Alleged Muslim Power over Holocaust Curriculum: Please Don't Forward!

05/15/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Nancy Fuchs Kreimer Director of the Department of Multifaith Studies and Initiatives, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

"This is Not a Joke! Do Not Delete!" The email, with its urgent subject heading, found its way to my Inbox through a long series of forwards. The text demanded that I send the message on to at least 10 others, as "a memorial chain for those who died in the Holocaust." The goal: to reach 40 million people worldwide.

What was the crucial information that needed to "go viral" immediately? The University of Kentucky, I learned, had "removed The Holocaust from its school curriculum because it 'offended' the Muslim population which claims it never occurred."

The poor syntax alerted me that the message might bear a tenuous relationship to the facts. It seemed unlikely that the "Muslim population" of Kentucky would have sufficient power to influence the university's curriculum. The text further demonstrated that its author was not a sophisticated source for reliable news. It stressed how dangerous the development in Kentucky was, noting the fact that "Iran, among others, {is} claiming the Holocaust to be a myth." Since Iran is a country of over 70 million individuals and not capable of "claiming" anything at all, I concluded that the email was problematic, at best.

A minute or two of Google research sufficed to unravel the story. The University of Kentucky had not announced any change in its curriculum. But back in November 2007, the University had made an announcement. It issued a press release stating that a rumor, claiming the school had removed Holocaust material from its curriculum, was completely untrue!

Earlier that year, a message announcing that schools in the United Kingdom(UK) would no longer teach about the Holocaust began to wind its way across the Internet. Someone took the abbreviation for the United Kingdom (UK) to stand for the University of Kentucky, altering the e-mail to implicate the innocent school. In the end, the original e-mail regarding the United Kingdom also proved unfounded.

Relieved of the responsibility of publicizing the fictional Holocaust denial, I now had a much bigger problem to contemplate. What was in the minds of the many people -- mostly my fellow Jews -- who had forwarded that email? Why were they willing to believe it? Why so eager to spread the word? (The e-mail did not suggest protesting the situation, only letting everyone know about it.) Even if it were true, what would be gained by spreading a negative story about a group of super-empowered --if ill informed --Kentucky Muslims? Why would Jews, of all people, deliberately reinforce such a problematic image when a recent Gallop poll shows almost half of the American population already holds negative views of Muslims?

Some Jews can react, all too quickly, from a deep sense of vulnerability. Fear, a powerful emotional reality, overrides their natural instinct to check facts or to consider the impact of their actions on others. A sense of disempowerment in the Jewish community is not unrelated to the Nazi genocide, making the proliferation of that e-mail indeed a "memorial to the Holocaust," although not in the way the author intended. I say this with more sadness than judgment.

Holocaust denial exists in Iran and in the Arab world; Jews ought to decry it. But Jews should know that they are not alone. The president of the Islamic Society of North America, Professor Ingrid Mattson has said, "Six million Jews were brutalized and killed in the heart of Europe...This is one of the greatest tragedies of modern history and ISNA will witness to this truth, anytime and to anyone in the Muslim world who denies it." Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, the influential Islamic scholar heading the Zaytuna Institute, wrote, "I can attest to the tragic gullibility of people who take Holocaust -denial literature as historical truth."

Furthermore, an impressive international list of Muslim intellectuals, academics and public figures, including the chairman of the Association of Imams of France, have expressed support for Project Aladin, a website designed to educate about the Holocaust. It is available in Persian, Arabic, Turkish, French and English. The site challenges Holocaust denial directly and provides historical information, including stories of Jewish-Muslim cooperation during World War II.

Meanwhile, in America, our Muslim friends welcome the collaboration of Jews and others of good will to get their true story out. With our Muslim sisters and brothers, we should be flooding the internet with positive images of Islam and Muslims, Almost weekly, a Jewish friend or relative asks me "Why don't 'the Muslims' speak out against terrorism?" I have a document on my desktop listing literally scores of American Muslim organizations that have tirelessly issued statements condemning terrorism as un-Islamic. I send it out often. Perhaps I should turn the document into an e-mail and label it "Urgent! Please Forward!"

What are our religions worth if they do not make us empathic, not only toward the anxious in our own tribe, but toward our neighbors whose religious identity makes them vulnerable as well? We ought to be slow to believe the worst about others, quick to report the best. Now, that would be a true memorial to those who died in the Holocaust!