A fascinating interview utterly unlike anything that would happen with a major U.S. publication. Der Spiegel talks at length to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (link is to English translation) about the Holocaust, Palestine, German responsibility to Jews, and about the current nuclear debates. Ahmadinejad accuses the interviewers of “fanatically” taking the side of European politicians, and indeed, the conversation often turns into a debate over Germany’s role in history, rather than a strict interview.
The interviewer harshly questions Ahmadinejad’s position on the Holocaust. There is no question that it happened, and that Germans — not just *Germany* — bear unfortunate collective responsibility for the tragedy, the reporter says. Ahmadinejad points to the jailing of an academic who questioned the Holocaust’s reality (although this was Austria, not Germany), and contends that “unbiased” research is not allowed to happen.
Here and elsewhere in the interview, he skillfully puts his fingers on precisely the weakest points in Western powers’ arguments, and those which are mostly likely to keep Middle Eastern (and others, such as Venezuelans and Bolivians) questioning American and European sincerity.
Of course there is no question about the Holocaust. But if researchers who deny its existance are jailed, there is not a wholly free marketplace of ideas on the subject, and the appearance of suppression of information arises. To the Palestinans, whose last 50 years has been dominated by events triggered in part by the Holocaust, this becomes suspicious.
This is a key difference between the U.S. and German cultural markets. The most radical, offensive Ku Kux Klan members are allowed to say what they want in America. Holocaust denial is illegal here in Germany. But history here is very different. Americans do not believe in their own collective guilt for anything, be it slavery, Vietnam, or the overthrow of governments in Iran and elsewhere. Lacking that sense of collective responsibility for the past, Americans have no visceral consciousness that they have the capacity to do great harm in the world. Not so here — and the restrictions on speech are meant as a safeguard against worse evils.
Ahmadinejad also asks why Western powers are entitled to reserve to themselves, who already have nuclear technology, the right to determine who now develops it further. Logically and morally it is a powerful question, and one which resonates across the Middle East. This is an issue of realpolitik, one in which stronger powers trust only themselves, and fear the catastrophic disruption of a delicate balance of power. Realpolitik does not play well as a message to the masses, however.