Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Devaluing anti-Semitism

The 'Tehran TV' Ratbiter piece in Private Eye, which prompted the (unpublished) letter I posted previously, spawned a separate strand about Kollerstrom and his Holocaust-denial views. Undoubtedly there are some very unpleasant neo-Nazi and/or genuinely anti-Semitic types who have their own tactical reasons for denying that Jews, or many Jews, were killed, or killed deliberately, or killed as a genocide attempt. Still I'm far from convinced Kollerstrom is among them, and even if he is, it would be better to confront his views directly than to sidestep them with ad hominem attacks, especially the increasingly over-used accusation of anti-semitism. Anyway, the lazy and illogical arguments given by the anti-Kollerstrom brigade finally prompted me to wade into the debate on this side-issue. 

Here's the whole strand, starting with Kollerstrom's Nazism-denial:  

Letters, Private Eye 1214, 11 July 2008 Neo con?  
I may be a fan of Wagner, but I'm no Neo-Nazi as claimed in your article (Media News 1213). My intention in publishing The Walls of Auschwitz, a Review of the Chemical Studies was to open an intelligent debate on a taboo subject. As a science historian, could I not be allowed a critique of evidence as regards where exactly the Zyklon-B (cyanide) had been used? People tell me I should have more considered the anguish such a debate would cause - and yet, we are able to debate the holocausts of other cultures, such as the Native Americans. Please, Mr Editor, don't call me a 'neo-Nazi'. I've never affiliated to any right-wing political group or movement. I managed the Green Party for 12 years in Guildford and have always worked within peace and anti-war movements. 
Yours truly  
London NW3. 

Ratbiter writes: For goodness' sake what's this country coming to when you can't call a Holocaust denier a neo-Nazi? He supports the David Irving line that Jews weren't killed at Auschwitz; instead they relaxed by swimming pools. All his sources are neo-Nazi sources. And he's now in league with the propagandists of a state which wants to kill all the Jews. What the hell am I meant to call him, a Liberal Democrat? 

Letters, Private Eye 1215, 25 July 2008  
Ratbiter bitten 

Noam Chomsky, a man who knows a thing or two about the use of language, once stated: "I see no anti-Semitic implications in denial of the existence of gas chambers or even the denial of the Holocaust." Ratbiter, in responding to Mr Kollerstrom, equates Holocaust deniers (an admittedly capacious term) with neo-Nazis and then chastises him for using "neo-Nazi" sources in his work (i.e. Holocaust denying sources which are, therefore, neo-Nazi). As if this isn't bad enough, Ratbiter (whose original article used a tenuous association with Kollerstrom as a reason to suggest cutting off funding for an Iranian TV station) then goes on to state that the Iranian state "wants to kill all the Jews". Perhaps he could provide readers with a source for this incredible claim. I do hope that he isn't referring to the mistranslation of President Ahmadinejad's statement (see which has proved so politically useful to the kind of people one relies on the Eye to criticise. 
Yours in the hope of publication,  
Via email. 

Letters, Private Eye 1216, 8 August 2008  
Gnome and Noam  

Sir, Stefan Denis (letters, Eye 1215) takes Ratbiter to task for equating Holocaust deniers with neo-Nazis. Maybe Mr Denis hasn't noticed that there's, well, rather a large overlap between the two groups. And if Noam Chomsky "knows a thing or two about the use of language" he knows even more about arguing, perversely and regardless of the evidence, that the Jews - especially Israel - are always wrong and their enemies right. So it follows that his knee-jerk reaction to Holocaust denial is likely to be one of sympathy and support. I do not know if Ratbiter's assertion that Iran wants to kill all the Jews is true. But Iran is a fundamentalist Islamic state: therefore the assertion is certainly not an "incredible claim." Hasn't Mr Denis read recent Eye articles about the Channel 4 documentary - at first censured but then vindicated - showing Muslim extremists, in British mosques, exhorting their followers to, er, kill all the Jews? And no escape route here for Mr Denis by way of "mistranslation": the Jew-haters were speaking in, er again, English.  
Via email.  

Letters, Private Eye 1217, 22 August 2008  
Chomsky and chums 

In his attack on Ratbiter's defence of his article, Stefan Denis (Letters, Eye 1215) cites Noam Chomsky's Nelsonian comment "I see no anti-Semitic implications in denial of the existence of gas chambers or even the denial of the Holocaust". Chomsky's argument was that "if a person ignorant of modern history were told of the Holocaust and refused to believe that humans are capable of such monstrous acts, we would not conclude that he is an anti-Semite". A brilliant argument aside from one minor flaw - it's complete bollocks. What if someone has studied modern history and continues to prefer dangerous fiction to fact? Were someone to be told of the gulags and, unable to believe that humans were capable of such, conclude that they were in fact holiday camps and persisted in such belief despite the evidence we might justifiably conclude that they are at best deeply misguided and at worst an apologist for Stalinism. As for the "mistranslation" of Ahmadinejad's now infamous aspiration, the Grauniad blog to which Mr Denis refers us renders the translation thus: "the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time". What this undoubtedly hugely significant difference proves is beyond me, except perhaps that some professional translators may prefer to translate idioms literally and some to translate them into their nearest equivalent in English. In contrast to Mr Denis' reliance on the Eye to criticise "the kind of people" to whom the supposed mistranslation has proved politically useful, I must confess that I had always assumed that part of the Eye's job was to expose humbug and skewed logic at whatever end of the political spectrum they might arise. More power to your organ! 
Yours faithfully,  
Via email.  

Might I advise David Whippman (Letters,1216) that condescension-by-interjection is no substitute for cogency? He regards "equating Nazis with Holocaust deniers" as justified by, er, a "large overlap between the two groups"; states that Chomsky's views on Israeli policy are just a special case of his - ahem - anti-Jewish prejudice, which involves reflex "sympathy and support" for Holocaust denial; is inclined to believe that "fundamentalist" Iran wants (eh?) to "kill all the Jews", though all 25,000 Jewish Iranians felt secure enough curtly to rebuff a recent offer of increased emigration payments; and suggests the Iranian leadership's approach is represented by... long-jailed Saudi-trained Jamaican-born nutjob Abdullah al-Faisal, as heard on Channel 4's dusty cassette calling for the murder of Jews and - oh yes - Indians.  

Yours sick of this, well, drivel, 
Via email.


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