Roger Garaudy: From Stalinist to Islamist

The Muslim world mourns a Jew-hater.

Question: when do the media in the Muslim world pay more respectful attention to the death of a famous French philosopher than the French and other Western media do?  Answer: when the “philosopher” in question is Roger Garaudy.

In Gulf News, Shakir Noori, a writer in Dubai, described himself as “deeply sorrowed” [sic] by Garaudy's death on June 13 and noted that “intellectuals in Jordan” called him “the most important cultural figure in the twentieth century.”  Others in the Muslim world shared this view: Muammar Gaddafi, who gave Garaudy a “human-rights” prize in 2002, called him “Europe’s greatest philosopher since Plato and Aristotle”; former Syrian vice president Abdul Halim-Khaddam considered him the “greatest contemporary western philosopher”; and the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE) responded to news of his demise by lauding him as a “great thinker” and calling on “Allah, the Almighty, to receive him with His Bountiful Mercy, and to accept him among the righteous.”  At Garaudy's funeral in Paris, he was eulogized as “a man of faith,” “the summit of human values,” and “a great hope for mankind.”

On July 2, a memorial service for Garaudy was hosted in Iran by the Institute of Islamic Culture and Thought in association with the Iranian Philosophy Institute, Al-Mustafa International University, and a half-dozen other important-sounding institutions.  Just a few days ago, a memorial conference was held in Tunis on the topic “Roger Garaudy: the science of history and the search for truth.”  Among the “researchers, historians and human-rights activists” who gave presentations was philosophy professor Mohsen Mili, a “specialist in the thought of Garaudy,” who said that Garaudy “embodied the thought of the twentieth century.”  Yacob Mahi, a Moroccan Muslim living in Belgium, wrote that Garaudy had “contributed enormously to the development of Islamic thought...He was a philosopher, a thinker, a master of wisdom. He was one of my spiritual teachers.”

Who was this great “spiritual teacher”?  The answer can be summed up in two words: Holocaust denier.   There's more to say about him, but his extraordinary reputation in the Muslim world has its roots in one simple fact: that Garaudy was a poisonous anti-Zionist who in 1996 published a book – accessible in English, in its entirety, here – the centerpiece of which was an elaborate, mad argument that the Final Solution was a lie.  (The book was published in English under the title The Founding Myths of Modern Israel, though its title on the website linked above, The Founding Myths of Israeli Politics, represents a more literal translation of the original French title.)  The book lost Garaudy friends, publishers, and 240,000 francs – the fine he was charged for having violated the French law against Holocaust denial.  Garaudy also wrote books “exposing” the “Israeli-Zionist” lobby, which, in his view, secretly pulled the strings of government in both France and the U.S.  After 9/11 he argued publicly that the Bush administration had plotted the terrorist attacks.

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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