Last week the impotence of the world Jewish community was on display for all to see. For all the talk of how the Jews control the media, the banks, and the American government, a man whose declared intention it is to wipe Israel off the map was treated as an international dignitary in the city that contains more Jews in it than any other on earth. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran not only spoke at the United Nations just a few hours after the leader of the free world, and from the same podium, but was even invited to the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations to hold forth as a visiting statesman. So now the world Jewish community must contend with the sad truth that 60 years after the Holocaust, a man can declare himself the new exterminator of the Jews and still be treated with respect.
As I watched the Ahmadinejad media circus fly through town — his face adorning the cover of Time magazine, his soft-glove interview with Brian Williams of NBC news, the New York Times’ front page coverage of his cool demeanor at the Council on Foreign Relations — I could not help wondering whether a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan whose declared intention it was to "wipe out" all traces of black life from the United States might similarly be feted as a bona fide leader. During the years of apartheid, South Africa was subject to comprehensive international sanctions for its disgraceful and sinful segregation of the black population. It would have been unthinkable for President P. W. Botha, the last great symbol of the white apartheid regime, to be feted as an international celebrity in New York City. Had he been invited to lecture the world from the rostrum of the United Nations about the perils of the black menace in Africa, not only the African-American community but every decent man and woman in America would have objected to his rancid presence. And yet, Ahmadinejad of Iran calls not for the isolation of the State of Israel but its utter destruction, and is given Western rostrums from which he can spew his vile hatred.
All this is done, of course, in the name of freedom of expression. The argument goes that the best way to change evil is to engage in a dialogue with it. If only Ahmadinejad would be exposed to reason he might be won over. If only we could logically point out to him the error of his ways and the insensitivity of his remarks, he would never utter them again. But tolerating the intolerable is the liberalism of fools and gives a safe haven to evil in a world that is sorely embattled.
Would the Council of Foreign Relations invite a speaker who denied that slavery ever took place in the United States? Would Kofi Annan break bread with any world leader who claimed that the Rwandan genocide of 1994 was a hoax perpetrated by Africans on the white population in order to curry sympathy?
Allowing Ahmadinejad to debate the Holocaust with serious scholars in front of the world’s cameras is akin to Harvard University’s inviting the "scholars" who argue that the Apollo missions to the moon never took place, and the American government perpetrated a hoax in order to scare the Russians.
The Holocaust is the most documented crime in the history of the world, and the Council of Foreign Relations allowing a denier a platform is the same as allowing a serious discussion on whether the moon is made of green cheese.
All that happened in Ahmadinejad’s visit is that a man previously regarded as a dangerous kook was now granted the legitimacy not only of prestigious platforms, but of reasoned dialogue and debate.
I watched Ahmadinejad’s skilled retorts to his various interviewers. He was on his guard never to lose his cool. His purpose was not to change or moderate his views, but rather to demonstrate their rationality. First we had Ahmadinejad as independent scientist and historian. How do we know that the Holocaust happened if independent research is not allowed to be conducted? Then there was Ahmadinejad as champion of human rights. Of course he believes Israel must be terminated, but only because of what it has done to the poor Palestinians.
There is good reason why it is pointless to argue with certain individuals, and one of the best is that terrible horrors can be justified in the name of reason. Hitler always maintained that he was a rationalist who stood fast against the irrational tenets of religion that went against nature. So, while religion argued for the mystical idea of the infinite value of every human being, regardless of natural ability, Hitler euthanized German’s helpless because rationally, in a state that is challenged by limited resources, hospital beds and medicines should be given only to those who might one day improve. The mentally infirm would only take and never give back and thus were a threat to the healthy population. Would any of us have debated the question with Hitler? Or would we have chosen to simply condemn his barbarity and inhumanity. There are conversations that can simply never be had.
As a marital counselor I have listened to husbands who justify beating their wives. "She continuously provokes me." "She had an affair." Should I debate the subject with them? Or is engaging in a debate already a concession that maybe they have a point. Rather, we must tell a husband in the strongest, most condemnatory tone, that there is no pretext ever for hitting one’s wife. One can divorce one’s wife, and one can admonish one’s wife. But lifting a hand is an act of unforgivable cruelty.
Stalin argued that sheer national necessity compelled him to modernize Russia and collectivize the farms in the 1930s, even though the famine led to the deaths of some ‘5 million people. Pol Pot killed one in three Cambodians because of the "necessity" of re-educating them. When it comes to rational dialogue, every argument has a counter-argument. And that’s why certain values can never be debated. There is good reason why there is a commandment, rather than argument, not to murder.
All this bespeaks an increasing willingness on the part of the world to stomach evil and its progenitors. From a Hamas terrorist government’s being increasingly accepted by the Western powers, to Hezbollah’s being treated as legitimate representatives of the Lebanese people, it is becoming increasingly clear, not to mention tragic, that the world is prepared to stomach those whose declared objective it is to maim, dismember, and destroy innocent civilians.
Yes, tolerance is important. But tolerating the intolerable and forgiving the unforgivable is the surest way to empower evil.