One Lie the Malaysian Prime Minister Didn’t Tell

by Dr. Rafael Medoff

The recent speech by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was filled with anti-Semitic lies about Jews controlling the world. But his address also contained one truthful and noteworthy remark: “The Europeans killed six million Jews…” Those six words may not seem significant by Western standards, but they are uncommon in the Muslim world, where the Holocaust is widely regarded as a hoax.

A poll sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in 1999 asked Muslims from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority if they felt any sympathy for “the victims of the Holocaust.” More than 80% said no (that figure reached 97% among the most religious of the respondents). Of those who said no, 53% said they felt no such sympathy because “the Holocaust never occurred.” (An additional 32% explained their lack of sympathy on the grounds that “the Jews were conspiring against Germany.”)

Such sentiments are actively encouraged by government-sponsored Holocaust-denial in Muslim countries.

The Syrian government newspaper Tishrin has described the Nazi genocide as “the Holocaust myth,” and Damascus Radio has opined that nobody “should be compelled to pay reparations for fictitious victims of dubious tragedies.”

The Saudi Arabian daily Al Madina characterizes the Holocaust as “stories and exaggerations.” The Egyptian government-supported newspaper Al Ahram refers to the Holocaust as “the myth of the extermination of Jews in ovens.”

Two years ago, Jordan hosted a conference of Holocaust-deniers in Amman, at which Jordanian and Lebanese intellectuals explained how “it would have been impossible to burn six million people in the gas chambers.”

For its part, the official Palestinian Authority newspaper, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, has called the Holocaust “the forged claims of the Zionists” and “a lie for propaganda.”

Such sentiments can be found among Muslims living in non-Muslim countries as well. Not long ago, a Muslim radio station in South Africa, Radio 786, featured a “historian” from the London-based Muslim Institute who declared, “I accept that one million-plus Jews died during the Second World War, but I dispute the fact that they were murdered, that they were killed by gassing.”

Holocaust deniers have been treated as heroes by some Muslim regimes. When French Holocaust-denier Roger Garaudy visited Egypt in 1996, he received sympathetic coverage on Egypt’s official radio and television and was awarded a prize by the editor in chief of the government newspaper Al Ahram. When Garaudy found himself in trouble with the law two years later (Holocaust-denial is illegal in France), the Palestinian Authority’s secretary-general and Minister of Communications led a rally in Gaza on his behalf.

Even many Muslims who do acknowledge that the Holocaust occurred often twist its meaning beyond recognition.

For example, the Syrian government newspaper Al Baath has argued that Germany did persecute the Jews, but “the Zionist movement itself played a role in the persecution, in order to rally the Jews around it.” A columnist for the Egyptian government newspaper Al Ahram acknowledged that Hitler murdered Jews, but “what happened to the Jews of Germany, Poland, and Russia, was justified” because of “Jewish barbarism.”

Mahmoud Abbas, who until recently served as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, combined both themes –denial of the Holocaust and blaming the Jews for the Holocaust– in his book, The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and the Zionist Movement. He wrote that the Nazis murdered one million, rather than six million Jews, and that the Zionist leadership encouraged the killings in order to gain international sympathy for creating a Jewish State. In a novel twist on this theme, the PA’s newspaper recently asserted that Zionist leaders helped the Nazis in order to kill off anti-Zionist Jews.

Indeed, Malaysian Prime Minister Mohamad acknowledged the Holocaust in his recent speech not in order to encourage his audience of Muslim leaders to change their view of the Nazi genocide, but to illustrate a different point. His main theme was that Muslims should learn from history, including Jewish history, that those who are steadfast can overcome adversity and eventually attain “final victory” over “the enemy” (which he defined as “the Balfour and Zionist transgression”).

Thus while Malaysia’s prime minister may have been bucking the tide of Muslim public opinion by acknowledging the Holocaust, the audience of Muslim leaders probably did not have in mind that part of his speech when they gave him a standing ovation. The one lie he didn’t tell undoubtedly fell on deaf ears.

(October 2003