Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, the noted wit, expert on freedom, and unelected religious leader—the leader who counts—of Iran, observed the other day that in the West, “casting doubt or negating the genocide of the Jews is banned but insulting the beliefs of 1.5 billion Muslims is allowed.” He apparently thought this was a devastating point. Touché, Ayatollah Khamanei.
The worldwide fuss over 12 cartoon images of the Prophet Mohammed (some mocking, some benign) that ran in a Danish newspaper has already killed at least 10 people. Many self-styled voices of Islam have made the bizarre comparison between showing pictures of the Prophet Mohammed and expressing doubt about the Holocaust. A government-controlled Tehran newspaper announced a contest for cartoons about the Holocaust, asking “whether freedom of expression” applies to “the crimes committed by the United States and Israel.” In a spirit of “see how you like it,” a European Muslim group posted on the Web a cartoon of Anne Frank in bed with Hitler.
Muslim complaints about a Western double standard would be more telling if the factual premise was accurate. But it is not. In fact, it is nearly the opposite of the truth. Nothing is easier and more common in the West, including the United States, than criticizing the United States—except for criticizing Israel. A few Western countries have stupid laws, erratically enforced, against denying the Holocaust, but that hasn’t stopped Holocaust denial from becoming a literary industry and cultural phenomenon. This is distressing to many Jews and others because making sure that the world remembers the Holocaust has become the main strategy for trying to prevent another one. The willingness of so many people to disbelieve the reality of a historical event as relatively recent and well-documented as the Holocaust leads you to despair of the human capacity for reason, along with more or less every advance in human affairs since the Dark Ages. Nevertheless, there has been no rioting about the historical reality of the Holocaust. No one has died over it.
Meanwhile, whatever point these European Muslims were making with their cartoon of Hitler and Anne Frank is more or less disproved by their very exercise. No one tried to stop them from putting the cartoon on the Web. The notion that jokes about Anne Frank are beyond the pale is provably false. There’s a play running in New York right now called “25 Questions for a Jewish Mother.” It’s a monologue written and acted by stand-up comic Judy Gold, who says on stage every night that her mother used to read to her from a pop-up version of Anne Frank’s diary and would say, “Pull the tab, Judith. Alive. Pull it again. Dead.” Maybe you had to be there. But the New York Times reviewer called the play “fiercely funny, honest and moving” and did not demand that the author be executed, or even admonished.
more from Michael Kinsley at Slate here.