Why Iran's Ayatollah chose a sacred moment to spew a vile lie.
Last week, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Islamist Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- who enjoys the final say in Iran’s foreign and domestic policies -- published an anti-Semitic and anti-Western video clip on his official website in the Farsi language.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) first publicized the video on its Facebook page, which is titled “Are The Dark Ages Over?” In the video, the Ayatollah makes absurd and inhumane accusations. He denies the Holocaust and criticizes the West for not allowing its citizens to discuss whether the Holocaust happened or not, and condemns the West for fabricating a narrative of Jewish victimhood in order to justify the creation of Israel.
Further, Khamenei states: “even if” the Holocaust occurred “it is not clear how it happened;” feeding into the popular myths in the Middle East that the Holocaust was either the fault of the Jewish people or a conspiracy the West and Hitler concocted, together, in order to justify the creation of Israel. In reality, the leader of the second-largest nation in the Middle East is willfully ignoring overwhelming historical facts (and he is not alone). Khamenei's views represent the views of many Muslims in the Middle East.
I lived in Iran and Syria for most of my life before coming to the United States. I lived under Khameni’s, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s, as well as Bashar Al Assad’s rule. I lived in the Persian and Arab, Sunni and Shia world of Islam.
While some Muslims -- similar to the Ayatollah -- inconsistently argue that Islam treats Jews, Christians, and Muslims the same, the hatred of Jews is clear when one gets to talk to these people and see their deep-down feelings and intentions. These anti-Semitic sentiments are the product of centuries of hate much older than the young state of Israel.
I clearly witnessed how the words “Jew” or “Jewish” have had, and continue to have, profound negative connotations across the Middle East; such as religiously impure, second-class citizen, foreigner, conspirator, etc. In the Islamic world, there exists deep down anti-Semitic prejudice and racism towards anyone who practices or is seen as Jewish.
Further, I was shocked, many times, when people viewed Hitler as a great hero.
I would ask: “Do you know he killed millions of innocent Jews including children and women?” They would answer: "It was the Jews' fault." or "The Holocaust is a Western fabrication that does not have any grounds in reality."
Some Iranians would even tell me that they wished Hitler had won the war because he was Aryan; similar to Iran’s own mythic ethnic origins. Such racial theories were introduced in the 1930's and are adhered to such an extent the name of “Persia” was changed to “Iran” meaning “the land of Aryans.” These Iranians thought if Hitler won World War II, he would have treated Iran with favor!
After Germany lost the war, Iranian leaders tried to return to "Persia" but they were unsuccessful. The belief that the Persian people were racially more superior to others had become too well-entrenched and, at present, is complemented by a sense of Muslim superiority.
At the end of his speech, the Ayatollah of Iran calls on the “Ummahm,” the Muslim world, to stand against Israel and the West.
Below is an excerpt of his message:
"You beloved brothers, beloved people of Iran, Muslims of the great Islamic Ummah, and officials in different countries, should know that we can stand up against ignorance…It is not clear whether the core of this matter [Holocaust] is a reality or not. Even if it is a reality, it is not clear how it happened...This is the ignorance that exists in today’s world. We should be awake. [Muslims] should know that we can stand up against the ignorance…Who assists the fake Zionist regime…Who supports them, who clears the road for them, who stands behind them….It is Western powers headed by America that are doing so. This is while they say in their slogans that they are opposed to terrorism and ISIS….They are lying, they say things that aren't true. This is ignorance."
Unfortunately and tragically, America-hating and Jew-hating sentiments are deeply rooted in the socio-cultural and socio-political landscapes of Middle Eastern and Islamic countries. These sentiments were created over centuries and they will not disappear in a matter of years or decades.