The Inalienable Right to Question History

Progressivism, Skepticism, and Historical Revisionism

[I]t has been a truism for years, indeed centuries, that it is precisely in the case of horrendous ideas that the right of free expression must be most vigorously defended.

Noam Chomsky

[I]f there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.

— US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in United States v. Schwimmer

The statements of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have a penchant for attracting the opprobrium of the western world.

On 14 December, Ahmadinejad, whose comments were carried live on Iranian state television’s Arabic-language satellite channel Al-Alam, spoke to thousands of people in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan.

Controversially, he declared, “Today, they have created a myth in the name of Holocaust and consider it to be above God, religion and the prophets.” 

He then asked Europeans, “If you committed this big crime, then why should the oppressed Palestinian nation pay the price?”

Ahmadinejad has a proposal though: “If you committed the crime, then give a part of your own land in Europe, the United States, Canada or Alaska to them so that the Jews can establish their country.”

Flood of Denunciations

Predictably, Israeli government official Mark Regev described Ahmadinejad’s remarks as “outrageous,” as did Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel.

US State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli called Ahmadinejad’s remarks “appalling and reprehensible.” Democratic senator John Kerry jumped into the fray saying that questioning of the Holocaust “is beyond unacceptable.”

In Germany, where Holocaust denial is a crime, politicians unanimously denounced the Iranian president’s remarks, calling them “completely unacceptable.”

Even French extreme-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen found Ahmadinejad’s remarks “shocking” and disavowed himself of them.

Leaders at a EU summit in Brussels, Belgium released a statement describing Ahmadinejad’s comments as “wholly unacceptable” and that they had “no place in civilized political debate.”


In an assault on freedom of speech, the EU leaders warned that Iran might face sanctions because of Ahmadinejad’s remarks. Iranian officials went into damage control mode. They said that Ahmadinejad’s comments had been misunderstood. Iranian interior minister Mostafa Pur Mohammadi clarified Ahmadinejad’s comments to mean that those people who had victimized the Jewish people should atone for the victimization — a sensible proposition.

Why Iranians might face sanctions for the statements of one individual citizen, albeit the elected leader of the country is perplexing. Are Americans responsible for the pronouncements of President George W. Bush? Are Israelis responsible for the pronouncements of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon? Insofar as some of people freely choose such characters to be their leaders then, yes, there must be some culpability. But such leaders are not chosen by every member of society.

What about freedom of speech? Is freedom of a speech a universal principle or is it to be delimited by Big Brother — therefore, destroying the notion of freedom of speech?

The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948 calls for “the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief” which is among “the highest aspiration of the common people.”

UDHR Article 19 decrees:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Just as Ahmadinejad’s right to freedom of speech is guaranteed by the UDHR, so is the free speech of his detractors. Everyone is free to denounce what he says but all free-speech advocates should be opposed to attempts to suppress what he may say.


Previously, I wrote an article that dealt with earlier comments of Ahmadinejad that riled one reader. ((Kim Petersen, “Anti-Israel?Dissident Voice, 27 October 2005.)) The reader, who didn’t wish to get into a public debate, is affiliated with an anti-censorship organization but nonetheless stated the “correct course of action” would be to remove the article he found disagreeable. His affiliation and contradictory demand should be sufficient grounds to debase any further arguments the reader had. He had none. It was a veiled protest against points of view he did not like. His polite protest:

Mr. Petersen’s response to the news explosion after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on Muslim activist youth to “wipe Israel off the map” falls into a pattern of partisan rationalization for atrocities which is one of the sadder embarrassments of Left history. I am sure the slander and depredations of the Roma under Stalin’s reign of terror were rationalized and dismissed with adroit ideological verbage [sic], by the US Communist Party, and other progressives. I am afraid Mr. Petersen falls into similar error. His reasoning is outright fractured: 60 years ago, he argues, in a profoundly cynical observation, David Ben Gurion said he would expect Palestinians to seek to violently drive Jews out of the Holy Land. From this Mr. Petersen reasons that a hardline, oppressive theocratic extremist, inciting mass communal hatred and violence now, toward Israeli Jews must be OK. He draws several very similar false “parallels” in support of the same conclusion — that calling for the wiping of a nation off the map can’t be violently prejudicial or even anti-Israel. But of course Ahmadinejad was a genocidal incitement, as even a 1-year-old could see. It takes real sophistication to construct an argument to the contrary, and a great deal of resolute self-indoctrination to believe that argument. That is a disturbing misuse of intellectual and verbal gifts. 

My writing is unequivocal: I deplore all crimes against humanity, especially the insidious crimes of ethnic cleansing and genocide and that includes the ethnic cleansing and genocide carried and being carried out in my country of birth, Canada. Ahmadinejad’s ineloquent statements were in response to ethnic cleansing and genocide. Hyperbolically ascribing Ahmadinejad’s call to being a “pattern of partisan rationalization for atrocities which is one of the sadder embarrassments of Left history” is but to declaim assertively.

Ben Gurion’s profound “cynicism” belongs to him. I merely quoted him to reveal the Zionist mindset — not my own.

The illegitimate violent entity that occupies Palestine and calls itself Israel is much more deserving of the litany of adjectives: “hardline,” pandering to “oppressive theocratic extremists,” and “inciting mass communal hatred and violence” toward non-Jews. Why should the rights of the ethnic cleansers and supporters of ethnic cleansing take precedence over the victims of this ethnic cleansing? This is morally contemptible and backwards. 

Israel is illegitimate. Any well reasoned “humanity check” could not arrive at any other conclusion than that the establishment of a state on the territory of an indigenous people through brutal violence and murder is a hideous dagger thrust into the heart of a morality-based world.

Israel does not belong on the map — at least not in its present form. As for the terminology of “wiping” it off the map, the reader concluded that such a statement indicates genocide; therefore, by sound deduction, the reader should also consider that the wiping of Palestine off the map was and is genocide. Nevertheless, the reader incorrectly interpreted Ahmadinejad’s statement: “A call to ‘Wipe Israel off the Map’ is an open call for genocidal slaughter.” By definition, to wipe a state off the map does not imply to wipe a people off a map. People are usually not found on maps. The elimination of a geographic designation is not genocide. Maybe an extremely precocious one-year-old child might consider this as “genocidal incitement” but logical adult analysis reveals otherwise.

To build a case for someone being opposed to the state of Israel, one must first establish that there is such an entity that can legitimately lay claim to statehood in the circumscribed geographical region; otherwise such claims are completely baseless.

“Myth in the name of Holocaust”

Ahmadinejad’s denouncers never refuted through argumentation or presented facts to counter what he had said. The best attack that his detractors could muster was to hurl abuse and vent their disagreement. Epistemologists recognize this is as an intellectually bereft form of refutation. It must be pointed out, however, that Ahmadinejad’s statements were also assertions.

Ahmadinejad’s assertion of a “myth in the name of Holocaust” is vague. What did he mean by a myth? That a genocide in which Jews perished during World War II never happened? Unlikely. There are few people who actually deny that the Nazis victimized Jews in large numbers. What is termed “Holocaust denial” is, in fact, the questioning of the historical veracity of the numbers of Jews murdered and the method by which the victims were killed.

On the day of the American 9-11 (there is, of course, the Chilean 9-11 which saw a ruthless, US-backed right-wing junta overthrow an elected government), it was initially reported that there were over 6,000 fatalities. Subsequently this figure decreased until the current fatality count of 2,986.

That massive numbers of people including Jews who perished during WWII is a great tragedy for humanity. However, that the WWII holocaust has been appropriated as a uniquely or predominately Jewish cataclysm is mendacious and reprehensible in its disrespect to the other victims of Nazism. Even if the 6 million figure so often cited as the total of Jewish deaths during WWII is accurate, it is still dwarfed by the deaths of citizens of the Soviet Union, which is over 23 million. (( Wikipedia cites 23,100,000 Soviet fatalities (one million of which are Jews); the department of history at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice reports 28 million USSR fatalities (19 million of which are civilian). There are other much higher numbers for Soviet fatalities during WWII that must be skeptically viewed at this time.))

But the six million figure of Jews killed by Nazis during WWII is challenged by some people. For this, Holocaust skeptics such as French academician Robert Faurisson, British historian David Irving, and long-time Canadian resident but German citizen Ernst Zündel have been variously ostracized, beaten, deprived of residence, deported, and jailed. People are imprisoned for the sin of doubting! Such is the vehemence attached to denying the six million number.

Philosopher and sociologist Jean-Michel Chaumont likened Holocaust uniqueness to a kind of “intellectual terrorism”: a terrorism of the mind that allows for physical terrorism to be excused. ((Quoted in Norman Finkelstein, The Holocaust Industry (Verso, 2000), 47.))

The notion of Jewish exceptionalism stems from the biblical designation of Israelites being the Creator’s “chosen people” — which is tantamount to racism. This Jewish exceptionalism has been exploited to carve out an exclusive niche of WWII victimization. This is contrary to progressive principles that hold egalitarianism to be a universal and fundamental tenet.

Why can this number not be questioned? Will intense scrutiny not verify the verisimilitude of the number? ((“The Diminishing Numbers of Alleged Dead in Auschwitz,”, 15 August 2004. The article indicates a drop from an original high figure of nine million Jews killed during WWII to 900,000 cited in the Jewish paper Aufbau and 135,000-140,000 according to the International Tracing Service of the Red Cross.

Excerpted from the controversial book Did Six Million Really Die, “The Jews And The Concentration Camps: A Factual Appraisal By The Red Cross,” reports that a 1,600-page, three-volume Report prepared by a team headed by Frédéric Siordet of the International Red Cross “found no evidence whatever at the camps in Axis occupied Europe of a deliberate policy to exterminate the Jews.” There is no charge of genocide in the report.

Two-and-half million victims have disappeared from the plaques at an Auschwitz concentration camp. Assuming that most of the disappeared victims are Jewish then the persistence of the unchanged six million figure is bizarre. The plaque originally displayed at Auschwitz in 1948 read: “Four million people suffered and died here at the hands of the Nazi murderers between the years 1940 and 1945.” The 1990 plaque at Auschwitz reads: “For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe. Auschwitz-Birkenau 1940-1945.” [Italics added]

To come to a conclusion about the accuracy of the claim of six million Jews killed during WWII, critical thinking is in order. The burden of proof for the six million claim lies on the claimant. Given the extraordinary number claimed, this demands extraordinary evidence. To support a claim it should be falsifiable; that is, there must be a way to prove the claim false — in the present case by providing evidence of fewer than 6 million deaths (or more). In addition, all evidence must be considered. Critical thinkers must therefore ask why some government officials and supporters of the six-million-Jews-killed number close doors to inquiry. As long as such is the case then the claims arising from Holocaust theorists must be greeted with the appropriate and requisite skepticism.

The present author takes no position as to what the accurate number of Jews killed during WWII is. I have not conducted the in-depth research required to formulate a definitive opinion. The purpose in this article is to defend skeptical inquiry and freedom of speech and direct the focus back from the past to where it belongs: the crimes against humanity today. For this reason, the question of numbers is relegated to an endnote.)) What kind of society is it that tells its citizenry that certain “truths” are beyond reproach and off limits to open-minded or skeptical enquiry?

Professor of political theory Norman Finkelstein questions the Jewish uniqueness and asks what gives them a “claim upon those others.” ((Norman Finkelstein, 47.)) The Holocaust industry, according to Finkelstein “has become an outright extortion racket [conducting a] double shakedown of European countries as well as legitimate Jewish claimants.” ((Norman Finkelstein, 89.))

Jews were persecuted and killed during WWII. The photographic evidence, eyewitness and survivor accounts of Nazi captivity are undeniable. Sure photographs can be faked and false tales conjured up, but the sheer scale of such a massive coordinated mendacity required argues against this. The incarceration and killing of Jews and other victims is a most shameful act in human history. But to compound one shameful act with further crimes against humanity only perpetuates and accentuates further acts of shamefulness.
That the Nazis killed large numbers of Jews during WWII is a historical black mark on the Nazi regime. Accuracy and, more importantly, veracity are also important. But to intentionally inflate or deflate the numbers dishonors the sacrifice of the victims.

The Jewish victims are also dishonored by some people appropriating exclusivity to WWII victimhood. They are dishonored by some people railing against any inquiry, rationale or otherwise, into history that deviates from a designated truth. This militates against a fundamental plank of human rights: the freedom of expression.

Furthermore, the focus on numerical accuracy distracts from the memory of the WWII victims. The focus has been distracted from the horrors of war perpetrated by the Nazis ((It is recognized that the defeated side does not solely commit atrocities during war, as war usually brings out the worst in humanity on all sides.)) to a focus on the numbers and freedom of speech. Assertions by one side in a dispute must not be reciprocated with counter assertions but instead skewered with verifiable facts and well reasoned argument.

That Jews in large numbers were among the Nazi victims during WWII is no myth. That authorities in society would abuse the human rights of individuals simply for exercising their freedom to speak thoughts that are different from the views proclaimed by governments, serves well the aims of those who seek to mythologize the victims of WWII.

In the spirit of openness and free speech, each person’s words must be allowed to stand for all others to contemplate and judge for themselves. There is no need to censure anyone’s speech or thoughts. Free speech and historical revisionism must not become a vehicle to divert attention away from current crimes against humanity.

Most horrendously, the misuse of Jewish victimhood as a shield, whereby Zionist Jews could unleash atrocities upon Palestinians similar to those atrocities that Jews suffered under Nazism to implement their own malevolent Lebensraum strategy, utterly abases the memory of the victims as well as disgraces the long- and oft-violated “Never again” mantra. The ethnic cleanser-occupier must end the occupation. The ethnic cleanser-occupier must allow for the international right-of-return. Just as the Jews sought and received apology and reparations for Nazi war crimes, the ethnic cleanser-occupier must sincerely apologize and indemnify the Palestinian victims and vacate stolen territory.

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at Read other articles by Kim.