Friday, May 25, 2007

Muslims and the Holocaust

On Holocaust Exploiters, Deniers, & Heroes
On this Holocaust Memorial Day 2006, Mas'ood Cajee reflects on the
politics of memory and why Muslims should represent the best of
Islamic tradition and spirit.
By Mas'ood Cajee, January 27, 2006

Six decades on since the slaughter of World War II and the Nazi
holocaust, we hear extremist voices alternately exploiting or
denying the Holocaust for political gain. By warping our memory of
the Shoah (the Hebrew word for the Holocaust), both exploiters and
deniers miss the stark, vital message of the Holocaust and its
heroes - those who displayed uncommon moral courage in the face of

Holocaust exploiters
A growing chorus of voices which exploits the Holocaust for
political gain has been trying to smear Muslims - and Arabs in
particular - with grand accusations of complicity in the Holocaust
and support for the Nazis. These voices serve hawkish interests in
Israel and the United States who wish to justify and legitimize
continued war, violence, and yes - even genocide - against Muslims
and Arabs. Identifying Muslims with and as Nazis eases the task of
selling continued bloodshed to war-weary publics. Reading the books
and op-eds of the smearers, one could almost conclude absurdly that
the Nazi holocaust was an Arab Muslim and not a European Christian
project. As evidence, the smearers usually trot out the pro-German
Mufti of Jerusalem Amin Al-Husayni and the Bosnian Muslim SS
"Handschar" division.

What these smearing Islamophobes don't like to tell you: the "Mufti"
was actually an appointee of the Jewish administrator of British
Palestine who completed one measly year at Al-Azhar and betrayed
the Ottoman Sultan to join the British. The much-vaunted "Hanschar"
SS division - disbanded after a few months due to mass desertions -
was the only SS division ever to mutiny. Because they are allied to
the power establishments in Israel & the United States, the
Holocaust exploiters generally keep mum about American, Jewish, and
Zionist complicity in the Holocaust. They aren't currently touting
the cruel, forced 1939 return from Miami of the Jewish refugee ship
SS St.
Louis to Nazi Europe. Or that elites in the Anglo-American sphere
widely admired Adolf Hitler throughout the 1930s - George Bush's
hero Winston Churchill first condemned Hitler only five years after
he came to power. Or that elements of the Jewish and Zionist
leadership collaborated with the Nazis - as documented by Hannah
Arendt and other Jewish historians (who called their actions "the
darkest chapter of the whole dark story"). Or that today, Israel
ironically dangles the specter of Holocaust - in its Nuclear avatar
- over the mostly Muslim peoples of the Middle East.

Holocaust deniers
On the other side, too many Muslim and Arab intellectuals and
leaders continue to fail in adequately addressing the Nazi holocaust
and its implications for today in meaningful, humanitarian terms.
Two recent examples include the Muslim Council of Britain's daft
refusal to participate in Britain's annual Holocaust Memorial Day
and the public indulgence in Holocaust revisionism and labeling of
the Nazi holocaust as "myth" by Iranian president Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad and Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood chief Muhammad Akef.
Deep-seated, knee-jerk anti-Zionism and the continuing occupation
of Palestine have unfortunately blinded many Arabs and Muslims to
the historical reality and legacy of the Nazi holocaust.

An intelligent and compassionate regard for the victims of the Nazi
holocaust - Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, the disabled, and others - on the
part of contemporary Muslims is critical for preserving ethical and
communal integrity, for a just resolution of the Palestinian
question and for the future - if there is to be one - of Western
Instead, the Holocaust remains a historical blindspot in Arab and
Muslim discourse, and as a result it has become a potent political
weapon to be exploited at will by those who view Palestinians and
Muslims as enemies.

Holocaust heroes
In their perversion of memory, Holocaust deniers and exploiters
share another moral ugliness. Both insult the memory of the
countless Muslims who risked or gave their lives to rescue Jews
threatened with extermination by the Nazis. The stories of the
Muslim rescuers of Jews are largely unknown and unpublicized. Only
in the past fifteen years have Holocaust researchers brought a few
to the public's attention.

Several Muslims (whose stories of heroism and courage we know) have
since been honored by Yad Vashem and other Holocaust memorial groups
as Righteous Gentiles. They include: the Bosnian Dervis Korkut, who
harbored a young Jewish woman resistance fighter named Mira Papo
and saved the Sarajevo Haggadah, one of the most valuable Hebrew
manuscripts in the world; the Turk Selahattin Ulkumen, whose rescue
of fifty Jews from the ovens of Auschwitz led to the death of his
wife Mihrinissa soon after she gave birth to their son Mehmet when
the Nazis retaliated for his heroism; the Albanian Refik Vesili who
- as a 16-year-old - saved eight Jews by hiding them in his family's
mountain home.

Most Holocaust historians would agree that Muslim Europe - Albania,
Bosnia, and Turkey - responded courageously and righteously,
especially in comparison to Christian Europe. While there were
Muslims who collaborated with the Nazis, they were the exception and
certainly not the rule. In addition, in North Africa the Sultan of
Morocco, the Bey of Tunis, and the Ulema of Algeria all lent
support to their beleaguered Jewish countrymen.

Continental Europe's only independent Muslim country - Albania - was
also the only European country to have a larger Jewish population at
the end of the war than at the beginning, according to Miles Lerman,
a former director of the US National Holocaust Museum. Harvey
Sarner, a Jewish American in awe of the Albanian Muslim response,
penned the telling book "Rescue in Albania: One Hundred Percent of
Jews in Albania Rescued from the Holocaust".

There were many Bosnian Muslims, especially in Sarajevo, who saved
the lives of their Jewish compatriots. Indeed, the Jewish community
in Sarajevo owed its very existence historically to the
centuries-old Ottoman Muslim policy of providing sanctuary to Jews
fleeing European Christian persecution.

Republican Turkey thankfully followed that same Ottoman tradition of
rescue and sanctuary. Due to its neutrality during most of World War
II, and its unique geographical proximity to both Europe and the
Middle East, Turkey and Turkish diplomats living abroad played an
important role for European Jews in danger during World War II and
the Holocaust, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Muslim-majority Turkey rescued over 15,000 Turkish Jews and over
100,000 European Jews.

Like their Christian counterparts, the Muslim men and women who
rescued Jews during the Holocaust are among history's true heroes,
whose stories we should be telling our children and grandchildren.
They represent the best of the Abrahamic and Islamic tradition and
spirit. May God grant us true moral courage like the rescuers in the
face of hardship and adversity. May God - the Most Compassionate,
the Most Merciful - free us of denying or exploiting the suffering
of others.

Mas'ood Cajee's essay "My mom raised me as a Zionist" appeared in
Michael Wolfe's award-winning anthology "Taking Back Islam" (Rodale
Press, 2003).

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