Latest posts on Christian Aid

Why 'Christian Hate?'? An introduction to the blog

Places Christians shouldn't go A quick tour of Christian Hate?'s case against Christian Aid

Christians and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Read all my posts on this topic

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Priest and the Holocaust Denier

A letter to the Independent (unpublished, but no hard feelings, I can't complain about my hit rate):

'Sir: To describe Roger Garaudy as a 'left-wing philosopher', as John Lichfield does in his piece on the late Abbé Pierre (24 January) is a slur on philosophers and decent left-wingers alike. Far from merely suggesting that the Holocaust has been exaggerated, the book by Garaudy which Abbé Pierre endorsed dismisses the gas chambers of Auschwitz as mythical, and led in 1998 to the author's conviction for Holocaust denial.

'Abbé Pierre risked his neck to rescue Jews from the Nazis, yet thanks to his association with this odious man his words now grace sundry Holocaust denial websites - an unfortunate blemish on an inspiring life.'

Some background: I was shamefully ignorant of Abbé Pierre until I came across his obit in the Times last Tuesday. I thought I was reading the life of a saint. Then, however, I read the Indie's version. Its account of the Garaudy affair is seriously misleading, implying the spat was over nothing more serious than some overwrought criticism of Israel, but when I saw Garaudy's name I was sure there had to be more to it. A quick google confirmed what I thought I remembered about him. I won't link to the Holocaust denial stuff, but it's not at all hard to find.

The following day the John Lichfield article went some way towards putting the record straight, but still fell short of making it clear that this is real Loony Tunes stuff we're talking about here - hence the letter. This time it is the Grauniad's Douglas Johnson who deserves credit for telling it like it is:-

'In 1996 the Abbé Pierre found himself involved in a bitter controversy which had nothing to do with his work for the homeless. That April, the French writer Roger Garaudy, a former communist who had converted to Islam in 1982, announced that the Abbé agreed with his view that the Holocaust was a myth invented by the Americans and the Jews of Israel. There was consternation when the Abbé confirmed this. The only explanation that some could find was that the Abbé's sympathy for the Palestinians had influenced his judgment.

'For the first time in his life, the Abbé found himself unpopular. He eventually rescinded his support for Garaudy, but as he had isolated himself in Italy and Switzerland, some confusion remained. Eventually, the Abbé returned to France, staying in various religious homes. He made few public appearances, and said very little. Public sympathy for him revived, but there were no longer any discussions about a possible canonisation.'

'Suggestions that Abbé Pierre was a secret anti-Semite do not hold water', says John Lichfield. Well, I have no wish to think ill of the man so I hope he's right. Then again, they never are, are they? Take Mayor 'Concentration Camp' Ken. Anti-Semitic? How could you think such a thing of such a tireless fighter against racism? Even Ahmadinejad still finds plenty of champions on the left prepared to deny flatly that he has any problem with Jews as such. What do you have do these days to convince lefties that you genuinely don't like Jews? Grow a toothbrush moustache and go round making stretched-arm salutes? If you were Muslim I doubt if even that would do the trick.

But Abbé Pierre's case surely proves the point that anti-Semitism is not, at bottom, a matter of individual nastiness. Rather it is a corporate sin, the outworking of a diabolical belief system which blinds the best as it energizes the worst. Can someone be simultaneously a saint and an anti-Semite? It depends on your criteria for sainthood, I suspect.

Anyway, the question certainly doesn't arise in the case of Roger Garaudy, an instance of the French 'committed intellectual' reduced to self-parodying dysfunctionality - or, if you'll pardon my French, a total f***wit. He was a senior member of the notoriously hardline French Communist Party, but got expelled for partying along with the students in May '68 and for proclaiming himself a 'Christian Marxist'. In my Trot days I read a book of his translated under the title 'The Alternative Future: A Vision of Christian Marxism'. It was a fairly typical sample of the kind of mush that leftist intellectuals were serving up under the influence of les événements. Lots about how fantastic young people were, fulsome praise for Mao's Cultural Revolution - and next to nothing about Christianity.

Then in 1982 he converted to Islam. And that seems to be when the dodgy attitudes to Jews started surfacing. Am I suggesting a connection? Well, let's just say that the anti-Semitism certainly doesn't seem to have damaged his standing in the Middle East, nor among his evidently numerous Muslim cyberfans.

Finally, a piece of pure serendipity from Engage. One Tom Hickey is standing for the Presidency of the newly-formed UK academics' union UCU. Mr Hickey is a member of the Socialist Workers Party, which should in itself be sufficient to ensure that the mass of decent union members don't touch him with a bargepole. In the linked post he's pictured delivering a talk on the relationship between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism at Sussex University. On a screen behind him a reading list is displayed. One of the recommended works is by... Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy.

No comments: