Sunday, February 25, 2007

An Iranian Petition against Holocaust Revisionism

An open letter by a group of Iranian academics, writers, and artists regarding the Tehran Conference on Holocaust Denial

Over the past year or so a number of official and unofficial public statements have been made in Iran denying the genocide of Jews during the Second World War. The culmination of this trend was the widely publicized, so called “International Holocaust Conference”, held in Tehran in December 2006. Given the serious moral and practical implications of this trend, we, a group of Iranian academics, intellectuals, writers and artists, find it imperative to take a public stance on this issue.

  1. Today, several decades after the end of the Second World War, testimonies of the survivors and researches carried out by numerous historians have unequivocally confirmed the Jewish genocide during the World War. Besides the genocide of the Jewish people, historians have also spoken of the mass murders of the gypsies, the Slav people, potential and actual opponents of the Nazi regime, the disabled, prisoners of war, and even in the closing days of the war, the incapacitated German soldiers. These crimes were committed widely and in various ways, including through firing squads, starvation, long hours of forced labour in concentration camps, and massacres in the gas chambers of extermination camps. The extensive material evidence, the confessions made in the Nuremberg trials and other trials that took place after the war and the testimonies of the survivors establish the veracity of the accounts beyond any doubt. Moreover, the voluminous anti-Semitic and racist literature left from the Nazis shed light on the roots of this inhuman hysteria. The accuracy of the accounts has been acknowledged by many academic, political and religious authorities including the Catholic Church. They have all condemned these crimes. On the other hand, there have always been a few individuals who have denied the genocide of the Jewish people or questioned its significance, through casting doubt on the number of people murdered or the manner in which they were put to death. The majority of the speakers in the recent conference held in Tehran were from amongst those few. This conference did not meet the requirements of an academic forum. The speakers in such a forum should be chosen by specialists of the topic on which they are to speak (in this case, historians). In an academic forum both sides of an argument should be invited in order to engage in a discussion. Only in an open discussion involving all sides of a debate one can hope to see the presentation of substantiated claims. In the absence of such academic standards, in the conference held in Tehran, mere unsubstantiated claims were put forward, mainly for propaganda purposes. Moreover, the proponents of these claims were invited to the conference without paying any attention to their background which in some cases was outright racism. The presence and the appalling speech presented by a former Ku Klux Klan leader, a group infamous for its involvement in hate crimes against the African Americans, was a result of this recklessness.

  2. In the history of mankind, there have been dark events that have treaded upon human values and broken basic moral principles in such a way that make them distinct from other comparable events. The scars left behind on the face of humanity by these events are irreversible and talking inconsiderately about them can only be described as rubbing salt into the wound and exacerbating the pain. This is in particular true of the crimes committed during the Second World War, some survivors of which are still among us. The sensitivity of the issue could be seen in the reaction shown by the people and the governments of the Eastern Asian countries against the stance of the current Japanese government in regard to senior military officers of the War. Those who perpetuate the discourse on Holocaust denial ignore the feelings of the people directly affected by this event. These people include, among others, a group of our Jewish fellow citizens in Iran.

  3. One of the main claims put forward in this conference was that the Holocaust, as a historical event, has been used as a tool to justify the policies of the state of Israel. This claim was expressed in particular by a group of Jewish religious scholars who according to their reading of the Holy Scriptures opposed the existence of the state of Israel. Such claims are at best unhelpful to the cause of Palestine. The creation of the state of Israel on the lands of Palestine has its own history. No matter what political position we adopt regarding the creation of Israel and its further expansion, the historical evidence for the Holocaust remains intact. The fact that since the inception of the state of Israel many crimes have been committed against the Palestinian population does not provide moral ground for the denial or undermining of the genocide of the Jewish people. Acknowledging the Holocaust does not lead to the disavowal of the rights of the Palestinians, nor does its denial or undermining strengthens the case in their favour. The Palestinians, like all other nations, have a right to enjoy their livelihood in their own independent state. This right has nothing to do with the denial or acknowledgement of the Holocaust. Claims such as those that were uttered in the conference held in Tehran, can only work to the detriment of the rightful cause of the Palestinians and the efforts of the proponents of peace in Israel.

  4. Forgotten amongst all the sensationalism in the Iranian media accompanying the conference, was the bitter reality that the undermining or denial of human suffering for the sake of making political points – whatever they might be – will inevitably lead to moral degeneration: a moral degeneration that makes any judgment on the wrongfulness of the murder of the innocent dependent upon its political reverberations; a moral degeneration where by questioning the number of the victims, it fails to realize that “whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind”.

We, the signatories of this letter, are of the opinion that such “conferences”, more than anything, harm the academic image of the Iranian universities. We believe that conferences like this do not help the cause of the Palestinian people and only provide pretexts for the warmongers in the region. We are of the opinion that holding a conference in Tehran in support of the denial of the Holocaust has perpetuated an immoral stance that seriously endangers the culture of peace and the peaceful cohabitation of human beings.

  1. Babak Ahmadi, Writer and Translator (Iran)

  2. Emad Baghi, Writer (Iran)

  3. Kaveh Bayat, Historian (Iran)

  4. Maziar Behrooz, History Department, SFSU (USA)

  5. Mansour Bonakdarian, University of Toronto, Mississauga (Canada)

  6. Rama Cont, Columbia University (USA)

  7. Khashayar Dayhimy, Writer and Translator (Iran)

  8. Kaveh Ehsani, University of Illinois at Chicago (USA)

  9. Farideh Farhi, University of Hawai’i at Manoa (USA)

  10. Laleh Ghadakpour, IRIP (Iran)

  11. Arsalan Kahnemuyipour, Syracuse University (USA)

  12. Ramin Karimian, Translator (Iran)

  13. Arang Keshavarzian, Connecticut College (USA)

  14. Azadeh Kian, University of Paris 8 (France)

  15. Morteza Mardiha, Writer (Iran)

  16. Ali Moazzami, Writer (Iran)

  17. Mohammad R. Moeini , UMass Amherst (USA)

  18. Mehran Mohajer, Photographer (Iran)

  19. Hassan Mortazavi, Translator (Iran)

  20. Mohammad Rezai-Rad, Translator (Iran)

  21. Kian Tajbakhsh, Researcher and Sociologist

  22. Mehran Tamaddon, Documentary Filmmaker (Iran)

  23. Farzin Vahdat, Vassar College, NY State (USA)

To read the rest, click here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007



I know, I know, John Lennon has come and gone. What we mean is: Imagine the day your son, your brother, your husband, your sister, your wife or your daughter kisses you and goes for war. He or she goes to bomb your mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, nieces and nephews, your old neighbors, the baker in the next block or the officer in the police department or the ticket agent in the travel agency or the family doctor. Imagine the day that the grave yards where your parents are buried or the school you attended or the hospital in which you gave birth to your child is bombed, and God forbid, the contamination! Imagine. Just imagine. Only imagine.

It does not matter where you come from or what your political position is. It doesn’t matter if you are monarchist, republican, nationalist, or reformist. It doesn’t matter if you are Iranian or Korean or Puerto Rican or Armenian or Jewish. Just imagine. Just imagine.

What would you feel afterward? How would you look at the face of your loved one and say, “Well?” Well what? What would you do? What would you say the day after?

Think a few minutes. It doesn’t even matter if your response is in accordance with our taste or not. The important thing is that we are all entitled to be heard and ought to be heard. We do not need to be politicians, academics doctors, lawyers, or executives, as long as we are one way or another related to Iran or an Iranian, it is enough. Let our governments (Iranian as well as American) know what we feel. Your message could be a word, a short sentence, a poem, a story, one or a few photographs, a clip of film, a painting, an essay, or a speech. No insults, no abuse. Only let us be heard.

We Iranian-Americans living in the tri-state area want to organize a marathon of Iranian and Iran-related voices on March -- in New York City. We are trying to send a message to the Iranian Government as well as the American government that we are here and that there is no sharp line between Iranians and Americans any more. In fact, that sharp line ceased to exist long ago. We all are the habitats of one planet and the world is more interconnected than fifty yeas ago. The war-mongers should know that if it is hard to define who is American and who is Iranian, it is harder to define the borders. Where Americans are going to bomb, some other Americans will mourn over.

Let us know if you would like to be part of this marathon.

You do not need to be Iranian or of Iranian descent or related to Iranian by birth or marriage. You can be from any ethnic group but knows an Iranian in one connection or another: You might work with or work for an Iranian. You might have a girlfriend or boyfriend who is Iranian. You might have an Iranian teacher in high school or college. You might have bought your wedding rings from an Iranian jeweler. You might have had your life saved by an Iranian surgeon or an Iranian doctor might have brought your child into the world. You might have some historical, architectural, or some other cultural interest in Iran. You might have traveled to Iran as a tourist and experienced Iran’s famous hospitality. You might have some literary or artistic interest in Iran. You might have a humanistic interest in Iran. Please come and share your sentiment with us. Let us know what you expect from the American government or the Iranian government. Let us stop the war.

If you are a musician or some other performer, we would particularly welcome your lending this event a touch of culture.

We can help you with accommodation but not transportation if you are not living in tri-state area. Send us your message and tell us something about yourselves, your age, your background, your gender, etc. We can arrange for your message to be read.

Send us email at
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A Letter to Dr. Zarif

Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations

February 11, 2007

Dear Dr. Zarif,
I heard you today on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. I was really disappointed by your talk. Was it really necessary to put your reputation on the line for Ahmadinejad? Is he really worth it? Why did you need to say that the Holocaust Seminar was planned during the previous administration? Do you mean that during Khatami’s presidency there had been a plan to organize a conference to deny the Holocaust and that Ahmadinejad felt so faithful to the Reformists that implemented it?

Why did you say that David Duke applied for a visa where the Iranian government did not have embassy to check his background? Why was he invited to Iran for such a conference in the first place? What other credential does he have besides role in founding the Knights of the KKK and as a professional Holocaust denier? If Iranian intelligence is so lax that it could not find this out, then Iran is indeed in serious trouble.
Your boss, Foreign Minister Manoucher Motakki, send a message which was read by his deputy in the opening day of conference. It declared that the purpose of conference is not to deny or confirm the Holocaust, but just to investigate it. Mr. Abtahi, in his blog, replied “Why do we need such an investigation at such a high financial and political cost? Why should we be even concerned about it at all? This is an event which never concerned Iran.” He is right of course. It is interesting that you did not even feel the need to offer any sort of criticism or apology, but were dismissive of this kind of adverse publicity.
I have heard that your service to our country in the United Nations will end this spring. Why couldn’t you have stayed out of Ahmadnejad’s mess. Let his own people clean after him. It is easy for Ahamadinejad to forget that he does not own the country, that he is only a public servant and is there for a little while, but you do not need to be reminded that you are representing us and have to have our interests in mind. Please, Mr. Zarif, please, respect that trust which is placed in you (by the previous administration, by the way!). Remember that once you lose your credibility, you have lost it forever. Please do not loose it for Ahmadinejad’s sake He is not worth it.
Respectfully yours,

Mina Zand Siegel
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Massoumeh Ebtekar

Masoumeh Ebtekar, Iran’s Minister of Environmental Protection during President Katami’s second term, was on the front pages of online newspapers this week. In commemoration of the anniversary of Ayatolah Khomeini’s return to Iran, she wrote an article “Neauphle le Chateau.” I read the article expecting some forgotten anecdotes or some of the Imam’s words of wisdom which might have been overshadowed by the excitement of the Revolution, like some of those delightful stories that Mr. Abtahi writes once in a while on his website. (Indeed, his story about the Imam during his airplane journey back home was wonderful.) Much to my disappointment, the article was just covered with bragging about how privilege she was to have met the Imam and recited prayer behind him. One piece of bad news for Ms. Ebtekar is that thousands of people who did not even know how to pray (whom I knew personally) and many others who were not even Moslems, including Bahi’is, were among the people who had that honor. What the reader like me expects is to really hear Imam Khomeini’s voices and message, his real and simple words. Unfortunately, the man who within a short period of time managed to be elevated to such an exalted position as Imam is still unknown to many of us. I do not even make apology to say that a year before Revolution, one of my neighbors, who was a devout Moslem and the only one that I knew as such, knocked on my door in and asked me if I knew who Khomeini was. I said yes, and told him that he was a cleric who was in prison in Shah’s time for his anti-land reform protest and that while in prison, he was promoted to the rank of ayatollah, thanks to Ayatollah Shariatmadari and his lawyer Mr. Rasekh (oddly enough a Bahi’i). I told my neighbor that I thought he was dead because he was suffering from some sort of cancer. He was amazed, since he didn’t know even that much. As far as I know, after revolution our knowledge did not improve much. He remained a source of mystery to many of us.

After Revolution, most of his speeches, unfortunately, were tinted with politics and did not reveal his real ideas and philosophy. It was just the occasional anecdotes and memoirs of those who have known him privately or have heard him out of the political context which have given us a portrait of him. I do not, however, recall any women’s perspective on this matter beyond the writings of one or two western reporters who had their own agenda when interviewing him. It was with this expectation that I read Ms. Ebtekar’s article, and I was disappointed.

The man who impressed her so much and showed her the ultimate way of salvation, the man who was do decisive in her life, the man whose she later became has remained as alien and unknown as ever. There is neither a single quotation from his speeches nor his conversations nor any words of wisdom from this man in her memoir. All she said was how privileged and honored she felt to have been graced by his presence—and honor she shared with thousands and thousands of others. Unfortunately, in spite of my two or three times a year trips to Paris, I was not there to have that honor, I would have gone there even though I had to look out of the corner of my eyes at others to know what to do when praying, and when and how to do “sojoud” and “rokoud.” I’m certain, however, that the experience would not have increased my knowledge of him either.

Writing a memoir, be it one page or a book, does not mean describing the course of events. Yes, thousands of people prayed behind him twice a day. But what does it mean but praying with him? What did it signify? And when do we want to go one step beyond the superficiality of events? Why don’t we try after some quarter of a century to know the man who had that effect in our history? So far, thanks, to Abtahi, we know for sure that he did not believe in forcing people to go to Heaven. If you, Ms. Ebtekar, know him a little better, you should just let us know. His thinking and his wisdom will surely help us all, including Ahmadinejad and Mesbah Yazdi. More adjectives and adverbs do not add to our knowledge. It just makes the image more crowded.

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