Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Why they deny the Holocaust (because they were never told about it)

Roundup: Talking About History

[AYAAN HIRSI ALI, a Somali immigrant who served in the parliament of the Netherlands until earlier this year, is the author of "Infidel," an autobiography to be published in February.]

ONE DAY IN 1994, when I was living in Ede, a small town in Holland, I got a visit from my half-sister. She and I were both immigrants from Somalia and had both applied for asylum in Holland. I was granted it; she was denied. The fact that I got asylum gave me the opportunity to study. My half-sister couldn't.

In order for me to be admitted to the university I wanted to attend, I needed to pass three courses: a language course, a civics course and a history course. It was in the preparatory history course that I, for the first time, heard of the Holocaust. I was 24 years old at that time, and my half-sister was 21.

In those days, the daily news was filled with the Rwandan genocide and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. On the day that my half-sister visited me, my head was reeling from what happened to 6 million Jews in Germany, Holland, France and Eastern Europe.

I learned that innocent men, women and children were separated from each other. Stars pinned to their shoulders, transported by train to camps, they were gassed for no other reason than for being Jewish.

I saw pictures of masses of skeletons, even of kids. I heard horrifying accounts of some of the people who had survived the terror of Auschwitz and Sobibor. I told my half-sister all this and showed her the pictures in my history book. What she said was as awful as the information in my book.

With great conviction, my half-sister cried: "It's a lie! Jews have a way of blinding people. They were not killed, gassed or massacred. But I pray to Allah that one day all the Jews in the world will be destroyed."

She was not saying anything new. As a child growing up in Saudi Arabia, I remember my teachers, my mom and our neighbors telling us practically on a daily basis that Jews are evil, the sworn enemies of Muslims, and that their only goal was to destroy Islam. We were never informed about the Holocaust.

Later, as a teenager in Kenya, when Saudi and other Persian Gulf philanthropy reached us, I remember that the building of mosques and donations to hospitals and the poor went hand in hand with the cursing of Jews. Jews were said to be responsible for the deaths of babies and for epidemics such as AIDS, and they were believed to be the cause of wars. They were greedy and would do absolutely anything to kill us Muslims. If we ever wanted to know peace and stability, and if we didn't want to be wiped out, we would have to destroy the Jews. For those of us who were not in a position to take up arms against them, it was enough for us to cup our hands, raise our eyes heavenward and pray to Allah to destroy them.

Western leaders today who say they are shocked by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's conference this week denying the Holocaust need to wake up to that reality. For the majority of Muslims in the world, the Holocaust is not a major historical event that they deny. We simply do not know it ever happened because we were never informed of it. ...
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Mike Schoenberg - 12/23/2006

One of the other e-mails I get is from the Common Ground News Service-Middle East and this week has a piece by a former prisoner of Israel. His name is Mahmoud
Al-Safadi and he writes of also not believing in the Holocaust until he started reading various Arab writers such as the late Edward Said and realizing the truth.

Lisa Kazmier - 12/22/2006

I've always wanted to know how the author responded to her half-sister's comment.

Nonetheless, I can understand the Arab perspective that they shouldn't have to pay for what they didn't do. Yet that doesn't justify Holocaust denial. I never fully recognized their stake in the issue. Why do Arabs feel they have a stake in denial?

I've had students read from something written by Ayatollah Khomeini and how it enhances understanding hatred of the Shah and Israel as joint forces against them. But that doesn't explain Holocaust denial.

If it's not their issue, why the radical stand? Ali gives one answer, which is a place to start. I'm not sure it's the only answer, however, just as I'm not sure that any amount of exposure to books or video or pictures will make all Arab deniers any more enlightened than David Duke or David Irving.