Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Holocaust Affirmation in Indonesia

I've noted the negative developments in Indonesia; thankfully, this week has brought a positive and heartening one, as reported by Agence France Presse:

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, Tuesday hosted a conference aiming to promote religious tolerance and affirming the reality of the Holocaust.

The event on the resort island of Bali - attended by rabbis, Holocaust witnesses, and Muslim leaders - styled itself as an "anti-conference of Tehran," where a December 2006 meet cast doubt on the genocide of Jews during World War II, triggering worldwide condemnation.

Chairing the discreetly-organized conference is former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, known as Gus Dur, a moderate Islamic leader known to take courageous positions in Indonesia.

"Although I am a good friend of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, I have to say he is wrong," Gus Dur told the conference, referring to the Iranian president's dismissal of the Holocaust as a myth. "He falsified history ... I believe the Holocaust happened."

The former president has been a member of the Tel Aviv-based Shimon Peres Peace Institute since 1984 and has drawn fire for his support for direct trade relations between Indonesia and Israel.

Mr. Wahid has been an outspoken opponent of the spread of radical Islamism in Indonesia. In an April 2007 Wall Street Journal piece, Bret Stephens called him "easily the most important ally the West has in the ideological struggle against Islamic radicalism."

On Tuesday, Mr. Wahid published his own co-authored piece in the Journal (partial full text here), in which he rightly denounces Holocaust denial as both an evil in itself and a symptom of a broader danger:

Yet even as we recognize the threat that Holocaust denial poses to Jews everywhere, we must also be cognizant of the peril it represents to people of all faith traditions. Nations or governments that historically have given free rein to Jew-hatred -- whether in Medieval Europe or Inquisition-era Spain or 1930s Germany -- have invariably done lasting damage to themselves as well.

Today, the countries in which Holocaust denial is most rampant also tend to be the ones that are most economically backward and politically repressive. This should not be surprising: Dishonest when it comes to the truth of the past, these countries are hardly in a position to reckon honestly with the problems of the present. Yes, the short-term purposes of unscrupulous rulers can always be served by whipping up mass hysteria and duping their people with lurid conspiracy theories. In the long term, however, truth is the essential ingredient in all competent policy making. Those who tell big lies about the Holocaust are bound to tell smaller lies about nearly everything else.

Holocaust denial is thus the most visible symptom of an underlying disease -- partly political, partly psychological, but mainly spiritual -- which is the inability (or unwillingness) to recognize the humanity of others. In fighting this disease, religious leaders have an essential role to play. Armed with the knowledge that God created religion to serve as rahmatan lil 'alamin, or a blessing for all creation, we must guard against efforts to demonize or belittle followers of other faiths.


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