des justifications aux révisionnistes de nier l’existence même de ce massacre.

Pour revenir maintenant à la liberté, je suis aussi idéaliste que toi. A savoir que je prône une liberté de ton total , même pour les racistes ou les révisionnistes, du moment qu’il y ait un état de droit, qu’il y ait des personnes qui déconstruisent un discours révisionniste ou raciste … Cela bien sûr implique une certaine maturité, et SURTOUT une cohérence dans le discours qui manque malheureusement et cruellement au Maroc (constatation personnelle).

Quand je dis cohérence de discours, je pense notamment au fait de ne pas tomber dans une dérive passionnelle… Emettre son avis “basé sur les tripes”.. avoir des principes de respect de l’Autre, de droit, d’honneteté intellectuelle etc…

J’ai essayé de faire court, mon précédent commentaire était plus long, et en anglais s’il vous plait :)

En tout cas , je te remercie de retranscrire les dialogues que tu as avec tes amis. Ils sont, je l’avoue très enrichissants.

Ayoub

Comment from Larbi
Time: January 22, 2007, 19:00

c’est long mais tres enrichissant et instructif merci EB et DG. Je réagi sur une partie de l’échange.

Je note d’emblée que l’argument de l’interdiction du négationnisme est abusivement utilisé par certain amis. A chaque fois qu’on parle d’un problème ou d’une loi abusive on nous réponds : tous le monde doit se soumettre à la loi telle quelle soit et regardez en Europe comment ils appliquent celle relative à la ? C’est devenu systématique ! Si demain on interdit par exemple les journaux en français (hypothèse fantastique) cela ne m’étonnerais pas que certains vont venir dire et alors pourquoi en Europe on interdit le négationnisme. Faut arrêter avec ça.

Venons à la Shoah maintenant. Contrairement à ce que laisse penser DG ou ce qu’on peut lire ici est là, je crois que dans le monde arabe l’opinion publique est largement acquise à la thèse négationniste. Que ce soit dans les médias ou chez les intellectuels arabes. Le raisonnement est souvent le suivant : On n’a pas à reconnaître la souffrance du peuple juif lors de la deuxième guerre alors que ce dernier fait actuellement souffrir le peuple palestinien. Ca serait un aveu de faiblesse. Reconnaître la souffrance des premiers reviendrait à nier la souffrance des seconds. C’est la concurrence des victimes et pour beaucoup c’est de la “bonne guerre” argumentaire.

Concernant la pénalisation du négationnisme : J’ai toujours pensé que c’est une mesure contreproductive, Dans la France où la législation est sévère en la matière il existe plus d’antisémitisme qu’aux USA par exemple. Ceci dit pourquoi ne pas le dire : Ce qui s’est passé dans la deuxième guerre mondiale est un génocide. Il y a des survivants des camps de concentrations qui sont encore en vie, il y a leur fils et propres fils. Nier ou remettre en cause l’horreur qu’ils ont subit est inhumains. A la limite dans cinquante ans ou cent ans, ce genre de discours peut être tolérables car il n’y aurait plus dans ce monde des gens qui ont subi cette atrocité. Mais aujourd’hui il y a encore des gens qui à quatre ou cinq ans sont passés par les camps de concentrations ou ont vu leurs parents dans les chambres à gaz. Ils sont parmi nous et je comprends très bien qu’entendre quelqu’un dire que tout ceci est une invention historique est terrible pour eux. Aussi bien que je comprenne très bien qu’un survivant du génocide de Rwanda ne peut laisser passer la négation de l’extermination de son peuple sans réagir.

Comment from Wendell
Time: January 24, 2007, 20:45

In the middle of the back and forth about questioning the holcst. I was reminded of a point Chomsky has made several times: that after answering an objection or criticism, one need not feel obligated to do so again (and again).

When people to continue to raise the same questions / accusations year after year, isn’t debate or discussion or even re-visititing. Its bullying.

Comment from eatbees
Time: January 25, 2007, 02:31

@Ayoub — Thanks for taking the time to reconstruct your comment after losing an even longer one.

I’m impressed with what you know about progressive Israelis, which is certainly more than I know. Obviously you’ve put some time into this, and care more about universal values than the stereotypical “taking sides.” I hope we can talk about this again.

About making Arab voices known in Israel (and among Israel’s supporters in the West), that is a goal of this blog—though it must be said that the hard-line voices are out there too, and every time I try to say “Islam is tolerant and has no problem coexisting” there are those who say NO and want to build up the wall again.

Allow me to translate one paragraph of your comment for the English-only readers here: “To return now to the question of freedom, I’m as idealistic as you are. That means that I defend a total freedom of tone, even for racists or revisionists, so long as there is rule of law, and so long as there are people to deconstruct a revisionist or racist discourse. That obviously implies a certain maturity, and ABOVE ALL a coherence in debate that is cruelly lacking in Morocco (personal observation).”

In our debate, I criticized Doga for presenting views that support his argument without exposing them to a reality check. Sometimes this seems to me like an Arab illness, as when people insist that Bill Gates is Jewish, or bin Laden doesn’t exist, or Neil Armstrong heard the call to prayer on the moon and converted to Islam. One thing that makes Doga different is that he doesn’t fly off the rails in a logical discussion. He doesn’t keep repeating the same thing, but hears the other side and shifts his position. If we stick with it long enough, we usually reach a point where we can agree. In this case, when I dismissed his original arguments, he used stronger ones (like Jimmy Carter), until eventually we found ourselves discussing a modern, tolerant Islam and how it can coexist with other thought systems. That was an accomplishement! Although Doga is a rare case :)

@Larbi & Wendell — Both of you make the same point that obsessive use of the same argument (“The West limits free speech! Just look at the Holocaust!”) can become “bullying” as Wendell put it. I agree, and that’s part of why I put the dialogue here. But if my conversation with Doga had stopped there, it would have been depressing and not worth inflicting on my readers. What made both Doga and me happy is that we could work past that point to discover something new. Doga is under 25 and can be forgiven for starting with the prejudices of many other young Moroccans. What this conversation shows, however, is that dialogue can be worth it.

Larbi makes the additional point: “I believe that in the Arab world, public opinion is largely won over by the negationist thesis [i.e. Holocaust denial], whether it be the media or Arab intellectuals. The reasoning is often as follows: We mustn’t recognize the suffering of the Jewish people during the Second World War because now they are making the Palestinian people suffer. It would be a confession of weakness. Recognizing the suffering of the former would boil down to denying the suffering of the latter.”

To me this argument (which Larbi is not defending) is morally weak. Refusal to understand the other side doesn’t make one’s own side stronger! On the contrary, the Palestinians would have the moral high ground if they were to say to the Israelis, “We acknowledge the horror of what happened to you. Aren’t you ashamed to have switched sides and gone from the oppressed to the oppressor?” Gandhi showed that use of the moral high ground can be a highly effective tactic.

Comment from Laurent Szyster
Time: February 13, 2007, 15:24

A pinacle of denial and projection:

“On the other hand, Ramadan accuses the Jews of being closed in on themselves, of being occupied with their own interests, and of imposing their thoughts on others rather than interesting themselves in justice, international equality and humanistic values.”

Beeing a Belgo-Syriano-Moldavo-Lithuanian Jew that speaks three languages fluently, that garbage about jewish egocentrism is really funny.

What makes it even more fun is the stance about “imposing thoughts on others” from somebody so sympathic to the Muslim Brotherhood as Ramadan.

But the funniest part of it is certainly the rant about jews “(not) interesting themselves in justice, international equality and humanistic values”.

Coming from a Muslim world that is sinking once again into obscurantism and sectarian violence while another “holy” genocide continues in Sudan, this must be the expression a supreme sense of irony.

Or is it?

Comment from eatbees
Time: February 13, 2007, 16:57

@Laurent — First, thanks for being here and joining the debate. Given your perspective, you could have been a lot more caustic than you actually were…!

I share your feelings for the most part. Here in the U.S., Jews are known for their historic defense of civil rights and minority rights, as I like to remind my Muslim friends. Two young Jewish men were martyred back in the early 1960s while registering black voters in Mississippi… Louis Brandeis was one of the great Supreme Court justices… and so on. Unfortunately the American Jewish community is not well represented today by AIPAC, the best known and best funded Jewish lobbying group, which represents the hard-line conservative fringe of Jewish opinion.

I can’t speak for Tariq Ramadan, who is at least trying to build bridges between traditional Islam and the modern world, but his views are probably misrepresented here by Doga. To defend Doga a bit, I can say that he is motivated less by a “supreme sense of irony” than by a 21-year-old Moroccan’s desire to come to terms with the conflicting ideas afloat in the world, hampered by a lousy education (see my latest post) and no chance to travel outside his country. I give Doga points for sincerity, and the obscurantism comes from his environment…!

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