The first meeting of the CHGS Reading Discussion Group was held on January 11th, 2011. The book discussed was Deborah Lipstadt's Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth.
Below are some talking points and questions that were generated through the discussion. Please feel free to comment on any or all of the points.
European (Western) Holocaust Denial and Political ideology
● In European (Western) denial, which is the focus of Lipstadt's work, there is a persistent link between Holocaust denial, anti-Semitism and the idea of a Jewish conspiracy. Denial in the Middle East is linked with anti-Zionism; yet this is also the case in the West (the idea of a Zionist conspiracy has replaced the Jewish conspiracy after WWII in Holocaust deniers' circles).
● Holocaust deniers do not follow one specific political ideology; both the radical right and the radical left have been guilty of Holocaust denial. However, in her book Lipstadt does not examine the political ideologies of deniers. She is less concerned with their political ideology as she is with the actual act of denial.
For further reading on the political ideology of Holocaust denial see: The Future of a Negation: Reflections on the Question of Genocide by Alan Finkelkraut
For more information on Holocaust deniers see: Holocaust Denial on Trial
Writing History: The Problem of Truth and Historiography
● Lipstadt explores the methodology of history writing (historiography). How does one oppose Holocaust denial when the regime of truth has changed in a postmodern age?
● Postmodernism and deconstruction may not be able to prevent Holocaust denial because these theories tend to be suspicious of mere facts and to privilege interpretations (discourse, writing, representation).
● A relativist approach to truth allows that a lie can be cloaked in the language of legitimacy. The problem is that any pseudo-scientific document can claim legitimacy, whereas pseudo-scholarly resource can claim the status of "second opinion" or "the other side of the story."
● In terms of post-modernism, it is becoming very difficult to oppose Holocaust denial on factual grounds. In the American academic system, as well as the public discourse, each opinion is given equal value. Deniers are surfing on the wave of postmodern relativism; they are perverting the discourse of deconstruction and postmodernism to disseminate their "alternative narratives."
For further reading on postmodernism see: "'Laboratories' Against Holocaust Denial - Or, The Limits of Postmodern Theory" by Elizabeth Jane Bellamy. Published in Parallax: Witnessing Theory: Volume 10, Number 1
The Battle for Campus: The First Amendment
● Should Holocaust and genocide denial be banned? In France and other European countries there are so-called "memory laws" against Holocaust denial. Is it effective? Does the repression of denial cause a situation in which hatred is suppressed, and could this prove more dangerous?
● Can we say that equality of opinions in the classroom and in the public sphere is a perversion of democracy? In an era where opinions are taken as facts, all arguments are given equal value. The deniers use this ideological perversion to their advantage. Under these conditions, the public has a right to hear every "alternative opinion" or "alternative narrative."
Holocaust Denial Today: Is Lipstadt's work still timely?
● When Lipstadt wrote her book in the 1990s, Holocaust denial in the Arab world was not perceived as a threat and was not discussed much, which raises the question: Has Holocaust denial somehow been transformed? Do we live in a new era of Holocaust denial?
● Is denial a growing phenomenon or is it on the decline? What is the reaction to Mahmud Ahmadinejad's referring to the Holocaust as a myth?
● This will be discussed more in depth at our next discussion group meeting when we read From Empathy to Denial: Arab Responses to the Holocaust by Esther Webman and Meir Litvak.
For further reading on Middle East denial see: Post Zionism, Post Holocaust: Three Essays on Denial, Forgetting and the Delegation of Israel by Elhanan Yakira translated by Michael Swirsky
Holocaust denial timeline
The next CHGS Reading Discussion Group meeting will be on February 15th, 2011.