The Arabs and the Holocaust

Not really in the field of Middle Eastern Christianity, but one of my more impressive reads of the last month is worth noting here: Gilbert Achcar’s The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives (Saqi, Lebanon: 2010 — originally published in French, Les Arabes et la Shoah, Actes du Sud, 2009).

(for two extracts from the introduction, see

In this recent book, Gilbert Achcar, a Lebanse scholar working at SOAS (London), revisits ‘Arab’ thinking on topics as broad as the origins of Zionism, the connections of Arab politicians with Nazi-Germany, their support for Nazism, up to the current Holocaust denials of Ahmadinejad whose provocations on this subject have gained him support from a variety of groups in the Arab world. Achcar’s main interest is in showing how diverse the Arab world has been and still is on everything that has to do with the origins of Zionism, Jews in the Arab world, and the reception of the Holocaust, especially in its use of legitimizing the state of Israel and its actions.

He does so in a remarkable balanced way, being well acquainted with international, Israeli and Arab scholarship on the subject, carefully treating these sensitive issues, but at the same time not sparing either side´s follies and misrepresentations. He has not interest in covering up the rabid anti-Semitism that has come from and still exists in the Arab world. However, he places these ideologies and the persons that espouse them in the perspective of a much more diverse political and ideological field, paying attention to alternative positions that were and are available and that in the current ‘war of narratives’ often are disregarded. One of the most sensitive issues of his book concerns the use of comparisons with Nazi Germany, which, to an extent that suprised me, are used by all parties involved as way to denigrate or insult the opponents, be they part of one’s own tradition or the enemy’s, making the comparison increasingly meaningless. His examples should prevent anyone from ever using such comparisons again. However, Achcar´s analysis also testifies to the importance of the Holocaust as a still immensely powerful cultural symbol — and thus something worth the trouble unravelling in its Middle Eastern ramifications.

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