Sunday, September 23, 2007

A stench in the Fresh Air

So I was listening to a recent Fresh Air podcast as is my custom during my constitutional in Danada on yet another peerless late summer Sunday (if this is global warming then bring it on). Terri Gros introduces each recording with a masterfully disinterested "thanks" to listeners; there must be a school where they train all these liberal intellectual NPR announcers to evince a world-weary cool detachment from all their subjects. But I digress. The subject on this occasion was largely about a person, one of nine siblings, who stayed behind in Poland while all the others left for America at the time of the Nazi ascendancy. Eventually the man and his family perished in the Holocaust and only a few letters remain. As usual, it is very harrowing stuff. There had been a similar sort of broadcast on the Welsh radio program All Things Considered (not to be confused with the NPR version) a few months ago.

The stories of bravery, resilience, courage and cruelty that emerge from Holocaust topics are always riveting. So I'm wondering what the average Holocaust denier would be thinking when confronted by tales such as these, because for these individuals the whole thing never happened. I am aware that one of those deniers is an Associate Professor at Northwestern University. His name is Arthur Butz . He has achieved a certain celebrity in the select circle of deniers by publishing a book on the subject. The university, rightfully so in my view, has taken a large amount of heat for permitting Butz to continue in his teaching role. Last year The Daily Northwestern was lambasted for publishing an article by Butz in defence of the denial on the basis of "fairness" and "balance." I can perhaps see the need for balance and fairness if the topic under debate actually had positions that were open to debate in the first place. The Holocaust does not fall into this category as far as the authenticity of its existence is concerned. Perhaps it is possible to debate its various details and subtleties, but the fact of its existence cannot be at question. It would be equivalent to publishing an article in defence of the mathematical relationship that 2 + 2 = 5.

The nauseating thing about Butz and his ilk is their attempt to legitimize their views by presenting them wrapped in veils of "scholarship" and academic pursuit. Butz has written extensively contesting the meanings of the words in various documents to suggest that the gas chambers were never such. It all comes down to very fussy arguments about the interpretations of individual words in documents. He passed himself off as a member of the "Journal of Historical Review" (the innocent sounding name promotes perversion while seemingly supporting legitimate scholarship).

The fairness and balance tactic has been similarly used by Creationists in an attempt to infiltrate the education system with alternatives to evolutionary theory. In days of yore the Creationists were quite happy to stick to the Bible. More recently the game has become a lot more cunning and the literal interpretations of the Bible (so completely unnecessary for true faith) have been propped up by all sorts of pseudo science and products from heavily supported "research" centers. Intelligent Design has been one such outworking of the savvy modern creationist. It has the trappings of science, though it lacks the actuality of it. So now we must incorporate this idea into the curriculum on the grounds of balance? Imagine if we had to allow any ideas at all on the grounds of balance. A man could maintain that atoms were made of tomatoes and have a soapbox on the grounds of balance.

Okay, Creationism is a far milder "crime" than Holocaust denial. Some of my best friends have been Creationists. I don't think any of them deny the Holocaust. I was wondering what it would be like to have such a one as Butz as a colleague. The pusillanimous administration of Northwestern have not moved against him citing "academic freedom" and the fact that his views are not introduced into the classroom. I cannot imagine though sharing a room in a discipline meeting with him. How would you feel if your neighbour espoused sexual intercourse with animals or young children for example? I mean, what is the difference? Maybe Butz is regarded as a good teacher. Frankly that is completely beside the point.

No comments: