Sunday, October 28, 2007

On the Contrary

Another posting by Daniel McGowan makes his Holocaust denial more apparent. He says:
When Elie Wiesel took Oprah Winfrey to Auschwitz, the choreography was perfect. Jewish suffering was paramount; remember the six million, the gas chambers, the Zyklon B, the death marches, and "Arbeit Macht Frei."

Ignore the facts that none of Wiesel's family was gassed, that 50 million non-Jews were killed, that Wiesel chose to leave Auschwitz with the Nazis rather than be liberated by the Russians as was Anne Frank's father. And certainly ignore the ethnic cleansing and murder of perhaps two million Germans, mostly civilians, after the war.
Wiesel *chose* to leave Auschwitz with the Nazis?! Wiesel (and his father) were forced by the SS guards on the death march to Germany. No prisoner in Auschwitz had a "choice" about where to go as long as the Nazi guards were in control.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Who is Ernst Zundel?

For more information on Zundel, the Canadian court judgement against him is very useful. It is available at Court Judgement. Zundel has been a Holocaust denier for several decades and was deported from Canada based on his intimate connections with violent anti-semites and racists.

Some excerpts from the judgement:


[23] Pursuant to the Security Intelligence Report of which Mr. Zündel was provided a summary, White Supremacists are defined as racists, neo-Nazis and anti-Semites who use violence to achieve their political objectives. Leading White Supremacists may inspire others to use or threaten use of violence. Mr. Zündel is viewed by White Supremacists as a leader of international significance and was viewed as the patriarch of the Movement in Canada for decades. Mr. Zündel is one of the world's most prominent distributors of revisionist neo-Nazi propaganda through the use of facsimiles, courier, telephone, mail, media, shortwave radio transmissions, satellite videos and the Internet, through his website the Zundelsite, which is a platform for financing and contains White Supremacist documents as well as hyperlinks to other White Supremacist websites. The Security Intelligence Report concludes that based on the evidence that has been provided, Mr. Zündel is playing a critical role in the Movement, both in Canada and internationally.

[24] Documents issued by Mr. Zündel over the years show his intention to destabilize the legal and legitimate democratic government of Germany. The evidence also demonstrates a clear determination to disseminate copious amounts of documentation and information from Canada to Germany, using Canadian soil to advance his goal of undermining the German government.

[25] Furthermore, the Ministers have provided public and in camera evidence that Mr. Zündel has extensive involvement with contacts within the violent, racist, right wing movement. These contacts encompass individuals and organizations in Canada and abroad.

[26] Mr. Zündel has always supported the ideology of the White Supremacist Movement, one which is based on the fundamental belief that the white race is an endangered species in need of protection as a result of non-Whites and Jews seeking to attack the foundation of western civilization. Blacks in particular are seen as intellectually inferior, while Jews are viewed as conspiring to gain control of the world through manipulation of financial markets, the spread of communism, pornography and general moral degeneracy. The government is viewed with suspicion as it is seen to be controlled by a Jewish conspiracy referred to as zionist occupation government (ZOG). These fundamental beliefs lead to antisemitic, racist, anti-immigration, anti-democratic, anti-human rights and anti-homosexual attitudes.

[27] The Nazi Party under Adolf Hitler in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s is notoriously well known; what is less known, is the Canadian version which was developed over the 1940s and the 1950s under Adrien Arcand, who promoted Hitler as a saviour of Christianity and formed the Parti national social chrétien in the 1930s. That party then merged with the Canadian Nationalist Party from the West to form the National Unity Party. Later in the 1960s, the Canadian Nazi Party became the National Socialist Party and Mr. Zündel explained how he was influenced by Mr. Arcand himself whom he met when he arrived in Canada in the 1950s. At the conclusion of World War II, the enthusiasm of those Nazi parties around the world was greatly reduced; nevertheless, there still remained some desire to support this neo-Nazi approach. Mr. Zündel is among the few people that worked hard to maintain that support and who went to great lengths to try and establish some credibility to the neo-Nazi movement. He also tried by all means possible to develop and maintain a global network of all groups that have an interest in the same right wing extremist neo-Nazi mind-set.

Zundel is the type of man that McGowan is proud to be associated with - and contrary to his assertions that Zundel is a pacifist and has no malicious goals, it is clear that he is motivated by virulent anti-semitism and has done his best through decades of action to propagate the anti-semitic and racist Nazi message.

Daniel McGowan - Holocaust Denial

In today's Ithaca Journal, probably in response to Lipstadt's talk, Daniel McGowan, emeritus professor of economics at Hobart and William Smith College in Geneva, New York, had a letter published putting forth the classic arguments of Holocaust deniers - that the "Final Solution" was not extermination, that there were no gas chambers used by the Nazis, and that fewer than 6 million Jews were killed. He argues these points as part of his attack on the state of Israel: "The Holocaust narrative makes Jews the ultimate victim no matter how they dehumanize or ethnically cleanse the Palestinian people." He also claims that the "Holocaust narrative of industrialized extermination has been an important tool to drive the United States into Iraq and now into Iran." I'm not going to argue against his pseudo-historical claims, because I agree with Lipstadt that there is no point in arguing about the Holocaust with deniers.

Instead, I'd like to point out some of McGowan's other writings, available on the internet, which make clear how he has become enmeshed in the Holocaust denial movement.

1. "What does Holocaust denial really mean?" - Denial. This letter is posted on the "Zundelsite" - dedicated to the defense of Ernst Zündel, who is currently in prison in Germany for Holocaust denial. This letter is more explicit than the one published in the Ithaca Journal. Among other things, he says, "Is it really 'beyond international discourse' to question the efficacy and the forensic evidence of homicidal gas chambers? If other myths, like making soap from human fat, have been dismissed as Allied war propaganda, why is it 'unacceptable behavior' to ask if the gas chamber at Dachau was not reconstructed by the Americans because no other homicidal gas chamber could be found and used as evidence at the Nuremburg trials?"

2. Similar letter published on the website of CODOH ("Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust") - Denial. CODOH says that the Holocaust must be "debated," meaning that the usual canons of historical research must be abandoned for the pseudo-scientific arguments put forth by deniers. In this letter McGowan writes: "Are these revisionist contentions so odious as to cause those who believe them to be reviled, beaten, and imprisoned? More importantly, is it possible that revisionist contentions are true, or even partially true, and that they are despised because they contradict the story of the Holocaust, a story which has been elevated to the level of a religion in hundreds of films, memorials, museums, and docudramas?"

3. The same letter appears under the title European Union to Penalize Holocaust Deniers.

4. A Visit in Prison with Ernst Zuendel. In December of 2006, McGowan visited Zundel in prison in Germany. This is his account of the visit.

More on Zundel - Zundel deported to Germany and Zundel sentenced to five years in prison in Germany.

Lipstadt's talk

Professor Lipstadt's talk on Thursday night was excellent and very well-attended. Many students and community members came to hear her clear and cogent account of her libel trial in England, when David Irving, a notorious Holocaust denier, sued her for libel for calling him a Holocaust denier. One of the most interesting parts of her presentation was the description of the strategy that she and her legal team devised to counter Irving. They decided that since the Holocaust is a well-known and documented historical event, they did not need to prove that it occurred in order to defeat Irving. Instead, they decided to demonstrate how Irving misused evidence, misquoted sources, invented incidents, and engaged in other techniques to distort history. Scholars went through Irving's books exhaustively and checked all of his footnotes, which revealed that he systematically distorted his sources in order to support his own conclusions. His aim was to prove that Hitler knew nothing of the Holocaust and in fact tried to prevent it - something which all reputable historians know is utter nonsense. The judge in the case decided for Lipstadt based on this argument.

She also spoke of the emotional burden the case imposed on her. Many survivors of the Holocaust and their children saw her as their standard-bearer for the truth, and she felt even more responsible because of this to win the case on their behalf. Her talk was moving and I am glad that we were able to bring her to Ithaca College.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Deborah Lipstadt in Ithaca

Dr. Deborah Lipstadt will be speaking on Thursday evening at Ithaca College on "Holocaust Denial: A New Form of Anti-Semitism." She'll be speaking at 7:15 p.m. in the Klingenstein Lounge. The Jewish Studies Program is bringing her and we're really looking forward to her visit.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

"Political Correctness"

A great op-ed by Doris Lessing, in today's New York Times is a great antidote to another op-ed earlier in the week by Slavoj Zizek on Tibet and China. Some particularly juicy paragraphs from Lessing:
A successor to “commitment” is “raising consciousness.” This is double-edged. The people whose consciousness is being raised may be given information they most desperately lack and need, may be given moral support they need. But the process nearly always means that the pupil gets only the propaganda the instructor approves of. “Raising consciousness,” like “commitment,” like “political correctness,” is a continuation of that old bully, the party line.

A very common way of thinking in literary criticism is not seen as a consequence of Communism, but it is. Every writer has the experience of being told that a novel, a story, is “about” something or other. I wrote a story, “The Fifth Child,” which was at once pigeonholed as being about the Palestinian problem, genetic research, feminism, anti-Semitism and so on.....

A professor friend describes how when students kept walking out of classes on genetics and boycotting visiting lecturers whose points of view did not coincide with their ideology, he invited them to his study for discussion and for viewing a video of the actual facts. Half a dozen youngsters in their uniform of jeans and T-shirts filed in, sat down, kept silent while he reasoned with them, kept their eyes down while he ran the video and then, as one person, marched out. A demonstration — they might very well have been shocked to hear — which was a mirror of Communist behavior, an acting out, a visual representation of the closed minds of young Communist activists.
As an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz in the late 1970s, I was surfeited with the type of political correctness she calls "raising consciousness" - in several course in the sociology and women's studies departments I took courses that were designed to indoctrinate the students in the instructor's New Left political beliefs - rather than in teaching us how to think critically about the topics of the courses. As a professor now I try to avoid indoctrinating my students. I'm sure that I don't always succeed, but I think it's much more important to teach students critical thinking skills, how to examine evidence, primary documents, and make good arguments.

To return to Zizek's op-ed - it strikes me an attempt at a sophisticated defense of the Chinese government's policy to suppress Tibetan culture. (I don't think it's actually sophisticated because his purpose comes out pretty clearly). He uses a common rhetorical technique - since Western countries did it before, it must not be so bad, and in any case, since we are also guilty, we have no basis to criticize non-Westerners for doing something that we currently find repugnant.
Before we explode in rage that Chinese Communist totalitarianism now wants to control even the lives of its subjects after their deaths, we should remember that such measures are not unknown to European history. The Peace of Augsburg in 1555, the first step toward the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 that ended the Thirty Years’ War, declared the local prince’s religion to be the official faith of a region or country (“cuius regio, eius religio”). The goal was to end violence between German Catholics and Lutherans, but it also meant that when a new ruler of a different religion took power, large groups had to convert. Thus the first big institutional move toward religious tolerance in modern Europe involved a paradox of the same type as that of Order No. 5: your religious belief, a matter of your innermost spiritual experience, is regulated by the whims of your secular leader.
Therefore, it's not so bad that the Chinese have a systematic policy to destroy Tibetan Buddhist culture and religion - it's no worse than what happened between Catholics and Protestants, and since that was so successful in Europe, it probably won't be so bad in Tibet. This, of course, completely ignores the historical context, in which Tibet was militarily conquered by China, leading to the deaths of thousands of Tibetans, the closing of the monestaries, etc.

His second rhetorical device involves smearing the subject of his polemic - Tibetan Buddhism. He says:
In the same vein, the problem with Tibetan Buddhism resides in an obvious fact that many Western enthusiasts conveniently forget: the traditional political structure of Tibet is theocracy, with the Dalai Lama at the center. He unites religious and secular power — so when we are talking about the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, we are taking about choosing a head of state. It is strange to hear self-described democracy advocates who denounce Chinese persecution of followers of the Dalai Lama — a non-democratically elected leader if there ever was one.
So that means that one can only denounce persecution of other people if they are already perfect? So then, to take another example, it's okay for the Egyptian government to torture members of the Muslim Brotherhood whom it has imprisoned because after all they also represent a theocratic political movement? It seems to me that regardless of one's own beliefs, it's still wrong to invade a country and suppress its religious culture. Zizek was opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq on the same anti-imperialist grounds - but does anti-imperialism only matter when the empire is western?

Then there is the matter of what the present Dalai Lama has to say about democracy. On his official website, there is a quotation from a recent speech:
Madrid, Spain, 9 September 2007 (AP) - The Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, defended democracy as a means of decision-making for his native Tibet at a press conference Sunday in the Spanish city of Barcelona. The exiled leader, who is in Spain to open a new Tibet House Foundation headquarters, said it was up to the Spanish people to resolve their own regional issues.

"I think that is up to you, no?" the Dalai Lama said when asked how Spanish regions could best achieve self-determination. "Democracy allows for freedom of expression and for the free election of parties," he said. He also said his own fate was up to the people of Tibet. "The future of the Dalai Lama will depend on what the people of Tibet want," he said.
In an article from 1993 on the same website, lays out plans for a democratic Tibet:
I have long looked forward to the time when we could devise a political system, suited both to our traditions and to the demands of the modern world. A democracy that has nonviolence and peace at its roots. We have recently embarked on changes that will further democratize and strengthen our administration in exile. For many reasons, I have decided that I will not be the head of, or play any role in the government when Tibet becomes independent. The future head of the Tibetan Government must be someone popularly elected by the people. There are many advantages to such a step and it will enable us to become a true and complete democracy. I hope that these moves will allow the people of Tibet to have a clear say in determining the future of their country.
Since this article was written almost fifteen years ago, it seems to me that if Zizek really wanted to know what the Dalai Lama and Tibetans in exile thought about democracy, he could have found out as easily as I just did - by Googling "Dalai Lama" and "democracy." Or perhaps he could actually have done some research into the history of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, and the development of the Tibetan exile community. But instead, it was much easier simply to use simple rhetorical technques that are designed to stop his readers' actually thinking about the subject he has raised.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ann Coulter - Jews need to be perfected

What I don't understand about Ann Coulter is in what way is she actually a Christian? She claims to be a Christian, and says that Jews (and presumably everyone else) should convert to Christianity - but what does she think Christianity is? I don't see any way in which she is following the example of Jesus. When I open up the New Testament, the emphasis I see in the teachings of Jesus is love of neighbor, the principle of non-retaliation, concern for the poor and the weak - not at all the agenda that Coulter is pushing.

That aside, her comments are interesting because they echo the message of Jews for Jesus and other Messianic Jewish groups that converting to Christianity does not mean one is leaving Judaism, but has become a "completed Jew."

No, we think - we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say....

Yes. That is what Christianity is. We believe the Old Testament, but ours is more like Federal Express. You have to obey laws. We know we're all sinners - but that is what Christians consider themselves: perfected Jews. We believe the Old Testament. As you know from the Old Testament, God was constantly getting fed up with humans for not being able to, you know, live up to all the laws. What Christians believe - this is just a statement of what the New Testament is - is that that's why Christ came and died for our sins. Christians believe the Old Testament. You don't believe our testament....

This is what Christians consider themselves, because our testament is the continuation of your testament. You know that. So we think Jews go to heaven. I mean, [Rev. Jerry] Falwell himself said that, but you have to follow laws. Ours is "Christ died for our sins." We consider ourselves perfected Christians. For me to say that for you to become a Christian is to become a perfected Christian is not offensive at all.

It's also interesting that she says "we think Jews go to heaven," when people Falwell specifically denied that Jews (or any other non-Christian) would go to heaven.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

More on "Talmudic Discussion"

The Jewish Week provides the context for McCain's remark about "Talmudic Discussion":
Jewish Democrats, however, blasted McCain for his original comments on Beliefnet and for a subsequent clarification, reported by the Associated Press. In the latter statement he said "All I can say is that maybe I should have kept my comments to the fact that I'm a practicing Christian, I respect all religions and beliefs, and that I support the principles, the values of the Founding Fathers. Perhaps I should have couched my remarks to that rather than getting into, as I say, a Talmudic discussion."
I still wonder why McCain chose that particular expression - a Freudian slip, perhaps?

Mandaeans in Iraq

Today's New York Times has another chilling story - this time an op-ed piece by Nathaniel Deutch, of Swarthmore College, about the Mandaeans of Iraq. He begins by saying:

THE United States didn’t set out to eradicate the Mandeans, one of the oldest, smallest and least understood of the many minorities in Iraq. This extinction in the making has simply been another unfortunate and entirely unintended consequence of our invasion of Iraq — though that will be of little comfort to the Mandeans, whose 2,000-year-old culture is in grave danger of disappearing from the face of the earth.

The Mandeans are the only surviving Gnostics from antiquity, cousins of the people who produced the Nag Hammadi writings like the Gospel of Thomas, a work that sheds invaluable light on the many ways in which Jesus was perceived in the early Christian period. The Mandeans have their own language (Mandaic, a form of Aramaic close to the dialect of the Babylonian Talmud), an impressive body of literature, and a treasury of cultural and religious traditions amassed over two millennia of living in the southern marshes of present-day Iraq and Iran.

Of the 60,000 Mandaeans who were in Iraq in 2003, before the U.S. invasion, only 5,000 remain - the rest have fled to neighboring countries. Their homeland is in the marshes of southern Iraq, and they have no other place where they can find refuge. Deutch calls for the U.S. to take in all of the Mandaeans, so that their unique and ancient culture can be saved. Mandaean refugees in other Middle Eastern countries have been converting to Islam or Christianity so that they can get help.

April DeConick, of Rice University, has written in her blog about the dangers the Mandaeans are suffering in Iraq, and also has useful suggestions for letters that can be sent to Congress about them - Information about Mandaeans.

Holocaust in Ukraine

Fr. Patrick Desbois, a Catholic priest has been documenting the Holocaust in Ukraine by interviewing people who were only children or teenagers at the time who witnessed the mass shootings that killed almost 1.5 million Jews.

Over four years, Father Desbois has videotaped more than 700 interviews with witnesses and bystanders and has identified more than 600 common graves of Jews, most of them previously unknown. He also has gathered material evidence of the execution of Jews from 1941 to 1944, the “Holocaust of bullets” as it is called.

In the New York Times story, there is a slideshow of photographs, showing Fr. Desbois, some of the people he has interviewed, and the sites of the mass graves, including some that have been opened, where it is possible to see skeletons lying at the bottom of the grave.

It is a quietly chilling story. For more information, go to Witness to Genocide.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

More on "G-d"

Carla Sulzbach, one of my correspondents, sent me many useful links on the topic of why people use "G-d" instead of "God." One of them is a scholarly explanation for why Jews use this circumlocution (and others, like "Hashem" or "Adonai") - an article by B. Barry Levy in the Edah Journal - Fixing God's Name.

She also sent me a couple of references that might explain why some Christian students use "G-d," which point to an origin among messianic Jewish congregations. The two links she sent are from blogs written by people who heartily disapprove of this practice - Philip Johnson and Dan Phillips. These are written by two conservative Christians who think that it's silly, and perhaps even sinful, for Christians not to spell the word with all its letters in English. If you're curious about the theological reasons, read their posts and the comments that are attached to them.

Monday, October 01, 2007

"It's almost Talmudic"

Jews and Muslims criticized McCain's remarks on the U.S. as a "Christian nation."

The American Jewish Committee has criticized McCain for his remarks: "'To argue that America is a Christian nation, or that persons of a particular faith should by reason of their faith not seek high office, puts the very character of our country at stake,' Jeffrey Sinensky, the group's general counsel, said Monday in a statement."

But Joe Lieberman came out in defense of McCain: "I have known John McCain very well for many years and I know that he does not have a bigoted bone in his body. I know that he is fair and just to all Americans regardless of their faith."

Then in response to the criticism of him, McCain made a very strange remark: "It's almost Talmudic. We are a nation that was based on Judeo-Christian values. That means respect for all of human rights and dignity. That's my principle values and ideas, and that's what I think motivated our founding fathers."

What is "almost Talmudic"? The criticism of him? He doesn't seem to be using the word in a very complimentary sense.

Abe Foxman of the ADL also criticized McCain: "“We would have thought that a senator as experienced and respected as John McCain would place himself above such divisive appeals to religious intolerance. His remarks were inaccurate and ill-advised for any candidate seeking to lead a nation as religiously diverse as ours.”

It will be interesting to see if any Christian groups come out in criticism of McCain's remarks.

Critique of McCain

Good critique of McCain by David Kuo, who used to work in the White House office of "faith-based" initiatives. The comments to the post are also quite good, on the whole. A commenter brings up an earlier occasion (when McCain was a Congressman) when he asserted in an equally intolerant way that the U.S. is a Christian nation.

McCain - only a Christian can be President

So apparently John McCain now thinks that only a Christian should be President of the United States: "But, no, I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles.... personally, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith. But that doesn't mean that I'm sure that someone who is Muslim would not make a good president. I don't say that we would rule out under any circumstances someone of a different faith. I just would--I just feel that that's an important part of our qualifications to lead." Hasn't McCain ever read the Constitution, which bans a religious test for office? He also seems to have forgotten that his good friend, Joe Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, ran for the Democratic nomination for President four years ago, and was on the ballot eight years ago. Would he disqualify Lieberman because he's a Jew and not a Christian?

He also says: "But I think the number one issue people should make [in the] selection of the President of the United States is, 'Will this person carry on in the Judeo Christian principled tradition that has made this nation the greatest experiment in the history of mankind?'" Such pabulum coming from an intelligent man - wouldn't more important questions be: what will the new President do about Iraq? How will the new President deal with global warming? with the deteriorating infrastructure in the U.S.? with our lousy schools and the way we've fallen way behind in science education? with continuing racial inequality and an outrageous poverty rate for the richest country in the world?

He also seems to have a misconception about who exactly it was who wrote the words to the poem that's on the Statue of Liberty: "I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation. But I say that in the broadest sense. The lady that holds her lamp beside the golden door doesn't say, 'I only welcome Christians.' We welcome the poor, the tired, the huddled masses. But when they come here they know that they are in a nation founded on Christian principles." Emma Lazarus was a Jewish immigrant whom I assume did not come to the U.S. thinking that that her words would be twisted in this fashion to support the idea that the U.S. is a Christian nation (something that, by the way, is found nowhere in the Constitution).

There was a time that I contemplated voting for McCain if he was running for President. That time is long past, and with these words, he certainly shows how he's trying to sell his soul to the religious right.