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Once upon a time Garaudy was a Communist – by his own description, a “Stalinist from head to toe” who, as Le Monde observed in its obituary, “did not hesitate to denounce the alleged lies of those who sought to make known the reality of the Gulag.” He joined the French Communist Party before the war, became a member of its Central Committee in 1945, rose to a seat on the Politburo in 1956, and ended up as head of the Party – only to be expelled in 1970 after protesting the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. During these years he served terms in both the National Assembly and the Senate, taught philosophy in Algiers, Paris, Clermont-Ferrand, and Poitiers, and was a leading figure on the French intellectual scene. Plainly, his hard-core Stalinism was no hindrance to his career or reputation. Nor, apparently, was his conversion to Islam in 1971 (a year, note, after his expulsion from the Communist Party) – though, as Le Monde noted, that conversion set him on “a journey that would, in a few years, lead to an increasingly radical ‘anti-Zionism,’” which, when it tipped over into Holocaust denial, resulted in his “disappear[ance] from the national landscape.”
But even as one door closed for Garaudy, another one opened. Throughout the Arab world, his Holocaust denial turned him into an instant hero. He was embraced by academics and intellectuals, by heads of state and leaders of terrorist groups alike. His fans and disciples ranged from people who are branded in the West as violent radicals to those who are considered moderate or even liberal Muslims. All were brought together in ardent admiration of Garaudy’s poisonous hatred for Israel and his devotion to the proposition that the genocide of the Jews had never happened.
The French media these days – and Le Monde is at or near the head of the pack – produce a good deal of harebrained nonsense that goes by the name of journalism, including plenty of material that is harshly anti-Israeli and some that cannot easily be defended from charges of blatant anti-Semitism. But Garaudy was too much for even this pack to swallow. The distaste with which the French papers gave this crank his sendoff contrasts dramatically with the tsunami of posthumous praise he garnered from even the supposedly most respectable quarters of the Muslim world.
The chief lesson of which is this: that Holocaust denial today, while still a ticket to opprobrium throughout the West, lies at the very heart of mainstream, even purportedly “progressive,” thinking in the Muslim world today. If you don’t understand that, you can’t understand the Muslim world today. Those in the West who believe that all but a minuscule minority of Muslims are essentially sensible and peaceable people who will beat their swords into plowshares if only, say, Israel is put “in its place” and if Palestinians are accorded full statehood are, quite simply, fooling themselves: as Ben Cohen wisely puts it in his own recent reflections on the lessons and legacy of Garaudy’s career, such Westerners “are in denial about the true nature of a political culture in which denial of the Holocaust has become a sacred dogma.” Indeed, the celebration throughout the Muslim world of Garaudy – a Gulag-denier turned Holocaust-denier – is only one more reflection of the fact that when we deal with Islamic culture today, we are, like it or not, dealing with nothing more or less than mass-scale irrationality – with an irrational hate that has been set in system and that, frankly, cannot be distinguished from Islam itself.
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