Mendacity: The Key to Evil

It is hard to imagine two more important and fundamental freedoms than the freedom of speech and the freedom to pursue scholarly inquiry. One price that we often must pay for adherence to these values is the endurance of their exploitation in the service of evil.

This last week, Iran hosted a conference in Tehran on the Holocaust: the deliberate and systematic killing millions of Jews by Nazi Germany during World War II. The conference was given the benign-sounding title “the International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust.” Now intellectually honest scholars can argue the details about the specifics of the Holocaust, but the fact that it occurred is as well-documented as things get in history. The only sorry fact is that the eyewitnesses to this terrible event of 60 years ago are dying off. In not too many years, the event will pass out of living memory into our collective history where it might be more vulnerable to manipulation.

The goal of the conference in Tehran was not scholarly inquiry but a deliberate effort to undermine the legitimacy of Israel. After the Holocaust, the world was anxious to find a place where Jews might live in peace. The Middle East near Jerusalem already had a significant Jewish population, the Jews had a historic tie to the area, and many Jews more were immigrating there to escape Europe. In 1947, the United Nations divided the Palestinian Mandate into a Jewish area which became Israel and an Arab area which became Jordan.

The presence of Israel embarrasses some of the Islamic states surrounding it for several reasons. First, after Israel declared itself a state, all the countries surrounding waged war in the mistaken belief that they would quickly overwhelm the fledging nation. Instead, these largely Arab countries were militarily crushed in wars in1948, in 1956, and in 1968. In 1972, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack that initially reeled Israel back on its feet, but by the time a cessation of hostilities was agree to Israeli forces were threatening to march into Cairo.

The second source of embarrassment is that Israel has managed in the midst of war and constant threat to its survival to build a modern, democratic, prosperous, and educated state out of what was once a poor Middle Eastern backwater. The success was an indirect rebuke of the political leadership of other Arabic and Muslim countries whose only wealth was the accident of oil reserves that could only be exploited with the help of Western technology.

The Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has declared the Holocaust a “myth” and called for the elimination of Israel sponsored this Holocaust denial conference. This event reminds us that mendacity is the surest means to detect evil.

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