Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shocked the world with his virulent Holocaust denial, a position he later characterized as his major achievement. In reality, of course, Ahmadinejad did not introduce Holocaust revisionism into the Iranian political sphere. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei argued that the Jews “exaggerated” the Holocaust, and former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, labelled a “pragmatist” and moderate by many in the United States, dismissed the Holocaust as “Zionist propaganda.” Ahmadinejad’s predecessor Mohammad Khatami, lionized as a reformist in the West for his calls for “dialogue of civilizations,” also promoted Holocaust denial, just more quietly. As George Michael, at the time an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, chronicled:
…It was during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, whose rhetorical calls for a dialogue of civilizations won European and U.N. plaudits, that the Islamic Republic became a sanctuary for revisionists. Tehran granted asylum not only to Graf but also to Wolfgang Fröhlick, an Austrian engineer who argued in court under oath that Zyklon-B could not be used to kill humans. Indeed, it was under Khatami that Iranian policy shifted from anti-Zionism to unabashed anti-Semitism. In August 2003, the Iranian government invited Frederick Töben, a retired German school teacher living in Australia, to speak before the International Conference on the Palestinian Intifada held in Tehran in which he impugned the Holocaust by contending that Auschwitz concentration camp was physically too small for the mass killing of Jews.
When Hassan Rouhani became Iran’s president, President Obama and many other Western officials treated him like a breath of fresh air. Perhaps this reflects the superficiality that infuses the personalities of Western politicians. After all, they drew their conclusions based on Rouhani’s carefully staged pronouncements and press conferences, rather than on the reality of his record. If Holocaust denial is the canary in the coalmine, then it’s apparent that Obama’s assessment of Rouhani’s commitment to change is wrong. From the Mehr News Agency comes this announcement of a new contest to draw Holocaust caricatures. The logic expressed by the Iranian government is that if Charlie Hebdo is allowed to insult the Prophet Muhammad, then the Iranians and anti-Semites worldwide should gave the right to ridicule Jews and victims of genocide.
Make no mistake: The Iranian government—let’s not disparage the Iranian people by linking them to the regime that oppresses them—does have that right. Free speech should be sacrosanct, and no one is going to shoot up Iranian newspapers or attack Iranian groceries because of it. At the same time, however, let’s make no mistake that the Iranian regime’s reaction—praising terrorism and ridiculing Jews—reflects its character far more truthfully than the nonsense espoused by President Obama and his proxies.