Monday, July 2, 2007

Letter in the Literary Review of Canada

The Literary Review of Canada printed my letter to the editor regarding last month's publication of The Explanation We Never Heard an apologia by Shriaz Dossa, a professor at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada who has come under criticism for being the sole Canadian scholar to have attended the "International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust" in Tehran, Iran, a conference that included a great many holocaust deniers, anti-Semites, and non-academics.

I found Professor Dossa's defense of the conference and his attendance so sophistic, and so intellectually dishonest that I felt compelled to write the following letter (also available on the LRC's website):

To The Editor:

Professor Dossa’s excuses regarding his attendance of the December 2006 “International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust” demonstrate poor scholarship and faulty logic. Even if we accept his claim that only 6 out of 33 presenters were Holocaust deniers, then that means that at a supposedly academic conference, roughly 19 percent of the presenters were deniers. It would be unacceptable for a major academic conference on Darwin to have 19 percent of the presenters advocate creationism—were this the case, the conference organizers’ commitment to science itself would be questioned.

Dossa also misuses the word “anti-Semitism”—the word was specifically coined by 19th-century Germans who wanted to describe their hatred of Jews in racial (or pseudoscientific) terms as opposed to theological terms. It was never used to describe hatred of Muslims. Indeed, the Nazi regime even openly recruited aid from the Muslim world in its final solution.

Dossa also claims that anti-Semitism is an exclusively western problem. Policies of humiliating and subjugating Jews had been common in many (though not all) nations and eras of the Islamic world. These humiliations were, for the most part, not as severe as what occurred in Christian Europe, and at some points—notably in al-Andalus—Jews had great liberty. Nevertheless, Muslim countries (most significantly in the Arab world) adopted many elements of western anti-Semitism in the 19th and 20th centuries—first from Christian missionaries and later through Nazis and neo-Nazis.

Furthermore, a “spiritual wish” by a head of state for the elimination of the Jewish state is hardly without significance. It is the practice of Holocaust deniers to claim that Hitler did not intend to murder Jews because his public statements regarding the fate of the Jews were always in terms of prophecy and not policy.

I suppose Dossa has learnt something from the conference.

Ian Thal
Somerville, Massachusetts

Visit the LRC website for other letters discussing Professor Dossa's statements.

[As a note, this is the second time this year I have had a letter to the editor published-- last time was to criticize a production of playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis' The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.]

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