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Thursday, December 14, 2006

PalArab letter to Ahmadinejad and the lack of Arab critical thinking

A few days ago it was reported that a Palestinian Arab terrorist who was imprisoned by Israel for 18 years before his release this year wrote a letter to Iran's president , telling him that his Holocaust-denial is wrong. Here is the text of the letter in English. While I am not thrilled with some of the wording, at least it shows that some Arabs still have the ability to think.
Other Victims of Denial
by Mahmoud Al-Safadi

Mr. President, I write to you following the announcement of your intention to organize a conference on the Holocaust in Teheran on 11-12 December, and I sincerely hope that this letter will be brought to your attention.

First of all, allow me to introduce myself: Mahmoud Al-Safadi, a former prisoner from occupied Jerusalem. I was released less than three months ago from the Israeli prison where I had been locked up for eighteen years for having been a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and having taken an active part in resistance to the occupation during the first Intifada. Since you were elected president, I have followed your declarations with great interest -- in particular those relating to the Holocaust. I respect your opposition to the American and Western injunctions concerning the Iranian nuclear program and believe it legitimate that you complain of the double standard that the world has with regard to the nuclear development of certain regimes.

But I am furious about your insistence on claiming that the Holocaust never took place and about your doubts about the number of Jews who were murdered in the extermination and concentration camps, organized massacres, and gas chambers, consequently denying the universal historical significance of the Nazi period.

Allow me to say, Mr. President, with all due respect to you, that you made these statements without really knowing the Nazi industry of death. To have read the works of some deniers seems to be enough for you -- a little like a man who shouts above a well and hears only the echo of his own voice. I believe that a man in your position should not make such an enormous error, because it could be turned against him and, worse still, his people.

Like you and millions of people in the world -- among whom, alas, are innumerable Palestinians and Arabs -- I was also convinced that the Jews exaggerated and lied about the Holocaust, etc., even apart from the fact that the Zionist movement and Israel use the Holocaust to justify their policy, first of all against my own people.

My long imprisonment provided me with the occasion to read books and articles that our ideology and social norms made inaccessible to us outside the prison. These documents gave me a thorough knowledge of the history of the Nazi regime and genocide that it perpetrated. At the beginning of the 1990s, by reading articles written by the Palestinian intellectuals Edward Said and Azmi Bishara, I discovered facts and positions which contradicted mine and those of many Palestinians. Their writings having piqued my curiosity and given birth inside me to the need to know more, I set about reading accounts of survivors of the Holocaust and the Nazi occupation. These testimonies were written by people of various nationalities, Jews or non-Jews.

The more I learned, the more I realized that the Holocaust was indeed a historical fact and the more I became aware of the monumental dimension of the crime committed by Nazi Germany against the Jews, other social and national groups, and humanity in general. I discovered that Nazi Germany aspired to found a "new world order" dominated by the "pure Aryan race" thanks to the physical annihilation of "impure races" and the enslavement of other nations. I discovered that various "normal" official institutions -- bureaucracies, judicial systems, medical and educational authorities, municipalities, railroad companies, and others -- had taken part and collaborated in the implementation of this new world order. From a theoretical point of view, this objective, just like the victories won at the time by the Nazi armies of occupation, threatened the existence of the Arabs and Muslims as well.

Whatever the number of victims -- Jewish and non-Jewish -- the crime is monumental. Any attempt to deny it deprives the denier of his own humanity and sends him immediately to the side of torturers. Whoever denies the fact that this human disaster really took place should not be astonished that others deny the sufferings and persecutions inflicted on his own people by tyrannical leaders or foreign occupiers. Ask yourself, I beg you, the following question: were hundreds of thousands of testimonies written about death camps, gas chambers, ghettos, and mass murders committed by the German army, tens of thousands of works of research based on German documents, numerous filmed sequences, some of which were shot by German soldiers -- were all these masses of evidence completely fabricated?

Can all that be summed up simply as an imperialist-Zionist plot? Are the confessions of high-ranking Nazis officials about their personal role in the project of extermination of whole nations only the fruit of the imagination of some disturbed spirit?

And all these heroic deeds of the people subjected to the German occupation -- the first among whom were Russians, Polish, and Yugoslavs -- only lies and gross exaggerations? Could the struggle of the Soviets against Nazi Germany be only a phantasm? The Russians continue to celebrate their victory over Nazi Germany and remember millions of their civilian and military compatriots who lost their lives in this struggle. Are they lying, too?

I invite you to read historical studies and serious testimonies before making your public statements. You divide the world in two camps: the imperialists-Zionists, who manufactured the myth of the Holocaust, and the adversaries of imperialism, who know the truth and uncover the plot. Perhaps you think that the act of denying the Holocaust places you at the vanguard of the Muslim world and that this refusal constitutes a useful tool in the combat against American imperialism and Western hegemony. By doing so, you actually do great disservice to popular struggles the world over.

At best, you cover your people and yourself with ridicule in the eyes of political forces who reject imperialism but cannot take your ideas and arguments seriously, due to the fact that you obsessively deny the existence of an abundantly documented and studied historical period whose consequences are still felt and discussed today.

At worst, you discourage and weaken the political, social, and intellectual forces who, in Europe and in the United States, reject the policy of confrontation and war carried out by George Bush, but are forced to conclude that you, too, jeopardize the world by your declarations denying the genocide and by your nuclear program.

Concerning the struggle of my people for their independence and their freedom: perhaps do you regard the negation of the Holocaust as an expression of support for the Palestinians? There, again, you are mistaken. We fight for our existence and our rights and against the historical injustice which was inflicted on us in 1948. We will not win our victory and our independence by denying the genocide perpetrated against the Jewish people, even though the forces who occupy our country today and dispossess us are part of the Jewish people.
This letter implies how difficult it is for Arabs to even have a clue about real world history, as the Arabic literature on secular topics is very sparse. This is a tragedy that is usually overlooked - a billion people who only can read one language are imprisoned by the non-existence of any ideas that are not politically-correct for the Arab world. The UN had a report on this in 2003 that looked at this problem in detail but it watered down the pertinent facts sprinkled among its 217 pages:
Curricula and education methodologies
Typically, educational material is contained in
the curriculum, which comprises a body of
lessons that is ideally a synthesis of the best of
what decision-makers and authors agree to be
worthwhile and necessary for the learning
process. In purely formal terms, curricula in
most Arab countries do not appear to be
greatly different from what many countries
around the world are adopting.
During the last decade several Arab countries
have embarked on educational reform
programmes that concentrate particularly on
revising and making modifications to the content
of curricula and syllabi.

When it comes to
the sciences, content is not usually a controversial
matter, save for some themes that are
perceived to touch on religious beliefs such as
the theory of evolution or on social taboos,
such as sex education. But the humanities and
social sciences that have a direct relevance to
people’s ideas and convictions are supervised
or protected by the authorities in charge of designing
curricula and issuing schoolbooks.
Consequently, such subjects usually laud past
achievements and generally indulge in both
self-praise and blame of others, with the aim of
instilling loyalty, obedience and support for
the regime in power. It is not unusual to find
schoolbooks in many Arab countries with a
picture of the ruler on the front page, even in
the case of textbooks in neutral subjects such
as science and mathematics.

Some researchers argue that the curricula
taught in Arab countries seem to encourage
submission, obedience, subordination and
compliance, rather than free critical thinking.
In many cases, the contents of these curricula
do not stimulate students to criticise political
or social axioms. Instead, they smother their
independent tendencies and creativity (Munir
Bashour, background paper for AHDR 2).

Generally speaking, the assigned curricula,
starting from preliminary school or even
before, embody a concept that views education
as an industrial production process,
where curricula and their content serve as
moulds into which fresh minds are supposed
to be poured.

There are various means for conveying information:
lectures, seminars, workshops, collaborative
work, laboratory work and many
others. In Arab countries, however, lectures
seem to dominate. Students can do little but
memorise, recite and perfect rote learning.
The most widely used instruments are schoolbooks,
notes, sheets or summaries.
Communication in education is didactic, supported
by set books containing indisputable
texts in which knowledge is objectified so as to
hold incontestable facts, and by an examination
process that only tests memorisation and
factual recall.

I couldn't find it in the report, I've seen reported that the number of books translated into Arabic over the past millennium is about 10,000, the same number that are translated into Spanish annually.

Arab rulers are so consumed with power that they are starving their people of the ability to think, which is why creatures like Ahmadinejad have the opportunity to brainwash hundreds of millions of people.