On December 11-12, 2006 – The Iranian Institute of Political and International Studies (IPIS), an elite school of advanced politics and policy studies that offers MA and PhD programs, sponsored the Iran conference. It was not sponsored by the Iranian president Dr. Ahmadinejad; he did not attend or participate in the conference. It was not a Holocaust-denial conference by any stretch.
Thirty-three academic and historians including five Jewish rabbis ( Moshe Aryeh Friedman, David Weiss, David Feldman, Yisroel Feldman and Aron Cohen) and social science researchers from Iran, Austria, the US, Britain, Canada, Jordan, Algeria, India, Morocco, Bahrain, Tunisia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Syria attended the conference. According to Israeli daily Ha’aretz (July 1, 2007) – Moshe Aryeh Friedman, the chief rabbi of Vienna, said that he is not a Holocaust denier but not only admire Iranian President Ahmadinejad, “I pray three times a day for the disappearance of the State of Israel in peaceful ways”.
One of the conference participants was Professor Shiraz Dossa, who teaches political theory and comparative politics (Middle East) and Islam at Catholic University of St. Francis Xavier, Nova Scotia, Canada. On his return home, the Jewish lobby groups and the Islamophobe University officials ran a crusade against the Muslim professor begining with an article in Toronto daily The Globe and Mail – full of lies about Shiraz Dossa and his faith. It called him a holocaust-denier and the conference as ‘holocaust neniers conference’.
In June 2007 – Dr. Shiraz Dossa wrote a letter to his accusers which was not published as part of ‘Zionists’ “freedom of press”. Later the letter was published by the Literary Review of Canada in June 2007 under the heading The Explanation We Never Heard. In the letter Shiraz Dossa exposes the Islamophobia, ignorance and intolerance of Canadian mainstream media and his own University.
The anti-intellectual storm at St. FX was driven by two fallacies pushed by the media and the literati. The first is that Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has dismissed the Holocaust as a “myth” and threatened to “wipe Israel off the map.” In fact, Ahmadinejad has not denied the Holocaust or proposed Israel’s liquidation; he has never done so in any of his speeches on the subject (all delivered in Farsi/Persian). As an Iran specialist, I can attest that both accusations are false. US Iran experts such as Juan Cole and UK journalists such as Jonathan Steele have come to the same conclusion.
As Cole correctly notes, Ahmadinejad was quoting the Ayatollah Khomeini in the specific speech under discussion: what he said was that “the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time.” No state action is envisaged in this lament; it denotes a spiritual wish, whereas the erroneous translation—“wipe Israel off the map” – suggests a military threat. There is a huge chasm between the correct and the incorrect translations. The notion that Iran can “wipe out” US-backed, nuclear-armed Israel is ludicrous.
What Ahmadinejad has questioned is the mythologizing, the sacralization, of the Holocaust and the “Zionist regime’s” continued killing of Palestinians and Muslims. He has even raised doubts about the scale of the Holocaust. His rhetoric has been excessive and provocative. And he does not really care what we in the West think about Iran or Muslims; he does not kowtow to western or Israeli diktat. Such questioning and criticism are not new: Jewish scholars such as Adi Ophir, Ilan Pappe, Boas Evron, Tom Segev and Uri Davis have been doing it for two decades. None of this is Holocaust denial.
The second western fallacy is that the event was a Holocaust-denial conference because of the presence of a few notorious western Christian deniers/skeptics, a couple of a neo-Nazi stripe. It was nothing of the sort. It was a Global South conference convened to devise an intellectual/political response to western-Israeli intervention in Muslim affairs. Holocaust deniers/skeptics were a fringe, a marginal few at the conference. The majority of the papers focused on the use and abuse of the Holocaust in Arab, Muslim, Israeli and western politics, a serious and worthy subject for international academic discussion.
President Riley and his supporters at St. FX bought the denial fallacy that had been concocted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Jewish Defense League, and peddled by media outlets such as The Globe and Mail. On December 11, 2006, the Simon Wiesenthal Center sent out a condemning press release about “Iran’s Holocaust Denial Conference” to news media in the US and Canada. It was the Zionists and the neo-Nazis who, for very different, self-serving reasons, depicted it as a Holocaust-denial conference and sold it to willing, anti-Iranian Islamophobes.
Coincidentally, on December 11, 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice officially welcomed Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, to Washington on behalf of the U.S. government. Lieberman also met Senator Hillary Clinton and ex-President Bill Clinton. The Americans were not at all troubled by their guest’s stance on the Palestinians. Avigdor Lieberman is committed to ridding Israel of its Arabs—in effect, to ethnic cleansing. In the Israeli media (Ha’aretz), he has openly been labelled a racist and a fascist. U.S. critics have called him the Israeli David Duke.
Canada silently acquiesced in Lieberman’s inclusion in the Israeli cabinet. And in January 2007 Peter MacKay addressed the Herzliya Conference in Israel affirming Canada’s attachment to “freedom and democracy,” “values” that “make Canada and Israel so close.” He was there in his official capacity as Canada’s foreign minister. MacKay refused to meet with the leaders of the new elected Palestinian government (Hamas). The government of Canada is not concerned that an anti-Arab ethnic cleanser is Israel’s deputy prime minister. Canadians do hypocrisy rather well.
Consider also, in this connection, an event held at St. FX in September 2006, just three months before the Tehran conference. St. FX and the Religious Studies Department hosted a conference on Catholic-Jewish dialogue. One of the invited speakers was Rabbi Richard Rubenstein, a “distinguished” academic, according to his hosts. He did little to advance the Catholic-Jewish dialogue.
Instead, he launched a vicious attack on Islam, its Prophet and Muslims in the West as a fifth column corroding Christian civilization from within. The good rabbi declared that “genocide” and the “murder” of non-Muslims lay at the heart of Islam. Rubenstein seemed to believe his views would be well received. And apparently they were—by the largely Catholic-Christian audience.
St. FX chancellor Bishop Raymond Lahey and I were on the response panel; I condemned Rubenstein’s anti-Muslim tirade and his labelling of Islam as “Islamo-Fascism,” which in my view is as offensive, racist and false as denying the Holocaust. Bishop Lahey, in his comment, said nothing about Rubenstein’s anti-Islamism. This was a St. Francis Xavier University conference that occurred with the blessing of university president Riley and university chancellor Bishop Lahey, and St. FX provided a public platform to an anti-Muslim, anti-Iranian racist rabbi. My point in making the comparison is that this was still a scholarly, enlightening conference although tainted by Rubenstein’s hate-speech. So was the Iran conference on the Holocaust, although tainted by the presence of a few western, Christian Holocaust deniers.
Universities are places of discontent; they provoke disputes, they offer critiques of conventional and, often, false views. A university that tailors its teaching and research to the prejudices of its alumni or corporate backers is a travesty. Academic freedom is not conditional on the approval of the university or of university colleagues. Nor is the reputation of the university as an institution tied to the scholarly focus of its faculty or to the controversial subjects that faculty may pursue in their field of expertise.
Iran’s elites have protected Jews since Cyrus ruled West Asia. Anti-Semitism is a Euro-American problem, not an Islamic one. Iranian opposition to Israel and its wars on Muslims/Palestinians is ethical and political; it has absolutely nothing to do with hating Jews qua Jews. It is a great pity that Sean Riley and Bishop Lahey ignored St. FX’s motto, an injunction to first ascertain Quaecumque Sunt Vera, Whatsoever Things Are True, and instead tolerated the assault by St. FX’s ignorant crusaders on the reputation of their Muslim colleague.