My contracts professor in law school, a man I will always remember for introducing me to the concept that, as he put it, "all professions are an organized conspiracy against the layman," also had an explanation for why some outcomes are foregone conclusions. He said, "It's no big deal for the magician to pull the rabbit out of the hat after he's put it there."
So, it came as no surprise to me that Iran, a state whose leaders' two major geopolitical purposes are wiping the state of Israel off the map (along, not incidentally, with its inhabitants) and the development of nuclear weapons (the latter being instrumental in the accomplishment of the former), held a "conference" in Tehran last week for the purpose of exploring whether or not the Holocaust ever happened. No kidding: They held a conference to investigate the existence of this indisputable blot on the history of mankind.
This is the equivalent of the religious right sponsoring a conference entitled "Gay Marriage: Is It a Good Thing?" or PETA holding a conference called "Killing Animals: Is It Really Humane?"
A clue to the agenda of this gathering is that a keynote address was given by none other than noted American authority David Duke, the former Grand Wacko of the Ku Klux Klan, who, in a recent interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN, suggested that a list of the names of the architects of the war in Iraq (e.g., Wolfowitz, Feith, Kristol, et al.) sounded like the guests at a Jewish wedding.
One of the seminars at the conference was reportedly called "Gas Chambers: Denial or Confirmation." The conference's Web site has links to other denier sites claiming that the gas chambers at Auschwitz were actually either kitchens that served inmates low-fat meals (which must explain their skeleton-like appearance when they were liberated) or saunas where inmates could enjoy "hot showers" (with no extra charge, apparently, for the Zyklon B gas treatment).
For me, the verifiability of the Holocaust was as tangible as the tattooed number my father bore on his forearm for most of his life, a vestige of his captivity in Auschwitz, and the absence from my life of both sets of grandparents and many uncles, cousins, and aunts -- all thanks to the ethnic cleansing practiced on my family by the Nazis. Needless to say, I don't take kindly to Holocaust deniers.
How does one deal with people who insist on believing that it is pitch-black outside at high noon or, worse, who reinvent (or ignore) facts to fit their agenda? The answer is, one doesn't. Intelligent discourse relies on the existence of intelligence. And simple belief, whatever its motivation, is irrationally based and immune to intelligence. That same contracts professor also liked to say: "Nothing is truer than that which is true by hypothesis." As long as the fringes of society choose to believe that what they hypothesize -- as opposed to what is objectively verifiable -- is the truth, there is no room for discussion.
This also, by the way, is why it is a fool's errand to argue with the likes of a Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter and why George Bush will never be able to be convinced that the U.S. should pull its troops out of Iraq.
The Iranians were taunting the West by holding this conference. They claimed they were testing our tolerance for freedom of speech, especially in light of what they perceive to be the abuse of that freedom symbolized by the Muhammad-cartoon imbroglio in Denmark earlier this year. They started their taunt several months ago with a "contest" seeking the best Holocaust cartoons. One of the entries depicted Hitler in bed with Anne Frank, suggesting to her that she "put this one in your diary."
The irony of a repressive regime ridiculing a freedom that is ruthlessly crushed under its own rule obviously escapes them. And, of course, it is a fundamental misunderstanding of the uniquely American constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech to believe that it is absolute. One can only hope that Ahmadinejad and his ilk will learn sooner than later that neither freedom of speech nor any other freedom protects madmen who attempt to rationalize genocide by revising its history.
Marty Aussenberg writes the "Gadfly" column for MemphisFlyer.com.