A longtime phenomenon in the West, Holocaust denial now regularly occurs throughout the Middle East-in speeches and pronouncements by public figures, in TV programs on state-run television stations, in articles and columns by journalists, and in the resolutions of professional organizations. The main tenet of Holocaust denial-that Jews invented the Holocaust story in an attempt to advance their own interests-appears to be an increasingly accepted belief for many people in Arab and Muslim states.
Western Holocaust deniers have been aggressively targeting Middle Eastern audiences, while across the Muslim world, many governments do not condemn, and some even sponsor, such propaganda.
Holocaust denial has its roots in Europe and the United States, and it stretches back to the years immediately following World War II. The Arab and Muslim perception of the Holocaust has never been monolithic, and has often been influenced by the vicissitudes of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In some cases, Holocaust denial is actively sponsored by national governments, such as Iran and Syria. In other Middle Eastern countries, however, denying or minimizing the extent of the killing of Jews during World War II has been adopted by opposition parties and dissident factions that oppose attempts at normalizing relations with Israel or the United States.
Although Holocaust denial first surfaced in the Arab world in the 1970s, it was not until the 1990s that Holocaust denial became prevalent in popular media throughout the Middle East. This is true even in Egypt and Jordan, which have signed peace agreements with Israel.
Western Holocaust deniers have turned to Muslim countries for help when facing prosecution in various countries for illegal activities. Wolfgang Fröhlich and Jürgen Graf have sought refuge in Iran, and Roger Garaudy was hailed as a hero throughout the Middle East when he faced persecution by the French government for inciting racial hatred.
One of the most important signs of the growing ties between Western Holocaust deniers and the Arab world came to light in December 2000, when the Institute for Historical Review announced that its fourteenth revisionist conference would take place in Beirut, Lebanon, in early April 2001. Many Arab intellectuals were outraged and openly protested. The conference was eventually banned by the Lebanese government.
Holocaust denial in the Muslim world assumed new dimensions in 2005 after Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made it a staple part of his public speeches. In December 2006, the Iranian Foreign Ministry held an international Holocaust-denial conference, whose guests included some well-known racists such as former Ku Klux Klan head David Duke and French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson.
The recent rise of Holocaust-denial in the Muslim world could be attributed to increasing state sponsorship, the spread of radical Islam, and the aggravation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The assumptions that Holocaust denial is founded upon (notably the myth of a world Jewish conspiracy) make it a political weapon of choice for those who wish to increase their own influence at the expense of regional stability and peace prospects.