Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Rewriting history in Teheran

Loathsome and anti-Semitic are two words that spring to mind to describe the international conference sponsored by the Iranian government that casts doubt over the historical fact that six million Jews were murdered by the Nazi regime. Small wonder then that those attending the conference include David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, and the Australian racist Fredrick Töben. He actually brought a model of the Treblinka death camp to "prove" the absence of gas chambers. Books prominently displayed included fiction by the jailed historian and Holocaust denier David Irving. Iran’s President Ahmadinejad called for the conference last year after his speech on Israel and the Palestinians in which he asserted that the slaughter of the Jews was a myth. Iran’s foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki, in his opening remarks to the conference, took up the same theme, saying that if the "official version of the Holocaust is thrown into doubt, then the identity and nature of Israel will be thrown into doubt". The Iranian leadership’s crude association of the Israeli state’s oppression of the Palestinians with some kind of retribution for the murder of European Jews is theocratic nonsense. Reducing the Palestinian struggle to a kind of world-wide Jewish conspiracy is totally counter-productive as well as racist. Mahmoud al-Safadi, who was sentenced to 27 years in jail during the 1988 Intifada, has said in an open letter to the Iranian president, that Ahmadinejad's stance is a "great disservice to popular struggles the world over". His letter adds: "Perhaps you see Holocaust denial as an expression of support for the Palestinians. Here, too, you are wrong. We struggle for our existence and our rights, and against the historic injustice that was dealt us in 1948. Our success and our independence will not be gained by denying the genocide perpetrated against the Jewish people, even if parts of this people are the very forces that occupy and dispossess us to this day."

With their conference, the Iranian regime plays straight into the hands of Washington and London, who are always looking for excuses to launch an attack on the oil-rich nation before it develops nuclear weapons. The Israeli leadership has, of course, lost no time in condemning the conference and appearing self-righteous at the same time as they reinforce the walls that fence the Palestinians into their ghetto. Teheran’s leaders by their statements and actions also involuntarily assist the campaigns to isolate and demonise Muslims living in Europe and the United States. Meanwhile, in Iran itself, repression of opponents is commonplace. In 2004, Tehran’s prosecutor general, Saeed Mortazavi, orchestrated the secret detentions and alleged torture of 21 bloggers and staff of internet news sites known to be critical of the government. Four were eventually charged and their trial is due to resume next week. Shahram Rafizadeh has told Human Rights Watch: "I was held in solitary confinement in a secret prison for 86 days. My cell measured barely 5 feet by 6 feet. The magistrate, Mr. Mehdipoor, was present in the detention centre. He threatened me with execution if I didn’t confess to what he dictated. He told the interrogator, known as Mr. Keshavarz, he can do whatever he wants to me, such as ‘peeling the skin off my head’. The interrogator beat me mercilessly while I was handcuffed and blindfolded. Interrogations continued under these circumstances for more than 40 days." Yet Iranians refuse to be silenced. One journalist outside the conference told reporters he was ashamed of the event, while Ahmadinejad, who missed the opening to give a speech at Amir Kabir university, was heckled by protesters shouting "death to the dictator" and burning his photograph. With luck, Ahmadinejad will be looking for a new job before too long.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

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